Law Office of Jeffrey B. Kelly
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Mumbles and the Haint A TALL TALE FROM MIKE RAGLAND
Have you heard of Mike Ragland? If not, you’re in for a treat from this master storyteller. Ragland is a retired major from the Rome City Police Department, and lucky for us, he now spends his time writing and documenting our local history. This month, I wanted to share a piece of lore from Ragland. You can practically hear the Southern drawl in his writing. His new book is also a testament to that style. Based on the true story of a series of murders and the woman found at the heart of it all, “Bertha” is a compelling read, especially to those of us living right where it all happened. If you like what you see here, check out his books and stories at mikeragland.com.
“To make this sound right, I got to start somewhere close to the beginning,” he said. “My real name is James Harrison Cunningham. I grew up with everybody calling me Jim. And then, in the army, everybody calls you by your last name.”
I stopped him here and asked. “You’re Jug’s dad aren’t you?”
“Uncle,” he replied. “Jug’s dad was my older brother. But we were raised on the same land Jug now owns, and so was our father and grandfather. But I left in 1944 when I got drafted. I got to England just in time to hit Omaha Beach. After we made the beach head we spent the next nine months or so crawling on our bellies all the way to Germany. The Germans were good fighters, but they were a lot like Americans and British. You could pretty much tell what they were going to do next. “Now, I told you that to let you know I liked the army all right and decided to just stay and do 20. It seemed like a pretty good deal to me. However, six years later, we were in another war, and I found myself in Korea. Way up in North Korea, nearly freezing to death, and then the Chinese came. They were nothing like the Germans. They were crazy. If you killed one, 10 would take their place.” “Hang on. You said you weren’t in a hurry,” he replied as he lit another smoke from the first one. “I had a reputation of being the fastest man in the unit. I had always been able to out run anything that walked on 2 or 4 feet. I had never been beat. “Our company captain called for me and told me we had no communication. He said that we were surrounded, and he wanted me to go for some help — and that the closest American forces that he knew about were 25 miles away. I waited ‘til it was good and dark, then slipped through the enemy lines. I covered that distance in about five hours. But I had to stop about halfway and take my boots off. I couldn’t run as fast as I wanted to with them on. Even as a kid, we ran the mountain barefooted. I got them help, and I got my feet partially froze. They gave me a medal and a little pension and discharged me. My army career was over.” “Not for a few years. Probably closer to 10,” he said. ”You guys almost caught us a few times — pure luck that you didn’t. “I stayed in the nation’s capitol for years just living on the street and feeling sorry for myself. Spent everything I had on booze. I broke the first rule of a whiskey man. You don’t drink the stuff you’re selling or get hooked on your product. But that’s what I did.” “What’s this got to do with the name Mumbles?” I asked. “Is that when you come back here and returned to the whiskey trade?” I asked.
Below you’ll find one of Ragland’s tales. I’d suggest reading it with a blanket and cup of coffee in hand, because it might just give you the chills. Mumbles and the Haint About 10 years ago I visited an aunt who was, at that time, residing in a nursing home. She was only there for a few months going through rehab. It wasn’t a permanent stay. While there, I saw an old bootlegger, “Mumbles Cunningham.”We had tried to catch Mumbles for years, but to no avail. He, too, was going through some treatment for recent back surgery. Mumbles, like most of the old line of Southern bootleggers, was very friendly to the police — well, really to everybody. It was a society that is almost completely gone. Oh, there are some people still making moonshine, but it ain’t fit to drink. They take no pride in their work. They’ll strain it through car radiators and put all kind of additives in it. Most people won’t touch it. I told Mumbles that I was proud to see him and asked how he was doing. We talked for a few minutes, and curiosity got the best of me. “How did you get the name of Mumbles?” I asked. He didn’t have any teeth and was definitely hard to understand. “I tell you what Captain,” he said. “Let’s go outside and sit on the bench where I can smoke, and I’ll tell you how it came about.” I went outside and found a good seat while he went to his room to retrieve his smokes. When he came back, he lit up a non-filtered Old Gold, took a deep drag, and let the smoke escape slowly through mouth and nose. “You in a hurry?” he asked. “These ladies won’t let me smoke inside, and they don’t like for me to come out here. But they won’t say nothing as long as I’m talking to the law.” – Jeff Kelly
“And then you came home, right?”
“Not at all,” I replied. Even if I had been, I wasn’t anymore.
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