Folklorist Horace Beck dies

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(Host) Long time Ripton resident, teacher and folklorist Horace Beck died at his home Tuesday. Beck’s distinctive voice was familiar to VPR listeners for his commentaries and Camel’s Hump narratives.

VPR’s Betty Smith has this remembrance:

(Smith) Horace Beck was born in 1920 in Newport Rhode Island where he acquired a life long passion for the sea and maritime lore. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and served in the Navy during World War II. He came to Middlebury College in 1955 where he taught American Literature for 27 years.

He was an early advocate of folklore as an important field of academic study. And his book, “Folklore and the Sea” is considered to be one of the best comprehensive studies of maritime traditions.

VPR listeners will remember Beck’s distinctive voice as a narrator for Camel’s Hump Radio. In 2001 he read from Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” Most recently he read from “The Scrimshaw Ring,” a children’s book published by the Vermont Folklife Center, based on Beck’s own story of a ring given to one of his ancestors by a pirate.

(Beck) “As for the ring, William kept it, and many years later passed it on to his firstborn son. And many years after that, the son passed it on to his first child. And so on, as families do, through seven generations.”

(Smith) For several years he was also a VPR commentator.

(Beck) “A Quaker was selling a fine horse with only one fault. It would not pull. When the Quaker was asked if the horse could pull, he was in a sort of a quandary for above all else a Quaker must be truthful. After a slight pause the trader looked the buyer in the eye and said, ‘Friend, if thee buys this horse, thee will be pleased to see it pull.'”

(Smith) Characteristically, Beck signed off his commentaries with a line that is used by traditional storytellers in the West Indies to signify the end of the story: “The wire bend, my story end.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Betty Smith.

(Host) Horace Beck is survived by his wife, three children and four grandchildren. Memorial contributions may be made to the Addison County Home Health and Hospice in Middlebury.

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