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Strange and True: ‘Wonderful’ folk noir podcast digs into third season of historical oddities

Ry Dalee / The Cimarron Dove
Welcome Little Stranger is Jeremy and Holly Hall.
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OKLAHOMA CITY — For the past year, listeners around the world have been tuning in to The Most Wonderful Wonder, a podcast of storytelling and original music that celebrates a new season this Friday with a live performance in Guthrie, OK.

With thoroughly researched narratives from the 1800's and early 1900's, the audio series—which updates "fortnightly"—recounts freakish true tales from America's past. These fascinating, often dark stories are then brought to life by hosts Mr. and Mrs. Hall, who not only narrate, but also perform the soundtrack, with instrumental segues throughout and a full song at the end of each installment.

The Most Wonderful Wonder is the podcast equivalent of a campfire circle, where weird folklore and moonlit songs are summoned as much for their tone as for their content. Each episode is an experience.

The folks behind the series are Jeremy and Holly Hall, a modest married Guthrie couple who create the episodes from home. The two have written, recorded, and performed folk noir music for years as Welcome Little Stranger, and the podcast is a recent but thriving outgrowth of that project.

"Holly had listened to podcasts off and on for years," Jeremy Hall said. "We were thinking of starting a blog to share our favorite weird, morbid historical events and the stories behind the songs we had been writing. Then podcasts started blowing up, and she realized audio was the perfect format for what we wanted to do."

Wearing the formal and mysterious "Mr. and Mrs. Hall" title, the two adopt the air of museum tour guides speaking in slight southern accents. With original, fact-loaded scripts and the occasional quote of a news clipping, the hosts offer a somewhat dry verbal performance, which plays into the podcast's enticingly odd atmosphere.

Taking inspiration from works like HBO television series Carnivale and non-fiction book Wisconsin Death Trip, The Most Wonderful Wonder is steeped in tone, down to its very details.

Despite being a purely audial experience, the website presents each episode title in cursive under an antique image, almost like a growing collection of tarot cards. The title of the podcast itself recalls the hyperbole of the P. T. Barnum era of entertainment, and the show's instrumental theme tune rises from a rusty slide guitar and a melody that's reminiscent of composer Angelo Badalamenti, albeit unintentionally. Musical segues use different acoustic shades to suit the material, sometimes bringing out the darker bits of stories, but sometimes serving as a counterpoint of relief to especially gruesome passages.

The Most Wonderful Wonder reaches its pinnacle of tonal juxtaposition when it incorporates verbatim accounts of death and dismemberment. It uses the sterile voice work of its hosts to capture the gritty news columns of the day, which avoided euphemisms when reporting tragedies. It can be jarring for listeners accustomed to modern standards of politeness, but it's all completely within the strange wheelhouse of the podcast, which doesn't make a secret of its gothic muses.

Though death alone is not the sole focus of the podcast, it is a prevalent theme. From natural disasters to ill-informed medical practices to war itself, the old days offer many unusual tales of mortality. Season Two's finale, for instance, is about a stretch of railroad that crossed through an Appalachian mining town without a crossing signal. This resulted in countless deaths, which then, in turn, spawned numerous ghost stories.

This episode is called "The True and Trembling Brakeman: Moonville, Ohio", and it is named after an old song written by Aulton Ray that tells the story. Welcome Little Stranger ends the episode with an original rendition of this song.

"Murder ballads play a big part," said Jeremy Hall. "Not only for the gruesomeness of the songs but also how they served as historical accounts of events the general public would otherwise be unaware of."

In cases where the Halls are unable to find existing songs relating to their chosen stories, they write their own as Welcome Little Stranger. One example is "The Cyclone", which was written and recorded for an episode about a surprise tornado that obliterated the town of Snyder, OK, in 1905.

Like the best of folk music, The Most Wonderful Wonder is careful not to overplay its stories. Its creators use the best storytelling methods and subtle atmospheric choices to convey them, but ultimately, the tales tell themselves. As the adage goes, truth is often stranger than fiction.

The Halls have their formula down so well that it's none too surprising to see the podcast already have a fanbase. After just two seasons and a year of networking in the international podcast community, The Most Wonderful Wonder has reached 35,000 downloads, thanks in part to excellent word of mouth. A glimpse at any podcasting platform shows rave reviews from a variety of listeners.

With its third season, the podcast has upped the ante with a Patreon account, which allows supporters to fund episodes in exchange for rewards like song downloads and exclusive content. Official merchandise is now available through TeePublic as well.

Listening to The Most Wonderful Wonder is like stepping into the pages of a book of bizarre historical facts. Within is an entire sepia-tinted world full of fascination and surprise. Its exploits will astound you, but this attraction is not for the faint of heart. Enter only ye who dare take a ride with Mr. and Mrs. Hall to the stranger side of American history.

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About the Author

Evan Jarvicks

Evan Jarvicks was born in 1873 in the territory later to become Oklahoma. Since accidentally...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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