Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia


"It is Scottsboro, Alabama, in the fall of 1991. A snake-handling preacher by the name of Glendel Buford Summerford has just tried to murder his wife, Darlene, by snakebite. At gunpoint, he forces her to stick her arm in a box of rattlesnakes. She is bitten twice and nearly dies. The trial, which becomes a sensation throughout southern Appalachia, echoes familiar themes from a troubled secular world - marital infidelity, spouse abuse, and alcoholism - but it also raises questions about faith, forgiveness, redemption, and, of course, snakes. Glenn Summerford is convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison. When Dennis Covington covered the trial of Glenn Summerford for The New York Times, a world far beyond the trial opened up to him. Salvation on Sand Mountain begins with a crime and a trial and then becomes an extraordinary exploration of a place, a people, and an author's descent into himself. The place is southern Appalachia - a country deep and unsettled, where the past and its culture collide with the economic and social realities of the present, leaving a residue of rootlessness, anxiety, and lawlessness. All-night video stores and tanning salons stand next to collapsed chicken farms and fundamentalist churches. The people are poor southern whites. Peculiar and insular, they are hill people of Scotch-Irish descent: religious mystics who cast out demons, speak in tongues, drink strychnine, run blowtorches up their arms, and drape themselves with rattlesnakes. There is Charles McGlocklin, the End-Time Evangelist; Cecil Esslinder, the red headed guitar player with the perpetual grin; Aunt Daisy, the prophetess; Brother Carl Porter; Elvis Presley Saylor; Gracie McAllister; Dewey Chafin; and the legendary Punkin Brown, all of whose faith illuminates these pages. And then there is Dennis Covington, himself Scotch-Irish, whose own family came down off of Sand Mountain two generations ago to work in the steel mills of Birmingham, and who, in uncovering records of snake-handling Covingtons, decides to take up serpents himself. With grace and humor and exquisite writing, Dennis Covington explores a physical and spiritual geography few readers will be prepared for. Reminiscent of the best of Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, and James Agee, Salvation on Sand Mountain is southern literature at its best." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


This morning, on my way back from the mailbox, a neighbor asked whether I'd finished the new book. "Not quite," I said. I didn't have the heart to tell her I hadn't even begun.

"Well, I just wanted to know if you'd included anything about spirit trees," she said.

Spirit trees?

She explained what they were, bare trees in rural yards adorned with colored glass bottles. Then I remembered I'd seen them before. I thought they were only decorative. But my neighbor told me spirit trees had a purpose. If you happen to have evil spirits, you put bottles on the branches of a tree in your yard. The more colorful the glass, the better, I suppose. The evil spirits get trapped in the bottles and won't do you any harm. This is what Southerners in the country do with evil spirits.

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