In the fall of 1966, teacher Eliot Wigginton and his students at the Rabun Gap
– embarked on a mission to interview older community residents and document the skills, traditions, experiences, and history of the Appalachian culture they all shared. All told, this oral history program, set in the southern Appalachian hills of Georgia, would last for decades and produce books, records, videotapes, a museum, a Web site, a Hollywood movie, and an ongoing magazine. The program is still active under the auspices of the Foxfire Fund Inc. Maintaining the program's original purpose, Foxfire has continued to empower students by giving them a sense of pride, ownership, and responsibility in both the products of the program and the continuation of the Appalachian way of life. Nacoochee School
Foxfire began as an English teacher's effort to get students involved in both their education and their region's history and culture. Eliot Wigginton, a West Virginia native, moved with his father to Athens, Georgia, at a young age. Heattended college at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he received an undergraduate degree and a master's degree in English. He also received a master's degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1969. Intent on becoming a teacher, he found employment at the Rabun Gap–Nacoochee School, located in Rabun County in the northeast corner of Georgia. Wigginton soon discovered that many of his students were "hostile, bored and rambunctious," in the words of educational historian John Puckett. In an attempt to spark their interest, Wigginton suggested starting a magazine as a school project, and ideas were pitched—including collecting folklore from local residents. The idea for the project came about in part through discussions Wigginton had with guests at the nearby Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, also in Rabun County.
The students decided to name their magazine Foxfire after the blue-green glow given off by bioluminescent lichens growing on decaying logs. Foxfire was a learning experience for both Wigginton and his students since no one had any experience in oral history collecting, documentary skills, or magazine production. The first issue was published in March 1967 and became an instant success, due in large part to an interview with the local sheriff, who described a 1936 bank robbery and his capture of the bandits. In 1977 Wigginton moved the Foxfire program to the newly constructed Rabun County High School in Clayton.
By the 1980s Foxfire had become a multimedia enterprise. In 1972 Doubleday began anthologizing the magazine into a series of Foxfire books. Twelve volumes have been published, to which many more special collections have been added, including The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery, A Foxfire Christmas,and The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Toys and Games. Starting with The North Georgia Mountains in 1977, Foxfire has also issued several recording collections from local musicians. A play entitled Foxfire, based on materials from the Foxfire books and authored by actor Hume Cronyn and playwright Susan Cooper, first appeared on Broadway in 1982. The play was later adapted into a made-for-television movie starring Cronyn and his wife, Jessica Tandy.
While generally successful, Foxfire encountered a dark period during the 1990s. In November 1992, Wigginton pleaded guilty to charges of child molestation and received a sentence of nineteen years' probation and one year in jail. As part of his sentence, Wigginton had to resign from teaching. After being released from prison, Wigginton left Rabun Gap and is no longer associated with Foxfire. The Foxfire project, however, continues; working together as a staff, students specialize in writing and editing, marketing, subscriptions, and senior editor duties. Topics covered in the biannual magazine vary widely and include preserving and cooking food, folklore, recipes, gardening, farming, religion, community life, beekeeping, ghost stories, tall tales, personal histories, hunting and slaughtering, corn shuckings, weaving, washing clothes, granny women (midwives), burial customs, riddles, and music.
Starting with one teacher in one school in north Georgia, Foxfire spawned a grassroots movement of "cultural
Media Gallery: Foxfire