Moonraking is perhaps best known as a synonym for daydreaming (which was one of my own favorite pastimes growing up). So imagine my surprise when I discovered that there is a Moonraker's Festival in Slaithwaite, in Yorkshire, England. Along with the festival, there is a story giving the expression "moonraking" another meaning. The story is reprinted here with the permission of Howard Walker (otherwise known as Mr. Moon), who wrote it.
The year was "1802. This was just after the canal between Huddersfield (in Yorkshire) and Upper Mill (also in Yorkshire) had become a major trade route.
A couple of entrepreneurs from Slaithwaite had established a successful smuggling business, dealing in rum and whisky. The bargees used to bring the spirits up the canal by barge, and hand them over to their customers at the end of the day in exchange for payment.
One day, the meeting was disturbed by soldiers on patrol, so our smugglers quickly slipped the barrels into the reeds at the side of the canal, and went on their way.
Later that night, they were retrieving the goods from the canal, using large garden rakes. It was a bright moonlit night, and again their work was interrupted by the soldiers. "Wats ta doin? "("What are you doing?) asked they. Quick as a flash, came a slurred reply "Cans tha noon seah? T'mooins fell int watter an we'ar rekking er aht? ("Can't you see - the Moon has fallen into the water and we are raking her out" )
"Silly mooinrekkers!" (Silly moonrakers) said one soldier to the others, and they walked off laughing at the apparent stupidity of the Slaithwaiters.
Our pair waited until the coast was clear, and hoisted their ill gotten gains out of the water.
A simple tale, to be often repeated on many a frosty February evening."
There is another story that gives still another meaning to "moonraking" and I cannot give proper credit as it is a folk tale from a storybook that I had as a child and I can only remember the general thread of the fable. I will share that as best I can recall.
Once upon a time a young couple were engaged to be married and a dinner party was held for family and a few of their closest friends to make the engagement known. Just before they sat down to the meal, the bride-to-be was sent to the cellar for a bottle of wine and the groom-to-be, concerned that she had been gone so long, went down to check. He found her sitting on a low bench and sobbing inconsolably. "What on earth is wrong?", he asked. She pointed out a pick-axe that had been driven into one of the timbers overhead, saying, "We will give birth to a lovely son and he will be the light of our days, then one day he will come down here and that pick-axe will fall and kill him!", and she buried her face in her hands and cried.
"That is the most foolish thing I have ever heard, and you are the greatest fool in the world!", cried her betrothed, "I cannot marry someone who is so stupid", and he pulled the pick-axe out of the timber and leaned it against the wall.
The young man's fiance begged him to reconsider, so he offered her a compromise. He would go on a journey seeking one person more foolish than she. If he should find even one, then she would be his bride. She agreed and he set out to find a greater fool. The quest then went from one great fool to a greater one. Finally, late one night, the young seeker came upon an entire village gathered around a pond with, you guessed it, rakes. They were raking feverishly at the moon's reflection and when asked what was about, replied, "Can't you see, the moon has fallen into the water and we are trying to restore it to its proper place." The young man sighed and looked up at the moon which was, of course, in its proper place and then went home and was married. And so it was that moonraking saved a marriage.
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