Tag Archives: superstition

The Black Cat Train: 1891

THE BLACK CAT TRAIN.
Uncanny Apparition That Is Always Followed by a Mishap

The Madison branch of the P., C., C. & St. L. sports what is called by the railroad boys the “Black Cat” train, says the Louisville Times. Some time over a month ago the train, in charge of Conductor Wheedon, pulled out from Columbus, and just beyond that city the trainmen observed two black cats crossing the track ahead of the locomotive. It was jokingly remarked that this was a sign of ill-luck, and, sure enough, the train was wrecked a few moments after. Fortunately nobody was hurt. Since then the trainmen claim to have seen one or both black cats crossing the track ahead of the train several times, and some mishap always followed. Night before last the black cat crossed in front of the train again and sure enough the engine broke her “saddle” a few miles below Columbus. This is the last piece of ill-luck credited to the black cat. It is said that the trainmen are becoming nervous over the persistence of the ebon-hued feline, and next time they see it cross before the train will turn back for a fresh start at the risk of a discharge.

The belief in the evil influence of a black cat is as old as the hills, but is especially strong among railroad men.

Chicago [IL] Herald 28 February 1891: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: With Hallowe’en and “Black Cat Day” (27 October) approaching, a look at some black cat superstitions seems appropriate. There was a good deal of controversy over whether black cats were good luck or bad luck, as we see in this slight selection of cat-lore:

Of all kinds of cats, the black one has produced the most superstitions. If a darksome feline crosses a gambler’s track in the morning he will not make a wager that day. [And yet, if a gambler strokes the tail of a black cat seven times, he will win at cards!] It might be that gruesome tale of Poe’s “The Black Cat” is all the more weird because of the color he assigns the walled up feline. The notion is generally prevalent in our county and State that it is bad luck to kill a cat of any color, but all the worse if the mouser is black; that such slaughter will be followed by a death in the family of the slayer.

On the other hand, in certain portions of New England and of the West it is a sign of good fortune to be followed by a black cat in daytime, but unlucky if she follows at night. In New Hampshire it is bad luck for a black cat to come into a house, but Just the contrary in our State, where possibly we have more superstition than is current in Yankee land. The Lancaster [PA] Examiner 12 February 1908: p. 4

If a black cat crosses in front of a funeral procession, there will be a death in the family of the corpse within three days. Kentucky Superstitions, edited by Daniel Lindsey Thomas, Lucy Blayney Thomas 1920

To keep off evil spirits, clip off the ends of the nails of a black cat with a pair of scissors, collect them, and sew them up in a piece of black silk, which can be carried about your person or kept in your home. It will bring you good luck. The Encyclopaedia of Superstitions, Cora Linn Morrison Daniels, 1909: p. 1408

Black cats were a popular Edwardian good luck charm and were carried for luck by soldiers in both World Wars.

Lucky Black Cat mascot, c. 1914, Christies Auctions

Intriguingly, the author of this next squib “spun” the story to make the black cat lucky. The engine drivers of the “Black Cat Train,” would undoubtedly have seen the creature as the cause of the derailment.

Black Cat Averts Wreck.

Fond du Lac, Wis. A black cat probably saved many lives on a St. Paul road passenger train near Mayville. As the train was leaving the city Engineer Henry Heider saw a black cat crossing the tracks in front of the locomotive. Being superstitious, Heider slowed down. A minute later, while the train was moving slowly, the locomotive was derailed. Had the train been traveling fast a serious wreck would have occurred.

The News [Newport PA] 14 July 1914: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Thirteen at Table: 1876

Thirteen at Table.

The Wistarias give the nicest dinner in the Empire City. Their cook is a cordon bleu, a person whose soul lies in her art, who sends up a hot dinner, not one of those greasy, half-cold, unwholesome meals, that sour the temper and the stomach at one and the same moment.

The wines are of the rarest vintages, and always in good condition, the champagne being iced to a delicate coolness, refreshing to the palate after the highly spiced entree, and the claret at that mild warmth which the knowing ones irreverently term “the Sabbath calm.”

The table, too, is always laid to caress the eye; the light coming from wax-candles, with a mild radiance, while the silver and Dresden and flowers bespeak refinement, taste, aestheticism.

Wistaria was a large man, with a melancholy visage and a melancholy manner. He had a habit of looking out into the future with dreamy eyes, as if he was perpetually engaged in watching for the coming of some person or other, like Sister Anne in “Bluebeard.”

Mrs. Wistaria is a very elegant woman, well-read, gracious, and just that class of hostess who makes her house feel to her guests as though it was their own and not hers. By a graceful witchery she reverses things, acting as the guest, while in reality, the chatelaine.

There is one daughter of the house, and one son. Wynnie Wistaria is a bright girl of eighteen, with a murderous pair of black eyes, and lips ruddier than a cherry. Her teeth flash like diamonds, and her figure is one that Rossi would like to drape his luminous colored garments upon.

The son, Geoffrey, is a “swell,” a member of the Megatherium Club, a curled darling, who does Paris in Spring and Newport in the Fall. He is not a bad young fellow, but requires a lot of sitting upon.

Mr. Wistaria is a banker, lives in a palatial residence on Fifth Avenue, and is muchly trusted and respected.

I, James Hartopp, of the firm of Hartopp, Price & Hartopp, brokers, am twenty-eight years of age, tall, not bad-looking, wear my beard, and my share in the firm averages twenty thousand a year.

I met the Wistarias in Italy, in the Spring of ’76. We did Rome, Naples, and Venice together, and before we reached the Mount Cenis Tunnel on our return to Paris I found my heart had deserted to the colors of the piquant, fascinating, winsome Wynnie.

Why should I bore the reader with a physiological analysis of the condition of my feelings up to or subsequent to this palpitating period. Forbid it, ye gods! Olympus knows what I suffered and how I suffered, it is past now—the hopes, fears, agonies, distractions and—but I must not anticipate.

I received an invitation to dinner at No. — Filth Avenue for the 13th of April, 1876. The date is well engraven upon my memory.

At half-past seven o’clock I found myself in the superb drawing-room, and the first arrival.

I had a good minute to caress my beard to a point, to arrange the bow of my white choker, to adjust the pin of the bunch of flowers in my buttonhole, to wipe a speck of dust from my varnished boots, ere Wynnie appeared.

Didn’t she look lovely in diaphanous muslin, in a thousand rills and frills, and fringes and rosettes, and had she not, à deux mains, the bouquet that I had sent her during the day—a bouquet the size of a plum-pudding!

A few moments of delicious dalliance, and her mother rustled in, attired in all the finery of brocaded satin and rose-point and flashing diamonds.

“Ah, Mr. Hartopp. it’s so nice of you to be early— ‘on time,’ as the railway officials say. Punctuality is the soul of—dinner. By-the-way,” she added. ” a word in your ear,” taking me into a bay-window and letting down the lace curtains.

I did not know what was coming. She looked grave. My position toward Wynnie was doubtful. That I was an aspirant to her hand was true, but as yet I had not played my last stake, and there was another player at the same game—a Mr. Horace Upton.

This Upton was an Englishman and a snob. He could see nothing in America; Niagara was “an awfully jolly” jet of water; the Rocky Mountains were beastly; the country was uncivilized, and the cities were nothing but shanties and lager-beer saloons.

The fellow was born with a sneer, and his civility was an impertinence.

The Wistarias tolerated him on account of his great wealth, his father being the possessor of immense coal-mines in Westmoreland, and on account of the letter of introduction which he brought—an earnest recommendation from Lord Dacres.

Wynnie, on occasions, was singularly gracious to him, at others icy. I hated him “all along the line.”

“We shall be thirteen at dinner to-day, Mr. Hartopp; please do not take any notice of it, as Mr. Wistaria is singularly superstitious about this number. Little Bertie Marcy may come in to set us all right, but at this hour I have only just discovered the fact. I could ask no one.”

“Permit me to drop out, Mrs. Wistaria.”

“By no means, you, indeed! We could not possibly get on without you. You talk better across a table than any gentleman of my acquaintance. So you see I could not possibly spare you.”

This was intensely gratifying. There is no oil like subtle flattery—no incense so delicately pungent.

“l mean to mention the fact to my guests as they come in.”

“Would it not be better to trust to chance?”

“I do not care, in Mr. Wistaria’s present state of health, to trust anything to chance.”

The guests came floating and rustling in, and I observed Mrs. Wistaria imparting a word of caution to each.

Mr. Horace Upton arrived. He was the last comer, having the audacity to come at eight o’clock, being invited for half-past seven.

“I can do anything but be punctual,” he observed. “It’s a sort of institution that’s fit for you commercial people. We don’t recognize it in Belgravia.”

“I presume there is some punctuality in the coal pits,” I cut in, red-hot with anger.

Screwing his glass into the corner of his eye, he regarded me from head to foot as if I were some stuffed arrival of an extinct species.

“Ah!” he said.

I had the glorious triumph of taking Wynnie in to dinner. Oh, what an ecstatic thrill vibrated through me as, leaning—yea, leaning, not placing the tips of her fingers upon my coat-sleeve, but pressing her dainty little hand softly downward, and drawing close to me, until l became enveloped in the magic folds of her piquant toilet.

The soup was delicious. It was bisque a l’ecrevisse. When a man arrives at five and twenty he takes to his dinner. It is the budding of the flower that at fifty will give perfume to his life. The salmon cutlets were a study in their pinks and browns and creamy whites, while the Steinberger Cabinet wherewith they were washed down was fit for the table of Kaiser Wilhelm himself. At the entrees, the conversation becomes well turned on; all ice thaws upon the appearance of the cutlets, sweetbreads, and those poems in culinary art that appeal to the senses at this particular period of the ceremony. The accompanying champagne, too, set the tongue a-wagging, and the “whole machine” commences to “go.”

Mrs. Wistaria kept somewhat anxiously gazing at her husband, who sat at the foot of the table, silent, save when spoken to by Mrs. Spype Bodaby, who was on his right, or Mr. Duplex Sincote on his left. Mrs. Bodaby kept chatting to him in a chirpy but colorless manner, and his look was straight out through the windows, on to the avenue, or, for that matter, over to the North River or Jersey.

There was a silence—one of these strange lulls which seems to descend with the softness of snow.

No person seemed inclined to break it. Wynnie was trifling with a petal from one of the flowers of her bouquet. I was gazing rapturously at her shapely hand with its rosebud nails. The remainder of the company seemed more or less absorbed. I shall never forget that silence. I have been to the great Derby race, and felt the hush at the start.

I have been in the Corrida del Toros at Madrid, and have held my breath as the bull rushed forth to his doom.

And I have been at No. __ Fifth avenue, and have known the silence that for one brief moment held us on that I3th day of April, 1876.

Mr. Horace Upton broke it.

“By Jove,” he drawled, “we are thirteen at dinner.”

Mrs. Wistaria had omitted to warn him.

A dull, dead, ashen color seized the host’s face as if in a closing grip, stretching over it like the shadow of death.

Clinching his hands together, and with set teeth, he murmured:

“Thirteen! Can this be true?”

Mrs. Wistaria started to her feet, as did also her sister, Mrs. Penrose Gibbs.

“Certainly not,” cried Mrs. Wistaria, boldly flinging herself between Mr. Gibbs, a very small, inoffensive little man, whose wife rolled him bodily off his chair and beneath the table, “we are but twelve.”

Mr. Wistaria, still in the same attitude, counted, with glowing eves, the number of the guests.

“Twelve!” he muttered, a ray of relief flashing across his face, to be dispelled as quickly, as he hoarsely demanded, “Where is Gibbs?”

“Here,” uttered that unconscious personage, emerging from beneath the table, at the other side, though.

“Gad! I see it all now,” and, plunging his face in his hands, his fingers through his hair, our host seemed shaken by some terrible convulsion.

“George, dearest George, this is folly!” cried Mrs. Wistaria. “Madness! No person attaches the slightest feeling to dining thirteen.”

“I wish I could dine thirteen every day with such a dinner as this,” said Gibbs.

“We dined thirteen at the Stubbs’ several time last year as their ten married daughters with their husbands were stopping there, and we are all alive and well,” chirped Mrs. Spype Bodaby.

“I dined with thirteen fellows at the Star and Garter at Richmond, last year, and, by Jove, I’m the only one alive to-day

This speech came from Mr. Horace Upton, and a savage joy vibrated through me. He was nailing the coffin lid on his hopes.

Wynnie sprang to her father’s side, gently placing her arm around his neck. Mr. Wistaria’s hands were still closed upon his face, his fingers clutching his hair. Wynnie caressingly endeavored to remove them, but the grip was as firm as steel. The livid cheeks immediately beneath the ears were visible, as was also the ashen-hued chin.

A tremulous shudder passed over the man. We were all now dazed, helpless, confused.

Suddenly Mrs. Wistaria uttered a piercing shriek.

“Fly for Doctor Bribston! Help! Help!” she cried, in frenzied accents.

I was horrified to find a great stream of blood pouring down Mr. Wistaria’s chin—pouring in a bright, red rivulet.

I assisted in placing him upon the sofa, in a recumbent position, but in vain did we endeavor to remove his hands from his face.

When Doctor Bribston arrived, he cast one rapid glance at the prostrate form, grasped the pulse, laid his hand upon the heart, and shook his head.

Mr. Wistaria was dead.

He had died of heart disease.

During one of his sojourns in England, be had had his fortune told by a gypsy. This woman, after having examined his line of life, suddenly cast his palm from her, covering her face with her hands.

“Never!” she exclaimed, with a fierce solemnity— “never dine thirteen at table if you can avoid it, for you will die at the table.”

This strange prophecy sank into his very soul, and never would he sit at the table with this doomed number.

It was a strange coincidence. Very strange.

* * * *

I am married to Wynnie.

My wife and I dine out a good deal, and we entertain in proportion, but never shall I make one of thirteen

l have lost several good dinners through this superstition, call it what you will, but the ghastly recollection of that 13th of April, 1876, with all its other dark history can never be erased from my mind.

Frank Leslie’s Pleasant Hours, Volume 25

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  And a very happy Friday the 13th to all of you!

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Hallowe’en Superstitions: Ancient Times, reported in 1916

HALLOWE’EN SUPERSTITIONS

By R. B. SPAN

The thirty-first of October, the day preceding All Saints’ Day, is notable for the strange superstitions connected with it, and which are as old as the history of this country. In ancient Ireland All Hallows Eve was a great feast day, as it was amongst the Celts everywhere. On this day a new fire used to be kindled every year, and from this sacred flame all the fires of Ireland were re-kindled.

The ancient Celts took Samhain, or All Souls’ Day, as the first day of their year, and celebrated it much as we now celebrate New Year’s Day.

The other great feast day of the Celts was Beltane, or May Day, which ushered in summer. As a season of omens and auguries Hallowe’en seems to have far surpassed Beltane in the imagination of the Celts, and it was the custom of this genial, warm-hearted race to gather together on Hallowe’en for the purpose of ascertaining their destiny, especially their fortune in the coming year just begun. Not only among the Celts, but throughout Europe, the night which marks the transition from autumn to winter was regarded as the time when the spirits of the departed revisited their old homes and joined in the family gatherings around the fire, and partook of the good cheer provided in parlour and kitchen by their affectionate kinsfolk. But it is not only the souls of the departed who ” revisit the pale glimpses of the moon,” but witches speed by on errands of mischief, fairies make their presence manifest, and hobgoblins of all sorts roam freely about. In the Northern Tales of Scotland there is a saying, which, translated from the Gaelic, runs:

Hallowe’en will come, will come ;

Witchcraft will be set agoing ;

Fairies will be at full speed,

Running free in every pass.

Avoid the road, children, children!

On that night in Ireland all the fairy hills are thrown wide open and the fairies swarm forth, and to the man who is bold enough to approach them they will show the treasures of gold, etc., hidden in these green hills. The cavern of Cruachan in Connaught, known as the “Hell Gate of Ireland ” is then opened, and mischievous spirits come forth and roam the country-side, playing pranks on the farmers and peasantry.

The Scotch Highlanders have a special name, Samhanach (derived from Samhain), for the bogies and imps of mischief which go about then molesting all who come in their way.

In Wales, Hallowe’en was the weird night of the year, the chief of the Teir Nos Ysbrydion, or Three Spirit Nights, when the wind, “blowing over the feet of corpses,” brought omens of death in eerie sighs, to those doomed to “shuffle off this mortal coil” within the year.

It was not so long ago that the people of Wales in some districts used to congregate in churches on Hallowe’en and read their fate from the flame of the candle which each of them held; they also heard the names or saw the coffins of the parishioners who would die within the year. In the Highlands of Scotland it was believed that if any one took a three-legged stool and sat on it where three roads met whilst the clock was striking midnight, a voice from the Unseen would tell him the names of those in his neighbourhood who would die within twelve months. It used to be (and may be still) the custom in Scotland for the young people gathered together in one of the houses to resort to various games and forms of divination for the purpose of ascertaining their futures—principally as regards chances of matrimony—such as, would they marry or not, was the marriage to occur that year or never, who would marry first, and descriptions of the future spouse, and so on, when the answers to the numerous queries would furnish a vast amount of entertainment. These practices were not confined to the Highlands, but the Lowlanders of Saxon descent also believed in and followed them—having inherited them from the Celts, the original owners of the country.

Most of the forms of divination are very quaint: the following are a few of the best known instances. A girl desirous of divining her future husband takes an apple and stands with it in front of a looking glass. She slices the apple and sticks each slice on the point of a knife and holds it over her left shoulder while looking in the glass and combing her hair. The spectre of the future husband then appears in the mirror, and stretching out his hand, takes the slices of apple over her shoulder. Some say that the number of slices should be nine, and that the first eight should be eaten and the ninth thrown over the shoulder, and also that at each slice the diviner should say, ” In the name of the Father and the Son.”

Another curious practice is to take an egg, prick it with a pin, and let the white drop into a glass of water; take some of this in your mouth and go for a walk. The first name you hear will be that of your future husband or wife. One old woman in Perthshire stated she tried this when a girl, and she heard the name Archibald, and this proved to be the name of the man she married. In the Hebrides, a salt cake called Bonnach Salainn is eaten at Hallowe’en to induce dreams which will reveal the future. It is made of common meal with a good deal of salt. After eating it you must not drink water or utter a word, or you spoil the charm. It is equally efficacious to eat a salt herring, bones and all, in three bites, provided no water is drunk and no word spoken afterwards. Amongst the farmers and country people a favourite method of divination is to take a winnowing- basket, or wecht, as the Lowland Scotch term it, and go through the action of winnowing corn. After doing this three times the apparition of your future husband or wife will pass through the barn, coming in at one door and passing out at the other. Amongst the young people gathered at the fireside it is often the custom to burn nuts to divine marriage prospects, and much fun is obtained from the pastime. Two nuts representing a lad and a lass who are obviously “in love” are placed side by side in the fire. If they burn quietly together the pair will become man and wife, and from the length of time they bum and the brightness of the flame one may judge of the length and happiness of the married life, but if the nuts jump away from each other then there will be no marriage, and the blame rests with the person whose nut has started away.

In North Wales it was the custom for every family to make a great bonfire, called Cod Coeth, on the most conspicuous spot near the house, and when the fire had died down, for each person to throw into the embers a white stone (marked so as to be identified). They then said their prayers and retired. Early next morning they sought their stones amid the ashes, and if any were missing it was believed that the persons who threw them would die within the year.

In Scotland (as in Ireland and Wales) Hallowe’en was for centuries celebrated by great bonfires on every hill and peak, and the whole country was brilliantly illuminated, presenting a most picturesque scene, with the flames reflected in the dark Highland lochs, and penetrating the deep craggy ravines. These fires were especially numerous in the Perthshire Highlands, and the custom was continued to the first half of the nineteenth century. They were observed around Loch Tay as late as the year 1860, and for several hours both sides of the loch were illuminated as far as eye could see. In Ireland the Hallowe’en fires would seem to have died out earlier, but the divination still survives.

General Vallancey states that on Hallowe’en or the Vigil of Samain, the peasants assemble with sticks and clubs and go from house to house collecting money, bread, butter, eggs, etc., for the feast in the name of St. Colombkill. Every house abounds in the best victuals they can obtain, and apples and nuts are largely devoured. Nuts are burnt, and from the ashes strange things are foretold; hemp seed is sown by the maidens, who believe that if they look back they will see the wraith of their future spouse; they also hang a smock before the fire on the close of the feast and sit up all night concealed in a comer of the room, convinced that his apparition will come and turn the smock ; another method is to throw a ball of yam out of the window and wind it on the reel within, believing that if they repeat the Pater Noster backwards, and look at the ball of yam without, they will see his sith or wraith; they dip for apples in a tub of water and try to bring one up in the mouth; they suspend a cord with a cross-stick with apples at one point and lighted candles at the other, and endeavour to catch the apple, while in circular motion, in the mouth. These, and many other superstitions (the relicts of Druidism), will never be eradicated whilst the name of Samain exists. (Hibernian Folk Lore, Charles Vallancey.)

In County Roscommon, a cake is made in nearly every house, and a ring, a coin, a sloe, and a chip of wood put into it. The person who obtains the ring will be married first, the coin predicts riches for its finder, the sloe longevity, and the chip of wood an early death. It is considered that the fairies blight the sloes on the hedges at Hallowe’en so that the sloe in the cake will be the last of the year. The colleens take nine grains of oats in their mouths, and going out without speaking, walk about till they hear a man’s name pronounced, and that will be the name of their future husband.

In the Isle of Man, Hallowe’en used to be celebrated by the kindling of fires, and by various ceremonies for the prevention of the baneful influence of witches and the mischievous pranks of fairies and elves. Here, as in Scotland, forms of divination are practised. As an instance, the housewife fills a thimble full of salt for each member of the family and empties it out in little piles on a plate and left there during the night. Next morning the piles are examined, and if any of them have fallen down, he or she whom it represents will die before next Hallowe’en. The women also carefully sweep out the ashes from under the fireplace and flatten them down neatly on the open hearth. If, the next morning, a foot print is found turned towards the door it signifies a death, but if turned in the opposite direction a marriage is predicted. In Lancashire, also, the fires of Hallowe’en were lighted up to the middle of the nineteenth century, and similar forms of divination practised as in Scotland and Ireland; and even to-day the Lancashire maiden strews the ashes which are to take the shape of one or more letters of her future husband’s name and throws hemp seed over her shoulder and glances around fearfully to see who is following her. At one time the Lancashire witches used to assemble from all parts of the country at Malkin Tower, an ancient and ruined building in the Forest of Pendle, and there they planned evil and mischief, and woe betide those who were out on the fells at night and crossed their path. It was possible, however, to keep them at bay by carrying a light of some kind. The witches would try to extinguish the light, and if they succeeded, so much the worse for the person, but if the flame burned steadily till the clocks struck midnight they could do no harm. Some people performed the ceremony by deputy, and parties went from house to house in the evening collecting candles, one from each inmate, and offering their services to leet the witches. This custom was practised at Longridge Fell in the early part of the nineteenth century. Northumberland was the only other part of England where Hallowe’en was observed and its quaint customs adhered to to any extent, though in all parts of the Kingdom (and in France also) it has always been believed (and is still) that the Unseen World is closer to this mundane sphere on October 31 than at any other time.

The Occult Review October 1916: p. 213-17

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is always pleasant to look at “superstition” on a Friday the Thirteenth, a day so fraught with fear.  We have previously looked at charms to prevent bad luck and have been privy to the secrets of the contrarian “Thirteen Club.” We have also encountered some of these quaint (and sometimes terrifying) old beliefs before in the story of a young woman who wanted to host a completely “authentic” Hallowe’en party called “Nut Crack Night.” 

Mrs Daffodil is amused at how the superstitions above toggle between “sex” and “death,” two of the human race’s most pressing concerns.  The earlier ‘teens had seen a revival of folk-singing, Morris dancing, May Queens, and Corn Dollies. As the world hovered on the edge of War, the old ways evoked some mythical Golden Era of Peace and Plenty.

Yet pestilence, inter-tribal warfare, witches, and midnight horrors—like the poor—are with us always.  This collection of “ancient” rites was published during the Great War, when no end to the bloodshed seemed possible. That year there must have been many sad visions of coffins and many white stones missing from the bonfires.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

“I’m Not Superstitious, But–“: 1926

“I’m Not Superstitious, But—“

Nina Wilcox Putnam

America’s Only Woman Humorist [!!?!?!]

As Sir Walter Raleigh said, when spreading his coat over the mud puddle for Queen Elizabeth, “Step on it, kid, this is your lucky day and mine, too. I only regret that I have but one coat to lay down for my country.”

And how true it is that some things bring you luck, providing you believe they do, certainly was proved to me not long ago when I luckily picked up the telephone receiver on a busy wire and heard that the cook was leaving over at Miss Demeanor’s. I was lucky and quick enough to beat all the other ladies in Dinglewood to luring her.

The cooks, if any, which we have had this part year have positively caused a draft going through our kitchen, that’s how fast they went. And now, quite by accident, I run across the fact that this cook was leaving, so naturally I ran across and asked would she come to us, and she said she would, and so I went right on back home and scrubbed the kitchen floor, washed the windows, tied red bows on the kitchen curtains, moved the best easy chair, radio and five-foot bookshelf out there, also a few little other odds and ends into her quarters such as my long mirror, my best red room slippers, and etc. to make her feel thoroughly comfortable.

The Conquering Cook Comes

Well, the next morning, which was when we was expecting her, I fixed myself up as attractive as possible and sat down to wait for her. Pretty soon the doorbell give a loud ring, and my heart give a ditto leap, and I though, oh heavens, there she is and hurried to answer. Well, it was, actually she had showed. I took her bags and carried them upstairs and showed her her room, asked was there anything I could do for her, found she would fancy a little cake and tea, and then I left her in privacy while I went down to fix things up like she wanted, and while I was doing so, the bell rang again, and this time who would it be only that Mabel Bush, the one that’s married to Joe Bush of the Hawthorne Club.

Well, at first I thought where Mabel must have been shopping, on account she had something with her from pretty near every department of the Emporium. But no, she was merely going away for a coupula weeks and had brought some stuff she wanted to park with me while she was gone.

Say dear, she says when she had got her breath. I wonder would you mind taking care of my goldfish while I and Joe is out in Kansas visiting mother. He’s a real sweet little feller, ain’t you, Otto? See how cute he is, Jennie? And he don’t bite or anything unless he’s crossed. With that she hauled out one of the meanest looking goldfish I ever saw in my life. It gives me an awful funny look right off, but naturally I merely says why hello, Otto, nice Otto, pretty feller, of course I’ll take care of him, Mabel, what does he eat? Oh, fishcakes, she says, or any old thing. Now go to your Aunt Jennie, Otto, that’s the boy!

Mabel Dodges the Jinx

Well, I took his glass globe and put I on the table, a little uneasy over how the new cook would feel about another mouth to feed after I had told her there was only three in the family. But before I got a chance to go do any heavy worrying, Mabel had pulled a wild-looking fern out from a handbag, and set the poor helpless thing at my feet. ‘There!’ she says “I’m sure you don’t mind looking after that; all you got to do is water it once a day with double-filtered water, brush its leaves, pick the spiders and seeds off it, and give it a little sunshine.

Then before I had a chance to kick she was after me with another coupla bundles. “This is just the canary,” she says, “and here, my dear, is my peacock fan and my opal pin. Of course I’m not a bit superstitious, but I always say there is no use taking silly chances, and there have been three wrecks around mother’s neighbourhood lately, and I hate to leave them in the house in case burglars was to break in, so you don’t mind if I leave them with you, do you?”

Why Mabel Bush, I says, do you mean to tell me you are superstitious about taking them things with you? I says, why you ought to be ashamed of such ideas. I wouldn’t be so childish, why what harm can a father fan and few opals do? Well, she says, of course they can’t do any harm, I know that, so you really won’t mind keeping them until I get back? I says of course not, dear, but honest, I think you ought to take them along, just to overcome such nonsensical ideas.

Jennie Takes no Chances.

Well, Mabel wouldn’t insult my intelligence by taking them things off the place once she had brought them, so she left them and went on her way. And after she had done so, why I put the livestock around the dining-room, and then I didn’t quite know where to put that opal pin and Mabel’s peacock fan for safe-keeping. Of course I didn’t have the faintest feeling about keeping them in the house, even with a new cook there, so I left ‘em lay where she put them.

Then I picked up a pin off the floor, walking around so’s to make sure the point was towards me, and went out in the kitchen to ask Mary, the new cook, did she know anybody owning a second-hand black cat they didn’t need? Not that I really thought it would do any good, but some people have the idea a black cat is lucky, and while I personally myself certainly don’t believe in any such nonsense, why as long as I had the idea in my head I thought I might as well get a black cat to kinda counteract the idea of that fan and opals. Well, it seems Mary had a cat meeting my specifications up to her house and she offered to go right up and get it, but I wasn’t taking any chances of letting her out. So  says, oh no, don’t bother, I will go, where is it? And she says no. 13 West 113th St.

Luck Looks Up.

That number, of course, didn’t sound awful good to me, but I says to myself, now don’t be silly, it is a pure coincidence, you go get that cat just the same. So I did, and there was a ladder standing over the front door when I got there. Not that I minded this any more than poison, and naturally I hadn’t come all that long way in order to be turned back by a mere childish superstition. So I went under the ladder and knocked on the door and after a while somebody put their head out the window and says what do you want? And I says, Mary, that’s my cook, at least she was when I left home, told me her daughter had a black cat. And the party in the window says Mary’s daughter ain’t ever here Fridays, but I’ll get you the cat. So she done so in a bag, and my good luck started right away.

Well, anyways, I was lucky enough to get home alive and without being arrested in spite of the bloody murder that animal was yelling. And I was lucky with it another way, on account no sooner was that cat established in our home than I no longer had to bother feeding my goldfish. I didn’t haf to bury it, the nice kitty attended to all that.

Naturally, however, I had to replace Otto, so I ordered another poor fish of exactly the same pattern, ordered it kept down in the fish department of the Emporium until Mabel got ready to come back. It was just as well, anyways, on account the new cook claimed she never could of stood the noise it didn’t make.

Welcoming the Horseshoe

Now of course I wasn’t one bit superstitious about them opals being in the house, but I have to admit I commenced dropping tea spoons right after Mabel parked stuff with me. Not that I believe it really is unlucky to drop a spoon, but once I got the idea why I felt there wouldn’t be any actual harm in doing everything I could to counteract the thought. And so it was certainly rather cheering when Junior brought in a nice horseshoe with three nails in it. I had a good time gilding it up, and panting a few forget me nots on it, so’s nobody would think anything peculiar when I hung it up over the parlor mantel.

Ad nobody did, not even when by accident in hanging it, I happened to brush Mabel’s peacock fan off the mantel and into the open fire. I felt awful bad about this and what to do certainly was the question. It was one thing to page a new gold fish, but not a soul I knew kept even one peacock, and so he only thing I could hope for was that Mabel had her stuff well insured.

I wouldn’t want to lay the blame on any of Mabel’s belongings. I am not that kind of a fool, but it’s the truth that the very day I bought a picture postal of a peacock in order to make things up to Mabel the best I could, why somebody, the cat, so the cook said, left the dining room window open, let Mabel’s fern freeze, and of course, the only one of the same style our florist had in stock was twice as big and four times as expensive. But that didn’t matter so bad, because all I would have to do when she come back would be to say look, dear, what wonderful care I have taken of your plant, just see how it has grown and etc.

Worse and More of It.

Hot Bozo! As if that wasn’t enough the darn canary bird she had left on my hands commenced moulting. We could hear him at it every morning earl, and never once got dressed and down in time to stop him. So I had to go spend a couple or three dollars on hair tonic and after he drank the first couple of bottles he begun to look better. Just the same he had a distinctly shingle bobbed appearance by the time I got a letter from Mabel telling where she would be home in two days and if it wasn’t too much bother, would I mind ordering milk and ice, and loaning them a little coal, and running over to air the house and tell the furnace man to build a fire and ask the newspaper man to commence leaving the Morning Yell again. And she hoped it wouldn’t be too much bother.

So I done like she asked, and I addition carted all her stuff over for her—all, that is to say, except them opals. Look as I could, I wasn’t able to locate that pin any place. I stubbed my toe looking and every one knows that meant you’re going some place where you’re not welcome without that jewel? The cook got sore when I asked if she had seen the darn thing, and says well, if she wasn’t trusted, there was no use in he r staying any longer. So she took her bag, wages and departure.

And still I couldn’t find no pin, so I decided, well, that cook never would of left me flat like that and walked out unless she really had stolen it, after all! Not that I’m the least superstitious, but I might of known I wouldn’t have a minute’s luck with opals in the house. I don’t believe in any superstition in the world, but there has certainly been nothing go right since Mable left them stones here, and what and the world am I gonner tell her when I see her tomorrow?

One Superstition Left

Well, naturally there wasn’t nothing to do except tell her the truth. And so when Mabel come home and I was over there to her house with everything ready for her like she had asked, and she says how lovely and neighborly of you, dear, I’m afraid it’s been a terrible lot of bother. Why, of course I says, not in the least, darling. It’s been no bother at all. It’s been a pleasure. But, I says, I got bad news for you. I lost your opal pin, dear, not that I’m one bit superstitious, but it certainly brought me bad luck all the while it was with me and now it’s gone.

And she says, why Jennie Jules, she says, it was never there at all. I didn’t leave it there. I took it along with me after all, on account of the way you kidded me about being superstitious! And I give her one look. No! I says, meaning yes. So you never left it! I says. Well, I do guess there is one superstition I do believe in, after all, which is that when a person’s nose itches it means they are going to kiss a fool, and so, if you’ve got a mirror handy, I believe I’ll get the job over with right now.

The Sunday news [Charleston SC 17 January 1926

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Just in time for the 13th of the month, this whimsical account touches on just about every common superstition of the early twentieth century, as well as the problem of Keeping a Cook. Peacock feathers, opals, and black cats were all considered unlucky, although sceptics tried to reason people out of their fears of jinxes and hoodoos and fashion tried to trump superstition, all to no avail; some individuals still believe these articles to be problematic even to-day.

That rankly superstitious person over at Haunted Ohio has a theory, writing:

“Judging by the persistence of ‘superstitions,’ one wonders if, in the same way humans need certain vital gut bacteria and an exposure to dirt in childhood to maintain a healthy immune system, humans need a salutary dose of the illogical from time to time to top up whatever part of the brain it feeds.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Fourteenth Man: 1858

Frontispiece of the Annual Report of The Thirteen Club.

Frontispiece of the Annual Report of The Thirteen Club.

[A correspondent from Paris tells of the dire number thirteen.]

“That thirteen is an unlucky number all the world knows. No house numbered thirteen but what suffered troubles and deaths beyond all reason. Thirteen at table is certain death to some member of the company before the year is out. One of the Rothschilds paid a large sum of money once to have all the numbers of a street changed so that a house he had selected might be relieved of the disastrous number. The thirteenth of the month—particularly if it comes on a Friday—is awful to everyone. No thirteen in this world but what brought sadness and misfortune! At least so it is generally presumed on this side of the water.

The occupation of ‘No. 14’ is a recognized one in Paris, serving as it does to designate certain individuals who, for a slight compensation and unrestrained liberty concerning the victuals, consent to add one to any unfortunate dinner party which by mistake only counts thirteen. ‘No. 14’ has a white cravat, a tolerable looking dress coat, and a tolerably prepossessing countenance for his stock in trade. His address is always known to habitual entertainers, and he is ever within call for an emergency. Silent, but industrious, he fills most respectably a fourteenth chair, thus averting calamity from the heads of all the others.

But heresy and unbelief have crept into the minds of some wild young fellows in Bordeaux. They are determined if possible to destroy the ancient superstition, and for that purpose have resolved to form themselves into a society to be called the ‘Independent Thirteeners’—or something equally bold—which shall have banquets to be invariably attended by thirteen persons, such banquets always to be given on Fridays. And, reckless as to the sorrows and deaths this will bring upon them, they have further determined to have a regular grand ‘blow-out,’ if I may so express myself, the thirteenth Friday of each year! The members will at each banquet upset the salt and not throw any over their left shoulders! They will purposely cross their knives so as to quarrel with each other, will commence all their journeys on Friday, and, in short, pitch in to Friday and number thirteen generally. In addition to all this they offer to receive with delight and affection as members of their club, persons supposed to be afflicted with what is called along the coasts of the Mediterranean the ‘evil eye,’ to counteract the effect of which so many coral horns are worn in Genoa, Naples and other places where, also, to avoid their harming influence, persons with the ‘eye’ never receive in a shake of the hands more than two fingers, the two middle ones and the thumb being carefully turned down in defence. When all this unfortunate club are dead from such willful perversity, I will write and let you know about it.”

Detroit [MI] Free Press 11 July 1858: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  While thirteen is considered a most unlucky number in many cultures, “thirteen at table” was especially lethal, as we see in this curious story about King Alfonso XII of Spain.

Last year, when visiting the cholera-stricken people of Aranjuez, the King dined with his suite. During the first course one of the guests asked permission to withdraw. It was naturally desired to know why, and this person naively replied.: “Because there are thirteen at table,” which was the fact.

The King laughed greatly at this incident, and insisted that every one should keep his place. Then, still laughing, he turned to the Duke las Castillejos, son of Marshal Prim, and aide-de-camp of General Pavia and said to the Duke, “Take down the names of the persons present, so that we can prove if the proverb is true. I am curious to know which of us it will be that will die this year,” added the King with his habitual good humour.

Of the ” thirteen at dinner ” it was the King who was the first to die.

The Medium and Daybreak 5 February 1886: p. 87

The King died, aged only 27, in 1885. He had been suffering from consumption, but the official cause of death was dysentery—perhaps acquired during his tour of cholera-stricken villages? Despite his “habitual good humour,” the King was plagued by deaths among his relatives, wives, and would-be wives, a circumstance attributed to an unlucky ring.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written on the hi-jinks of “The Thirteen Club.” Such iconoclastic organisations were immensely popular, if one takes everything one reads in the newspapers seriously. Here is an account of an ill-fated Parisian attempt at stamping out superstition.

The Fatal Thirteen.

Some weeks ago a strong-minded Parisienne started the Thirteen club, so named because at the luncheons and dinners the members organized among themselves on the 13th of the month, and they always sat down thirteen in number, but when that date coincided with a Friday the day was celebrated with special rejoicings. Moreover, the members pledged themselves to make an active propaganda among their friends and relatives with the view of crushing the superstition attached to the fatal thirteen. One enthusiastic recruit even suggested starting a weekly paper in support of the movement and she brought out one number at her own expense. It was shown to me at the time, and I am not surprised that the publication went no further. But now I hear that the strong-minded president of the club had a motor accident recently on Friday the 13th and that when she reached home she found burglars had entered her house. She at once resigned her membership, and the Thirteen club is dead. Idaho Statesman [Boise, ID] 8 March 1908: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Thirteen Club: Celebrating Friday the 13th

From the menu of a 13 Club dinner.

From the menu of a 13 Club dinner.

Since today is Friday the Thirteenth, Mrs Daffodil, who is not superstitious, thought it would be amusing to tell of the “Thirteen Club,” founded in New York in 1882 by Capt. William Fowler, a Civil War veteran who believed thirteen to be his lucky number.

THIRTEEN IS A LUCKY NUMBER

The 13 Club Eats Its Thirteenth Dinner,

And the Members Claim to Have Enjoyed Themselves.

A Deliberate Attempt to Destroy Time-Honored Superstitions That Succeeded.

Thirteen years ago the Thirteen Club was organized at the Knickerbocker Cottage, No. 454 Sixth Avenue, New York, and its thirteenth annual banquet was held there last evening, beginning at 3:13 o’clock. There are just 13 letters in the word Knickerbocker, and the numbers 454, added together, make 13. The host, upon the occasion when the club was formed 13 years ago, was William Fowler, who was present last night, and there are just 13 letters in his name, while the original dinner was held in room 13, on the 13th of the month and there were 13 courses.

There is probably no social organization in existence, says the New York World, which has so signally achieved its object and excited so much curiosity as the Thirteen Club. It was formed for the purpose of combating the superstition that 13 is an unlucky number and that Friday is an unlucky day. A great many people believed, and some still believe, that if 13 people sit down at table together one will surely die within a year.

Thirteen people sat down at table at the original dinner of the Thirteen Club and not one of them died within a year. As a matter of fact it was six years before one of the participants in the dinner died, and it was neither the food nor the wine that caused his death.

The club has, moreover, practically succeeded in destroying the old superstition about Friday. Within a year after its formation the archivist, who is one of the officials of the club, drew up a letter, which he had prepared, showing the absurdity of the Friday superstition.

HANGMAN’S DAY.

These tended to show that Friday was a particularly unlucky day upon which to begin any enterprise; that a ship sailing on Friday would surely be lost, and especially that Friday was known as the “Hangman’s Day” and was the only day of the week when criminals could appropriately be executed.

When this letter was read to the club it was unanimously adopted, and funds were raised for its dissemination. A copy was mailed to the governor of every state in the union and one was sent to every judge in the country having power to sentence to death, as well as many district attorneys. It contained a request that they would accept honorary membership in the Thirteen Club and join the battle against Friday superstitions, and it asked that they vary the day for hanging criminals

Decius S. Wade, chief justice of Montana, was one of the first to acknowledge receipt of this letter, and he said he delayed doing so until a murderer who was being tried before him was convicted. He wrote that he had sentenced the man to be hanged on a Thursday. Judge Wade added that the criminal did not lose anything by this, as he had given him six days longer to live by choosing Thursday for his final taking off, and in conclusion he said: “If this is not sufficient to constitute me an honorary member of the Thirteen Club, I will cheerfully hang the next murderer on any day the Thirteen Club may name.”

It was not, however, until nearly every state in the union had varied the hanging day as a result of the work begun by the Thirteen Club that the first case of execution upon any other day than Friday was accomplished in the state of New York. This was the case of Mrs. Druse, in Albany County [see below for her story], who was sentenced by a member of the club and hanged on a Monday.

Judge Van Hoesen, of the Supreme Court of New York, was the first to break the iron rule in that city. He chose Monday for the hanging of the first murderer sentenced by him after the formation of the Thirteen Club. The next hanging in New York took place upon a Thursday through the instrumentality of Governor Hill, who reprieved a murderer for several weeks and ordered that he be hanged upon a Thursday, saying he changed the day of hanging because Friday, known as the sixth day of the week, had been given too much of the disgrace attendant upon such occasions.

Executions are now ordered upon all the days of the week, except Sunday, in different parts of the union, and Friday has ceased to be known as Hangman’s day.

SHIPS NOW SAIL ON FRIDAY

Many vessels now sails from New York on Friday of every week, as well as from other ports of the world. Thirteen years ago such sailings were not so common, while there was a deep-rooted superstition among sailors against sailing upon any ship which left port on that day. Lieutenant Peary, when leaving on the Kite for the Arctic, in July, 1891, deferred the sailing one day because the sailors protested against leaving port of Friday. The members of the Thirteen Club now believe, however, that this absurd superstition has been shaken in the minds of sailors through the club’s propaganda, and that in a few years it will disappear altogether…

THEY LIKE COFFINS

It would almost seem, from a perusal of the literature published by the Thirteen Club and from the speeches delivered by members at its numerous banquets, that 13 is a lucky number, and Friday a lucky day, and whenever during the past 13 years Friday has fallen on the thirteenth of the month this peculiar organization has never failed to hold a special meeting for rejoicing. It was always on the watch for coincidences which would add to the oddity of the occasion. Thus its summer banquets were held at Brighton Beach, because there were 13 letters in the name, just as last night the dinner was at the Knickerbocker for the same reason.

The members of the club have been called iconoclasts and they have been charged with being steeped in superstition because they recognized old superstitions to the extent of organizing and working for their overthrow. It is a fact that not being content with defying the superstition about Friday and the number 13, they have also attacked a lot of other deeply rooted notions that are somewhat absurd, but which everybody recognizes more or less. Thus they not only sit down with 13 at the table, but often the menu is printed in the form of a coffin.

The coat of arms of the club takes the form of a man in a dress suit drinking a glass of wine with a skeleton, and a skull and cross bones are liberally displayed.

13 club 2

At the dinners of the club it has been a regular custom to spill salt, to cross forks, and to break looking glasses.

The Thirteen Club is the result of the efforts of a man who had been for several years seeking to get 12 friends to sit down with him at table in order to combat the old superstition. He is Capt. William Fowler, who was present at the banquet last night. Marvin R. Clark, who is largely responsible for the notoriety which the organization has attained, says that 13 days before the club was born he met Captain Fowler, who told him of his unsuccessful efforts to get up such a dinner in past years, and invited him to be present.

THE ORIGINAL THIRTEEN.

Mr. Clark accepted the invitation, although he says; “I was compelled to admit to myself that I certainly had been superstitious in the past, for I had always made it a rule, in conformity with the instructions of my mother, never to go under a ladder, and I recalled many an instance when I soiled shoes and clothing by carefully going out into the muddy street rather than pass under a ladder.”

The original dinner was held on Friday, January 13th, the guests sitting down at 7:13 and the original 13 were: Daniel Wolff, Lehman Israels, William Fowler, Henry A. Heiser, Charles Sothern, James A. Reed, Samuel Jones, Julius Witskowski, Richard Fitzgerald, George P. Powell, John Mills, Edwin Dew, and Marvin R. Clark.

As a result of the talk about superstitions at this dinner the club was formed. It achieved wide celebrity as soon as its objects and customs were known, and there was a rush of new members. From 13 members in January, 1882, the club reached a membership 13 times 13 in 1885, 26 times 13 in 1886, 52 times 13 in 1887, and 100 times 13, which was the limit decided upon in 1889.

Branch clubs were organized in other cities, the original club here granting them charters. Other unique organizations started into existence, such as the Opal Order, whose members wore opals [that unlucky stone…or the Whitechapel Club of Chicago [Jack the Ripper was the honorary president and members drank from skulls.]

The Thirteen Club of this city has, however, followed the original lines laid down at its opening dinner, and proposes to go right ahead, in spite of the ridicule heaped upon it in some quarters and in spite of the charge that its members are superstitious men whose greatest superstition is sitting 13 at table.

The present “chief ruler,” as the head of the organization is called, is ex-Assemblyman W.W. Niles, and among others who have held this office are Judge David McAdam and Surrogate J. H.V. Arnold. The honorary members include Chauncey M. Depew, Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, Abram S. Hewitt, William R. Grace, Roswell P. Flower, Judge Van Brunt and Judge Dugro. [The Prince of Wales was also offered an honourary membership. There was some controversy over whether he accepted.] The initiation fee is $1.13, and the members address each other as “Yours thirteenly.”

The Herald [Los Angeles, CA] 21 January 1895: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil adds this account of a contretemps at 1909 gathering of the club. One fears some hubris was involved.

Hoodoo Gets Even

Member of Thirteen Club Cut in Breaking a Mirror.

From the New York American.

Three hundred and thirteen members and guests of the Thirteen Club, which exists to defy superstition, were not so sure after their banquet at the St. Regis Monday night, that it is—well, discreet, say, to go out of one’s way to hoot at the old beliefs. J.R. Abarbanell, one of the members, volunteered to break a mirror—provided by the club—which hung over a $15,000 piano in the banquet hall. He struck it with a skull, and it broke, all right, and he struck so hard that his hand became involved with a shower of glass fragments and was seriously cut. Abarbanell ran from the room, yelling with excitement. It took a doctor nearly an hour to extract the glass from his hand and dress the cuts.

That wasn’t all. Several big fragments from the mirror fell upon the specially made woodwork of the $15,000 piano, cut and scratched the cover so badly that it will cost several hundred dollars to patch it up. Apart from that disturbing incident, the dinner went off very well. The guests entered the banquet room through a door above which hung a thirteen foot ladder with thirteen rungs, on which was inscribed, ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’ Then they sat down, thirteen at a table, and raised umbrellas, spilled salt, and used little skulls for candelabra.

Thirteen of the members after coffee had been served left the room, which was darkened, and returned in shrouds chanting, “Quaff a cup to the dead already; hurrah for the next that dies.” Then they groaned, laughed wild ghostly laughs, and carried out The Revelry of the Dying while little pans of alcohol gave blue- tinged light to the proceedings. The Washington [DC] Post 15 January 1909: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The case of Mrs Druse, mentioned as the first person executed in New York state on a Monday, was a lurid one. She shot her husband several times and then cut his head off, apparently while he was still living. To be fair, it was said that she had some provocation: Mr Druse was said to be both shiftless and psychotically violent and he objected to Mrs Druse’s gentlemen callers. Clearly if she had been a better shot she would have avoided the painful and distasteful chore that is dismemberment.

Mrs Daffodil has previously remarked that she is not superstitious, although many of her employers take great pains to avoid thirteen at table. Mrs Daffodil thinks that it is only unlucky to be thirteen at table is if the thirteenth is someone odious like Mr G B Shaw, Viscount Astor or a mauve-faced Colonel of Mrs Daffodil’s acquaintance who breathes heavily down the décolletage of blushing young brides. These gentlemen, if Mrs Daffodil has anything to say about it, would seem to be appropriate candidates for dying well inside of a year of staggering away from the unlucky table.

You will find the story of Mrs Druse and its accompanying ghost story in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past, available in paperback and for Kindle. The book also contains a chapter about “hoodoos,” including the number 13.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Vampire Superstition in Pennsylvania: 1893

killing vampireAs it is the Eve of St. George’s Day, when, according to the Reverend Montague Summers, all evil things, including vampires, have full sway, here is a story of

Vampire Superstition in Pennsylvania

In a paper recently read before the New York Folk-lore Society, Mr. Lee J. Vance narrates some curious facts showing the survival of the vampire superstition among the Hungarian miners in Pennsylvania. One of these miners at Antrim, who was suffering from consumption, conceived the idea that his suffocation and shortness of breath was caused by the ghost of a former boss, who in life had tyrannized over him, sitting on his breast and sucking his life-blood. In Hungary, ghosts who thus prey on the living are exorcised by burning the hearts which beat in the bodies they inhabited before death. The proof that a body is that of a vampire is a heart still fresh and full of blood when the rest of the corpse may be decayed. When a heart which is thus proved to be that of a vampire is burned the live person who has been the ghost’s victim recovers from the effects of the visitation. Believing all this implicitly, the miner, aided by his brother, dug up the corpse of the dead boss and cut out the heart. It was found to be fresh and full of blood, as they expected, and they accordingly burned it, with full faith that good results would follow to the sufferer from consumption. The immediate result was the arrest of the disturbers of the dead. They were not prosecuted, however, allowances being made for their ignorance. In spite of the burning of the boss’ heart the consumptive miner, although he professed at first to feel perfectly well, died not long afterward.

Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 24 April, 1893: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The custom was well-known in New England, where it was believed that burning and ingesting the deceased’s heart would prevent “The White Death,” as consumption was called, from spreading to the rest of the family. Sadly, it did not.

For more on blood-drinkers of various sorts, please see this post  and this at the Haunted Ohio blog.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.