NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS PERTAINING TO
BELIEFS, SUPERSTITIONS & WITCH-CRAFT
HOME | BACK
The following newspaper articles are
from the Chester County Historical Society Library (West Chester, Pa.):
Daily Local News; 9/07/1883
A MAN CHARGED WITH BEWITCHING A WOMAN.
Mrs. Mary A. Bowman, who lives at No. 1603 Summer street, has, through her
counsel, had a capias issued by the Sheriff of Montgomery county for the arrest
of Charles Clark, of Pottstown, who is charged with casting a spell on her and
bewitching her to such an extent that she has suffered both mental and physical
injury. Mrs. Bowman owns considerable property in Pottstown, where she resided
until recently. In her complaint she states that she has been married for
thirteen years, and up to within three years ago lived a very happy and
contented life. One night, while preparing her children for bed, she heard the
voices of several men. One of the voices said:--"She is George Davis'
daughter; I know she is, for she got the money." From this mention of
her--for she is a daughter of George Davis--the voices proceeded to talk about
her in a shocking manner. Such remarks were made as to cause her to hide her
face in shame and confusion. She rushed upstairs to the bedroom with the
children very much frightened. It appeared to her that the men were looking
right at her all the time. From that time, she says, she has had no peace of
mind, and misfortune has followed her constantly. Day after day, she would hear
the voices of these men and from what was said to her, the persons to whom they
belonged appeared to contemplate her ruin and disgrace.
Charles Clark, whom she did not know personally, she says was the leading spirit
in the persecution. The voices said that they wanted to separate her from her
husband, and one of them said that if she would leave her home he would marry
her and discard his own wife.
For long periods the voices would not come to her. Then they would return more
persistent than before. Threats were made that if she did not do as directed a
spell would be put on her little baby. Soon afterwards the child was taken sick
and died. Threats were then made that her husband would be led to drink and soon
after the voices had said this the husband did go off on a spree, and spent all
Mrs. Bowman's counsel, George N. Corson, Esq., of Norristown, says that although
there is no Pennsylvania statute providing for such an offense as witchcraft or
sorcery, he will depend, in the prosecution of the case, upon the common law.
Daily Local News; 11/03/1885
MR. EDITOR:-- I read in the DAILY LOCAL NEWS of a late date of the relic of a
wooden pin which Charles W. Ash, of West Caln, had found embedded in a white oak
log and covered by many years' growth of the tree, even to the depth of nearly a
foot, and that one of the men in his employ attributed the phenomemon to the act
of a superstitious person in process of curing a horse from "sweney."
Such a superstition or belief in "faith cure," prevailed to a
considerable extent many years ago; and when I read the article referred to an
experience of my early life recurred to my memory with a vividness as if it were
but yesterday, wherein I acted a silent part in a like ceremony. About seventy
years ago, while living at home with my parents, in the township of West
Whiteland an old friend of our family had a valuable mare that was crippled
beyond profitable or humane use with sweney in the left shoulder. One evening in
the fall of the year said neighbor asked me if I would like to take a short ride
on horseback early the next morning. Of course, boy-like, I promptly accepted
his proposition. "Well, then be ready at early dawn." True to the
appointment I awaited his beck a half hour before sunrise. He helped me mount
"Flower" as he called his mare and then moved on, he carrying a
chopping axe under his arm and a wooden plug or pin, about nine inches in
length, in his hand. I could not surmise what he was up to, and the disparity in
our ages and circumstances prevented me from asking him. We proceeded to a small
piece of woodland lying on the west side of the road leading from the old Red
Lion, in Uwchlan to West Chester, about a quarter of a mile south of the
Lancaster turnpike, on land then the property of Col. Richard Thomas, of
Revolutionary memory, now in the ownership of his grandson Richard T. Ashbridge.
My venerable companion led the way to the eastern side of said wood lot and
stopped at a yellow poplar tree of eighteen inches diameter, which stood in the
front ran_ of its _ellows. On the eastern side of said tree and about four and a
half feet from the ground was an inch and a half auger hole, freshly bored. The
mystery deepened with me. The old gentleman then took from his pocket a sharp
knife and clipped from the mare's shoulder-plate where there was evidently an
indentation of hollow in the flesh, three small tufts of hair, one from the
upper end of the hollow, one from bottom thereof, and the third, midway between.
This hair--in bulk-- he thrust into the auger-hole in the tree. Then, with a
gentle pressure of his hand, he inserted the plug into the auger-hole and for a
few minutes stood motionless, with the axe on the ground and the helve in his
hand while he looked intently toward the east. He remained in that attitude
until the first peep of the sun above the horizon, when with two gentle taps of
the axe he drove the plug nearly into the ____ of the tree; a third stroke, of
greater force drove it home. Whether silence was a required observance promotive
of a successful result I did not learn; but after our first early salutation and
his command to follow him he had not spoken. His task being completed he
exclaimed: "There! If it should not cure her it will do her no harm."
Then I first understood the programme that had been acted in pantomime. It seems
that there were three important points to be observed: First, three clips of
hair must be taken from the diseased part and deposited in the auger hole in the
tree; second, which must face the rising sun; and third, the plug must be driven
in at that auspicious moment by three strokes of the axe. The mare improved
rapidly thereafter, and soon became efficient in her place on farm or road.
*--A term frequently used in veterinary parlance and sometimes by the medical
fraternity, signifying a shrinking or contracting of a muscle by reason of
injury to the part or point adjacent, but seldom found in the printed vocabulary
of either profession. With the horse the "sweney," is mostly exhibited
in the muscle of he shoulder-blade, causing a vertical concavity of a foot in
length attended by extreme lameness. H.
Daily Local News; 6/09/1887
A Faith Cure.-- A correspondent of the Chester News writing about faith cures
tells the following story: "I remember an instance that occurred in Chester
county forty years ago on the farm of Joshua Evans, father of William Evans, a
member of the present Legislature. He had an Irishman blowing rocks, who went to
old Dr. Hickman for medicine. The doctor gave him a pitch plaster and also a
liquid preparation for internal use. By mistake he ate the plaster and rubbed on
the liquid, and a permanent cure was the result, although he declared it was the
toughest medicine he ever had taken."
Daily Local News; 7/14/1888
Says a Reading special of Friday: A woman living between Macungie and
Centreville has been ill for some time with a disease that puzzled the
physicians. Her symptoms were sleeplessness and delirium at night and she
frequently became so violent that it required two persons to hold her. In the
day time she was quiet and restful. It was suggested among the neighbors that
she must be witched, and one of them, a woman, averred that she had seen the
witch in front of the house at night during the time when the invalid was
afflicted with the most violent paroxysms. The apparition was described as being
in the shape of a headless black cat, about as large as a good sized fox, which
walked back and forth in the air about the height of the fences in front of the
woman's house. Some twenty persons watched and assert that they saw this
apparition, and becoming convinced that the woman was indeed bewitched, a
celebrated witch or "hex" doctor from Reading was sent for. He came
and, prescribing a powder made of the ashes of dogs' hair, advised a watch to be
kept upon the witch, so that when it appeared the question should be asked, What
do you desire? If it answered, the spell would be broken and the patient
On Monday night, it is claimed, the apparition was encountered by those lying in
wait for it, but they say it was so frightful that they were powerless to move
their lips to utter a word. In consequence of their report the excitement in the
community is intense. The woman, however, under the influence of the dog hair
powders, is rapidly improving, and her friends hope that the apparition will
vanish without any more personal contact on their part.
Daily Local News;8/14/1888
Lancaster County Superstition.
Columbia, Lancaster county is excited over a story of witchcraft. Mrs. W.W.
Fairer, wife of a well-known boiler manufacturer, recently became insane and was
taken to the insane asylum at Harrisburg, where she died. Her husband now
believes her insanity and death were due to witchcraft, practiced by an old
woman of Columbia, who is charged with having given her charms to drive the
demons away. These charms were found on Mrs. Fairer and are German words written
on slips of paper.
Mr. Fairer has placed the case in the hands of his attorney, and a suit against
the woman will be brought for indirectly causing Mrs. Fairer's insanity.
Columbia is very much stirred up over the matter. When Mrs. Fairer died her body
became covered with peculiar blue marks, and her superstitious neighbors now
believe that they are due to the influence of the witch.
Daily Local News; 12/07/1888
William Smith, the colored pioneer or woodchopper, whose tall figure is familiar
to all West Chesterians, had a dream the other night. The next morning he quit
work on the borough streets and started off. He said that in his dream he saw a
spot in Lancaster county, where there was gold in large quantities. So firmly
impressed was he with the idea that the dream would come true, and that it was
the hand of Providence that had in the stillness of the night pointed out the
pathway to untold wealth, that he determined to hunt the spot which he saw in
the dream. He returned however, without locating the glittering treasures; but
nothing daunted he will try again. He went to Borough Surveyor Walter A.
MacDonald for the loan of a clock compass, with which he hopes to find the exact
location of the gold mine.
"I kem very near ter hit." he said in an earnest, honest way,
"I'll not rest now till I unearth de precious gems, en den I'll lay me back
in my cushioned chair en welcome the grandure en peace which de blessin's of
riches bring. Den I'll lay down my axe en won't cut wood no mo'."
Daily Local News; 2/04/1889
The believers in ghosts and spirits are excited because of the fact that a large
portion of the country graveyard adjoining the "Pike" meeting-house,
near Hinkletown, has suddenly sank about fifteen feet.
A short time ago the body of Samuel Sensenig, the wealthy proprietor of the
Martindale Mill, was buried by the side of his child in this graveyard, and the
curious cave-in is in the immediate vicinity of where they lie buried.
There are those ridiculous enough to allege that several times during the past
week the figure of a man dressed in white and wearing a shining helmet with a
halo of red and green light has been seen in this graveyard at night carrying a
beautiful, fair-haired child in his arms, and that sounds similiar to the hum of
conversations in subdued tones are heard coming from the depths at any time
Daily Local News;2/26/1890
A Farmer Who Thinks His Cows Were Bewitched.
A farmer over in New Hanover, five or six miles from Pottstown, says the Ledger,
thinks his cows were bewitched recently. He says the quantity of milk they gave
dropped suddenly from over hundred quarts to less than sixty, and that a whole
lot of cats, among them one entirely white, were running about the stalls and
upon and over the feed-troughs of the cattle. He tried in vain to catch or kill
those wicked cats, but could not even touch them; then he resorted to pow-wowing,
and that was too much for them, he could knock them over and kill them at every
pop, and he then did so. And that settled it--the cows commenced giving their
usual quantity of milk again, the witches having been all slain or driven away.
When a person doubted this, in presence of the farmer, he said he did not care
what people said--he knew what he knew, and believed what he saw.
Daily Local News; 9/06/1891
BEWITCHED HER NEIGHBOR.
Serious Outcome of Consulting a Dream Book.
The following story comes from Reading under date of July 5: Miss Mary Ruth,
residing a short distance below the city with her brother, is in terrible agony
and torture on account of being charged with being responsible for an alleged
case of witchcraft. She has been unable to eat or sleep during the past four
weeks and has fallen away so that she is now a mere skeleton.
She says she is blamed for the illness of a neighbor. Her brother first told her
that the people in the neighborhood suspected her of placing a "spell"
upon the sick woman and that she would be arrested. This so preyed on her mind
that she is said to be on the verge of insanity.
Miss Ruth was in Reading some time ago and a dream book was given her to read.
For amusement she tried one of the things referring to the moon, but had no idea
of injuring any neighbor. She visited a witch doctor in Reading and asked him
whether she had bewitched a neighbor. He told her she had been magnetized, but
did not say anything about the effect on her neighbor. He gave her medicine, and
after she had taken it she must have lost her senses, as that night she climbed
out of the attic window and down over the grape arbor and left home.
BECOMES VIOLENT AT TIMES.
The young woman is in a pitiable condition and it is likely she will have to be
removed to an asylum for treatment. She is 30 years old and rather
prepossessing. She was so violent yesterday that she assaulted her sister,
striking her with a large club. She picked up the furniture and threw it out of
the window. She emptied all the bureau drawers and threw them out of the second
story window and then rolled the bureau to a door leading to a porch in the
second story and also threw it to the ground.
The woman upon whom it is said the alleged witchcraft was practiced is Mrs.
Horace Boyer, the wife of a respectable farmer near Greshville. She was first
afflicted eighteen months ago and is seized with the spell two and three times a
week. Her husband says that she becomes so violent at times that she tears her
hair out, tears her clothing and wanted to jump out of the second story window.
She consulted a Reading witch doctor and now she is almost entirely cured.
The days of superstition are not numbered with the past, and few there are in
this enlightened age, who have not their little weaknesses in that direction. I
have seen educated men leave their carriages to pick up worthless horseshoe by
the road side, and taking it home, would place it over their office door as a
harbinger of good luck. And who has not noticed pedestrians hurrying along the
street, stop suddenly to pick up a pin which might be lying with head towards
them? But I have learned of a superstition which is new to me, and one in which
one person in Coatesville at least has implicit confidence.
For a number of years I have known a family here who have a child which had a
birthmark, almost a perfect cluster of cherries on its neck. I saw the child on
Christmas Day, and noticed that the mark as gone, and I naturally asked what had
caused its disappearance. The child's mother told me that an old colored woman
had told her that if she would take the child to a dead person and rub the head
hand on the mark it would go away. At first she laughed at the idea, but the
more she thought of it the more it grew, until one day, in company with another
woman, she took the child to the home of a friend in whose family there was a
death, and rubbed the spot with the dead person's hand. No one knew of it but
herself and the woman who accompanied her, but just the same in a few weeks the
mark began to fade away, and continued to do so until it had disappeared
entirely. She said she knows another case, that of a young man, who tired the
same remedy to get rid of a red blotch which disfigures his face. A few weeks
ago the young man visited a friend of his, who is a medical student at the
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and rubbed a dead hand to the blotch
on his face, which is now rapidly disappearing. She did not tell me who the
young man is, but as I know two or three such afflicted motals in Coatesville, I
mean to keep a sharp lookout.
No explanation could be given of the cure except a vague allusion to the
superstition that as the body in the ground decayed the mark on the living
person disappeared the time required in the removal being coincident, or
supposed to be as that required in the decay of the body.
Another superstition which has a strong hold on the minds of some people, is the
old "thirteen superstition", and I see by the Morton Chronicle
that Bro. Smith, of that journal in speaking of the death of the late Joseph Ad:
Thomson, (Steele Penne), calls up to memory the last editorial banquet of
the craft of Delaware county, which occurred on May 23d, 1891. Mr. Thomson
presided and just thirteen sat down to the banquet.
Daily Local News; 7/26/1892
Recently a reporter of the NEWS was standing on Gay Street, West Chester, when a
person close by called to a little girl and urged her to hurry up and make the
errand upon which she had been sent. The little girl was standing watching
funeral that was passing at the time. Promptly she answered, "I can't cross
the street until the funeral has passed or there would be a death in our
family." The person who urged her to hurry said no more and just as the
last carriage approached the little girl bounded across the street behind it and
hastened away on her errand. Some one had very foolishly taught that little
child an old and foolish superstition which in one shape or another is sought to
be impressed on multitudes of young people.
At one time it is that they should avoid coming up with a funeral on the road.
At another not to let a hearse be hitched at their gate or it will come there
next, and at other times it takes some such form as had been taught the little
girl referred to, who was afraid to cross the street between two carriages in
the funeral procession.
To people who have no such superstition in their minds it appears very foolish
to be subject to these false fears, but the saddest consideration is that little
children should be taught these things and be made to be all their lives subject
to a mental bondage which breeds harrassing fears continually.
Daily Local News: 1/10/1894
An Elkton, Md., special of January 9 says: Mary Short, daughter of Elisha Short,
of this vicinity, died recently and was interred at Boulden's Chapel, a silk
dress of her mother's having been used as a shroud. The mother was soon
afterward taken ill, and not improving, was told that it was on account of her
dress having been used as a shroud and that as the dress decayed so would the
health of the owner fail. Superstition overcame her and the father, with the aid
of the sexton, John Clark, exhumed the body and changed the dress. It is said
the mother is getting well.
Daily LocalNews; 7/09/1894
Mrs.Cook Predicts War.
Mrs. B. F. Cook of Zermatt, is of the opinion that the difficulties among the
laboring men of the United States were predicted a few months ago by the
brilliant aurora borealis in the northern sky from east to west. The phenomenon
reminded her, she says, of the babble of a great multitude passing to and fro,
and covering the entire country. She predicts that civil war will follow the
Daily Local News; 8/02/1894
Claimed to Be Bewitched.
A middle-aged white woman, evidently somewhat demented, came to the office of
'Squire S. B. Russell yesterday afternoon and complained to him that another
woman with whom she lived out in the country, had bewitched her. She said
"she speaks to me in such a way that I feel it pierce through me, and she
comes and creeps around my bed at nights and scatters a black powder and then in
the morning, I will be so sick that I can't get out of bed." The 'Squire
promised to write a letter to the woman complained of and bring her in there to
be talked to. This seemed to satisfy her and she went away.
Daily Local News; 3/30/1900
A West Chester man who is an observer of things, gives the following list of
moving day superstitions:
To move on Friday is a sure forerunner of ill luck for a year at least.
If a mirror is broken during a moving it is the worst hoo-doo which can be
encountered, and things will never move properly in the new home. The only
manner in which this can be counteracted is to throw the pieces of glass over
your shoulder and never look at them again.
Never carry a shovel through the house. It will bring the worst luck.
You should never move into a house where there have been two deaths. The third
will occur in your family.
Never walk under a ladder which is leaning against a wall while moving. This is
a sure sign of trouble to come.
If you move into a new house always have the stove in position and burn some
coffee upon it to drive away evil spirits before moving your goods into the
If you move the baby before the goods are all in the house the child will grow
into a man or woman who will never be satisfied in any house.
Take your choice.
Daily Local News; 10/08/1900
Editor News:-- I notice your remarks upon the colored girl "afeard of
stoodents," who live some 15 miles distant from the Court House, on the
benighted slopes of Valley Hill. The inference gathered is that the light of
your educational institutions have reached that far, but beyond darkness reigns.
I recall, however, that within that radius of 15 miles a few years ago lived an
old colored man who practiced as a hoodoo doctor and was well patronized. There
are some still within the shadow of the Court House who found relief in having
their ills pow-wowed, and quite a following who rejecting all the experience of
the past and the teachings of science, "throw physic to the dogs." The
truth is, Mr. Editor, the human animal cherishes superstitions. If, through
education he is induced to discard those time-honored ones of his father, he
manufactures for himself even more absurd ones. As many and as dangerous
superstitions will be found among the educated and intelligent as among the poor
and ignorant. Very respectfully,
GEO. G. GROFF
Daily Local News; 4/17/1901
There are mysterious holes in the earth all over Chester county and with
everyone there has been a mystery connected. One by one they were dug by night
and at the discovery of each there was a story of supposed buried treasure or a
mysterious burial by night, but the mystery has been solved. All the digging has
been the work of one man and he was commanded to do the work by a West Chester
A year ago Officer Grey and a number of friends had a mystery on hand over at
Downingtown. A mysterious pit was discovered in a meadow and it as claimed that
there had been a burial there during one night a short time ago, but digging
showed no signs of a body. Then it was concluded that the remains had been
removed. That work was done by a superstitious colored man, and he resides in
this place. The fortune teller, seeing that he was a man who would like to grow
into a millionaire in a night, had directed him to dig there at midnight
"in the dark of the moon with a shovel with a crooked handle and to make no
noise while at the work, under penalty of the gold suddenly sinking into the
Later on mysterious excavations were discovered in a number of places near West
Chester and others miles away. It appears that the man who had been doing the
work had made a noise on each occasion and had not found the gold, whereupon he
was directed by the fortune-teller to dig at another spot, he paying a certain
amount for the valuable information. He has been digging at intervals ever
since, but as yet no gold has been discovered.
Daily Local News; 1/25/1902
"The old-time superstitions of people about purchasing and renting houses
said to be haunted are gradually dying out," said a real estate dealer of
West Chester a few days ago. "Time was when we had difficulty in renting a
house that was numbered 13, or that any tragedy had ever been committed in.
There are persons who still believe in ghosts, or ill luck because some one has
committed suicide in a house, or a murder has been committed there, but they
grow less in number every year. There are two or three houses in this vicinity
which are difficult to lease or sell, but it does not come from the fact that
there was a tragedy took place there, but rather from the fact that they are
isolated or inconvenient residences, with little to commend them to any
This seems to be the case. Recently a description was given in these columns of
a house in East Bradford about which many superstitions exist, and uncanny
things are spoken, but that is not the chief reason for its not being tenanted
After the Stella Morrison murder, in Thornbury township, the owner very
promptly, and perhaps properly, razed the little cottage to the ground. This was
due to no superstition, however, but because the place had been a trouble to him
in many ways.
It is said that the old school house in East Goshen, where Pharo shot the school
teacher, Miss Sharpless, is still standing and, after serving its purpose as a
place to teach the young idea how to shoot, was used as a place of residence for
several families many years subsequently, yet no spirits nor ghosts troubled the
tenants. It is not recorded that any difficulty was ever had in finding an
excellent occupant for the premises where Mrs. Spence last breathed her last, in
West Chester, and no ghosts walk the floors of the several hotels in West
Chester where in years gone by several persons ended their lives by their own
There is, indeed, some aversion among a certain class of persons yet to
occupying a room No. 13 at the hotels, so other numbers are substituted but the
average drummer has little hesitation in accepting a room numbered thirteen and
having his pitcher of ice water, or hot toddy, sent there to be partaken of
before he dreams of large orders and big commissions.
The recent sale of the Pratt residence, south of West Chester, shows that there
is less aversion among people now, compared with fifty years ago, in these
matters. There was spirited bidding by men and by women for the place and since
it has been purchased by an industrious citizen, and thoroughly renovated,
repaired and occupied, all ghostly ideas have vanished. There are few people who
now balk on such superstitions. Even elderly men who have made big fortunes are
beginning to believe that there is nothing in the old saying that the aged rich
man builds a mansion to die in. The several instances in West Chester where old
men have spent many happy years after erecting residences proves that there is
nothing in superstition.
Daily Local News; 3/19/1906
"There are still a lot of people," said a West Chester dentist,
"who wrap up their extracted teeth and take them home with them. Most of
them say they want to burn them, and get rid of them, so that they can't be used
by dentists in making a new set for some one. But there are still some persons
who fear that the teeth may be thrown out, the hogs eat them and they, the
persons, grow a hog's tooth. That sounds silly to the educated person, and yet I
can find you in West Chester good citizens who oppose every public enterprise,
saying that it won't pay; it's an experiment, etc. It is as bad for a man of
education and business experience to be so pessimistic as it is in an ignorant
one to be superstitious."
Daily Local News; 5/22/1906
Cats Make Grapes Grow.
There is a belief that if the body of a black cat is planted at the roots of a
grape vine the latter will bear luxuriantly. There is a man on Union street,
this place, who has tried the scheme and he says it worked well, the result
being that he has a vine which is bearing the finest kind of white grapes and in
large quantity. He does not know whether the cat made any difference or not, but
it was the body of one which he had long sought on account of the trouble it had
caused him nights.
Daily Local News; 9/28/1906
THE LANGUAGE OF UMBRELLAS
There is a language of umbrellas as of flowers. For instance, place your
umbrella in a rack, and it will often indicate that it will change owners.
To open it quickly in the street means that some body's eye is going to be in
To shut it quickly signifies that a hat or two will probably be knocked off.
An umbrella carried over a woman, the man getting nothing but the drippings of
the rain, signifies courtship.
When a man has the umbrella, and the woman the drippings, it indicates marriage.
To swing your umbrella over your shoulder signifies "I am making a nuisance
To put an alpaca umbrella by the side of a silk one signifies "Exchange is
To lend an umbrella indicates "I am a fool."
To return an umbrella means--well, never mind what it means; nobody ever does
Daily Local News; 3/21/1907
"My grandfather used to say that a thunder storm in the Fall would be
followed by warmer weather and a thunder storm in the Spring would be followed
by colder weather." J. Newton Huston, Esq.
Daily Local News; 9/09/1907
Country Beliefs About the Mints--Luck and Ill Luck With Flowers. Look 'Em Over.
There is nothing which grows around which there is more superstition woven than
the homely mints. Not only is mint the crowning enticement of a julep, and a
thing which makes sedate tabbies gambol and roll like six-month old kittens,
but, according to tradition, the different mints have supernatural properties,
and there are good and bad mints. Pennyroyal, aside from its qualification as a
flea discourager, is said to make a quarrel-some husband and wife stop
bickering, if it is given to them by some friend. Catnip on the other hand when
chewed creates quarrelsomeness, and is said to make even mild and gentle people
fierce. It catnip is held in the hand until heated and then put into the hand of
another, it will, so goes the superstition, so control that person that he or
she cannot leave you so long as the catnip is retained in the hand.
Spearmint will prevent illness, so long as it is worn about the wrist. If
spearmint is mixed with salt and applied to the bit of a mad dog the wound will
heal, it is said. In the olden days the children used to put a bit of spearmint
in the cots on Christmas Day, believing that at the exact time when the Saviour
was born the mint would blossom.
The superstitions which cluster around flowers are as many as there are
different flowers. It is considered unlucky to gather flowers out of season, as
before and after the season they are said to belong to the fairies. The first
wild flowers which are gathered by a young woman in the spring should spell the
initials of her future husband, if the superstition holds true.
Here is the schedule of superstitions about finding the first flower of the
If found on Monday, good luck all the year.
If found on Tuesday, large undertakings which will be successful.
If found on Wednesday, a wedding in the family.
If found on Thursday, hard work with little profit.
If found on Friday, unexpected wealth.
If found on Saturday, misfortunes.
If found on Sunday, best luck of all.
Some of the numberless flower superstitions are:
If any one asks for the flowers pinned on your dress and you refuse, you will
have immediate ill luck.
To burn faded flowers is a sign of coming sorrows.
To plant a flower hedge is to bring good luck.
If you point at buds they will blight.
To hand a flower reversed to any one is to bring bad luck.
If a person wears flowers with the stems upward, it is a sign that he or she
isin love but does not know it.
If you pull a flower to pieces you will die of consumption.
If a person smells flowers gathered from the cemetery he will lose his sense of
To have flowers wilt quickly in the hands denotes ill health.
If some one gives you a yellow flower you are going to have money.
If some one gives you a purple flower you are going to have tears and trouble.
Daily Local News; 12/14/1907
The man who didn't bury his mother-in-law, lose money on a horse race, football
game or in stocks or lose his position as a sober citizen was in luck yesterday
and ought to be offering up thanks to his lucky star to-day from morning to
For it was Friday, the thirteenth day of the last month of the year.
According to all precedents it was the most unlucky day ever, as will be
testified to by every believer in signs, hoo-doo, ghosts and similiar
superstitious beliefs, and the limit with a big "L."
Ghosts were supposed to stalk in mid-day and hover about twenty-three hours and
fifty-nine minutes of the day, dogging the steps of the believer in signs. He
was safe in no event even if a house fell and accidentally missed him and he was
pursued by all sorts of goblins. There has been no hoodoo which has ever come to
light which will baffle the goblins and they are supposed to have full sway.
Even the famed left hind foot of the rabbit killed at midnight beneath a
graveyard fence by a cross-eyed negro hunchback is no proof against harm on this
fateful day, and salt tossed over the left shoulder for luck is said to turn to
sugar if the man dares to look back. Walking under a ladder or rubbing the head
of a colored cross-eyed cripple is no protection and the superstitious man is
truly deserted by his luck star. He who passed the day without hard luck is a
happy man to-day, and can be for some years before the falls on a Friday, the
13th day of the last month of the year.
Daily Local News; 12/23/1907
"In writing reminiscent history of West Chester did you ever remember that
at one time fifty years ago a number of the colored people believed that a
headless man walked about the old brickyard lots?" remarked an octogenarian
resident of this place. "There were a number of theories as to how he lost
his head. I believe that a man was hung at Gallows Hill and buried in the old
brickyard pit, and that caused the theory that he was dug up and had his head
cut off, but still walked at nights. I remember that some of the old workmen
would not go to the brickyard after dark."
Daily Local News; 3/20/1909
There is a ghost of the most approved style doing things along a road beside the
Brandywine a short distance south of Downingtown according to some of the young
men of this place who have been driving over there at intervals since the last
parade of firemen there. Just why they drive over is not stated but at the time
they are known to have made many friends among the young ladies of the town.
The ghost is said to appear at a point about a half mile south of Downingtown,
where there is a deep quarry hole in the side of a hill. There the visitor
stalks forth at any time at night to frighten the drivers on the road and it is
probable that in years to come a lead mine may be discovered in the hill at this
point, the lead being from the revolvers of West Chester young men who have
'seen' the nocturnal stranger.
In years long gone by it was the practice of West Chester young men to pay
frequent visits to Thorndale, where there were many young ladies, and they also
saw the ghost, but since Thorndale had been off the map the ghost has not been
seen until after the fireman's parade.
Daily Local News; 4/06/1909
When any one embarks on a new undertaking, such as departing to take up a new
post or going on the anxious journey of application for a place of any kind, it
is a common and a pleasant custom for relatives and friends to throw an old shoe
or slipper after the traveler for luck, says the Chicago Journal. It must not be
a new one nor must the slipper be unworn, or the token of god fortune is nil.
Though common, this custom is not observed so much for ordinary occasions of
life as it is for weddings. At nearly every wedding, when the newly married
couple start on the honeymoon, some relative or friend stands ready to throw the
old slipper or shoe after the carriage.
Only those who have had all the claim on the bride hitherto should throw the
slipper if its right luck token is to be observed. The nearest friend of the
bride, her father or the one who gave her away, should be the shoe thrower. And
the shoe is thrown not at or after the bride, but directly at the bridegroom. It
is for him in reality and is, in effect a token of the transference of his wife
from her friends to his care.
Just as the wedding ring is the survival of a badge of servitude, the owner's
mark for his slave, so is the old shoe a survival of an old usage that has come
down to us from ancient customs in Eastern lands. When possession of land or of
anything else was yielded up by an owner to a buyer, the transference of the
former owner's shoe to the new owner was a mark of the exchange.
When the possession given up was of old standing this was implied by the giving
over of a shoe that had been worn; hence the reason for old shoes, but now new
ones, thrown after bridal carriages.
In Eastern lands if a man wished to give token that he claimed land and meant to
occupy it he threw his shoe upon it. Not a new shoe, but one taken from his
foot. This was the symbol of ownership. If the first owner meant to dispute
possession he cast the shoe back.
The latter reason is why it is unlucky for either the bride or bridegroom to
pick up the shoe if it should fall near them and throw it back. Always has it
been considered a token of bad luck to do this, yet sometimes in ignorance of
this it has been done, of course playfully.
By this custom the bridegroom is really refusing to take up his new possession.
The shoe means occupancy, and he should keep it.
If in that old Eastern time a man delivered over his shoe as a sign that he
resigned possession and the new owner refused to take it then he was rejecting
the land or other purchase tacitly. The matter was perfectly understood, and the
shoe stood instead of lawsuits.
To this day Eastern people take off their shoes as a mark of reverence and as a
token that they dare not take occupancy where they stand. The thrower of the old
shoe ought to stand barefoot to keep the luck emblem intact, and the shoe should
certainly be one of his own.
The bride begins a new life. She should enter her husband's house in new shoes,
therefore. Invariably she does so, not always knowing any reason underlying
this, save that she has everything new for her wedding. But she would be unlucky
on this day if she were married in old shoes.
Daily Local News; Wednesday, 08/11/1909
SIX BABIES DIED AS "WITCHES" CHANT
Reading Coroner Investigating Deaths of Infants Treated by Incantations.
Says a Reading, Pa., special of Tuesday: Coroner Strasser is busy procuring
evidence in the cases of six infants, all of which died since noon yesterday. It
is charged by the Coroner tha all six of the children were treated by
"witch doctors," but that the only thing they were suffering from was
Summer complaint. Coroner Strasser has reported the matter to the District
Reading has many "witch doctors" and there have been cases in court
time and again of persons who declared that neighbors "vehexed" them.
No sooner does a child become ill in this section than the neighbors rush in and
declare the child is "verhexed," and a "witch doctor," with
his incantations, is sought out.
In the cases of the children that died while undergoing this treatment several
were simply treated by chanting mystic words while a red cotton cord was passed
over the body. In other cases a bag containing charmed words was hung about the
neck. The Coroner said this evening: "Many children die every Summer from
Summer complaint that do not have an attending physician. Upon investigation I
find that the parents are of the middle class, and spend their money calling in
old women who make a practice of 'pow-wowing' and using charmed words. What is
more, these women describe the 'hex' to the parents and this is the cause of
many of the neighborhood feuds that are aired in court."
Daily Local News; 4/02/1910
Superstitious People Moving.
There were a number of superstitious people about this place who moved only
partly yesterday. As a rule these believers in the Friday superstition moved a
small portion of their goods on Thursday so as to escape the awful consequences
of a Friday removal, and there are said to be instances where some of them did
not remove all their goods yesterday, but retained a portion for to-day in order
to escape the same fate.
Daily Local News; 9/21/1910
For several days a house on wheels, after the style of the itinerant
photographic outfit, has been standing in the Turk's Head Hotel yards. A sign on
the outside told the curious that for 25 cents Madame So-and-So would read their
palms and tell their fortunes, or misfortunes, as the case might be. The
proprietor had applied to the Burgess and been granted a license to do business
at $1 per day, cash, in advance. The little stairway was used freely by young
girls and some older persons, many of whom were colored, and there was
"something doing" for several days before any one thought that the
business was not precisely in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth. The
"palmist," not psalmist, was an elderly woman and she knew her
business well enough to not "queer" the game by telling that the lines
on the 25-cent-a-hand customers meant "trouble ahead of you" or
"there is darkness there, I can't tell your future," and there was no
kick coming until yesterday.
This is not to say that there is any thing in the story of a besotted man who
accused the fortune teller of things, but the story attracted the attention of
District Attorney Lack to the "place," and he at once caused the
"place" to be closed, and the palmist to read her own palms for her
The parties who are interested in the business deny the accusations that they
either molested the party who makes accusations, or that they beguiled any one
into their house-wagon or wagon-house under any intention to deceive. It is
claimed that "palmistry" is a legitimate business.
District Attorney Lack was seen this morning and he said: "I ordered the
place closed. It is in direct violation of a statute of Pennsylvania. There were
young girls going there, who not only spent their money foolishly, but were
being deceived in a way which might do them future harm. But there were also
some old people who were credulous enough to spend their quarters with the
fortune teller who may need it next winter to purchase potatoes or coal. I
ordered the Chief of Police to shut it up."
Burgess Pennypacker, when asked what he thought about it said: "I don't
know a thing about it; see Mr. Lack or Chief Jefferis. The parties paid me a
dollar a day license. I'm not the Court."
Daily Local News; 4/29/1913
"About West Chester there have been several houses which were said at
different times to be haunted. One was in a brickyard which I used to own, where
the Pennsylvania Railroad freight station now stands. One of the workmen went
out there at night many years ago, to attend to a piece of work and said he saw
a man without a head sitting on top of the kiln. He dropped his tools and
ran." S. Emlen Sharples, a veteran resident.
Daily Local News; 8/12/1913
Superstitions for Brides
Married in January's hoar and rime, Widowed you'll be before your prime.
Married in February's sleety weather, Life you'll tread in tune together.
Married when March winds shrill and roar, Your home will lie on a foreign shore.
Married 'neath April's changeful skies, A chequered path before you lies.
Married when bees o'er May blossoms flit, Strangers around you board will sit.
Married in month of roses-June, Life will be one long honeymoon.
Married in July, with flowers ablaze, Bitter sweet memories in after day.
Married in August's heat and drowse, Lover and friend in your chosen spouse.
Married in golden September's glow, Smooth and serene your life will flow.
Marrried when leaves in October thin, Toil and hardship for you begin.
Married in veils of November mist, Dame fortune your wedding ring has kissed.
Married in days of December's cheer, Love's star burns brighter from year to
Daily Local News; 7/14/1915
Among the effects of the late William Bell, who died suddenly at his home, near
Grove, were many papers and books, which showed that the old man was a student
of witchcraft, and conned everything pertaining to conjuring and witchery
closely. The following was taken from a scrap book devoted entirely to different
clippings and writings pertaining to the hoodo art.
"A Hunting Charm--Whenever you kill a bear, deer or turkey dip a number of
bullet patches in the fresh blood of the animal. You must of no account give any
of these patches away. When you are out hunting again for the same kind of game
load as follows: Take a bloody patch, well greased, place your bullet on it,
then cross yourself, and as you push the bullet home, repeat: 'Father, Son and
the Holy Ghost.' You will certainly bring home game of the same kind as that
whose blood was on the patch. Do not keep the patches near your bed or in your
sleeping room. The spirits make a noise in the box where the patches are and
will not let you sleep. The sound is like a watch ticking, but it gets louder
and louder, until you can not sleep.
"With Killing--If horses are so badly bewitched that one dies the following
will deprive the witch of her power. Take the dead horse out into the field and
burn the carcass beside a tree, then drive a nail in at the cross. Now take your
rifle, which most be loaded with a silver bullet, choose a position so that the
fire is between you and the tree and shoot over the fire at the nail. When you
hit the nail the witch will lose her power, and you can not miss with the silver
Daily Local News; 5/02/1916
REAL NECROMANCY ABOUT UNIONVILLE
Such Is the Story Developed in 'Squire Dougherty's Court at Kennett Square
One of the most weird tales which ahs been developed in Chester county in a
while was developed this morning in a hearing before Justice of the Peace S. B.
Dougherty, in Kennett Square.
Fred Jackson, a negro, was held in $300 bail on charge of necromancy,
divinations and charms. The prosecutirx was Mrs. Florence Brister, also colored,
who keeps house for Robert Gordon, of Unionville. She charges that Fred Jackson,
the defendant, took a lock of her hair, poured a mystic drug over it, bored a
hole in a beech tree on the Thorn property and pushed a quantity of hair into
the hole, then inserted a plug. Since that time the prosecutrix has been feeling
terribly, and she believes the defendant has cast a spell over her.
In evidence of this, Constable Charles W. Gillen produced before the Justice a
block of wood cut from the beech tree, showing the hole and the plug.
Moreover Mrs. Brister had found a bottle containing some of the drug with
portion of hair steeped in it. She had burned bottle and contents.
"Squire Dougherty is not as yet a firm believer in witchcraft and sorcery,
but he sensed trouble in this case and decided to hold the defendant awaiting
further developments in the Unionville neighborhood.
Daily Local News; 11/16/1923
Ghost stories come from every section, but here at home there are always a few
samples of scares, credited to the supernatural, but all of which are simply due
to ordinary causes if the persons involved would use a little judgment and
investigate instead of wiring for the police or becoming troubled.
It was not many months ago when the police here received a call on a bright
moonlight night from the home of an unusually timid resident of the southwestern
section of the borough. He had been reading in a rear room and heard suspicious
sounds on the roof of a back building. Instead of investigating he telephoned
the police and an officer sent to investigate entered the rear yard and
discovered a pair of pigeons making love on the roof. Finis.
For several years a scare existed on South Walnut street, where a house which
had not been occupied for years was supposed to be "haunted." At
certain times figures appeared on widows and noises were heard which were
unaccounted for. Tenants fought shy of the place and it gained a wide reputation
as the habitation of a ghost, which had really been "seen" by some
late arrivals at their homes. It was found the manifestations only occurred
during the time the moon was about a the full and were caused by shadows cast
through windows by the luminary.
In a store property on North Walnut street, not a year ago, curious things
occurred nightly for weeks. An electric light was lighted by some mysterious
agency about midnight and this occurred so frequently that a policeman on the
beat called the owner and they investigated for several nights until a close
watch was kept and it was found that a rat used the electric light cord in
traveling from the upper floor to the main one and thus turned on the light. The
rat was caught in a trap and the "ghost" __ected.
Mysterious rappings every night drove tenants from a small house out in East
Bradford for years until a man moved there who was not wary of either dead or
live men. He investigated and found the ancient woodwork was tenanted by many
woodworms, the working of which at night in the wood made a constant ticking
noise which had been credited to the supernatural by timid people.
In a number of instances residents of houses have been alarmed at the cracking
of woodwork late at night, the same being due to the contraction or expansion of
the wood by reason of a change in weather conditions. Falling plaster in walls
of new houses also frequently cause alarm to timid persons.
Years ago when a reporter was a resident of Coatesville as a small boy a large
stone mansion east of the town was unoccupied for several years because of the
"ghost" which reigned there and with a party of small boys an
investigation was made which continued for several nights. Samuel Kennedy, the
late Norman Steen, Walter Jackson and other boys of that day decided to solve
the problem. They lay in wait for the "ghost" for three nights and
shivered beneath the dark arbor approaches while mysterious sounds came from the
building, but on the third night one of them discerned a white form approaching
along the ground leading to a rear door, fired a shotgun and killed one of the
largest tom cats seen in the section for years.
A remarkable "ghost" scare came under the observation of a present
resident of West Chester in Philadelphia several years ago when he was working
with the detective force of the city. On two successive nights calls came from
sections along Catharine street occupied by Italians of the lower class that a
spectre had taken possession of a large building formerly used as a factory,
four stories in height and that forty families had carried out all their
belongings to the street at midnight and refused to return on the ground that a
figure of the Virgin had appeared on the glass in a third-story window and
remained there for ten minutes. The evening following the report three members
of the force, accompanied by reporters, were on the scene. Watchers were placed
in the room where the affected window gave light. Stairways were guarded and
reporters stood in the street below. At 12:02 a shadow passed over the window
gradually spreading and assuming shape until in five minutes, an exact miniature
of the Virgin spread over the glass. A man inside raised the lower sash and the
spectacle remained on the wall of the room. A number of Italians in the street
fell on their knees and uttered prayers, but a lineman for the light company had
an idea. On the corner was a big arc light on which the carbons were changed
each day at that time. As a consequence they burned down to a certain point
every night by about midnight. The light was covered by a frosted globe and the
astute lineman discovered a flaw in this and turned it. There was no further
manifestation on the window, it having been caused by the light shining through
the flaw in the glass. The families moved back next day.
Coatesville Record; 3/13/1959
Offshoots From the MAIN STEM
By Steffe Tomasovich
ALL over the world today (pause) people are hanging on by their bare fingertips.
CAN'T remember who said that or where or for what reason, but I know I read it
or heard it onetime and it's been a favorite quote ever since. (Perhaps because
it brings to mind a picture of humanity dangling from the window sills of some
structure like the Empire State Building or the Leaning Tower of Pisa.)
TODAY, however, let's offer it as an encouraging message to those beset by
superstitions. Hang on! Even though it is Friday the Thirteenth--well the hours
are flying and there's Saturday The Fourteenth coming around the corner of
midnight. (Besides, February had one too and you got over it.)
ACTUALLY, while you and I are scoffing at the superstitious nonsense surrounding
this particular day, there are many folks who believe that stuff. What's more,
they have a raft of sayings to last them all year!
MY source of information on this matter is an ancient newspaper clipping that
was dropped off at the sanctum recently. The headline above states
"Frequent Superstitions That You Hear People Say Have Proved True."
TAKE this one. "If your ears burn, someone is thinking of you." (Well
if mine ever do I sure hope that someone is a firefighter.)
"IF your palm itches, rub it on wood, it's sure to come good." (Don't
do it. Not unless you're willing to settle for a splinter.)
"IF your nose itches inside, you will be pleased." (Well supposing the
sneeze doesn't arrive?)
"IF your nose itches outside, you will be kissed, cursed, vexed or shake
hands with a foll within an hour." (All right, that one covers so many
possibilities it could hardly go wrong.)
HERE'S a real gem. "Sneeze on a Monday, sneeze for danger; Sneeze on a
Tuesday, kiss a stranger. Sneeze on Wednesday, sneeze for a letter. Sneeze on
Thursday for something better. Sneeze on Friday, sneeze for woe. Sneeze on
Saturday, a journey to go. Sneeze on Sunday, see your lover tomorrow." (Or
maybe, after all that sneezing you should see your doctor.)
"NEVER kill a money spider. If several people are together and a money
spider is seen, see upon whose hand it will crawl." (Like fun! A spider is
a spider, no matter how wealthy.) But the clipping claims, "It is a fact
that when several people were present a money spider would only crawl up one
person's hands and that person had a large present of money a few days
afterward." (Probably a check from Blue Cross.)
"PUT wedding cake under your pillow, wear a borrowed wedding ring or put a
ring on the fourth finger of your left hand, stand your shoes in the form of a T
and you should dream of your future husband." (Anybody who goes through all
that should have a nightmare.)
"TO drop the cutlery foretells that visitors are coming; if a knife, the
visitor will be a man; if a fork a woman will come to see you; and if a spoon
falls, a child." (And if you really like company I guess you just drop the
"IF when you wake on your birthday, you say the first man's name that comes
into your head, that is the name of the man you will marry." (Well maybe
that explains all those Hollywood husbands.)
OF course, everybody must know how to count cherry-stones, but in case
"everybody" doesn't, here it is: Count them saying "This year
next year, sometime, never and the word that comes on the last stone tells you
your fate." (I don't get it either.) But, "to find out what profession
your fate will follow, say this when counting the stones. Army, navy, doctor,
divinity, law." (Of course if you're not interested in any of those
professions you'll be a misfit for life but go ahead and try it if you want.)
THEN there's the one for counting your buttons. "Richman, poor man,
beggarman, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief." (Now obviously there's the
reason why the Indian is called the Vanishing American.)