Thursday, October 30, 2014

Southern Superstitions

            I’ve had friends who have tackled me rather than let me sweep dirt over my threshold after twilight. One former coworker of mine refused to drink from a cup that she had left on the table, convinced that bad mojo could be placed in a drink when a person is not looking.
            Superstitions? Or do they know something we don't?
            Here’s a few Southern "superstitions" gleaned from newspapers and one I related in my ghost book, "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana."
            Happy Halloween!
            The 1893 Logansport Pharos-Tribune: “At Washington, Ky., there is an old bridge reported to be haunted at nightfall by a decapitated duelist, and a branch of the old Marshall family of Virginia, settled there, owns a plantation, which, like the White Lady of the Hohenzollerns, never fails to make its appearance just before a death.”
            The 1902 Charlotte News: “No person who touches a dead body will be haunted by its spirit. To kill a ghost it must be shot with a bullet made of a silver quarter dollar. To see the new moon through clouds of tree tops means trouble; if the disk is clear, good luck; if seen over the right shoulder, joy; if over the left, anger and disappointment.”
            The 1967 Monroe News-Star: “Amusing superstitions have leapt out of the flickering of a candle light. If a flame burns blue, there is a ghost in the house. A spark signifies that a letter is coming to the person sitting nearest the candle.”

            The 1965 Lake Charles American Press: “A piece of wood taken from a gallows will keep away ghosts. A baby must fall out of bed three times before its first birthday or it will grow up stupid. To get rid of a wart, rub it with a piece of pork stolen from a neighbor.”

Madame Long Fingers and Tai Tais
Excerpted from “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” by Cheré Dastugue Coen, published by The History Press
            Karlos Knott of Arnaudville makes excellent beer through his company, Bayou Teche Brewing. One day after a tour of his new facility, we got to talking about ghosts and legends. He was told as a child that if he didn’t behave, Madame Grand Doigt would get him, arriving at night to eat his toes!
            In English, Madame Grand Doigt means Mrs. Long Fingers but Knott envisioned the woman with incredibly long fingernails and capable of sliding said nails into door locks so she would have easy access to bad little children.
            Mrs. Long Fingers has to be related to the tataille or Tai Tai, part of the larger boogie man family. Blanche M. Lewis wrote in the Acadiana Gazette that the Tai Tai were giant bugs, “usually a roach,” that came after bad children at night, which would definitely be enough to scare my roach-fearing sister after any wrongdoings. Roaches grow quite large in the South Louisiana swamps — and they fly!
            The Dictionary of Louisiana French defines tataille as a “threatening beast or monster.” The reference book further states that “ta-taille is said to be a giant creature that resembles a cockroach. It comes after dark and cuts off the toes of mean children.”
            “All my life, we heard that the Tai Tai (or however you spell it) was going to get us if we weren’t good,” said Lafayette resident Judy Bastien. “Also, when someone was looking really bad, like unkempt, you might say they look like un Tai-Tai.”
            “Tai Tai's were only supposed to scare little ones into not digging or wandering off,” said Alice Guillotte of Lafayette. “ ‘Stop or Tai Tai will get you.’ Later, Tai Tai would be used as sort of joking about what might be out in dark like a boggie man. A little bit serious.”

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is the author of "Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History," "Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana" and "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana" and co-author of "Magic's in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets." She also writes Louisiana romances under Cherie Claire, including "A Cajun Dream" and "The Letter." Write her at

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