Playing It Safe | Jud’s Journal

Superstitions are actually so deeply ingrained in New England character that we seldom recognize them — or, for sure, admit to them. And I guess I’d have to include myself in that category.

By Judson D. Hale

Sep 28 2016


New Englanders Don’t Really Believe in Bad Luck…

Jud Hale, May 28, 2015
Jud Hale
Photo Credit : Corey Hendrickson

Superstitions are actually so deeply ingrained in New England character that we seldom recognize them—or, for sure, admit to them. And I guess I’d have to include myself in that category.

For instance, I’ve always felt that it’s not necessarily “bad luck” to return for something you forgot after beginning a trip. It’s just that the delay will be worse than going without the forgotten item. Even if it’s your suitcase. They used to say it’s bad luck when the first person a man speaks with after beginning a trip happens to be a woman. That’s ridiculous, of course. However, it’s no trouble to sing out “good morning” to somebody (a man) walking along your route. I think it’s equally stupid to avoid moving into a new house on a Saturday—but why take the chance? I don’t know whether swallowing the bubbles in a cup of coffee or tea really brings money, but I always do. Simply for the fun of it. And every time I’ve made a wish on a passing load of hay, my wish has come true. Of course, I tend to make easy wishes.

In other words, I don’t feel there’s any real point in challenging these and other old-time New England superstitions. A case in point goes back to my old friend, the late Edward Rowe Snow, author of more that seventy-five books on New England lore, legends and mysteries. (He was also famous during the 1950’s and 1960’s for flying over all New England’s lighthouses dropping Christmas gifts.) Well, toward the end of his life, Ed acquired the skull of Captain Kidd. Got it in Red Bank, New Jersey, of all places, via some obscure shenanigans which, he told me, “I’ll reveal when everyone involved, excluding me, is dead.” Of course, he never did.

Ed was very cocky about the well-known “curse” on the skull of Captain Kidd. Allegedly it brought misfortune after misfortune to anyone owning it. But he said the curse was a “pirate’s curse” and because he believed Captain Kidd to be a privateer and not truly a pirate, the curse did not apply to him. Kidd was, of course, hanged twice (the rope broke on the first attempt—a fine example of good luck) for, yes, piracy at Execution Dock in London, England, the morning of May 23, 1701. Ed maintained that the evidence proving Kidd innocent of piracy was suppressed for political reasons.

Still, I would have felt uneasy with that grisly-looking thing, minus the jawbone, hanging around my house. “Nonsense,” Ed said to me over lunch one day. “How can there be a pirate’s curse on the skull of someone who wasn’t a pirate?” and he agreed then and there to write a short article for Yankee which he eventually entitled “I’m Not Afraid of Captain Kidd.”

After the article was published, I didn’t hear from Ed for almost a year. Then he wrote me saying that during the past few months, all his valuable gold and silver coins had been stolen while he was giving a talk at the Statler Hotel in Boston; his car had been stolen while he was escorting a group of tourists out to Peddocks Island in Boston Harbor; twenty-seven of his original book manuscripts had been swiped; a treasure chest and valuable dagger were gone…well, the list of misfortunes went on and on.

The only good thing that happened to Ed during that time – or so it seemed to me—was that somebody saw Kidd’s skull on the front seat of his car one day and took off with it. But Ed didn’t view that as good and a few days later managed to ransom it back, paying $145 for it.

His misfortunes continued. A year later he was lying seriously ill on a respirator. When I called Mrs. Snow, as I did frequently during that period, I happened to ask her if Ed still owned Kidd’s skull. I told her I realized that, of course, owning an old piece of bone couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Ed’s health crisis. But, I said, “Why not get rid of it anyway?”

“That’s a good idea,” she replied.

To this day I don’t know if she did or didn’t. I do know Ed died several months later but surely he would have died anyway. Right?