New Englanders Don't Really Believe in Bad Luck
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 if the first person a man speaks to after beginning a trip is a woman. That’s really silly. I mean, what if you’re taking a trip with your wife? However, it’s no trouble — and a nice gesture — to sing out “good morning” to some man walking along your route. I think it’s 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 superstition. A case in point goes back to my old friend, the late Edward Rowe Snow, author of more than 75 books on New England lore, legends, and mysteries. (He was also famous during the 1950s and ’60s for flying over all the New England’s lighthouses and 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 that 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 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?” He agreed then and there to write a short article for YANKEE Magazine, which he eventually titled “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 over 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; 27 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 the guy $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 a number of times 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 just 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?