David Bruce: Superstition Anecdotes

Sarah Winchester was a very rich woman, as she inherited money made from sales of the gun that won the West. However, she worried about all the people who had been killed by Winchester rifles; in fact, she thought that the spirits of these people were haunting her. What to do? She consulted a medium, who recommended that she provide a home for the spirits. In 1884, in San Jose, California, she bought an eight-room house for the spirits—but the house soon grew much bigger than eight rooms. The house eventually towered seven stories and contained 160 rooms—servants needed maps to find their way through the house. Interestingly, the spirits themselves designed the house. Each midnight, the spirits were consulted, and their wishes were followed. Apparently, spirits like chimneys, and so 47 were built. Also, apparently, spirits like practical jokes, so one door opened onto a blank wall, and another—not on the ground floor—opened onto thin air. One closet was only one inch deep, and a skylight was installed in a floor. After Sarah died, her heirs did not continue her design sessions with the spirits, but they did turn several of the rooms into the Winchester Rifle Museum.

In 1857, the native Xhosa people were strong and united against the British in South Africa, but that soon changed with the great Xhosa cattle killing, or Mfecane. Nongqawuse, a young woman of the Xhosa people, supposedly saw three ghosts. They told her that the residents of the land of the dead had good news for the Xhosa people. Graves would open, and the old chiefs would return and rule them again. Everyone would have enough food and possessions, and the British would be pushed into the sea. However, the Xhosa people had to show their faith by killing all their cattle—cows, goats, sheep, and oxen—and by burning their crops. The Xhosa people did this, but the dead chiefs did not return. Weakened by hunger, the Xhosa people could not resist when the British took their land. No one knows what really happened, but some suspect that white settlers or representatives of the British rulers may have tricked the Xhosa people by pretending to be ghosts.

Thomas Beecham planned a series of concerts, but he had not yet engaged a chamber orchestra to play at them. Knowing this, Charles Draper, a world-class clarinetist, visited him to offer the services of his own group of musicians. While discussing the series of concerts, they took a walk, and during the walk, they found three horseshoes. Impressed with this evidence of good fortune, they decided to go ahead with the series of concerts, which turned out to be a great success.

Many hitters have strange beliefs about their bats. In the mid-1950s, Forrest “Spook” Jacobs used to squirt eye drops on his bat because he thought his hitting prowess improved when he used a “seeing-eye” bat. In the early 1900s, John “Chief” Meyers would not allow his fellow players to use his bats because he believed that each bat was capable of making only 100 hits. A teammate of Meyers’, Benny Kauff, rested his bats whenever he felt that they were tired.

Many athletes and coaches believe—or act as if they believe—in harmless superstitions. In 1970, Nadia Comaneci finished 13th in the Romanian National Junior Championships. To ward off the bad luck of the number 13, Nadia’s coach, Bela Karolyi, gave her an Eskimo doll. And yes, she finished first in the competition the following year—and she carried the Eskimo doll to other important competitions.

Many athletes belive in superstitions to help them through competitions. Curtis Hibbert, a black Canadian gymnast who was a Commonwealth Games champion in 1990, used to play solitaire until he won a game the day before a competition. That may not be such a good superstition to believe in, for Mr. Hibbert admits that to win a game, “Sometimes I had to stay up pretty late.”

Many baseball players are known for their superstition. Minnie Minoso once went 0-for-4 in the first of a doubleheader, so in between games he showered while wearing his uniform in an attempt to wash away the evil spirits. The second game of the doubleheader, he got three hits, and following the game, eight players showered while wearing their uniforms.

Shamrocks—the leaves of the clover plant—are thought to bring good luck to people and to protect them from evil spirits. They have other benefits as well. If a young woman wishes to keep her boyfriend, she might put a shamrock in his shoe. That way, he won’t be attracted to other young women and will continue wooing her.

Athletes frequently have odd superstitions and do odd things that they feel bring them good luck. Sarah Hughes, who won a gold medal in ladies’ figure skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics, always slept in a Peggy Fleming T-shirt before important competitions. Ms. Fleming even sent her one with this note: “P.F.’s PJs.

Some incredible stories about Japanese ninjas have been told. Once, a ninja was being chased by guards, but he escaped by using a hidden springboard to jump over a 10-foot wall. The guards chasing the ninja didn’t see the springboard, so they thought the ninja had managed to jump a superhuman height.

Marty Springstead had No. 21 as an umpire in the American League back when there were only 20 umpires—because of superstition, no umpire had the number 13. Umpire Ed Runge saw the number, then told Mr. Springstead, “Do you suppose they’re trying to tell you something?”

Barbra Streisand is not superstitious, although she does say that it is bad luck to step in front of a speeding locomotive. Another person who is not superstitious is Noël Coward, who nevertheless admits that it is bad luck for 13 people to sleep in the same bed.

A fortune teller once offered to foretell the future to R’ David Budnik of Novarodok. R’ David Budnik waved the fortune-teller away, telling him, “If you could foretell the future, you would have known that you’re wasting your time with me.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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