My Great-Great Grandpa was Superstitious ~ Tales from the Dark Side

I thought I would spend these next 3 weeks leading up to Halloween telling stories of things that happened in not only my childhood, but in the lives of my Ancestors that helped form most of my mothers superstition beliefs or were a result of her beliefs, the ones she tried to pass down to my sister and me. I hope you will enjoy them and even get a laugh or two out of them.

My 2x Great Grandpa, James D. McGowan born in 1837, was a first Generation American. His father Francis McGowan was born and raised in Dublin County, Ireland. Francis emigrated to America in 1811 bringing with him his love of the motherland and his Irish superstitions. Growing up James and his 8 siblings heard the stories and legends of Ireland.

James married Lucy Reavis in 1856 and started a family. He didn’t realize how many of those old superstitions and legends had interwoven themselves into his life or that he would unknowingly pass them on to his 8 children. As every “good” Irishman did, James believed in Fairies and a lot of his superstitions were based on this belief. James was a farmer, and he owned several hundred acres in Camden, Missouri.


He took pride in all the things he raised, but he was especially proud of the Primrose bushes that he took excellent care of. Every first day of May, James would go outside early in the morning and collect the Primroses to spread around his doors and windows. This was done to keep out the malevolent fairies and to appease the Good People. This would ensure that the rest of the year his family would not be bothered by the fairies.

Dinnertime was always a busy time with 10 people around the table. Inevitably someone would bump the table and knock over the salt shaker. James would insist whoever spilled it would have to throw the spilled salt over their shoulder. They did this to give the fairies their share and to avoid mischief from them.

James loved to go fishing, not just to put food on the table but for the peace and solitude that it gave. Remember, he had 8 children! He was Superstitious about his fishing, believing it was very unlucky for someone to ask a man on his way to go fishing where he was going. Any time this happened to him he would turn back because he knew the question was an evil spell.

James out-lived his wife Lucy by 22 years. When he died in 1901, he left a small box to his son John Henry McGowan. After the funeral, the family and friends gathered at John’s home for food and fellowship. John opened the box and pulled out an old folded piece of paper. Opening it he found 24 pressed 4 leaf shamrocks. His Uncle told him, “If you possess a four-leaf shamrock you will have good luck in gambling, good luck in racing, and witchcraft will have no power over you but, you must always carry it on you. You cannot give it away and you cannot show it to anyone.” These shamrocks had been brought to America by Francis, and he had passed them on to James who in turn was now passing them on to John.

Here are some more Superstitions that my mother had:

If the palm of your right hand itches, it means you will soon be getting money.

Making a wish within 5 minutes of getting out of bed on the first day of the month will come true.

Walking with one shoe on and one shoe off will make you have some kind of leg or foot problem one day.

Do you or anyone in your family have a Superstition? I would love to hear about them.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

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