Haint Blue: The Shades for the Shades

 , By Ronald Howard Livingston
on Sunday, October, 19 2014 08:35:00 am   , 614 words  
Categories: Uncategorized , 163284 views

The autumnal equinox having passed and the length of the nights increasing, you are probably pondering the usual concern of this spooky time of year: keeping the ghosts at bay and thus protecting your abode from a haunting. (Of course you are! No use denying it!) Well, one sure-fire method, long a tradition through much of the South and to certain degrees in a few other areas, has not only reputedly effectively warded off the spooks but added to the aesthetics of homes ghosts just might covet.

Some of the reasons given for the popularity of shades of blue for porch ceilings are that sky and water hues are simply a traditional standard, bring good luck to residents, or provide more light through reflection as the late day sun goes down. Victorian era homeowners especially preferred the colors of nature, and blues were popular to lend verandas the impression of clear sunny days even in the midst of stormy weather.

Folklore has it that painting porches any of varying shades known, particularly in the South, as haint blue will keep an abode ghost free! The origins of this particular folklore has been attributed to different cultures but a tradition of Antebellum slaves is most often cited. It is said that the Gullah (also called Geechee) slaves on the Low-Country (Tidewater) plantations of South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida, held the belief that haints, being lost and wandering malevolent spirits caught between life and death, balk at the prospect of crossing bodies of water. Thus the colors of water confuse them and keep them from crossing verandas painted in such hues. (So much for the various and sundry Lady of the Lake and La Llorona tales, one might scoff! But then those tales do not originate from African cultures.) Likewise the Gullah believed the heavenly color of sky blue was a certain deterent to these ill-disposed spirits, as the "up-lifting" shade would draw them up and away from the mortal denizens of the abode. Haint blue is not a specific shade. Rather, the term covers all color applications that historically were utilized to protect homes from restless spirits.

Blues are averred not only to keep away unwanted guests of the bugbear sort but have been reputed to discourage the nuisance and unsightly housekeeping wrought by critters of the bug kind as well. Eaves and porches act as magnets for spiders and insects, especially wasps and dirt daubers. These small creatures find such havens as porches to be ideal locales for building their own abodes. Although there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that blue hues specifically repel bugs, it has been theorized that they were discouraged by the lime mixed with milk to make paints in earlier days. Over time, especially after the decline in the use of milk paints, the idea gained currency that blue porch paints discourage bugs from nesting because they are fooled into thinking the porch blue is actually the sky. (Of course, this notion does not take into consideration that bees and many other insects see light in the ultraviolet spectrum.)

Will painting your porch ceilings haint blue chase away the ghosts? You'll just have to try it for yourself. But just in case, you might want to stock up on treats come October 31st. No telling what manner of determined critter might then just turn up on your veranda.

(Top) The historic George Fox home in Galveston, Texas, utilizing blue porch paint for ceilings and floors. (The home has since undergone two different paint jobs, today also sporting the blue porch ceilings.)
(Bottom) "The Anchorage" in Beaufort County, South Carolina. Photo by Bill Fitzpatrick (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Haunting of Lock 49 East

 , By Ronald Howard Livingston
on Monday, July, 14 2014 11:52:54 pm   , 758 words  
Categories: Uncategorized , 42550 views

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday, August 17, 1875, following a trolley ride to near the Harrisburg (Penn Street) Bridge, Louisa Bissinger of Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania, walked with her three children, Lillie (age 9), Mollie (age 6), and Philip (age 3), across the bridge and then two miles down the Union Canal towpath to lock number 49 East (having told them they were going on a picnic). At the lock, she loaded the basket with rocks, some of which she had got the children to gather along the way. Then she tied the basket to her waist, held her unsuspecting children tightly to her, and plunged with them into the murky waters of the canal. Though Louisa, weighed down by the basket of stones, sank immediately, the children struggled to stay afloat.

A witness to the event, who could not swim, ran for a boat at nearby Gring's Mill, across, on the west side of, Tulpehocken Creek, but ultimately he reached them too late. Louisa and her children were drowned.

Louisa's commission of this her final desperate act came about as the culmination to her husband's longtime "undo respect" toward her and his open courtship of another woman whom he eventually brought into their home. A newspaper story, date-lined "Reading, Pa., August 21," explained that an argument had led to Louisa being ordered from the house and told to take the two girls, but to leave their brother, who was the youngest. Expecting her fourth child, a fact not known to most others until after the tragedy, and determined that she would not let another woman raise her children, Louisa decided to kill herself as well as her offspring.

Captain Philip Bissinger, the husband, long a respected, prominent, and prosperous member of the community nonetheless had to be placed under police protection soon after the drownings and was nearly killed by members of the procession of about a thousand persons who had attended the funeral. "When the bodies were lowered into the graves," the newspaper reported, "the people hooted Bissinger, and made a rush for him." Only the quick action by policemen assigned for the occasion saved his life. He was hurriedly placed into a carriage and taken away. A shot had been fired before then and yet another was fired as the vehicle reached the cemetery gate. Later, in an attempt to defend himself from public calumny, Bissinger wrote the newspaper that it was his wife who was to blame for listening to what he said were baseless rumors concerning extramarital affairs. Fred Eben, Captain Bissinger's former brother-in-law, answered Bissinger's remarks to the press, calling him "the murderer of my sister and your four children."

Louisa and the three children she drowned that sad summer day are buried in Reading in the Charles Evans Cemetery, next to the graves of two of her three other children who died before the tragic murder-suicide. Philip Bissinger remarried, and he and his second wife are buried in the row of graves adjacent to the graves of his first wife and children.

It is said that the ghosts of Louisa and her children haunt the towpath near the lock. The legend states that since the time of the tragedy, people walking the towpath have sometimes seen Louisa and her children gathering stones. The spirits vanish as the viewer watches them. Others have reported hearing children's voices in the vicinity of the lock, as well as cries for help which cease when they approach near the site of the drownings. Charles J. Adams III, an Exeter Township author who has written much about ghosts in Berks County and environs, writing in Ghost Stories of Berks County (1982), related his attempt to try to investigate the presence of ghosts at the lock. Disappointed by the lack of spectral evidence, he and several reporters who had accompanied him were leaving the area when suddenly one reporter clutched his chest and was unable to breathe or speak. Adams conjectured that the event could have been the result of a spirit attempting to enter the reporter's body.

Today the Union Canal is dry; however, the Berks County Parks Department maintains the towpath as part of its facilities for jogging and cycling. The park would be an interesting and enjoyable place to visit. Who knows, it may also be a place where you can see a ghost!

Illustrations: 1) Louisa Bissinger 2) Captain Philip Bissinger 3) Gravestones of Louisa and her children: L to R: Mother, Mollie C., Lillie, Philip, Infant, Louis P. 4) Graves of Captain Philip Bissinger and second wife.

Maypops (Passiflora incarnata)

 , By Ronald Howard Livingston
on Wednesday, July, 02 2014 07:45:46 pm   , 609 words  
Categories: Uncategorized , 189419 views

One of the most beautiful, intricate, and complex flowers seen this time of year throughout the southern area of the United States is that of the Maypop (or Purple Passionflower) plant, Passiflora incarnata, one of the more than 500 species of the genus Passiflora. The Maypop is a fast-growing perennial herbaceous climbing vine with clinging tendrils, large, trilobed (trident-shaped) leaves, and spectacularly-colored blooms, some of which give rise to an edible, egg-shaped, berry-like fruit, which contains an abundance of gelatinously covered seeds.

One of nine species of Passiflora native to the continental United States, the Maypop ranges from Texas in the south and west, northward to Kansas, thence east to Pennsylvania, south to Florida, and west to Texas, inclusive of all states within that perimeter. The Maypop is a subtropical representative of its particular plant family and thus can withstand cold temperatures down to -20C (-4F) before the roots die.

The most notable feature of these hardy perennial plants is their amazingly complex and beautiful flowers, called "passion flowers" by 16th-century Spanish missionaries, thus the name, Passifloraceae, for the family, and Passiflora, for the genus. The different components of the fascinating flowers were seen by the missionaries as symbolic of the crucifixion of Jesus: the ten sepals and petals represented ten apostles (excluding Judas and Peter, one who betrayed and one who denied), the colorful filaments were the crown of thorns, the three stigmas represented the three nails which fastened the Christ to the cross, and the five anthers were the five wounds he received during the crucifixion.

The five sepals and five petals open wide and flat underneath rings of variegated filaments that surround a central stalk which bears the ovary and stamens. The five sepals are green on the underside of the bloom but white on their top sides, thus giving the appearance of additional petals. The actual petals range from a light blue to white.

The flowers are rather too large and complex for pollination by honey bees, but larger bees such as carpenter bees and bumble bees have an easier time of it and are particularly attracted to the spectacular blooms of the Maypop.

Why are they called "Maypop"? Some online sources say the name combines the month the flowers first bloom (though here in central-coastal Texas, they are mostly first seen in June) and the sound one hears when one steps on the rind-enclosed fruits, which are actually a berry, being composed of numerous seeds (white while the rind is still green; black once the rind turns a yellowish-brown and begins to shrivel before ultimately drying out completely, whereupon it releases the seeds).

The fruit (including the rind and seeds) is edible and the pulp-covered seeds make a tasty juicy snack on hot summer days. The green rinds, when used for food are best cooked, since too many eaten raw can burn the mouth. (Young seeds of the immature fruits can be eaten. When the fruits ripen, the seeds, of course, get tougher, so be careful how you dispose of them or you'll have a yard filled with Maypop plants. By the way, if you have Maypop planted along a fence, you can control their spread by mowing them where you do not want them growing, or by simply pulling and snapping off the unwanted plants.) The fruits can be made into jelly, though I have not tried making any. The vines attract and feed a variety of insects, particularly the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia), the Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia), and the Julia Butterfly (Dryas iulia).

USDA map showing the native range of Maypops (Passiflora incarnata)

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