Here are a few suspicious things readers have reported hearing recently. Not widespread enough to class as myths, in my opinion (and you’ll let me know if I’m mistaken about that), these are still something more than mere errors. Local myths perhaps? I thought they were worth sharing. Please weigh in if you can add something definitive to any of these; I’ve hit a wall.
Mary Cassatt “The Young Bride” 1875
1) From Heidi, a resident of the great state of Utah, “One of my acquaintances works at a local living history park and just told me that a bride’s dowry from the 19th century would consist of 1,000 buttons, a sewing needle and 13 quilts. I’m no expert, but that seems off to me. Just one needle? Why 1000 buttons? No other clothing? No kitchen things? How do you collect 1000 buttons when you’re farming or homesteading in the middle of nowhere?”
No, Heidi, you are very much an expert to have recognized this odd statement and questioned it. I am unaware of any “rules” about what constituted a bride’s dowry. My sense is that a young girl prepared as much as she could for her marriage, and that her dowry, as it was sometimes called, consisted largely of linens.
2) From Alabama comes this question. “First, I must qualify the source of this as third or fourth hand as it was told to me by a friend who read it in an article in today’s Huntsville Times about Birmingham, Alabama’s most famous madam. It seems that when she passed, many of the area’s elite sent empty carriages to her funeral as a gesture of respect when propriety wouldn’t allow them to attend in person. Anyone have any experience with this tradition at the death of a person with a questionable background?”
Rhett Butler aside, I can’t think that any Southern “gentleman” would care to have it known that he was sending his empty carriage, which everyone would have recognized as belonging to him, to a madam’s funeral. I tried to research this in books about funeral customs and found nothing.
3) Any truth to this one? “The story of “THE BLACK EYED PEA” being considered good luck relates directly back to Sherman ‘s Bloody March to the Sea in late 1864. It was called The Savannah Campaign and was lead by Major General William T. Sherman. The Civil War campaign began on 11/15/64 when Sherman’s troops marched from the captured city of Atlanta, Georgia, and ended at the port of Savannah on12/22/1864. When the smoke cleared, the southerners who had survived the on slaught came out of hiding. They found that the blue belly aggressors that had looted and stolen everything of value and everything you could eat including all livestock, death and destruction were everywhere. While in hiding, few had enough to eat, and starvation was now upon the survivors. There was no international aid, no Red Cross meal trucks. The Northern army had taken everything they could carry and eaten everything they could eat. But they couldn’t take it all. The devastated people of the south found for some unknown reason that Sherman’s blood thirsty troops had left silos full of blackeyed peas. At the time in the north, the lowly black eyed pea was only used to feed stock. The northern troops saw it as the thing of least value. Taking grain for their horses and livestock and other crops to feed themselves, they just couldn’t take everything. So they left the black eyed peas in great quantities assuming it would be of no use to the survivors, since all the livestock it could feed had either been taken or eaten. Southerners awoke to face a new year in this devastation and were facing massive starvation if not for the good luck of having the black eyed peas to eat. From New Years Day 1866 forward, the tradition grew to eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck.”
I tried researching this but came up relatively empty-handed. I strongly doubt it. Black-eyed peas are native to Africa and figure prominently in Southern African-American cuisine. According to Wikipedia (no citation there either) it was a Jewish practice to eat those, and other good-luck foods, at Rosh Hashana. Since Jews immigrated to the South in the 1700s, it is conceivable that the practice spread from that origin.