Morning Sun
  • JT Knoll - A Halloween voodoo tale

  • A while back I happened to talk to a hundred-year-old woman at Sunset Manor nursing home in Frontenac who related to me a local legend that I had never heard before.

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  • A while back I happened to talk to a hundred-year-old woman at Sunset Manor nursing home in Frontenac who related to me a local legend that I had never heard before.
    According to the tale, in 1909, a family named Johnson, who operated a zinc smelting operation in Pittsburg, built and moved into a fine house in southeast Kansas. Because they were wealthy, they had hired help working for them; servants that they treated rather badly.
    One servant, a Creole girl who lived with her father, a coal miner originally from New Orleans, gave the Johnson’s daughter, Amanda, a present — a beautiful, handmade doll — before quitting the Johnsons to return with her father to Louisiana. Amanda decided to name her doll Betty, short for her middle name, which was Elizabeth.
    What the Johnsons didn’t realize was that this servant girl had knowledge of voodoo — and, therefore, was familiar with charms, amulets, and magical powders guaranteed to cure ailments, grant desires, and torture or destroy one’s adversaries. Once more, that she had learned voodoo from followers of none other than Marie Laveau, the “Voodoo Queen” of New Orleans.
    It wasn’t long before strange things began to occur in the Johnson household. Neighbors claimed to see someone moving about from window to window — and the lights flickering on and off — when the family was out. And they heard strange, high-pitched chanting in another language in the early morning hours.
    Objects came up missing and then reappeared around the house, vases fell off shelves, the dog would bark for no reason, the cat would stare as if seeing something that wasn’t there, cabinet doors opened and closed, the house would, at times, turn inexplicably colder, odors — sometimes foul and sometimes sweet — wafted through for no reason, and everyone in the family said they heard giggling at night and caught glimpses of shadows running about the house during the day.
    Shortly after Amanda began blaming Betty for all this, she started having nightmares, which made her scream out in the night. When her parents entered her room, they would find furniture over turned, clothes strewn about and, Amanda, wild-eyed and terrified, sitting up in bed saying, “Betty did it. Betty did it.”
    And then there was Halloween. Halloween was disturbing in a different sort of way; for Halloween was the most calm and serene night of the year at the Johnson’s. That’s because, on Halloween night, Betty left — disappeared. Amanda said that she’d actually seen Betty disappear; that she’d watched Betty turn to blue smoke and slither out the window.
    But Betty didn’t leave the area completely on Halloween night. There were reports all over southeast Kansas of children being visited by a doll; a strange doll that would appear in their bedrooms after they’d gone to bed. A doll that opened their drawers and threw out their clothes, overturned furniture and broke their toys.
    Page 2 of 3 - When the children screamed and their parents came in, they all said they’d seen a scary doll dancing and giggling as she tore apart the room. The parents thought their children were just having nightmares. That is, until word got around about Amanda Johnson’s stories of her doll, Betty, which caused many of the parents to openly accuse Amanda of being a witch.
    Finally deciding he’d had enough, Mr. Johnson put Betty into a wooden box and buried her in the back yard. Even so, from time to time, the family members heard walking back and forth in the house, and strange giggling and chanting. And each Halloween thereafter, there were still reports of terrified children waking to find a giggling doll tearing up his or her bedroom.
    This went on until just before Halloween 1912, when a call went out from Mr. Johnson for help and a New Orleans mambo priestess came to Pittsburg. She walked through the Johnson’s house and yard to get a sense of the negative juju of the doll’s power and then told Mr. Johnson that, for a fee of $5,000, she could provide a mojo with one hundred years protection from the voodoo doll.
    Mr. Johnson readily agreed to the terms. The queen had him dig Betty up and brought to her. She hung amulets of shells anointed with oils and decorated with ritual feathers around the doll’s neck, and then told Mr. Johnson put her back in the box and bury her again. Then she went into a trance and chanted a protection spell in a strange voice all through the night at the burial site.
    She also gave the Johnsons a mambo protection chant that they should say in each of their house on Halloween. It was published in the Pittsburg Headlight and Sun newspaper so that area townspeople could use it in their homes as well: “By the light and the heart of the earth, I forbid all evil spirits into my house and my home. I forbid you to enter my flesh and blood and body and soul. I irrevocably forbid you entrance to my mind and to my thoughts. BE GONE! I FORBID YOU!”
    According to the legend, the doll’s hoodoo power was broken, the Johnsons went back to their normal lives, and there were no more visitations of children in southeast Kansas on Halloween night.
    Amanda Johnson never married; she lived in the house with her parents until they died and then stayed on in the house until she passed away in 1982, at which time the home was sold to a new family. And, just recently, the old house was again sold to a family with young children.
    No mention of the voodoo doll buried in the backyard — or the juju and mojo for that matter — was made to either family. After all, the doll had had no power for years.
    Page 3 of 3 - But the hundred years are up this year, you see. And even though it’s a legend — and there’s no way to know if it’s true — I thought it best to let area children and parents know about it.
    Just to be on the safe side, I advise you to use the mambo protection chant at your house this Halloween. After all, we’re talking voodoo here.
    Of course I don’t recommend everyone follow my advice on this. It’s Halloween. Somebody’s gotta’ get scared out of their wits.
    J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net

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