Death in the Ozarks, part 1

I think sometimes we avoid the subject of death because it is unpleasant to think of the inescapable fact that we are all just treading water here until the day we go under.

However, the old Ozark hillman was obsessed, in my personal opinion, with the subject.

Ozark folklorist Vance Randolph recorded quite a number of old Ozark superstitions regarding death.

One example of these is the belief that one should never wash clothes on New Year’s Day or it will very possibly result in the death of kinsman.

Another is that if a picture suddenly falls from the wall, the first one who picks it up will die within a year. Makes you wonder why anyone would ever touch any fallen pictures – unless they were a non-believer, of course.

Wes Franklin

If you usually lock the door of your home at night, but forget to one evening, it is a bad omen of the death of someone you care about.

It is bad form, and possibly bad luck, to sweep under a sick person’s bed. Never lift a sick man from one bed to another unless you transfer the bedding with him.

Never turn a sick person completely around where their head and feet exchange places on the bed. Also, never shave a person who is seriously ill. All of these things could bring about their death.

If you’re dangerously sick and want to know your prognosis, touch some bread to your lips and throw it to a dog. If the dog refuses to eat, you only have a short time to live.

Burn the heart of a murdered man to ensure his killer will receive justice.

When someone dies in the house, cover all the mirrors with a white cloth, for if one should see their own reflection in a mirror while the body is still in the house it means the person will die within a year.

Always dig a grave on the same day as the burying. If a grave is dug the day before it may bring about the death of one of the deceased’s relatives.

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Once a funeral procession has started, it is bad luck for it to stop for any reason until reaching the cemetery, or it could mean the death of another member of the family within a year.

Try not to let a body lie unburied past Sunday or it could bring bad luck to the family.

When a person dies, stop the clocks in the house. If they should stop on their own while the deceased is in the house it could mean the death of someone in the household. Stopping the clocks on your own circumvents this possibility.

Never burn sassafras wood or it could cause the death of one’s mother. If she is already dead, it’s okay. Never burn peach tree wood or it could also cause death.

Do not carry a hoe into the house or it will result in the death of a relative.

When a dog howls four times on the front porch it means there will soon be a death in the house.

If a rooster crows seven times in the doorway of a house, without turning around, someone in the family is going to die soon.

If a whippoorwill lands on the roof and gives its call, there will be a death nearby within 24 hours.

Birds in the house are bad luck, bats are very bad luck, and an owl in the house is the worst of all. It nearly always means death.

There are many more Ozark superstitions regarding death. I will continue with part two next month.

Until then, be careful out there.

(Wes Franklin can be reached by email at, or by USPS mail at 12161 Norway Road, Neosho, MO 64850.)

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