Superstitions Ruled Kensington in the 50s and Before

I remember as a small child walking down Wishart Street with a friend. I stepped on a crack in the sidewalk, and my friend yelled: “Step on a crack and break your mother’s back.” I ran home to see if my mom was okay.

It was terrible luck to have a black cat walk across your path. I’m not sure what was supposed to happen, but it was very bad back in the 1950s. Now I feel bad for the cats. God forbid if you walked under a ladder, and that is something I still will not do. Not because it’s bad luck, but because at the top of the ladder, there might be a klutz like me. I don’t need to get hit on the top of my head with a hammer.

If you saw a penny on the pavement, it was exciting, unless it was tails up. I never was much for this one, the penny being more important than good luck. Still just to be safe, I would flip it over, being sure it continued to touch the concrete and then picked it up. If I were walking with a friend and we came to a pole, we always walked past it on one side. Sometimes just to piss off the other person, I would, at the last minute, have the pole split us.

If your palm itched, you were destined to get a windfall of money. That one never worked for me. If you happened to have a horseshoe over a door, it better be upsidedown, or your good luck will spill out. Don’t ever, ever spill salt without throwing some over each shoulder. If you talked about something good that happened or you wanted to happen, you knocked on wood.

As a redhead kid, I hated this superstition. Rubbing the head of a red-haired kid would bring you luck. If you found a four-leaf clover, you were in for some hellacious luck. There weren’t many four-leaf clovers in Kensington, but there was no shortage of red-haired kids.

Every kid had a Rabbit’s foot for good luck. Good luck for you, not the rabbit. If you could see the stars, which was difficult because of smog, and you saw a shooting star, it was good luck. Opening an umbrella inside your house was absolutely the worse thing you could do.

Here’s one I think maybe came from the soldiers coming home from one of of our wars. Never, ever, under the penalty of death light three cigarettes with one match.

Help me, please!!!! I can’t remember any others. Do you?

Most of these superstitions came over from Europe and Africa with our ancestors and became ingrained into the culture. Many are of Irish origins.

Originally posted on The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni Group on Facebook.



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