"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, March 4, 2024

All Shook Up: A Case of Louisville Witchcraft

For a period during 1894-5, the “Louisville Courier-Journal” covered--in a remarkably matter-of-fact way--a series of bizarre occurrences taking place in the city.  It is a tale of witchcraft and paranormal phenomena that sounds more like something out of medieval Europe than late 19th century America.

The fun started in November 1894, when Sallie Morton, the proprietor of what the “Courier-Journal” euphemistically called a “disorderly house,” found salt sprinkled in her yard.  Subsequently, Morton found that someone had hidden in her bed a bundle of red flannel containing human hair and three severed human figures.  Folklore says that all these items would bring death upon the unfortunate recipient.  

Clearly, someone was not overly fond of Ms. Morton.  Sallie believed that “someone” was her next door neighbor Alice Tucker, who managed a rival establishment.  It is not clear whether Tucker targeted Morton out of a desire to snag some of her customers, or because of simple personal spite.  Whatever the reasons for Tucker’s witchery, it proved highly effective.  On January 18, 1895, Morton obliged her enemy by suddenly dying of angina pectoris.

Morton’s demise was the kickoff for things really getting weird.  After the coroner had examined her corpse, the body was carried upstairs to be prepared for burial.  While this sad task was going on, everyone present in the house heard “four pieces of mournful music” emanating from the piano in the parlor.

No one was near the piano at the time.  Or, to be more accurate, no one among the living was near the piano.

That night, the bed holding Morton’s corpse began shaking.  Then, the entire bedroom started quaking, to the point where “a glass of water could not be kept on the dresser or mattress without a weight being placed on it.”  A mirror on the wall swayed back and forth. Several women in attendance fainted, most notably Alice Tucker, who was probably shocked by the potency of her curses.  The shaking continued all the following day, attracting a crowd of some 1,500 Louisvillians with nothing better to do.  Policemen were summoned, but all they could conclude was the unhelpful statement that the floor was shaky.

The funeral took place in Morton’s home/bordello on January 20, although there was no preacher in attendance.  A quaint touch was provided by a fellow known only as “Slippery Bill,” who had the brilliant idea of charging people ten cents each for the privilege of entering the house and gazing at the still-shaking bed.  These looky-loos apparently provided the only burial ceremony.  Bill’s entrepreneurial spirit earned him about ten dollars until the police shooed him off.

Even after Morton was buried, she was apparently not resting in peace.  Days after the funeral, Alice Tucker--no doubt unnerved at the possibility of Sallie seeking revenge from beyond the grave--repeatedly called the police complaining of the eerie noises coming from Morton’s now-empty house.  Some of the neighbors were so terrified, they moved away.

As late as 1904, the “Courier-Journal” reported that Morton’s long-deserted home was still believed to be haunted.  The owner was unable to find anyone willing to live there, due to “the taint of the hoodoo.”


  1. It doesn't pay to play with curses; the player may not be able to control them.

  2. People are silly if they play with curses and other such things


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