Southern Spirits: Ghostly Voices from Dixie Land
introduction | 19th century hoodoo | 20th century hoodoo | 21st century hoodoo

MEDICINE: ILLICIT
by Anonymous

from "Time" [magazine], August 24, 1925

The following short article seems to have been picked up and colourfully expanded for a national audience from the from the New York Times, dated August 14, 1925.

See also the similar article about Keystone Laboratories of Memphis, Tennessee, from Time Magazine, dated 1939 and the similar article about Rev. Charles P. Colbert of Detroit from Time magazine, dated 1939.

Because this unknown author used terms unfamiliar to modern readers and employed spellings not commonly found in the literature of hoodoo, a few explanatory notes have been added [in brackets].

MEDICINE: Illicit

Monday, Aug. 24, 1925

On the north side of Atlantic City, N. J., fringing the smoke-blackened Pennsylvania railroad yards, row on row of frame houses slouch over the street like ragged standees at a free-lunch counter. In the daytime, almost no one can be seen along that street, but at night the doors of the rickety houses open and the occupants come forth. Their black faces blend adeptly with the night; their bodies are blurred shadows in doorways, or lazy silhouettes revealed where street-corner bars and laundries drip golden honey into the darkness. They seem not to have a wish in the world, these limber shadows, except to idle, waiting for a hypothetical friend to treat them to a phantom beer, or listening to the mutter and shuffle of jazz that issues from the garish arcade of the Paradise Cafe.

Yet what wishes they harbor in their ghostly hearts were revealed last week by the police. They wish for magic powders potent to bring back an erring wife or husband; for herbs that will "Tie Down Goods" (i.e., keep the object of their affections from departing), for "Boss Fix Powders" (roots and simples that will keep an employer in a halcyon mood), for fusions that will win the heart of the most austere maiden. Throaty voices extol in music the virtues of such medicines.


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Last week, along these smoked streets, a letter was distributed. It was signed by one D. Alexander, 99 Downing Street, Brooklyn, N. Y., and offered to supply the needs of the wishers at the following rates:

Guffer Dust (No. 1 good) $ 50

Happy Dust 40

Black Cat's Ankle Dust 500

Black Cat's Wishbone 1,000

King Solomon's Marrow 1,000

Easy Life Powder 100

Tying Down Goods 50

Chasing Away Goods 50

Boss Fix Powders 15

Buzzard Nest 100

Halleluiah! Everyone was joyful. Happy times were coming. King Solomon was coming. The devil was a deadbeat now. Halleluiah! Sang some:

I swear to God my man's got a black cat's bone

I said a black cat's -- I mean bone.

I swear to God my man's got a black cat's bone --

Every time I start to leave I gotta come back home.

Others:

Just sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle Yo' goofer du--hust

And yo' little yellow Nellie with the diamonds on her bosom

Will quit her razz-ma'tazzle, her sneakin' jizzle-jazzle

An' come back to the Daddy that had her fust.

The police confiscated 12,000 of the circulars of voodoo doctor D. Alexander as they were being distributed among the dingy houses by six negro boys. The cache of the abominable illicit medicines which he offered for sale could not, however, be located.

[This list is interesting on several accounts.

First, it demonstrates the active prosecution of "fortune tellers" and traditional root doctors in urban areas during the 1920s.

Second, it gives us the name of an actual rootworker in Brooklyn, New York, namely D. Alexander of 99 Downing Street.

Next, the prices themselves are phenomenonly high for the time period, and they would even be out of line in the early 21st century. For instance, the Lucky Mojo Curio Company sells Boss Fix Powder for $3.00 -- one-third the price D. Alexander charged in 1925.

The items listed also tell us something about the state of hoodoo rootwork in the urban North, just as the Northern Migration was getting underway.

The use of Black Cat artifacts and products of all types was, and remains, quite common in hoodoo, rootwork, and conjure.

The "Guffer Dust" (usually spelled "Goofer Dust") offered for sale here was designated more completely in the original New York Times article as "New Moon, No. 1, good." This would seem to indicate that collection of the graveyard dirt which is an essential component in the mixture and / or the compounding of the finished product was accomplished by a practitioner who worked according to magical moon phases. The New Moon, also known as "the dark of the moon," generally symbolizes getting rid of the old and embarking on a new phase. Since Goofer Dust is used to harm people or kill them, the idea would be that "dark works are done at the dark of the moon."

The similar article about D. Alexander of Brooklyn, N.Y. from the New York Times, dated August 14, 1925. is the earliest reference i have seen in print to the still-staple hoodoo products Boss Fix, Easy Life, and King Solomon -- although in the latter case, it is startling to see the word "Marrow," since most modern King Solomon spiritual supplies either just bear the monarch's name or are labelled "King Solomon Wisdom."

And, as a side-note, the anonymous author at Time Magazine has enlivened this piece with the addition of typical lyrics to 1920s blues song lyrics that reference hoodoo, including the famous black cat bones

This material is reprinted from

Time Magazine
August 24, 1925

also online at

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,720853,00.html

SOUTHERN SPIRITS: GHOSTLY VOICES FROM DIXIE LAND
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