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

DR. SAM
by Eugene Field

from "Songs and Other Verse" (1896)

Eugene Field was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 3, 1850 and died in Chicago, Illinois, on November 4, 1895. He was a popular writer of light verse. This poem, commemorating a trip to New Orleans, has to be among the first of the "hoodoo-exploitation" genre of Anglo-American fiction, a true fore-runner to the fantasies of Robert tallant and Dr. John the Night-Tripper. It is included here by virtue of the fact that although it is highly fanciful, it corroborates the later claim by Jelly Roll Morton that in New orleans, what white folks called "Voodoo" was being called "Hoodoo" by blacks and close white observers of the scene. Field even correctly uses the word "hoodooed," which was unusual for one of his race at that time.

Needless to say (i hope), realism can only carry a maker of light humourous verse so far, amd the magical ingredients Field ascribes here to his fictitious "Hoodoo-Doctor Sam" owe more to William Shakespeare's Three Witches in "Macbeth" than to any actual conjure doctor's trick bag. The "Evil eye" referred to in the second verse is a feature of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern magic, not African American folklore, and "the tooth of a senile 'coon" would in reality be the penis bone of a mature male racoon, if this were anything but a silly poem. Still, it has its late Victorian charm, and so it bears reprinting in this collection.

By the way, if someone can tell me who "Miss Grace King" was and why Field dedicated this poem to her, i should be very grateful to add the information to this site, with a credit to the contributor.

WARNING: The material on this page was written by a European-American who was describing African-American spirituality as an outsider. This author was racist or race-derogatory and the conclusions he or she drew while writing this eye-witness account are grossly offensive. However, the text is included in full because it accurately describes practices and customs of the African-American South during the 19th century (albeit not always with complete understanding) -- and it also serves as a political reminder of how far we have some in our struggle for race equality and respect in the ensuing years. Read with caution and compassion.



DR. SAM

TO MISS GRACE KING

DOWN in the old French quarter,
Just out of Rampart street,
I wend my way
At close of day
Unto the quaint retreat
Where lives the Voodoo Doctor
By some esteemed a sham,
Yet I'11 declare there's none elsewhere
So skilled as Doctor Sam

      With the claws of a deviled crawfish,
      The juice of the prickly prune,
      And the quivering dew
      From a yarb that grew
      In the light of a midnight moon!


I never should have known him
But for the colored folk
That here obtain
And ne'er in vain
That wizard's art invoke;
For when the Eye that's Evil
Would him and his'n damn,
The negro's grief gets quick relief
Of Hoodoo-Doctor Sam.

      With the caul of an alligator,
      The plume of an unborn loon,
      And the poison wrung
      From a serpent's tongue
      By the light of a midnight moon!


In all neurotic ailments
I hear that he excels,
And he insures
Immediate cures
Of weird, uncanny spells;
The most unruly patient
Gets docile as a lamb
And is freed from ill by the potent skill
Of Hoodoo-Doctor Sam;

      Feathers of strangled chickens,
      Moss from the dank lagoon,
      And pIasters wet
      With spider sweat
      In the light of a midnight moon!


They say when nights are grewsome
And hours are, oh! so late,
Old Sam steals out
And hunts about
For charms that hoodoos hate!
That from the moaning river
And from the haunted glen
He silently brings what eerie things
Give peace to hoodooed men:

      The tongue of a piebald 'possum,
      The tooth of a senile 'coon,
      The buzzard's breath that smells of death,
      And the film that lies
      On a lizard's eyes
      In the light of a midnight moon!

This material is reprinted from

Songs and Other Verse
by Eugene Field
1896
pages 126 - 128

SOUTHERN SPIRITS: GHOSTLY VOICES FROM DIXIE LAND
is copyright © 2004 by catherine yronwode. All rights reserved.

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