Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Mother Hubbard Man - Another Ghost Story?

The Halloween we did the feature on Central Louisiana ghosts, I threw in a mention of the Mother Hubbard Man, not a ghost story exactly, but strange and mysterious and almost forgotten. Googling it reveals no entries.

In Gumbo Ya Ya
I'd read a mention about the figure in Gumbo Ya Ya, a hefty compilation of Louisiana folk tales put together during the Depression by the Louisiana component of the Federal Writer's Project under the direction of Lyle Saxon.

I believe it was in the same chapter that discussed feared New Orleans needle men, believed to be agents of doctors in need of subjects for human experiments. Needle men were said to prick unsuspecting pedestrians with tranquilizing agents, then haul them away.

The Mother Hubbard Man's motives when he appeared in 1915 seemed to be less sinister but overtly racist. He got only one line in Gumbo Ya Ya, mentioned in the same literary breath with other ominous pranksters as well as the Ax Man, a New Orleans serial killer who was never officially identified.

Records check
I called the police chief of Alexandria at the time I was writing the article to see if records from 1915 were still around. They weren't, and I didn't scour nursing homes in search of residents who might recall 1915. It seemed unlikely and I was on deadline with limited indulgence from editors to live out a Kolchak fantasy.

I did pull up microfilm of the newspapers of the day, however, and I located at last what seemed to be a second article about the Mother Hubbard Man. It referenced a previous appearance of the cloaked figure in evening clothes, but I was never able to backtrack and locate an earlier article.

The Mother Hubbard Man's Appearance
In his frightening garb, he put in appearances in what the paper at the time identified as the Sonier Oil Mill Quarters, a predominantly African American part of town.

He apparently lurked around the shadows and leaped out at passers by to frighten them. If he made more than two appearances it's not known.

Police never found him, or at least it wasn't reported in the newspaper. Likewise no published reports indicate that he did any physical harm.

Who was he?

A teen age prankster?

An adult racist?

A ghost? OK that’s a stretch.

Someone covering a darker purpose?

It's not the greatest mystery of our time, but that one tantalizing line in Gumbo Ya Ya has always made me wonder.


Anonymous said...
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Miladysa said...

The only Mother Hubbard I know is in the nursery rhyme.

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