Special Report

Popular Superstitions From Each State -- From Lucky Pennies to Hawaii Rocks

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The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines superstition as “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation.” That may sound like a harsh description for something many of us innocently engage in from time to time.

You might consider yourself a very rational person, but then something as simple as a calendar date or a number makes you feel differently about a certain situation. For example, you might think twice about boarding a plane on Friday the 13th. Here are 19 reasons why Friday the 13th still scares us.

24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of superstitions that still prevail in each state or region. We drew on material from academic journals, digital libraries, as well as a new report based on Google search data that shows the most popular superstitions for each in the 50 states and D.C.

Many of the superstitions that are part of everyday life — breaking a mirror causes seven years of bad luck; don’t walk under a ladder; avoiding a black cat — have no particular geographic connection. Superstitions associated with a particular state or region often reflect the area’s cultural heritage and the peoples who settled there and live there today.

The origin of these superstitions varies and include stories from Native Americans, local sports legends, or geographical anomalies. Some have their origins in a tragedy, and others are customs pertaining to holidays such as New Year’s Day.

Superstitions typically take form as omens of good and bad luck. While we may know we have no control over airline safety, winning the lottery, or the outcome of a sports game, it doesn’t prevent us from performing some ritual to try to affect the outcome. Most of the superstitions are aimed to avoid bad luck or bring good fortune. These are the weirdest superstitions people believe will bring wealth.

Click here to see popular superstitions from each state

To create a list of popular and common superstitions in every state, 24/7 Tempo reviewed different sources, including academic journals on folklore obtained from the digital library JSTOR as well as stories reported by local media. We also looked at a new report based on Google search data that shows the most popular superstitions in each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

A superstition is an irrational or mythological belief that is held by a community over time. To be considered for the list, a superstition had to be associated with a particular state or region. In compiling this list, we attempted to inform the reader of the richness of the traditions, folklore, and customs of the diverse ethnic groups in the U.S.

 

Alabama

Football fans at the University of Alabama don’t sing “Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer” until a Crimson Tide victory is certain. Also, before every Alabama game, coach Nick Saban receives a lucky penny from his daughter, Kristen.

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Alaska

As the state with the longest coastline it’s not surprising that superstitions related to the sea are common in Alaska. Do not bring bananas or flowers aboard a fishing boat as both will bring misfortune. Sailors don’t bring bananas because hundreds of years ago, the fruit was known to house deadly spiders. Flowers also aren’t allowed onboard boats because they are associated with funeral wreaths.

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Arizona

Many in Arizona believe that owls are bad luck — similar to black cats. In some cultures owls are even killed because of the belief that they are omens of death.

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Arkansas

Throwing salt over one’s shoulder is the most Googled superstition in Arkansas. In some cultures salt is believed to ward off evil spirits and it’s thrown over the shoulder to block evil spirits.

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California

Most superstitions go back to colonial times. This one, however, is a relatively recent one. In California, if you make a wish as two Volkswagen Beetles are crossing an intersection, your wish will come true.

Colorado

Many superstitions involve human interactions with animals — and their consequences. In Colorado, if you kill a toad, your cow will produce bloody milk.

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Connecticut

Grooming also figures into American superstitions. To comb one’s hair after dark is a sign of sickness in Connecticut.

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Delaware

The most common superstition in Delaware is to throw salt over your shoulder. Many people toss it specifically over the left shoulder, as the devil is often depicted on the left shoulder, opposing an angel on the right shoulder, when a TV or film character is dealing with temptation.

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Florida

If a ladybug lands on you, it is considered a sign of good luck in one or several areas, including love and money. Many people are told as kids never to kill a ladybug because that will bring bad luck.

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Georgia

If a horse’s mane is tangled it’s a sign that a witch has been riding it. Little knots seen in a mane are called “witches’ stirrups.”

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Hawaii

Don’t take a rock or sand from the beach, or a lava rock from a volcano, and away from Hawaii. You’ll be cursed by the fire goddess Pele, who plays a role in many superstitions in the island state. You may also be cursed by the authorities — removing natural minerals from Hawaii is a crime.

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Idaho

The most common superstition in Idaho is to throw salt over your shoulder, too. Abroad, French people throw a little spilled salt behind them in order to hit the devil in the eye.

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Illinois

The most commonly googled superstition in Illinois is about a horseshoe. Some people believe it’s a symbol of good luck because the trade of a blacksmith was considered a lucky one. People who decorate their house according to feng shui rules, have a horseshoe in their home.

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Indiana

“Lucky rabbit’s foot” is a common superstition in Indiana: It’s not clear how or why rabbit’s feet became associated with good luck. The superstition may have roots in European and African superstitions.

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Iowa

People believe the Black Angel statue at Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City changed from its previous golden bronze color because of a woman’s infidelity, a reminder to people of the consequences of their actions. Among the superstitions connected with the statue is: Any girl who is kissed near the statue at night will die within six months.

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Kansas

A superstition common in Kansas connects matrimony and food. Boil an egg, fill the space of the yolk with salt, go to bed, and whomever you dream about will be your future marriage partner. There have been superstitions associated with weddings throughout history all around the world. Who hasn’t heard of “Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue?”

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Kentucky

Superstitions are part of sports lore, and horse racing is no exception. At the Kentucky Derby, it’s bad luck for a horse owner to say to his trainer, “See you in the winner’s circle.” You never want to predict your victory.

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Louisiana

Louisiana has many superstitions and legends, some of which have to do with money. To keep money flowing your way, never eat both ends of a loaf of bread — throw at least one away.

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Maine

Dropping a slice of bread with the butter side down brings bad luck. Another superstition with bread and butter has to do with good luck, though. If you drop a piece of bread on the floor, you should pick it up and make a wish.

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Maryland

In Maryland, don’t walk backward downstairs because you will curse your parents. But if you walk downstairs backward, carry a mirror and count each step. By the 13th step — if you haven’t fallen — you will see the reflection of your future husband.

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Massachusetts

People in Massachusetts often googled information about the four-leaf clover: The four leaf clover, also called a shamrock, is one of the most common good luck symbols in the world. The leaves of four-leaf clovers are said to stand for faith, hope, love, and luck.

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Michigan

The most common superstition in Michigan involves lucky prime numbers. Prime numbers are those that are divisible only by themselves and 1. Prime numbers like 7, 13, and 23 have been considered unlucky. British mathematician Ian Stewart theorized this aversion to prime numbers is because “We tend to invent patterns even when they don’t really exist because our brains like patterns,” but prime numbers cannot be built up from other numbers.

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Minnesota

Friday the 13th symbol of bad luck is the most common superstition in Minnesota. Friday the 13th has its own phobia — paraskevidekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia. No one is really certain how it started. The number 13 is viewed warily because numerologists consider it an incomplete number, as opposed to complete numbers such as 12. A number of surprising, unlucky, and even tragic events have taken place on Friday the 13ths throughout history.

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Mississippi

If you let an empty rocking chair keep rocking, evil spirits will come. Another superstition about empty rocking chairs says you’ll get sick within a year if you get up from a rocking chair and let it keep moving.

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Missouri

Like in Michigan, the most googled superstition in Missouri is about lucky prime numbers. Some people use numerology, which is an ancient study of numbers or the belief that numbers have an influence on one’s life, to find their lucky numbers.

Montana

The most common superstition in Montana is about bad luck coming in threes. The bad luck associated with “three strikes of a match” comes from warfare. If a match is alight long enough for three men to light their cigarettes, this is enough time to be spotted by the enemy.

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Nebraska

In Nebraska, superstition holds that when you walk on a new sidewalk for the first time you should spit on it and make a wish.

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Nevada

It makes sense that in a state known for its gambling industry the most common superstition will be lucky prime numbers.

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New Hampshire

The number 13 has been associated with bad luck for thousands of years. Because of a superstitious state legislator, there are no seats labeled 13 in the New Hampshire statehouse since 1958.

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New Jersey

Eating lentil soup on New Year’s Eve is good luck for the new year. This superstition has origins in Italian culture. New Jersey has one of the highest percentages of people of Italian heritage in the United States.

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New Mexico

Owls have been regarded as bad omens in many cultures and places. Witches supposedly take the form of owls in New Mexico, and the hoot of an owl is said to be a bad omen.

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New York

“Black cat crosses path” is the most common superstition in New York. Black cats have been a major character in folklore and mythology. There are many superstitions involving the feline, but whether black cats mean good luck or bad varies.

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North Carolina

Car trouble is likely to ensue after driving across or under Helen’s Bridge, located at Beaucatcher Mountain in Asheville. People attribute these odd occurrences to the story of a young mother who hanged herself from the bridge after her daughter died in a fire. The mother’s spirit is said to be seeking her daughter at the site.

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North Dakota

In North Dakota, if you kill a snake, you should cut its head off and bury it far from its body to keep it from coming back together. You should also know that the state has only one poisonous snake, the prairie rattlesnake, so generally it’s better to live and let live.

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Ohio

One of the more benign superstitions on this list involves Ohio State University. Couples walking hand in hand at the Oval, a gathering place at the center of the university, can guarantee they’ll be together forever if the chimes from Orton Tower are peeling and no one crosses their path.

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Oklahoma

Even if owls aren’t directly associated with death, they are often considered evil omens. However, some cultures see them as spies, and nailing an owl to a door is believed to protect the home.

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Oregon

If you left your house in Oregon and had to return for any reason, it is considered bad luck. To negate this bad luck, you have to sit on your bed for a few minutes.

Pennsylvania

Many superstitions center around the moon. The Pennsylvania Dutch believe that if you sweep the house when the moon is obscured you won’t have moths or spiders.

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Rhode Island

Throwing salt over your shoulder is the most common superstition in Rhode Island. It may be important to differentiate between spilling and throwing — spilling salt is bad luck, but throwing it is good luck.

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South Carolina

If you’re a bridesmaid in exactly three weddings in South Carolina, you’ll never be married.

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South Dakota

“Bad luck comes in threes,” meaning that if unfortunate events have occurred twice, another unfortunate event is just around the corner.

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Tennessee

Coal mining plays a part in the culture of eastern Tennessee as well as its superstitions. To fight a curse, carry a piece of coal in your right pocket. When the coal has dissolved to crumbs, the curse has been lifted.

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Texas

The most googled superstition in Texas is about lucky pennies. There are several superstitions related to pennies. One is that a penny found with the tails side up is bad luck. Another says that a penny with the tails side up should be turned over for another person to find. A third one says that any found penny is good luck — therefore the popular rhyme: “Find a penny, pick it up. All day long, you’ll have good luck.”

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Utah

“Throw salt over shoulder” is the most common superstition in Utah. One reason why spilling salt is considered bad luck may have something to do with biblical times when salt was a very expensive commodity. Spilling salt was almost a sacrilegious offence.

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Vermont

Vermont’s “witch windows” were built on an angle to prevent witches from flying in because a witch cannot fly through a crooked window. Other people believe practical New Englanders angled the windows to bring in more daylight and fresh air into a second-story room.

Virginia

In the Shenandoah Valley, people count the number of foggy mornings in August and that is how many winter snows there will be.

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Washington

There have been superstitions associated with burials throughout history and around the world. In Washington, Native Americans believe someone who handles a corpse should eat salmon or sturgeon for 30 days after burial to assure prosperity.

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West Virginia

The Appalachian region is rich in folklore, legends, and superstitions, many of them from German and Scottish cultures. One belief is that after someone dies his or her pictures begin to fade.

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Wisconsin

“Bad luck comes in threes” is the most searched superstition in Wisconsin. The tendency to believe that disasters and catastrophes always seem to come in threes is called apophenia, or the belief that in meaningful connections between unrelated things. German psychologist and neuroscientists Klaus Conrad came up with the term in 1958.

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Wyoming

In cowboy superstition, giving someone a knife will sever the relationship between gift-giver and recipient. To offset the misfortune, the receiver should pay for the knife with at least a penny. And that’s a bargain whether you’re superstitious or not.

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