Page 43 - Galveston Monthly - September 2017

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Ghosts Be Gone
The most popular belief regarding haint
blue, and the version from which it derives
its name, is that the color can protect a
home from evil spirits. The term “haint” is a
colloquialism of the word “haunt,” referring
to a lost soul or restless spirit.
A custom sometimes attributed to the
low country Gullah or Geechee culture of
Africans, who were brought to this country as
slaves, relates that the color could protect a
home and its occupants from ghosts. It was
not only applied to ceilings but also to other
openings as well, such as window frames and
door trim.
The Gullah, as well as many Europeans,
believed that that the spirits (or haints) would
mistake the blue color for water. Because
malevolent spirits cannot cross over water,
they reasoned that the unwanted beings
would simply go away. This belief is also why
ceilings and trim on slave quarters shared the
same haint blue accents as the main house.
Although many Galveston homeowners are
happy to host resident ghosts, it might be
preferable to ward away spirits with less than
homey intentions.
As an interesting aside, the belief of evil not
being capable of crossing water played an
integral role in Washington Irving’s famous
1820 tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
No Fly Zone
Beyond merely being an attractive color,
generations of homeowners have chosen
haint blue for their porches as an insect
Some believe that a blue ceiling will fool
spiders, wasps and other stinging insects into
thinking the paint is actually the sky, thus
deterring them from building nests in the
corners. This explains why, in some portions
of the South, it’s also referred to as “dirt
dauber blue.”
As folkloric as it sounds, this particular
legend may have been true historically. When
blue paints were originally used on porches,
they were often milk paints, which had
powdered lime mixed into the composition.
A known insect repellant, lime may have
provided the advantage of repelling pests.
By nature, tinted milk paints faded relatively
quickly and needed to be reapplied by
homeowners often, adding fresh lye with
each coat.
Heritage Milk
Paint Recipe
“Mix water lime (hydrated lime) with
skim milk, to a proper consistence (
to apply with a brush, and it is ready to
use. It will adhere well to wood, whether
smooth or rough, to brick, mortar or
stone, where oil has not been used, and
forms a very hard substance, as durable
as the best oil paint. It is too cheap to
estimate, and any one can put it on who
can use a brush.”
–Dr. Chase’s Recipes (1867)
(An addition of indigo would have been
added to this recipe to achieve the
blue tint.)
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