Arts and Leisure

Clean Cats, Flying Sparks and Empty Plates: Sure Signs Visitors Are Coming in Early New England

With phones, email and social media, the days of the unexpected visitor have all but gone. In colonial times, however, the arrival of a guest was very often unexpected -- for better or worse -- and so the earliest New Englanders identified signs that visitors are coming.

Signs Visitors Are Coming

The Visitor by Arthur Hopkins

Clifton Johnson collected old New England beliefs about visitors in his 1896 book, What They Say in New England: A Book of Signs, Sayings and Superstitions. Here are some ways New Englanders tried to discern when an unexpected visitor might be just around the corner:

You may expect company when you see your cat washing herself. Notice in what direction she faces, for that shows from what direction the company will come.

If you drop the scissors, and they stick up in the floor, it is a sign you are going to have company.

Drop a fork, and if it sticks up in the floor or ground, it is a sign you will have a lady visitor from the direction in which it points. If a knife is dropped and sticks up, a man visitor is coming from the direction in which it points.

When a bumblebee flies in at an open window, look for company soon.

If you knock over the pepper-box, it is a sign company is coming. The direction it falls in shows the direction the company is coming from.

An itching eyebrow is a sign of company. If the right one itches, the visitor will be a gentleman; if the left one itches, the visitor will be a lady.

When the palm of the right hand itches, it is a sign of company.

At your home, when you go in at one door and out at another, you may know you are going to have company before the day is out.

You may also know that company is coming when you find the backs of two chairs together.

If, in sweeping, a bit of charcoal brushed by the broom makes a straight black mark on the floor, it is a sign of company.

More Signs Visitors Are Coming

If you have company on Monday, it is a sign you will have company each day through the week.

To go up one flight of stairs, and come down another, is a sign that company is coming.

If the rooster comes up on the step and crows, he's telling you company is coming.

If you make a rhyme unwittingly in your talk, it is a sign company is coming.

School visitors are coming when a scholar drops his pen, and it sticks up in the floor.

If you get black on your fingers when making a fire, look out for company.

If you go around the chimney, it will bring company.

An extra plate at table set, a hungry guest you soon will get.

If you drop your dishcloth, it is a sign that a caller is coming whom you don't want to see.

If you drop the towel, somebody is coming that you do want to see.

This story about signs visitors are coming was updated in 2019.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Molly Landrigan

    October 24, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    If you spill salt, someone is coming hungry.

  2. Molly Landrigan

    October 24, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    And I love this picture!

  3. Jim Cooke

    October 24, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    In the 1940s, I recall a visitor to my grandparent’s farm in rural Vermont. The visitor was not expected. They talked for a while and then the visitor left. My Grandmother said: “I wonder what she wanted?”

  4. Kate Cloutier Keisling

    October 25, 2014 at 6:05 am

    Whenever someone dropped silverware, regardless of how it landed, my mother always said “Oh, company’s coming and it’s a _____.” In her world, a spoon meant a child too. Now I do it. Can’t help it even though I know it’s BS. Just like saying “Bless you!” when someone sneezes. It’s reflex.

  5. Pingback: Cabbages and Biscuits: New England Superstitions About Choosing a Husband - New England Historical Society

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