Ghosts - Haints - Spooky

Dumb Suppers in Appalachia

spooky supper table setting

“My little grannie on mama’s side used to entertain us kids with stories of young girls looking to get ’em a husband setting “Dumb Suppers.” They would prepare the meal and table silently, set the table backwards (silverware arranged backerds, etc.), and then await the arrival of their, as of yet unknown, swain…this resulted in many “quare” things like big night bugs flying in and biting off the flame of the lamp (indicating death perhaps), ghosts and haint-like apparitions, and one time two handsome soldiers in Confederate grey eating, kissing the girls goodbye and disappearing–and this was in the late 1800s!”

—Mel Hawkins

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“…the custom of “dumb suppers” during which young girls prepare a meal in total silence, then sit down to eat it with an empty chair between each two girls. If a man comes in and sits in one of the chairs it is thought that he will marry the girl he sits next too.”

American Regional Folklore: A Sourcebook and Research Guide edited by Terry Ann Mood

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“The purpose of a dumb supper is for a young, unmarried woman to see the ‘spirit’ of the man that she is going to marry. The meal is prepared in complete silence~no talking (dumb) whatsoever. Most people believed that you had to walk backwards while cooking and serving the dumb supper.

When the dinner is done, an extra place is set at the table and the young girl (or girls if done in a group), open all the windows and doors and take their place at the table and bow their head. Sometimes all the lights are blown out, as well. The ‘phantom’ husbands are supposed to enter in silence. Each girl should be able to recognize the ‘husband’ that sits down beside her. If no one appears, it means that she will never marry. If only a dark blob appears, it means she will die within the year.

There are quite a few versions of this ‘supper’. Some involve making the dinner using thimblefuls for ingredients instead of spoons and cups. In some versions, they see the ‘reflection’ of their husband’s face in their empty plates.”

—Mary Briggs

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“I have heard my mom and aunts talk about dumb suppers. My Aunt Irma told me that her and two or three friends started a dumb supper one time but they got too scared to go through with it. Everything had to be done backwards, you had an empty chair beside everyone for their future husband to sit in. No one could talk while this supper was being prepared. Maybe I have heard about this because I am a lot older than most of you.”

—Vera

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Although I’ve heard and read quite a bit about dumb suppers, I’ve never known anyone who actually participated in one.

I’ve already found my mate so there’s no need for me to test the folklore and Chatter and Chitter could never participate in a dumb supper because they could NEVER be silent 🙂

Tipper

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 28, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    I had never heard of Dumb Suppers but I know of several folks that in their younger years who accepted invitations to sup with someone they were dating After learning the marital intentions of the person offering the invitation which didn’t coincide with theirs ended the dating post haste. I was involved in such an event many years ago when I had dated a young lady one time, had supper with her family and then the next week heard all over town of our planned nuptials, I considered that a “Dumb Supper” as that ending the dating. This was fifty years ago but it taught me to be more cautious of supper invitations so maybe it should be called an “Educational Supper” instead of a “Dumb Supper” since I was much smarter after this event.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 28, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Tipper,
    I don’t know much about Dumb Suppers, but I bet Chitter and Chatter would have trouble keeping quiet. The first time you ever brought either of them to see me, they accused me of stealing Ruby Sue. I had a little dog that looked just like their dog, only he was a Boy dog. His name was Little Bit. After the Girls checked Little Bit out, they decided I wasn’t lying. They scooped him up and off to the garden they went. Little Bit wasn’t use to being carried, but he soaked it up. Chitter and Chatter brought him back soon, and everything was OK.

    I had Girls too, much older, so I was use to it. Maybe that’s why I hold a Special Place in my heart. …Ken

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    October 28, 2019 at 8:14 am

    I have never heard of a dumb supper, but it sounds like something my teen friends and I would have tried. We were at a time where we still relied heavily on a daisy with “He loves me, he loves me not.” Back when dandelions were not considered a pest, we also assured they would cover the earth by blowing them to see how many children we would have. One thing dumb supper with its silence brings to mind is they once referred to those who could not speak as dumb, and that is one term I am so glad fell by the wayside.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 28, 2019 at 7:22 am

    Tipper, I don’t recall ever hearing of a dumb supper and I think you are 100% correct, Chitter and Chatter would never be able to be quiet long enough to prepare a meal!
    I think the intent behind the dumb supper is worth while, to get the girls to think about what they want in a husband.

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