Fresh from the previous post on “witch wreaths,” here is another tale of American witchery, c. 1894. I confess that when I first saw the name of the alleged sorceress, I thought, “WTH? Japanese?” Certainly not, but, nonetheless, there does seem to be a clash of cultures.
SHE’S A WITCH THE POLES SAY
Yagota Yagaska Has Many Strange Things Attributed to Her Evil Influence.
NANTICOKE MINERS ARE AROUSED
They Had Her Arrested for Poisoning a Child, but the Evidence Was Only Suppositious.
SHE SAYS ITS ALL JEALOUSY
[By Telegraph to The Herald]
Wilkesbarre, Pa., March 10, 1894. If the Poles who live in the suburbs of Nanticoke, a mining town near here, were not afraid of the police they would have hanged and then burned Yagota Yagaska as a witch. They accuse her of the most peculiar actions and say she is gifted with supernatural power.
The supposed witch is a comely young woman, and has not the appearance attributed to witches generally. For a long time she has been suspected and even accused of causing accidents and illness, but it was not until Mrs. Anna Paradovicz one day ran out of her house shrieking wildly that her child had been poisoned by her that the superstitious Poles were roused to action.
Mrs. Paradovicz roused the district by her cries, and when the other women heard her story they went to Yagota Yagasaka’s home to put an end to her existence
The woman worked for Constine Gurki, a small farmer, and, as it happened, was alone in the house when the crowd of angry women arrived.
“Come out, Yagota Yagaska,” cried the leader as the woman appeared at an upstairs window.
“You want me all right. Come in. I am here,” she answered. The women ran in, up the stairs and into the bedroom, but they could find no trace of her, and their anger changing to fear at her mysterious disappearance they ran pell mell from the house, while Yagota Yagaska, who had stepped from the window to the balcony, then to the kitchen shed and the ground, and had hidden in the barn, emerged and resumed her housework.
HAD HER ARRESTED.
Mrs. Paradovicz and her friends, afraid to punish the woman themselves, turned to their husbands. The men procured a warrant from Squire Powell, charging Yagota with attempted poisoning, and she was arrested, but he testimony contained no facts, so Squire Powell discharged her.
Then Mrs. Paradovicz appealed to the supposed witch, and implored her to go home with her and see the girl and cast the evil out of her. Yagota Yagaska consented to go under the espionage of two policemen, as she feared violence.
The girl was lying on the bed, pale and weak from convulsions which at regular periods affect her. There was a crowd of women in the room who watched the proceedings of the supposed witch narrowly. Yagota Yagaska approached the bed and looked at the girl. As she did so the child opened her eyes, and, seeing her, shrieked and was seized with another convulsion.
The women rushed upon the supposed witch and had it not been for the effort of the police she would have roughly handled. They took her back to the police station and she is now under police protection.
Jennie Paradovicz, the girl who it is said was poisoned, is twelve years old. She told her mother that she went to spend Tuesday with her uncle, Constine Gurki, where Yagota was working. Yagota, she said, gave her a piece of pie, but she was afraid of her, and then Yagota told her she must eat it.
She said she took a bite and saw a white powder on it. Then, when she cried, Yagota, she said, took her head between her hands and looked into her eyes and she ate it all.
Not only of attempting to poison the child is the supposed witch accused, but she is said to have offended in other ways. Even Constine Gurki, for whom she worked, experience many discomforts and financial losses through her.
GURKI’S MANY TROUBLES.
The trouble began shortly before Christmas, when he scolded her for something. She became angry and said that she would be revenged. He was then fattening about a dozen big turkeys for the Christmas market. One morning he saw her making strange motions over their pen, and after that the turkeys began to get thin and were not fit to kill when Christmas came.
His hens, too, he says, were affected, and refused to lay. His cows gave poor milk. His horses became lame. His butter turned sour. Dishes were broken in the house until he had no crockery left, and his wood would not burn in the stove. Now that she is gone, he says things are going better.
“Mike” Malarki, “Big Mike” as he was called, it is said, told her friends he was not afraid of Yagota Yagaska, witch or no witch, and that he would kill her. The next day he went to work in the mine, intending when he came up that night to kill her, but just as he finished his work a mass of rock fell from the roof upon him and “Big Mike” was killed. They say the woman did this in order to save herself.
As to Yagota Yagaska herself, against whom these charges are made, she is very much upset and frightened at the threats of the Poles, and fears that they will do her harm. She says she cannot imagine why the charges are made, unless the Poles are jealous of her and fear she may get some of the money Constine Gurki is said to be worth.
New York Herald 11 March 1894: p. p. 11
This story includes many of the usual ingredients of witch accusations: overlooking livestock and souring butter, with a dash of poltergeist crockery-smashing and a mysterious white powder for extra zest. Was she really trying to poison the child? A young and comely servant girl might well have set her sights on a well-to-do farmer, and have acted spitefully when he refused to oblige, but why poison the niece? The young “witch” seems to have had considerable nerve to taunt and slip away from the angry housewives and then resume her housework. The timely death of “Big Mike” also added to Yagota’s glamour.
This is by no means the latest example of witch persecution/belief on record, although it should be said that such things seemed to persist longer in Pennsylvania than in other states. The constant reference to the “Poles” suggests that these accusations had something to do with a clash of ethnic cultures. I’ve not been able to find what happened to the young woman after this. Obviously the reporter mangled the “witch’s” name. Possibly her first name was Jagoda. Her name was also spelled Gagota Gagasda in other printings of the story. Does anyone have an idea of a better transcription of her last name and of what her ethnic background might have been?
Communicate with strange motions to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
For an excellent look at later witchcraft cases, see America Bewitched: The Story of Witchcraft After Salem, Owen Davies.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.