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1918: The Hasco Zombies

In William Seabrook's 1929 book The Magic Island, Seabrook shared a story that was told to him as a true account by a Haitian friend while Seabrook was visiting that country.

        Spring of 1918 was a big season for the sugar cane fields by the Haitian-American Sugar Company -- generally just called 'Hasco' -- on the eastern side of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They were hiring extra workers to gather the sugar cane, and were offering a bonus on the wages of new workers to help attract them. Whole families were showing up to register and then work in the fields... and one morning an old headsman named Ti Joseph, from Colombier, arrived with his wife Croyance and a line of workers who walked and stared as if in a daze.

        During the registration, Joseph explained that they were all ignorant people from the slopes of Morne-au-Diable (very far away), and they were overwhelmed with fear of the factory and its noise... they were good workers though, and should be best if placed as far from the factory itself as possible. So the zombies -- for that what they were -- were sent to the farthest fields of the area, where Joseph knew there was little chance a relative of theirs would ever see them.

        The zombies worked, and Joseph collected all the pay for them each Saturday. Always, either Joseph or Croyance were watching over the zombies; never were they left alone. Each family group working the fields kept to themselves, so Joseph's little band of workers were also left alone. Each night Croyance prepared two meals: one for her and her husband, and one without meat or salt for the zombies. As the zombies toiled day after day, Croyance began to feel pity for the unhappy dead.

        Each Saturday and Sunday there were special events at Croix de Bouquet, and Joseph and Croyance took turns going on the weekends so the zombies were never alone. Towards the end of February, the "Fete Dieu" approached -- with a three-day weekend holiday for workers, and special parades and processions. It was Joseph's turn to go and, as he set out for Port-au-Prince for the big weekend, he promised Croyance that she would be the one to go for the upcoming Mardi Gras festivals.

        On Sunday however, Croyance wished to see the processions of the weekend. She also felt that maybe seeing such would be a matter of good cheer for her workers as well; and since anyone from Morne-au-Diable would have gone home for the Fete Dieu holiday, there was very little chance of her zombies being recognized. So she packed a meal of unseasoned plantains for the zombies, and the small group walked off to Port-au-Prince.

Going to the Festival

Illustration by Alexander King. (larger version here)

        The market stalls were empty of traders for the weekend, so she had her group sit in the shade of one of these to watch as the processions went by. The zombies didn't see or notice the procession, simply sitting and staring as always, but Croyance enjoyed the spectacle.

        About noon, women peddling various foods and treats walked by, and Croyance bought herself a treat... and, feeling the zombies needed something a little different, she bought them some 'tablettes,' a cookie-like candy make from brown sugar cane and peanuts, and shared it among the zombies, who chewed at the food with as much disinterest as they ate their normal fare.

        Ah, but this was not their normal fare. Croyance did not know that the baker had chosen to salt the peanuts in this case before mixing them into the tablettes; and when the zombies tasted the salt, they suddenly became aware of the fact they were dead. Suddenly the lifeless pack of men and women screamed out and started to walk towards the mountains, ignoring Croyance. No one could stop them and, indeed, no one dared to... for it was very clear now they were in fact walking dead.

The Hasco Zombies Walk

Illustration by Alexander King. (larger version here)

        After much walking the approached their old home village on the slopes of Morne-au-Diable where they were recognized by heart-broken friends and family, many of whom hopefully tried to talk to them. But the dead were still dead, and had only one goal left...they entered the graveyard, shuffling faster, and as each zombie from the grave it had been stolen from, they died again trying to dig themselves back in, falling to the ground as "rotting carrion".

        Not surprisingly, the men of the village made arrangements for a curse to kill Ti Joseph; but just to be sure, a few of them also cut off his head.

Seabrook's Source

        As mentioned above, Seabrook had heard the story from a Haitian friend; this man's name was Polynice, and he was quite sure the story was true, although he himself had not witnessed it. He knew other people who had seen and experienced some of the events described, and he felt they were telling the truth. Seabrook himself was not entirely convinced... which is why Polynice went out of his way to show Seabrook some actual zombies before he left Haiti! Follow the 'See Also' link below.