My geriatric shrink shared an anecdote with us a few months back about this.
He was seeing a nursing home patient, who the nurses couldn’t do anything with, because they said he kept complaining of seeing “haints” and was looking for some blue paint, (but it had to be “haint-blue”) to keep them out of his room.
Pretty common around here (southeast Georgia,) especially for porches, windowsills, or entire houses, and an easy way to pick out the older black neighborhoods in southern US towns. I first read about “haint blue” in an old book* about the culture and practices of Georgia’s barrier islands. Apparently, the color mimics the daytime sky, which keeps away the “haints” (i.e. ghosts - local dialect for the noun “haunts.”)
*Wish I had that book. It was one at my grandparents’ house, and I was absolutely fascinated with it as a kid. One of the most vivid things I recall from that book - whose title I don’t remember - was a picture and article about slave and post-slavery burial customs on the islands, along with a picture of a grave decorated with a little plaster figure of a young Jackie Coogan. Too bad I was never offered anything from my grandparents home when the estate was settled… nothing I wanted was valuable in any monetary sense, but there were a handful of things that I’d’ve liked for purely sentimental reasons - including that book. I wish I at least remembered the title!
What I don’t get is that, sure, you keep the ghosts off the porch, but what about the rest of the house? And if it’s supposed to look like water, which they cannot cross, then why paint the ceiling and not the floor?
I think somebody painted his ceiling blue and made up a story when somebody else remarked on it.
Haint Blue - very common in Charleston, where I grew up.
Here’s what you’ve got.
In order to keep spirits (haints) out of your house, you are supposed to use indigo dye on all of your thresholds and sills. Basically, any entrance to the house - air vents, windows, doors - were supposed to be bordered by indigo. Apparently indigo is very offensive to spirits, similar to the Irish idea that rowan wards people from the fae.
Indigo was freakishly expensive, as was real paint. So, you used whitewash, and the smallest amount of indigo you could and still see a trace of color, and used that instead.
Along with that tradition, the huge wide porches were necessary for keeping cool. You didn’t want to be all exposed to haints out there beyond the safety of your four house walls, so you painted the ceiling of the porch haint blue as well (and often the steps up to the porch also) so that you were protected while enjoying the breeze.
If you were REALLY worried about spirits getting you, then you also installed a witch trap (also called a bottle tree or spirit tree) in your yard. Evil greedy spirits would see the light in the bottles and fly in, getting caught because they weren’t able to get back out due to their fear of flying downwards (closer to hell).
Even as a child I saw the flaws in that logic, but bottle trees are still fairly common around old houses and in old graveyards, and some of the houses in downtown Charleston are specifically protected by mandate and required to use approved haint blue paint on the appropriate places so that the tradition continues.