Black Mariah


B: The only real thing that I really have was, uh, the story of Black Mariah that my mother used to tell and I had kind of forgotten a lot of the details. So I did reach out to, to uh, K, uh, my aunt who, uh, obviously was more familiar with it and remembered it because what it was was Black Mariah was supposedly a witch that lived under the steps of their house, the steps going up to the second floor.

Me: Where was this house?

B: In? Uh, Liberty. South Carolina.

Me: Okay. So it lived under the stairs to the second floor?

B: Yeah, the house still stands, but uh, and apparently, uh, she, she was used to, uh, threaten the kids by my grandmother. And after, after K told me this, uh, yesterday I remembered my mother telling me this, but it was used, uh, if you don’t behave, we’re gonna put you underneath the steps with Black Mariah. And so K said she wouldn’t even go upstairs because she didn’t wanna be around those steps. Now, when I came along, none of that was ever really still, uh, in play. I’d go to my grandparents’ house. And I went upstairs all the time and was never even, you know, it was never even talked about too much then, but Mom brought it up to me. Uh, and years later she’s, she’s brought, brought it up several times. And uh, one of the reasons that she brought it up was because one of my early bands, uh, before I ever moved away from home, we had called Mariah. And so she then brought up, uh, the Black Mariah story and was convinced years later in her old age. That is what we called the band black Mariah, but it was just Mariah, but it triggered that memory in her. And so she, she kind of associated it and uh, but that was the, that’s the story. And they, you know, apparently used it to keep their kids in line, I guess.

Background: B was born in Batesburg, South Carolina in 1960. This story comes from his mother and aunt, both of whom were born in Liberty, South Carolina in the 1930s. 

Context: This story was told to me over a phone call. 

Analysis: After hearing this story, I attempted to track down the origin of Black Mariah. The only thing that I could find that would’ve been around while the story was happening was the police vans that were sometimes called Black Mariahs in the south. Tom Waits acknowledged this naming of police vans in his 1985 song “Big Black Mariah.” I also tracked the name Black Mariah back to a move in poker, but it’s unclear when the poker term came to be. Later, Black Mariah would become a Marvel comic character, but only decades after the story takes place.