Home Massachusetts Massachusetts’ Celery Bug Bill Finds Omens in Caterpillars

Massachusetts’ Celery Bug Bill Finds Omens in Caterpillars

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William T. Hopkins of Franklin, Mass., known as Celery Bug Bill, started his working life as a sailor. Originally from Manchester, England, Bill was brought to sea by his father, a sea captain.

Until the age of 30 he sailed, living his life according to the superstitions sailors develop on the ocean – looking for good and bad omens that might predict his fate.

celery bug bill

Papilio Polyxenes (The Celery Caterpillar)

But at 30 he decided to settle down for a more traditional life. Hopkins chose Massachusetts for his new home. But the old superstitions he had lived by at sea were of little use to him on dry land. He needed to find a new philosophy to guide him.

And his search for that philosophy showed him to be a true New England character that newspapers loved to chronicle: “Celery Bug Bill.”

Celery Bug Bill

One day in 1850 as he was trying to establish his new life Bill decided to pay a visit to his cousin in Bellingham. Tired from is long walk, he flopped to the ground to rest. He noticed a caterpillar climbing up the stock of a nearby blade of grass. In the stripes that adorned the caterpillar he read what appeared to be words: “COUSIN DEAD.”

Well, sure enough, when Hopkins reached Bellingham he found that his cousin had died the night before. This started his life-long trust in the celery caterpillar. The little bugs, he believed, could tell the future. And if one paid attention, they were good advisers.

If the bug’s stripes said STORM, then you should take cover. But it wasn’t just small things Bill turned to the caterpillars about. While passing through Franklin, Mass. one of the caterpillars spelled out a message on his back: “BUY LAND.”

So Bill bought that land and settled there, making a farm for himself. “I followed that bug’s advice and from that day I never knew the want of a dollar,” he told one newspaper man who came to record his story.

When he began courting a young woman, the caterpillar told him: “MARRY.” Marry her he did, and the two lived a happy life. In 1891 the caterpillar began warning Bill that his life was coming to an end. One day it told him: “DEATH.” And finally the message changed to “TODAY.”

And that was the end of Celery Bug Bill; he took to his bed and died. Bill’s wife would tell newspapers that she felt certain she would be joining him soon. She had looked at a caterpillar and the message spelled out on its back read “PREPARE,” and the next day it read: “SOON.”

This story last updated in 2022.

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