The Axeman’s and Other Southern Cultural Folklore: Cultural Impact and Motivations


The Axeman and other New Orleans horror stories, both non-fiction and fiction have played a major role in shaping the cultural impact of the New Orleans/Southern story.  In the Gumbo Ya-Ya readings, the author demonstrates the real fear that these folklore stories strike into the hearts of innocent civilians.  I strongly agree with the author’s argument that the Axeman (a real killer) and other spiritual stories (The Devil Man, The Gown Man, Mugging Molly, etc. who may in fact be real individuals) have had a major impact on southern society.

First off, I believe that these various ‘spooky’ stories created a stronger bond between neighbors and families, in order to protect themselves and feel safe in a time a grave danger.  On page 77 of Gumbo Ya-Ya, the author states, “Soon the whole town was trembling for fear of meeting the dreadful creature…”.  However, this brought together armed groups of neighbors as a ‘neighborhood watch’ group to stand guard at night patrolling for the Axeman.  Individuals who were once strangers began to watch out for each other, in turn building stronger social bonds between families of the New Orleans.  Also, these stories continue to have a lasting impact on social norms in the south as these tails of danger are still circulated today and continue to bring together families over telling these scary folklore.

Another major impact that I argue was a partial result of specifically the Axeman, was the New Orleans’s major jazz influence and culture which increasingly grew in popularity around this time period (late 1800s and early 1900s).  The Axeman was apparently a known lover of jazz music and in an excerpt into the a local newspaper, stated he would not commit his brutal murders to anyone hosting or listening to a full jazz band.  This brought many individuals out at night to attend dance clubs, jazz performances, and restaurants all boasting the largest jazz bands.  Although this was scary threat, I believe it reinvigorated the jazz culture in the South as it got more people attending performances and talking about jazz music in their day to day lives.  The author also goes on to state that many bars/restaurants who boasted the Axeman and southern folklore characters attended their performances or drank at their bars, also drummed up major business for their establishments.  As time went on and the Axeman appeared to have left for good, tourism sparked at the various locations of attempted killings and other sightings which only increased the major impact on society that these characters continue to have.

Lastly, when looking at the motivations of the Axeman and other individuals who committed these crimes during this time period, I believe there are two major factors: Racial tensions and social abnormality.  First off, many of these creatures such as “Hugging Molly” and the “Domino Man” wore similar outfits to the Ku Klux Klan and often targeting black individuals.  Racial tensions were a major conflict factor during the late 1800s and early 1900s and provided motives for criminals who hated others different from their own race.  Regardless if this motive was an underlying factor, it majorly impacted culture especially in the deep south due to the history of slavery, which began to worry African-American individuals in fear of being targeted due to their skin color.  Another factor that I believe motivated the Axeman, is the various social factors that can outcast individuals for certain behaviors.  Based on outside research and from these readings, it is clear that the Axeman is clearly mentally unstable.  It is possible he only wants to fit into the culture (especially the southern jazz culture) but was previously unavailable to for whatever reason.  He now forces those to go out and listen to this music so he can watch and enjoy in the festivities hoping to be apart of the culture.

Overall, these major southern folklore stories played a major role in shaping southern society and continue to have a significant cultural impact today; due to their closeness with jazz music and the bringing together of families/neighbors.