Tale of the Screaming Lady based on historical horror

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Tale of the Screaming Lady based on historical horror
A country road leads past the haunt of the Screaming Lady of Mason County, West Virginia. (Photo: David Sibray)

Some of the most chilling tales of hauntings in West Virginia are based on real events, and one of the most horrific is that of the Screaming Lady of Mason County. Her ghost is said to haunt, or to have haunted, the woods south of "the Bend" in the Ohio River, as the region is known.

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Chris Rizer, president of the , accompanied me on a tour of the Bend and the "Big Woods" and the idyllic patch of Amish farms in which the tragedy and haunting are associated.

Driving west from through the well-tended farms for which Mason County is known, Rizer recited the tale in a way that seemed oddly coincident with the dimming of the evening. By the time we reached the wood, dusk had begun to gather in the shade beneath the trees.

"Okay, stop. Here's where it happens—or at least here is where people say they hear things," Rizer said as we neared the top of a wooded hill where the woods grew particularly dark.

Only a few months before, he had published a story about the haunting in the Point Pleasant Register, to which he regularly submits features regarding local history. With his permission, I've reprinted an emended selection from that feature here to ensure I'm hitting the high points of the tale.

"More than 150 years ago," Rizer writes, "this area was a pocket of farmland surrounded on all four sides by thick forest known as the Big Woods. That was changing, though, in 1850 as the coal mines and salt furnaces of the Bend sought out lumber for their mills and attracted laborers from the country farms. The mills, looking for old-growth forest, worked their way out from Hartford, Mason, and Clifton, and clear cut enormous tracts of countryside.

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"The lumber operations by themselves required a small army of laborers, and the clear-cutting provided an easy route from Gibbstown to Clifton, Mason, or Hartford. This little pocket of farmland, in just a few years, had gone from being pretty much the middle of nowhere to a major crossroads between the four towns. This is where our story begins.

"One of the farmers here was David Somerville, who, with his wife Catherine and their eight children, lived a fairly ordinary life. The two older boys, William and Weston, were laborers, possibly at one of the lumber mills. The two younger boys, John and David, along with daughters Rebecca, Mary, Catherine, and Martha, helped their parents on the farm.

Mason County, on the Ohio River in western West Virginia, is renowned for its well-tended farmlands.

"One night, Mary was the only one home. Perhaps the rest of the family had gone to town or were visiting nearby relatives. In any case, Mary was left home alone.

"As the legend goes, a group of men was passing the farm that night. Maybe they were lumberjacks returning to town, maybe they were laborers returning home. We may never know. They saw that Mary was alone, broke into the cabin, assaulted her, then took her deep into the woods and buried her alive.

"Though Mary was obviously missing, the crime was never discovered. Her family left Mason County not long after and resettled in Indiana, but Mary remained, in more ways than one, some say.

"Not long after the family's departure, farmers and woodsmen began to report hearing a woman’s screams coming from the Big Woods at night. Some Irish immigrants feared they had brought a banshee with them, though the reports had started before they arrived. Not knowing about Mary Somerville, they simply called her 'the Screaming Lady.'

For more than a hundred years, the ghost haunted the Big Woods. More often than not, it was heard rather than seen. Screams with what seemed like no source echoed through the woods.

"One night a newcomer to the area heard the screams. Thinking that a living woman was in trouble, he did what any sane person would do and called the police. Several officers came out and found the source of the screaming—a ghostly woman standing in the road with her face scratched and bloody. They did what most sane people would do. They turned the car around and got the heck out of there, though her screams followed them all the way to town.

"Finally, in 1986, Mary Somerville’s grave was discovered by strip miners who were working on the edge of the Big Woods. Mining stopped, and undertakers from Foglesong Funeral Home were called in to exhume the remains and give them a proper burial at the Zuspan Cemetery. I like to think that since then, the Screaming Lady has been at rest."


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