Tale of the "Screaming Lady" based on true West Virginia historical horror

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Tale of the
The body of Mary Sommerville was discovered and buried may years later. (Photo courtesy Meg Jerrard)

POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — Some of the most chilling tales of hauntings in West Virginia are based on actual 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 Great Bend in the Ohio River.

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Historian Chris Rizer, president of the , has provided the following account, which had previously been published in local newspapers.

Hay lays in windrows on a farm in Mason County where the ghost of Mary Sommerville may yet walk.

The Screaming Ghost of Mason County

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

The lumber operations required a small army of laborers, and the clear-cutting provided an accessible route from Gibbstown to Clifton, Mason, or Hartford. In just a few years, this little pocket of farmland had gone from the middle of nowhere to a significant crossroads between the four towns. This is where our story begins.

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One of the farmers here was David Somerville, who lived a fairly ordinary life with his wife Catherine and their eight children. 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. Perhaps 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 missing, the crime was never discovered. Her family left Mason County not long after and resettled in Indiana, but some say Mary remained in more ways than one.

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Not long after the family's departure, farmers and woodsmen began to report hearing a woman’s screams 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 Mary Somerville, they 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.

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

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 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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