Hello and welcome to the last installment of my summer blog series of my West Virginia Horror Heritage! I started this series because I got to thinking about my youth and how many scary tales and superstitions surrounded us all, how even my most skittish friends were familiar and well-versed in the horror lore of the area, and I became flummoxed. My two best friends, who I have known since girlhood, claim skittishness over all things scary. And yet, they know a lot of the stories that I wrote about in this series. Their families told similar tales to the ones my grandmother told me. They read Ruth Ann Musick and walked through the old railway tunnels. Their heritage is not unlike my own. Their background is rich in haunting and the monsters lurking in the hollows of the ancient mountains we called home.
It’s important that you understand that not all of us became horror fans simply because of that heritage. If you ask any number of horror fans the big “WHY”, the question that begs to know how one becomes a fan of the twisted and sick, you get a number of answers that somehow, in their variety, claim a similarity. For a lot of us, it boils down to escapism. We’re not sick. We don’t kidnap neighbor kids and use them as compost for our tomato plants, we aren’t trying to summon Satan to put an end to all things, and we don’t carry big knives with us to put through the skulls of slow people at the supermarket. You’d be surprised how lovely and normal the average horror fan is.
With all of that said, let’s talk about today’s topic: Water Ghosts. This is a topic that is particularly icky to me, maybe because I learned to swim a lot later than a lot of my peers. To this day, deep murky water scares me and gives me a sinking feeling in my gut. I don’t like it, even in its benign form where its biggest feature is wetness.
Water ghosts are a big thing all over the world, in all cultures. We’re terrestrial creatures and the water is a treacherous place for us. We drown easily and our young are particularly susceptible to the dangers of the aquatic menace. There’s heartbreak in those depths, floating right along with the horrors.
So many stories of water ghosts involve unwanted babies and distraught young women. Infanticide and suicide are the main courses of the rivers and lakes of the world, and West Virginia is no different. Today, instead of the usual book, I want to talk more about Coffin Hollow, which is another book by my muse, Ruth Ann Musick. This is the book with the sad, and tragic water ghost stories. The Crying Baby of Holly is one story, where a young girl gives birth to an illegitimate and unwanted baby and tries to get rid of it by putting it in with the hogs. When the hogs show no interest, she throws the baby into the river and is haunted by the cries of her child.
It makes one wonder how many times this was carried out, not in the semi-fantastical world of lore, but in real life. We all know in our logical minds that it was not rare. And how many spurned young women, sad and abandoned, threw themselves into black, watery depths to end their pain? How many were thrown there to hide affairs?
The water, although not exclusively, seems to be a place where women and children are sentenced to disappear in order to make life more comfortable for others. That their graves were of the same stuff as their agonized tears is poetic and heartbreaking.
Sadness is a white face under the ripples of a frigid lake, eyes unseeing and skin beyond the capacity to complain of the chill of the water.
And that brings us to an end! I’d like to thank you for joining me every week and I hope that if you haven’t seen all of the posts that you’ll go back through and read them and I hope that you’ll come away with a great respect for Ruth Ann Musick and for what she did for West Virginia in preserving our folklore in her books. Even now, it means so very much.