NOTE: This story comes from Bluefield, West Virginia.
As woods go, they weren’t much — a tangled second growth of trees and underbrush that barely covered an acre of ground. But THAT acre of ground was one of the most haunted spots in Southern West Virginia. The ghost of a young lady lurked there. She was murdered and buried in that spot over a century ago.
Some say that Irene was a flirt of the highest order. She was tall and willowy with dark hair, brown eyes, and full lips. She had the neighborhood boys nearly crazy with her batting eyes and melodious voice. Her come-hither glance was said to be enough to make a man leave his wife.
One day a stranger came into town. The first person he laid eyes on was Irene and, of course, she gave him the full treatment. He asked her if she would like to join him at dinner and that night she was seen in his company at a local eatery. Within an hour of their leaving the place, Irene mysteriously disappeared.
A massive search got underway the next morning as soon as it was light. Because she was so popular with the men, hundreds of them turned out to look for her. They didn’t have to search far. They found her bruised and bloody corpse in a shallow grave in the little patch of woods. The man who murdered her was never found.
When Irene was given a Christian burial in a local churchyard, half the town (and most of the men) attended her funeral. And this might have been the end of the story except….
The very night after she was laid to rest a group of men were coon hunting. The raccoon they were pursuing was leading them on a merry chase, over fields, and across streams. The dogs were yelping close at its heels. Finally the coon and the dog pack ran into the wood.
In a moment the hunters heard their dog’s distinctive yelping turn into howls of horror. There came the sound of scrambling in the brush and the entire pack of dogs came rushing out of the little wood. They ran right past their surprised masters and disappeared over a hill.
“Not what do you suppose got into those dogs?” one of the hunters said, scratching his head.
“I don’t know, but no coon could ever scare them like that,” replied another. “I’m going to find out what happened.”
“I just hope it wasn’t no bear,” the third hunter said.
The men walked slowly toward the wood, their muskets at the ready. A moment later they were in among the trees and thick brush. The overhanging trees blocked out most of the already feeble light provided by a moon in its last quarter. The woods were dark, very quiet, and quite spooky.
In the distance, the hunters saw a light — dim at first, then growing brighter. They peered over a bush and saw a female figure about 30 feet in front of them. They recognized it instantly. It was Irene.
The hunters looked at each other in amazement. All three of them had attended Irene’s funeral earlier in the day and, now, here she was standing in the middle of the woods were the search party had found her — in fact, right over the remnants of her shallow grave.
Irene looked at them and smiled her familiar come-hither grin. Then she raised a ghostly arm and beckoned to them to come to her. Nothing doing! The three horrified hunters turned tail and ran out of the woods at a pace that rivaled even their dogs.
Such an incident could not stay quiet very long, especially when the participants began to drown their terror in their cups. They ran into the first the tavern they came to and ordered copious amounts of an adult beverage. Soon the shaking hunters were quite inebriated. The alcohol loosened their tongues and they began telling everyone with earshot of their shocking experience with Irene’s ghost. Of course their fellow drinkers didn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts were for children, not big strong men like themselves.
“We did see her,” one of the men insisted. “She was standing there just as clear as day, smiling at us.”
“If you don’t believe us,” another of the hunters said, “come out and see for yourselves!”
That was a challenge too good to resist. The hunters and about a dozen other men, well-fortified with whiskey, walked into the little woods. They tramped through the underbrush for nearly a half hour but no ghost appeared. Finally their thirst got the best of them and they decided to go back to the tavern. Before leaving, one of the searchers asked the hunters if they hadn’t been well-oiled before even coming into the saloon. The hunters, of course, denied that had drunk anything. But it was too late. Word was out. There was alleged to be a ghost in the woods and, to this day, the legend persists.
About 20 years ago, the woods was sold as part of a parcel of land which was subdivided into building lots. The trees, of course, were cut down and houses and well-manicured lawns took their place.
One of the new houses is owned by the Robert Jerrot (not the real name) family. Bob, his wife Pam, and their two children moved into the house about ten years ago — the previous owner having moved out without explanation. Bob soon found out why.
About a week after they moved in, Bob and his wife were watching television in their semi-darkened living room when he suddenly caught a glimpse of something from the corner of his eye. At first he thought one of the kids (two girls, aged 12 and 14) had abandoned their homework for a moment and were standing at the doorway watching the television. But when he turned he saw a woman, dressed in old-fashioned clothing, watching him intently. She had a smile on her face and her whole body seemed to glow with an earthly light. He started to speak but she disappeared.
Bob’s wife had been intent on the television all this time so she didn’t see the apparition. When Bob tried to tell her what he had just experienced she said that he had been working too hard.
Two weeks later, long about dark, Pam Jerrot was bent over in her laundry room taking clothes out of a dryer and placing them in a wicker basket for ironing. When the basket was full, she grabbed the handles, stood up, and turned to walk into the bedroom. As she did she saw a glowing woman standing in the laundry room doorway, smiling at her. Pam screamed and dropped her basket. The apparition instantly disappeared. Her husband came running.
“Are you all right?” he asked in a panic.
“I’ll never doubt you again!” she said, nearly in hysterics. “I saw that woman myself, standing right in the doorway. I almost bumped into her!”
After Pam had calmed down she told her husband that it would be a mistake to tell the children about their newly-discovered ghost. “But what if they DO see it?” Bob asked.
“We’ll deal with that when the time comes,” she answered.
Well, the time wasn’t long in coming. Early one evening, several days later, the oldest girl, Jill, was in her bedroom, sitting in front of her vanity, primping. Suddenly she emitted a shriek that could have been heard in the next county. When they ran to her bedroom, Jill was standing on the bed in hysterics. Her makeup was scattered all over the floor.
“I saw a ghost, Mommy!” she wailed. “It was in the mirror, staring at me!”
“What did it look like?” her father asked.
“A woman,” Jill answered. “A woman in old clothes. She was smiling. I was looking down to find my lip gloss and when I looked up, there she was.”
Although the youngest daughter, Carla, had not yet seen the ghost, she thought it was “cool” that the house was haunted. Her father was not so sure. The ghost certainly did not seem bent on harming anyone. In fact, every time that she had been seen, she was smiling. But that did not change the fact that both his wife and older daughter, who had seen the ghost, were now jumping at shadows. He also worried that having a ghost in the house would ruin the value of his property. He decided to investigate the haunting himself, but swore his family to secrecy. He didn’t want to story to get out.
Bob went to the county courthouse to look up any records they might have on his property, but there was nothing which would shed light on his problem. The property, until it was sold to the developer, had always been part of a farm and there was no record of a house there before the present one was built. Then Bob visited the local historical society.
When he asked the woman at the desk whether any strange or unusual events had occurred on his property, she smiled knowingly. She told him of the murder of Irene and of the killer that got away. Then she said, “We deal in historical fact, you know. We have our reputation to maintain, but I can tell you this. I have heard some local stories that Irene’s ghost has appeared at that spot several times over the years — at the very spot where those men found her body in that grave.” She gave Bob a searching glance. “I take it you’ve seen Irene?”
Bob didn’t answer. Instead he went straight home and told his wife the tale that the lady at the historical society had told him. Then he asked Pam, “Do you think we should move?” He was surprised by his wife’s answer.
“We’ll see,” she said.
That night both girls saw Irene. They were in Jill’s room listening to records when the ghost suddenly appeared before them. This time Jill was not afraid and Carla, true to her word, thought the ghost was cool. Irene stood there for almost five minutes, smiling, and seemed like she was enjoying the music, too. The girls tried to talk to her, but she did not answer. After a time she slowly faded away.
Pam, too, had several more encounters with Irene, but each time she was less shocked to see the apparition. Maybe she was getting used to her. Even Bob had another encounter though, for him at least, it was a bit more uncomfortable.
He had just finished taking a shower and had walked into the bedroom stark naked when Irene showed up. As he tried to cover himself up to protect his modesty, Irene didn’t smile — she actually laughed. Then, as usual, Irene disappeared. Soon after, Bob summoned his family for a conference.
“Listen,” he told them. “We undoubtedly have a ghost in this house. I think we should sell it.”
“No, Daddy,” Carla said. “I like our ghost.”
“Me, too,” Jill said.
“I guess that makes it unanimous,” his wife chimed in.
Bob hesitated. “I don’t know about this. If word of this gets out the value of the house….”
“Oh, Daddy,” Carla said frowning. “You’re just mad Â‘cause she caught you coming out of the shower in your birthday suit!”
Bob raised his eyebrows in surprise. “How do you know that?”
“She told me?”
“You’ve talked to Irene?”
“Uh, huh. She thought it was hilarious.”
Bob looked around the table. “Have the rest of you talked to her?” The others shook their heads. “Not yet,” Pam said with a smile, “but I can see right now that this is going to get very interesting.
That night the Jerrot family decided once and for all that they were not going to sell their haunted house. It was abundantly clear that ghostly Irene was quickly becoming a member of the family. Besides, a new resident might not understand the ghost was well as they did and might try to have Irene exorcised.
As the family got up to leave the table, Bob caught sight of ghostly Irene standing just outside the door of the kitchen. She was smiling at him, as usual, but in a much different way this time. Bob thought she was smiling in satisfaction. She tipped her head as if she were saying, “You’ve made the right decision to stay and I’m right proud to have become a member of your family.”
The last time I talked to Bob he had pretty well accepted a ghost in his house. However, he was still worried about property values.