My Childhood Haunts: The Drowning Nurse

When I was growing up, we had a creek running through our property. The Pohick Creek to be exact, a small tributary of the Potomac (although we always called it ‘Po’hick’ as if it were some kind of Southern derogatory name for a poor hick). The creek was fascinating. I spent most of my childhood following it into the woods where it meandered with fallen trees for bridges and mossy banks, snapping turtles, frogs, and fish. We even named parts of it that were especially beautiful like “Queen’s Throne” and “Witch’s Hollow.” I spent a lot of time too making my Barbie dolls dive off the stone bridge that spanned the driveway and creating jumps for my sled when winter came, only to break through the ice and get wet.

The creek was lined by heavy willow trees. There were five of us kids and the three middle ones were all a year apart. My mother was exhausted with their antics. Even having all that acreage, they still managed to get into trouble. One time, she told them to go to the willow trees and pick a switch for her to hit them with. My defiant middle sister came back with a log, in her own way daring mom to hit her with it. Mother laughed and the switch search parties ended. She took to middle child’s rebellion with a broom instead which was really quite comical and ineffective.

As engaging as the creek was, it apparently had a dark history. We learned of it in the summer time at twilight. It happened quite often on the hottest days just at that time when the sun was out of sight but the world was still fairly bright. You would hear a woman screaming as if she were trapped and needed help. The sound always came from the creek, one specific area near the fence. We would rush there to see what was up, but there was no one there. Sometimes, there would be claw marks in the muddy banks. Other times, the water would be disturbed and cloudy where it was usually still and clear. No matter where you were in the yard, whether you were at the hickory trees on the far opposite side of the 7 acres or if you were sitting at the creek, the woman’s screams were equally loud. My friends would want to rush and see what was happening, but I would stroll. I knew it was useless. We had done this every summer of my childhood and whoever produced the screams was nowhere to be found.

Being a person who likes explanations, I figured my mom the historian would be a good source. One day I prodded her to tell me about the creek’s history. She told me that the creek used to run like a river, quite larger than it was now. During the Civil War, the story was, a woman helping to nurse the soldiers in the house was overcome with anguish. The man she was falling in love with died. She went down to the creek and drowned herself. I asked her where the woman drowned herself and she said, “somewhere near the property line at the fence, I think. Why?”

I had to smile. I knew something my mom didn’t know. I knew about the screaming lady. Us siblings didn’t really talk to each other about it until one summer when a few of us heard it with our friends and all met at the same place. My brother, the skeptic, scoffed that there was a ghost doing the screaming. His friend looked rather uncomfortable with the idea. My friend was excited and thrilled to see claw marks in the mud and the water all dirty and churned up. I, however, was frustrated. Why did she scream if she drowned herself? My logical mind was active even as a child. It’s the curse of Virgos, I suppose.

“Did you hear the lady scream?” My mother asked me softly.

My eyes widened. “You know about her?”

“I’ve heard her.” She told me. “The summer after we first moved in. I was having my coffee on the porch. She screamed three or four times.”

“Yes!” I agreed excitedly. That’s how many times she usually screamed.

“I went down there but there was nothing. She didn’t scream again until a week later. I went down again. Nothing. She did it again a few days later. That time I gave up. I don’t think she wants to be found.”

A shiver raced down my spine. “Do you think she wants to scare us?”

My mom smiled knowingly. “I think when she went to the creek, she screamed out in anguish and then decided to climb into the creek and let herself drown. What we’re probably hearing is her last emotion before she gave up. That could be a powerful thing.”

I swallowed past the lump in my throat.

A week after that, she screamed again. This time I gathered up some wild violets and a few bluebells and went down the creek and tossed them into the spot where she drowned.

“It’s okay now.” I told her. “Go and join your sweetheart.”

I didn’t hear her the next summer, or the one after that. It could be because in adolescence, I tended to go out and about the neighborhood in search of cute boys rather than explore the property. She might have screamed. She might not have screamed. I’ll never know if she heard me or if we made a connection, but I like to think that sending that spot some positive and loving energy and an offering might have helped to erase its memories. Give it new ones.

Still, decades later at twilight in the summertime when the air is a bit thick with moisture and the scent of wet earth, I get a nostalgic tug. My body poises in anticipation. I can almost sense what’s going to come. But it doesn’t. Only in my memories and even time can’t seem to erase the impression she made on me. I feel restless and excited and at the same time scared and sad.

In truth, her ritual had become my ritual.


  1. Imagine how awful it would be to be the spirit of that drowned woman, forever re-living (an odd term to use) the tragedy of your own death.

    That seems like the very idea of Purgatory to me, if no Hell itself.

  2. It could've been the soldier lady or a bunch possessed barbies! Love your historical tales from the past. Nice pic.

  3. wow, what a great story and that living it over and over... i could not imagine it.

  4. Glad y'all loved it. We had a good deal of repetitive hauntings at Aspen Grove. In fact, looking back at my childhood haunting features and the features of other haunted places I've been, they all could be chalked up to residual hauntings--events trapped in time and replayed through one or several senses; i.e. smell, vision, sound, even emotions. There are times when you stand in a place and suddenly feel a sweeping emotion of rage or depression and those could be residual emotions, as well. What makes me so intrigued by the field is the search for interactive intelligent interplay to show that all hauntings are not residual. I'm not big on EVP evidence but having something act upon command several times would impress me. The problem with many hunters is, if they try that "shave and a haircut, two bits" knock on the wall and get a response, sometimes they will count any sound even if it occurred minutes after they knocked. To some, seeing a ghost is the holy grail, but that's residual too. I think the holy grail would be proving they are interacting with me at that present moment.

  5. Another great story. It sounds to me that your offering and allowing her to go in peace was what she needed. I wonder if those screams are heard anymore?

  6. I am with you on EVPs. There is a book called Spook that debunks a variety of these electronic devices in one of its chapters.

    Your story is excellent. I wish I grew up in your neighborhood.

  7. Sis;
    I heard report that some owners after us did hear it. Don't know about nowadays. With the construction of the condos around the estate, the creek was covered over and runs through a pipe underground now but does pop up again uncovered where the lady supposedly drowned.

    You would never have had a moment's rest with me in your neighborhood. I couldn't leave the boys alone. Sure, I had crushes on every last one of them, but I also was a tomboy so I was more into what they were doing than my gal pals. The guys would be cool with building a tree fort or looking for Bigfoot in the woods, the girls not so much.

  8. I grew up with a woods in my back years and was constantly in it mucking around. We'd have had some great make believe adventures I am sure.

  9. Sounds like you gave her a closure.

  10. It seemed like such a sad story and I remember as a kid thinking that I like guys a lot, but none are worth killing yourself over. It actually kind of influenced my attitude about letting emotions taken one over.

  11. You are a lot braver than I am.

  12. Vapor;
    When you grow up in it since you were a baby, it seems absolutely normal. Kind of like the Munsters, they don't know they're different. It was like my house just came with more occupants that you couldn't see but they let you know they were living there too.

  13. Awesome story! You had such an eventful childhood. Lucky gal! Love the family pics you are sharing too!

  14. T-Dear;
    My childhood was ridiculously eventful, but one thing I do appreciate is the locations. That manor home and the Victorian we had on Mobjack Bay--they were the things childhood memories, writers and romance are born from. That pic was taken of me (right) and my childhood best friend (left) just days before we moved from there. We wanted some last pics together in our favorite places. I was just about to turn 15.

  15. I enjoy reading these stories you post. Not a one has been similar to another since I've been following you.

  16. Marduk;
    I'm glad you're enjoying it. Some of the future Wednesday episodes of this installment will include; the phantom smoke, the blue lights and the angry poltergeist.

  17. Very cool story. I love how the routine still creeps into your life now, many years later.

  18. Leo;
    I admit that I was up hiking in the north country one summer day and the smell of the pine and the trickling of the creek had me sitting down on the banks of it and listening carefully. I didn't realize until I'd been there for like an hour, that I was poised and expecting something. I laughed when I realized what it was. The stimuli of trickling muddy water, the smell of green and pine, the warm shade--made me react instinctively.

  19. Love the writing on this one and had to read it twice. Thank you for sharing this story. I might have gotten a chill or two just reading this. Well done.

  20. CC;
    Glad you enjoyed it, buddy. You are a nature lover too and probably know there's lots of mystery in it.

  21. creepy story, kinda happy ending :)

  22. Of course you were too busy chasing boys in your adolescence....and what's changed? :)

  23. Boys always had better toys. I'll take Hot Wheels over baby dolls any day! Oh, and they chased me back.


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