Admitted to the Union in 1817 as the 20th state, Mississippi has been a part of the United States for a while. While it did break away for a while to become part of the Confederacy during the Civil War, it soon re-joined the Union and has been a staple of old-fashioned, “traditional” southern society since then. Its population was Native American for thousands of years before the European colonization and was largely African-American from the time of colonization until the 1930s. After this, the African-Americans in the state moved away for better opportunities during the Great Depression, and to escape oppressive Jim Crow laws. It still has the largest per capita African-American population of any state, even if the state has a majority white population now.
Clearly, all of this varied and rich cultural history has given Mississippi plenty of folklore that is unique to it. Here are some of the highlights of it.
The Witch of Yazoo
What swampy bayou land would be complete without a witchy legend? In Mississippi, it comes from the town of Yazoo, where a witch was said to live in the late 19th century. This witch was supposedly caught in the act of luring fishermen on the Yazoo River onto the shore and then torturing and killing them. The sheriff of the town chased her through the swamp, where she got caught in quicksand and drowned.
However, before she crossed over, this witch cursed the town and promised to come back in twenty years and burn it to the ground. Coincidentally (or not), a fire swept through Yazoo twenty years later and destroyed over three hundred buildings. Witnesses said the flames seemed to leap in the air as if on high winds, despite weather reports for the area that day showing no winds. Plus, the chain link around the witch’s grave was found to be broken after the fire, making it all very suspicious.
The grave of the witch is still there in Yazoo in the historic section of the Glenwood Cemetery, surrounded by a chain link fence.
The Haunted McRaven House
Located in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the McRaven house is not only the oldest standing house in Mississippi, but it is also said to be the state’s most haunted. Since it was built during George Washington’s presidency, it has had plenty of time to have a lot of owners and a lot of ghosts. One of them is said to be that of a young woman who died in giving birth to her first child. She is often seen walking around the mansion in a brown dress with her hair tied up in a bun.
There are plenty of Civil War ghosts here, too, as the house served as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War. About a dozen bodies from its days as a Civil War hospital are buried on the property, leading more people to believe the house is a haven for ghosts and quite haunted.
The Singing River Siren
In 1699, French explorers reported that the Pascagoula River, which is now known as the Singing River, emitted a strange, unearthly humming sound. Attempts at explaining it in scientific ways have thus far failed, leading to a number of legends about the source of the humming.
One of the best-known legends says a peaceful Native tribe once lived along the banks of the river and worshipped a mermaid who lived in it. When Catholic missionaries arrived from Europe and tried to convert the Natives, the mermaid became possessive of her followers. She urged them all to drown themselves in the river to be with her, using a mesmerizing song, and they did. Since then, the river echoes the sounds of her song.
The Ghost of Helen Johnstone
In the 1850s, a 16-year-old girl named Helen Johnstone met the love of her life — Henry Grey Vick. Vick was a few years older than Helen, and her widowed mother made them wait until Helen was older to get married, despite teen marriages being common in that area at that time. Finally, Helen’s mother permitted them to set a date in 1859, four years after they met.
While Helen was getting ready for the wedding, Henry took a boat to New Orleans to buy a suit for the ceremony, as well as some things they needed for the house in which he and Helen would live together. While there, he ran into an ex-friend, James Stith, with whom he had a quarrel a year prior. Henry had put James behind him, but James was still bitter and declared to the entire bar they both found themselves in that Henry was no gentleman.
This was a serious insult in those times, and a duel was challenged by Henry. James accepted, and although Henry thought better of it later and tried to apologize and back out, James wasn’t having it. So, the duel was set up among their friends, with seconds, and the police were informed. They arrived just barely too late to stop it. Henry fired at James and deliberately missed. James fired and hit Henry between the eyes, killing him before he hit the ground.
Helen was inconsolable. Henry died only four days before their marriage, and she wore her wedding dress to the funeral and insisted he be buried in her family’s cemetery, which he was. She spent hours there each day for months, regardless of the weather, sitting on an iron bench and talking to her love. Her family finally took her to Scotland for a year to visit relatives of her late father, and she seemed a bit recovered when she returned. However, she insisted only she ever be buried next to Henry — no one else.
Ten years later, Helen married a local minister and told him up front that while she would be a good wife to him, she would never love him like she loved Henry. The minister accepted that, and they lived happily together. While Helen was eventually buried beside the minister, her ghost is often seen hanging around Henry’s grave, miles away from her own, sometimes weeping, sometimes brushing the leaves away.