Currituck County Tales and Legends
Contributed by Robert Etheridge
My mother told this story to me just about every time that we journeyed down to Currituck when I was a child. It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck!
The old woman was dying. Everyone knew it. She knew it. She had lived almost eighty years and had enjoyed her life. She was not afraid of death. She knew that she was right with her maker and well respected by her neighbors and family. She could look back on a life of hard, honest work with no regrets. She had raised a family and seen them all into a successful adulthood. But although she had no fear of death, she was not prepared for the pain and humiliation that cancer would bring to her.
At first it was not too hard to bear. She was able to dispose of her personal possessions in a manner that pleased everyone. Most things went to her three daughters who were able to agree on the division without any rancor—a rarity among families.
Eventually the pain worsened. The doctor prescribed painkillers, which helped at first, but their effectiveness diminished as the pain increased. Ultimately there came a morning when she was not able to get out of bed. The three daughters began to take turns sitting up with her at night. More morphine was given, but the pain was always a step ahead. The pain was terrible, but to a woman who had always been self-sufficient, the humiliation of being completely dependent on others was overwhelming.
She lingered for several more weeks. Toward the end her daughters reported that she had begun to express her agony in a peculiar way. She did not moan or scream. Instead she reached over from her bed, which was against one wall, and began to scratch against that wall. It was a heart-rending sound to those who heard it and the very house itself seemed to amplify it beyond its natural volume.
On the last night, all three daughters were with her. The scratching continued. Two of the women had dozed off. The one who was awake had almost dozed off when the scratching stopped. She was alerted by the silence. A glance at the clock on the mantle showed that it was exactly midnight. She awoke her sisters and they all three went to the bedside. The old woman took several more shallow breaths and then was gone. Her earthly struggle was over at last.
The funeral was held at a small white church nearby and was well attended. The minister said some appropriate words, the soloist sang “Beyond the Sunset” and scripture was read. They took her out to the small church cemetery and she was reunited with her husband. The crowd dispersed, then came the sunset…and there was peace.
After a time, the family began to remove wanted items from the house. It was cleaned and paint applied where it was needed. It was decided to rent it for a while and decide what to do with it later. All of the daughters were established in their own homes and none wanted to occupy the house. After several months of sitting empty, a young family with one small child, a boy, moved in and set up housekeeping. Once again the old house heard the echo of a child's laughter and the everyday sounds of people living. It was a happy house again.
The boy was about seven or eight years of age and had been given his own bedroom—the very same room where the old woman had died. When they had been living in the house for a month, the boy came running into his parent's room one night. “Daddy, there's something in my room!” They could hear it from across the hall. It was a scratching sound! The father thought that some “sort of varmint” had gotten into the house. He took a lantern and a big stick and went into the room. He searched the room and tried to pinpoint just where the sound came from. He checked under the bed because it definitely came from that area of the room, but there was nothing under the bed. There was nothing in the room at all except the furniture. Then the scratching stopped. It was midnight! The parents allowed their son to sleep in their room that night.
The next morning they went over the room thoroughly. They moved all of the furniture. They searched inside the bureau and the chest. All was normal. They could not explain the scratching sound.
The sound did not come again for several weeks and the boy went back into his room. More weeks went by and the mystery of the scratching sound was almost forgotten. And then, one stormy night, it started again! The boy reported immediately to his parent's room and the search was made again. The father was sure that it was coming from the wall. “Tomorrow I'll pull off some of the paneling from that wall. I think that a rat has a nest behind it.”
The next day he did as he said. The paneling was removed from the entire wall, but there was nothing there except a couple of cut nails dating from the house's construction. With another theory disproved, the father nailed up the paneling and decided to await further developments. The son was allowed to move his bed into his parent's room.
More weeks went by and then, on another stormy night, the scratching began again. Once more they could hear it from across the hall. It seemed louder this time and more emphatic. At midnight it stopped.
The next morning an inspection was made of the outside of the house. The man noticed that a large tree limb was overhanging the house on the side where the bedroom was located. “That's it!” he said. “Every time the wind blows, that limb is scraping against the side of the house!” Accordingly, he got his ladder, an ax and his saw. He climbed up and trimmed off the offending limb. He climbed down and, for good measure, cut back all of the shrubbery on that side of the house. He put in a good day's work and considered the problem finally solved.
For a while it seemed that it was. More stormy nights came and no scratching was heard. It was several months later when the noise began once again from the bedroom. This time it was a perfectly calm night.
In frustration, the father reported the noise to his neighbor the next day. The man paled and asked him to show him exactly what room the scratching came from. But he already knew which room he would be shown. He thought it best to tell the story about the old woman. The father scoffed, but after several more nights of the scratching sound that always ended at exactly midnight, the young family moved out of the house.
It was several more months before another family could be found to rent the house. They lasted three months.
Others came and stayed for varying lengths of time, but none lasted more than a few months. By this time it was well known that the house was haunted and no one would live there. The family made the decision to sell the house and finally were able to after many months on the market. It was sold to a businessman from Norfolk who also rented it out or tried to. He had the same problem that the original owners had; no one would stay in the house long. He eventually sold it to another man and again it went through the same process. It was rented and the people would move out.
Through the years the scratching sound continued and no one stayed more than a year. Whoever or whatever occupied the house preferred to be alone.
This house is still standing near Grandy. It is right on highway 158 and is plainly visible from the road. I am happy to report that, for many years now, the house has been steadily inhabited. Perhaps the old woman has found peace at last or maybe the house has forgiven the old woman for deserting it!