1. THE STORY AND ITS CONTEXT:
Since I began taking this class on Folklore and the Spirit World, my conversations
with friends and others have taken many interesting turns regarding the
supernatural. I have heard quite a number of ghost stories and have enjoyed
every second of them. The story that I discuss here, however, resonates
inside my mind with a particularly sinister tone. Several of my friends
heard that I was looking for a ghost story to study for this paper and
they recommended that I ask a mutual friend, Shelly to tell me her tale
about the Mill in Manassas, VA. I asked if she would let me record the
story, she agreed and we set up a meeting time.
When I arrived at Shelly's apartment in Fairfax Towers, I was surprised
to find her sitting in a new tent she had erected in the living room!
But, we joked, what better time to tell and hear ghost stories than when
camping-- so I crawled into the tent with her! Shelly is rather shy and
doesn't talk very loudly, but her story and smokey voice captivated me
for over half an hour in that greenish tent light. What follows is Shelly's
personal experience narrative as I heard her tell it-- except for a few
deleted digressions to make the narrative more coherent. All of the names
of the participants have been changed, except for Will and Shelly who
allowed me to use their real names.
Shelly: Well, you know Susan, Chelsea, and Maggie?
Joy: Yeah yeah--
Shelly: And it was about that time
I had met Maggie
and we had met this guy Will.
Will was really into all this spiritual stuff and so--so he goes
"Okay, I wanna take you to this place" And it's the Mill in
(you know, you can read up on ghost stories about that
place all the time)
Joy: mm-hmmm, the Mill?
Shelly: It's called the Mill.
Joy: What is it?
Shelly: Well - I don't know -
I don't know what kind of Mill it was, but it's this old –
like run down - it's got one of those water wheels
and in the back there's - not a river -
- but like a nice little stream around the back
there's a railroad that goes by
And there's another abandoned house just a few,
not even a mile -
a little while away... And ummmm...
So we go to the Mill one night
And it's eleven maybe,
And in my car I drove myself and Maggie and I drove Chelsea and Susan.
And Will and his friend Ed came in his car.
We're going down all these back roads in Manassas, right?
And we finally pull up,
and it's just like
you pull up,
and you see it,
and something grips your heart --it's just like one of those things...
(Pause 3 seconds)
So we pull up,
and I was really skeptical about it, you know?
I was like "Dude, I don't wanna see anything –
I just wanna stay by the car."
And he was like -
"Okay, if you don't wanna see anything,
don't cross this line"
and he showed me a line,
it was where the asphalt met the grass of the area of the
And he was like "Stay on the asphalt."
So I was like "Alright."
And I'm kinda like chillin' out
And Susan got out of the car and walks STRAIGHT UP to the Mill
And up to the front door, And she looks at the door.
And she just stares like nothing could have broken her
Like she was just like staring inside.
So we were all like "What's Susan's problem?
What's Susan's problem?"
So we were like "Alright, let's go
and me and Maggie were kind of like, you know--
"I don't want to be here..."
And Susan was still staring -
staring into the thing.
And I was like "Ed, go up and get her" -
And Ed was like, "I'm gonna go up and look -"
So he walks up and uhhh ---
(this is all what they've told me
I wasn't there to see this part)-
Ed said he was getting ready to go into the house,
and Susan put her hand up and said,
"Don't go in there."
He said "Why?"
And she said, "If you do, you'll fall through the third.
Well- he had been talking about going up to the first floor
and there was this staircase off to the left and umm
she told him he would fall through the third step...
And Susan had NEVER been there before --
Never had anything to do with this place -
So Ed's like, "Okay?" So Ed walks back down
and Susan is still standing there
And we're like - "We really wanna go we really wanna go"
So I step onto the grass to go up and get Will
And Will comes out and goes,
"Look at that tree!"
So I look at the tree
And he goes "What color is the bark?"
I was like, "you know what color the bark is" -
it was like a dark brown-reddish kind of thing
He goes "alright"
and he walks back down to me and onto the asphalt
- and I'm by my car -
And he goes "NOW look at the tree-
what color bark is it?"
And it was that really weird white bark,
(you know that stuff?)
And I was like (skeptical) alright, lighting, the moon
shines on it different ways - whatever -
So I did it many times -
and it was different every time I went back and forth.
And by this time I'm like "Okay - what went on here -
tell me the story:
So this is the story how he heard it:
(It's probably changed many times)
The man who ran the Mill had run it since his father died. It was one
of those pass it down through the family things. And in the house next
door to the Mill there lived a family- a mother, a father, and a little
girl. And lots of times the girl would go over and watch the man working
in the river or the water wheel (she like the water wheel). And they would
leave her at the river with this man because they knew him a while. So
they left her with the man one day, and when they came back, they couldn't
find her. And they went to the Mill and he said he hadn't seen her, and
the husband went back to search the house, and the wife stayed around
looking for her around the river. WELL, the wife never came back, and
neither did the daughter. And (as the story goes), the husband went over
to the Mill and he found his wife tied around a tree and she had been
slit in the throat on the tree that changed colors. Okay, and then he
had found the little girl's body in the river. And he walked up to the
man in the Mill and was like, "What happened?" And the man was
like, "Get out before I kill you." And he left, and the husband
never came around and that's the way the story goes.
So - Will was telling me this is the tree where she was killed-- "Go
try it again."
So I walked and looked at the tree like 20 times I walked to all the different
I did everything like ten times - umm - so on the grass it was red,
on the asphalt it was white -
but it was really weird,
it wasn't all red, just this little part... And I was like "'kay,
he's gonna come after me! Let's get going!!"
Ed and Will had gone back up to get Susan
and they come back down,
and we hear Susan LAUGHING!
She's all alone looking in this house and she's laughing!
And I was like "Will, go get her!"
So he did.
And she was laughing the whole way.
Well - (Chelsea was the only one with us who was black) and she looked
at Chelsea and said,
"He's laughing at you."
"What do you mean he's laughing at me?"
She was like,
"He doesn't understand why you're with all these white people. He
thinks you should be out doing your chores in the fields..."
And we were just like, you know,
that was the worst -
that's a terrible thing to say to someone. And we all looked at Susan,
but she didn't know the difference--
So Chelsea was just like, "That's it- I'm leaving." We were
like, "Let's just get out of here."
So we all get in the cars, and he looks at his watch
and says, "It's better if we go now anyway."
So we started driving away.
Will pulls over to the side of the road,
and before Will even had a chance to roll his window down
Susan had jumped into his car
she turned to me and said "We're going back."
So we were like okay, we'll let them have their fun - we thought it was
a big set up. - we go back and we were all sitting in the car, and Susan
was still intently staring at this house
- you could have yelled in her ear
and she wouldn't have even heard you. Will went back up
(and I don't know what he did) - and he came back-
and I had my car in PARK -
- and I was looking at my RPM's and
they were jumping from two to five
Maggie turns to me and says
"Stop pressing on the gas!"
and I was like "I'm not touching it!"
Will goes, "Shelly, if you really want to get out of
And I was like "I'm NOT doing anything!" - and he looks at his
watch - his face goes white -
and he goes, "Get out of here!" (Pause)
I had no questions!
I threw it into reverse and got out of there!
We met later and he says, "It was past midnight -
and at midnight, he can cross onto the asphalt -
and he was messing with your car..
He wanted you.
You have something he wants."
And I was like, "Very funny- what are you talking about?" And
he turns to me and he goes, "He wants your sister."
Joy: You just gave me goosebumps!
Shelly: So anyway, I went home
and I walked into my room and the light blew out
which of course was the perfect thing to happen on that night! So I crawled
into bed and went to sleep. In the morning, my mom comes to me and was
"Did you hear anything last night?"
I said, "No, I came home at one and went to bed, why?" And she
"Well, about three, I woke up and I swear to God something was standing
in my hall so I got up and I swear he was screaming you sister's name.
He was an old man in overalls. I was so scared that I got up your dad
and made him walk around, but he didn't see anything."
Well- after all of that,
I wanted to read about it and see if it was true-
so I went to the library and got death certificates and stuff.
There really were some facts that went with the story -and I even got
a picture of the old man from the Internet -I left it on the table at
my house once,
and when I came home my mom was looking at it-
She was like, "Where did this picture come from?" and I told
- and she was like -
"I swear this is that man I saw in the hall that night."
And that's the Mill story!
2. INFORMANT'S SOURCE
As already stated, this was a personal experience narrative.
3. INFORMANT'S DISCUSSION OF THE STORY
Shelly did not talk about the Mill very much outside of the actual narrative
session. In fact, whenever the subject is brought up, she quickly dismisses
the conversation with a shudder. She says that the whole experience was
"too freaky," and she worries about what it might have meant
or could still mean for her sister. After I heard the story, I told Shelly
that I wanted to go to the Mill, and she got very upset with me, telling
me to promise her I wouldn't go.
4. COLLECTOR'S APPRAISAL OF INFORMANT'S USE OF FOLKLORE
Shelly is very soft-spoken and rarely engages in any sort of storytelling.
The only times I have heard any stories or folklore come out of her mouth
have been when she is alone with one or two other people she knows well.
In this instance, specifically, Shelly told the tale on request, not of
her own volition. Yet, she had an awareness of the nature of legends,
as evidenced when she says that the story of the Mill has probably changed
5. COLLECTOR'S APPRAISAL OF THE STORY TELLING EVENT AND THE STORY
Shelly told her story to me in the context of my desire to collect a ghost
story, so she meant to help out a friend. On a deeper level, however,
Shelly uses her experience at the Mill that night as a warning. She shows
that there are phenomena that exist outside of our "normal"
realm of perception and that these supernatural events should not be taken
lightly. The story warns us that messing around with aspects of life we
don't understand or respect can be dangerous.
While at first glance, I had difficulty finding any meanings within the
text of the story, I soon realized how wrong that assumption was. For
example, one of the most obvious elements in the tale is that of gender
issues. In the personal "legend trip" narrative from Shelly's
point of view, the trip was initiated by males, and these guys appeared
less frightened by their experiences that night than the females did.
Susan was the odd-woman-out, so to speak. She acted almost as a witch
or medium through which the ghost of the man apparently spoke. More interestingly,
the legend of the Mill which Will told Shelly while they were there contains
the most important gendered thematic elements.
The whole idea of an unnamed man preying on women and children is centuries
old. Thus, it is no surprise that the wife and daughter get killed in
the tale. There are also underlying themes of sexual deviance or infidelity
between the man from the Mill and the little girl or her mother. Could
this deviance explain why the father was allowed to go free? Because the
ghosts of deviant women are often the focus of ghost stories, I was interested
in the fact that the women do not haunt the site where they were murdered;
only the evil, unnamed man does.
It also strikes me that this bogey-man has not stopped preying on female
victims. Susan was the only one with whom he spoke; Shelly's car was the
only one acting up; and then he appears to have followed (or ridden!)
home with her in an attempt to get her younger sister. After the storytelling
session had finished, Shelly and I began speculating on why he would have
been interested in her sister. I asserted that perhaps she was a reincarnation
of the little girl, or had some other link with the history. Regardless,
the tale seems to warn women and girls to be wary of men. It also teaches
parents against the dangers of leaving their children when perhaps they
should be watching them themselves. Overall, the story of the Mill in
Manassas serves as a warning against "improper" behavior by
teens having sex, parents not caring closely enough for children, and
people following where their too-curious minds lead them.
6. COLLECTOR'S COMMENTS ON THE FIELDWORK PROCESS
I really enjoyed the collection of this tale! It inspired me to find out
more about the local folklore legends and history, and made me want to
go out on some legend trips of my own! I had no real difficulty collecting
from Shelly; the most challenging aspect was the transcription process.
With her soft-spoken voice, it was sometimes hard to hear Shelly's voice
on the tape, and then it seemed to take forever to write out the whole
story coherently! I attempted to mimic her inflections, pauses, and stresses
with line breaks, parenthesis, and capitalization or underlining. In closing,
this experience has certainly forced me to think about issues of the supernatural
that I often let go unnoticed. And I really do want to go visit the Mill
now, regardless of Shelly's warnings.