- Informant: HB
- Nationality: American
- Primary Language: English
- Other language(s): n/a
- Age: 51
- Occupation: Author
- Residence: Wilmington, Delaware, United States
- Performance Date: November 22, 2023
“In 1995, I was living in Charlestown West Virginia, going to Shepherd University and taking a photography class with an actual camera- so you would develop pictures in the blackroom.
I vaguely knew a ghost story about Jenny on the train tracks, but I ignored it because I didn’t believe in these things.
I went to take photographs around West Virginia and at one point I went to one of the train stations along the train tracks in between Charlestown and Shepherdstown, and I parked my car at what used to be the train station, but this train station had been closed for years. I walked across the street and there was this really cool old fashioned telephone booth- the kind that had like an ear handle and then you spoke into the actual box- but I was nowhere near the phone, at least twenty feet away, and I hadn’t gone near it. I was taking pictures of it just because it was a great photography project picture: this phone booth in the middle of nowhere.
And then the phone started ringing, which I thought was very strange because I was in the middle of nowhere, with no one around me, and it was late at night too.
I actually thought I was on.. what was that show called? Oh! candid camera, where they prank people and put it on TV. I thought this had to be a joke.
So, I walked up to the phone booth to pick it up and when I picked it up, I realized that the handle was no longer attached to anything and, actually, the phone itself was attached to nothing – there were no wires going in or out of this phone booth, it was just ringing, and it actually terrified me and I ran to my car and drove away as fast as I could.
So, the story I researched later- because that had freaked me out so badly – was that, this girl Jenny – and this is true actually – she caught on fire and died on the train tracks, and then people who ride the train say they hear her screaming at night – which I did not hear her screaming, but I had the weird phone booth thing right on the train tracks by the train station”
The original legend referenced in this collection, The Tale of Screaming Jenny, is a common folklore story throughout West Virginia that took place in the town of Harpers Ferry. In order to contextualize the encounter of the informant, I familiarized myself with a few versions of the legend that have been shared online. According to the legend, there was a woman named Jenny who lived in one of the storage sheds that were abandoned after the construction of the B&O railroad. Jenny had no friends or family to look after her, forcing her to inhabit one of the small sheds. Although no specific date is provided, all recountings of the story indicate that it was on a cold autumn night when Jenny went outside to warm herself by a fire that a spark landed on her skirt and quickly engulfed her in flames. Jenny began screaming for help, running towards the train station, and blindly stumbled onto the train tracks. A train approached the woman, now appearing more as a “ball of flames”, but Jenny was unable to detect the train in the midst of her panic, and there was not enough time for the engineer to stop before running her over. Although recountings vary, many indicate that Jenny’s screams are heard by train passengers when passing through the area of Harpers Ferry and that train engineers have repeatedly encountered the same “ball of flames” at the very spot where Jenny died.
Everyone at Shepherd University had heard the story of Screaming Jenny, and HB had heard about it from a classmate. The informant shared that, before this encounter, she had never given the legend of Screaming Jenny much thought because she did not believe in ghosts or anything of that nature. However, following the strange occurrence she experienced by the train tracks, her opinion shifted. As the informant mentioned, the encounter terrified her and provoked her to further research what happened to Jenny and encounters which people had associated with her spirit. The encounter was able to shift HB’s thoughts on the story, as her initial disbelief gave way to some semblance of plausibility.
This encounter paired with HB’s explanation for the occurrence can be viewed as a memorate, or an oral narrative told from memory recounting a personal experience that is interpreted in the context of an existing legend or folklore belief. In my opinion, what caused the experience to be so memorable to HB was not the paranormal aspect of the experience, but more so the availability of known legend to which she could attribute this occurrence. If the informant had not been familiar with the tale of Screaming Jenny, she likely would have ignored the ringing phone on the train tracks, or at least would have forgotten about it after some time. However, because the tale of Screaming Jenny instantly came to mind when she encountered the phone ringing without any wires, she remembers it as a supernatural encounter with a legendary ghost.