The Tale of Screaming Jenny


West Virginia & Regional History Center, WVU Libraries

Photo Credit: West Virginia & Regional History Center, WVU Libraries

McKenzie Bragg, Writer

Have you heard the terrifying screams of Screaming Jenny? Or have you seen a human-shaped ball of fire lurking on the B&O train tracks? This tragic tale began on a chilly Autumn evening in a small town called Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. This creepy legend is one of many ghost stories in West Virginia. It begins with a young woman who was given the name Jenny. She was said to be a kind-hearted woman, helping anyone who needed it. Her background was very vacant. She had no family and was said to be alone most of her life. In the small town, alongside the B&O Railroad, there were storage sheds that the homeless would live in, and Jenny owned one of these sheds in 1833.

Jenny was sitting by the fire during a cold evening, eating some broth she had cooked for the night, when a spark flew onto her skirt and set her on fire. Alarmed by this sudden happening, Jenny ran to the train station hoping there was someone to help her, but there was no one in sight. She let out blood-curdling screams as she walked around slowly due to her loss of energy. Jenny then stumbled onto the tracks blindly. She couldn’t see the glowing lights of the train coming towards her or hear the sound of the rumbling engine. The engineer saw “the ball of fire” on the train tracks and tried to stop, but it was too late. Jenny was sucked under the train and the screaming finally stopped…for the time being. The crew found her body and gave her a burial with an unmarked grave near the local churchyard.

Not long after, a family moved into her shed and Jenny was soon forgotten by the people in Harper’s Ferry. About a month after, a conductor was riding the train down the tracks when he allegedly saw, what appeared to be, a person on fire. The conductor was shocked and stopped the train to see that there was nobody there. He was frightened and reported the incident to the stationmaster. Soon after, the conductor remembered the tragic tale of “Screaming Jenny.”

Every year, on the day that Jenny passed, people could see a burning lady by the train tracks, screaming in agony hoping someone could save her. People have their doubts about this legend, but everyone can agree that this horrifying story will haunt you forever.