I first read this story of a bereft young mother’s spirit in James Gay Jones’s book HAUNTED VALLEY AND MORE FOLK TALES OF APPALACHIA (1979).
Low Moor almost sounds like a location from a Bronte novel, but it was actually the name of a large house and farm in Virginia’s Great Valley. When our story begins, sometime in the 1820s, it was the home of a pair of newlyweds named David and Charlotte Anderson. David was a native of Virginia, but Charlotte came from Savannah, Georgia. They had planned to make their home in that lovely haunted Deep South city, but David’s father gave them the Anderson family homestead at Low Moor on condition they live there, and they accepted. The old house consisted of two fully finished floors and a tiny third floor attic with two windows, front and back.
Two years after they moved to Low Moor, Charlotte gave birth to a baby girl, a healthy sturdy child who was the light of her parents’ eyes. When the baby was six months old, however, Charlotte went into her bedroom one morning and found the little girl dead. There was a large purple mark on her neck, and ultimately it was decided that a bat, or perhaps a weasel, had somehow gotten into the baby’s room and bitten her through the jugular vein, causing her to bleed out and die.
After her daughter’s death, Charlotte fell into such a profound depression that David, fearful for her life, took her away on a visit to her family in Savannah. For awhile thereafter none of their neighbors at Low Moor heard from them; then, one day, they noticed that David was back, but saw no sign of Charlotte. When they went to welcome David home, he told them that Charlotte had recovered from her depression in Savannah, and they had started home by ship; just off Norfolk, though, a sudden storm had come up and Charlotte had been washed overboard by a great wave; her body had not been recovered.
David kept very much to himself after those early visits, and the neighbors courteously left him alone in his grief, but they were not altogether easy in their minds, for several reported hearing strange noises from the attic of Low Moor and occasionally seeing what looked like a woman at the window that faced the road. One passerby even said that, as he passed the house one evening near dark, he heard a woman sobbing and begging, “Please let me out of here!”
For awhile after that all was quiet again; no more strange noises, no more sightings of the woman at the window.
And then, one day when blackberries hung ripe and tempting on the hill behind Low Moor, a little girl named Becky Watson, out berrying with friends, vanished into thin air.
Becky, a nine-year-old but small for her age, had gotten bored picking berries and wandered away from her friends in search of wildflowers. With a thunderstorm moving in, the friends began calling her name, telling her it was time to go home, but couldn’t find her. They ran home and told their parents. In spite of the approaching storm, the men of the community immediately formed a search party and went out looking for the little girl.
Late in the night, with rain still pouring, some of the men stopped, startled, outside Low Moor. They could hear crying from the house, much as they had heard it after David Anderson’s lonely return to his home long before, but this crying sounded not like a woman, but like a small child calling through sobs, “I want my mommy and daddy!”
They did not, however, want to enter the house in the dark. Morning was only a few hours away, so they waited until sunrise to return to Low Moor. To their surprise, they found the door unlocked; they went in, and searched the first two floors without result.
As they started up the third floor stairs toward the attic room, they heard a child’s voice, muffled but terrified. Rushing up the stairs, they broke down the attic door, which—unlike the others—was locked.
There, they found Becky Watson, sitting on the floor, a cloth tied over her mouth. A woman with wild eyes and disheveled hair hovered over Becky, holding a great butcher knife and apparently attempting to comfort the child; she was patting Becky, smoothing her hair, and murmuring incoherently. The men had no trouble recognizing the woman; she was Charlotte Anderson, and she was affirmatively not dead.
After a scuffle, Charlotte was disarmed, and Becky, scared and still crying but unhurt, was returned to her parents. In the midst of all the ruckus, David Anderson walked in, fresh home from a trip to town to buy supplies. Only then did the whole story come out.
Charlotte, far from having recovered her health on the trip to Savannah, had become so immersed in her grief for her little girl that she had completely lost her mind. In the old days, with no hospitals to care for the insane, such people were kept in the home, usually hidden away, and the family cared for them as best they could. They were, in that time and for many decades thereafter, a source of shame for the family, and Charlotte’s relatives had insisted that David take her away. With nowhere else to go, he had returned to Low Moor, timing their arrival at night so no one would see him bring his poor mad wife into the house, and giving out a story that she had died on the trip home. At first he had locked her in the third floor attic; it was during that time that the young passerby had heard her crying to be let out. Eventually, he unlocked the door and let her have the run of the house, but he never let her outside and stayed inside himself, living so secluded a life that the neighbors thought he might have left altogether.
On the day Becky Watson disappeared, he had gone to buy food and other necessities in the nearby town, and been delayed in his return by high water following the storm. While he had been away, Charlotte had watched the children picking berries from one of the downstairs windows. Something about Becky reminded her of her dead daughter, who would by now have been near Becky’s age, and she had, when Becky wandered away from her friends, sneaked out of the house and followed the child, finally grabbing her and dragging her back into the house.
David, horrified and embarassed, took Charlotte away that very day, and neither of them ever returned—living—to Low Moor. But for many years thereafter, as the house stood vacant, people reported hearing a woman crying in the empty attic. Then came a report from a young neighborhood couple that they had seen a woman—who bore a marked resemblance to Charlotte Anderson—standing on the front porch. When they stopped to speak to her, she turned and walked into the house—through the closed front door.
The sightings ceased with the final collapse of the house, but people still tell the story of Charlotte of Low Moor and her search for a child to replace the one she lost.