The Powell River meanders through Wise and Lee Counties for around 80 miles, before it crosses into Tennessee. The headwaters of the Powell, in Wise County, are known for excellent fishing and swimming. Long ago, one legend often kept locals away.
Eustace and Cornetta Adams lived near the “swimming hole” in the 1870s. The young couple was well on their way to a wonderful future. Cornetta’s sister, Helen, was finally of age to be married herself. Her heart was set on wedding her beau, John Sanders. They had grown up together and remained best friends as they entered adulthood. It was no surprise they already planned much of their married life. Helen was devastated when John abruptly said he had to leave the area, and would never see her again.
Helen was disconsolate. John made good on his word and promptly left. She never knew why he abandoned her, and John’s remaining relatives would not explain what happened. Likewise, they wouldn’t help her contact him for the closure she needed. Even her parents couldn’t get further information. Sadness gave way to anger, and anger became despondency. She lost interest in everything. Her appetite failed and she sat in a daze for much of the day.
Her parents were desperate for help. They sent her to stay with Cornetta. They hoped a younger household might revive her own feelings of youth and hope. Not even her beloved sister could bring her out of that dark place. Helen simply resumed her morose habits at a different house. She paced all night and softly mumbled to herself. She sat on the porch and stared at the road all day, as if she waited on someone.
The couple grew as worried as her parents, but nothing reached her. The only consolation was at least the situation didn’t seem dangerous. Helen was quiet and genteel. She didn’t get in the way or interfere with any of the daily goings-on. She showed no potential for harming herself or anyone else. The family didn’t see any reason to suspect what she would eventually do.
Several weeks later, the family settled in for the night. Everyone was in bed and falling asleep. Suddenly, a scream erupted and the front door slammed open. Eustace and Cornetta bolted out of bed and ran to the door. Helen was gone. They followed her into the thick undergrowth, but there just wasn’t enough light. They listened closely for any sign of a cry or further yelling, but there was only silence. They resolved to start at first daylight. They rounded up a search party and found a few of the area’s best trackers.
Helen’s tracks wove in and out of the undergrowth, around trees and saplings. Her tracks lead through the forest and onto a boulder. The boulder sat on the edge of the deepest part of the river that was famous for good swimming. They didn’t see any sign of a body floating on the water.
One searcher volunteered to dive under the water to see if he could find anything below. He went deep below the water several times before he pulled her lifeless corpse up with him. The family buried her with the rest of their relatives and life went on. The swimming hole, on the other hand, would never be the same again.
Fishermen tried to use the boulder as they always had, but they heard her. They heard her crying and whimpering. They then heard Helen’s bare feet slap the top of the boulder, and then a large splash as if someone dove in the water. Swimmers likewise heard cries approach the swimming hole. They heard a woman yelling and crying, just before they heard a body dive in the water and never surface.
Two young men, recalled only as Tom and Jim, decided to fish the Powell. The Scott County boys lived on the Wise County border, and heard about the massive fish swimming the Powell’s headwaters. It was night by the time they arrived, but that was fine. They brought lanterns and their appetites.
They’d never before been to the Powell, but were confident they could fish as successfully as they did at home. They decided to try a spot across from the boulder, where the land was flatter and they had room to spread their provisions.
They baited their hooks and cast the lines into the waters. It wasn’t long before they heard a woman sobbing. They watched a lady in white run at the boulder. She jumped off the edge and mumbled something they never understood, and dove deep into the water. Jim instantly thought it was a suicide attempt, but Tom was the expert swimmer. He dove in before they even got the lines out of the water.
He searched and searched for her, but he couldn’t find her. The two gave up and ran towards the nearest house, which happened to be that of a silver-haired couple named Eustace and Cornetta. The elder couple told the young men there was no need to panic. That girl had died decades before.
Tom and Jim weren’t the only ones spooked by the apparition. Hunters frequently mistook her yells and cries for the screams of a panther. They would track what they suspected was an animal, only to see the lady in white dive from the boulder and disappear in the dark water below.