Of all the rivers throughout the United States, none are as intriguing as the river that sings in Pascagoula — especially in October.
The Pascagoula River, or the Singing River, actually hums like a swarm of bees dancing on gentle notes from a wooden flute, according to those lucky enough to have heard it. The intoxicating sound has also been compared to the delicate sounds and echos of rubbing the rim of a crystal glass filled with water or wine.
For hundreds of years, the mysterious music has intrigued both locals and Gulf Coast visitors alike, and the changing days of October are said to be the best times to hear the Pascagoula River sing. The humming is at its most vibrant and loudest from mid-October through Halloween. According to those who have witnessed it, all you need to do is stand on the river banks after dusk, wait and hope.
There are a couple of theories regarding the music-like sound, but the strange phenomenon has yet to be explained.
One such explanation is a mermaid is singing a song to lure those listening to a watery death. French settlers documented hearing the river sing as early as 1699. According to historical documentation, when French settlers came to Pascagoula, they asked local Native Americans about the strange sound and they were told in the mid-1500s the Pascagoula tribe worshiped a beautiful mermaid and built a temple in her honor. The villagers would gather each night to sing, chant, dance, and play wooden flutes around a glorious mermaid carving. One day, the mermaid, whose name has been lost in history, rose from the bottom of the river, and sang, “Come to me, come to me, children of the sea. Neither bell, book, nor cross shall win ye from your queen.”
At the sound of the mermaid’s voice, every nearby man, woman, and child of the Pascagoula tribe walked into the river, disappearing forever. According to a 19th-century historian, area tribes have always thought the sound of the river was their musical brethren, who still keep up their revels at the bottom of the river, in the palace of the mermaid.
The singing mermaid theory is the oldest, but the tale the river is known for and actually named after is a tragic star-crossed lovers’ story that ended with the entire Pascagoula tribe holding hands and singing on a death March into the river.
Anola was a princess with the Biloxi tribe. She fell in love with Altama, a young chieftain with the Pascagoula tribe. She was betrothed to a chieftain in her own tribe but fled with Altama to live with his people. This led to a war between the two tribes, and the Pascagoula tribe swore to either save the young couple or perish with them.
Legend has it the Biloxi tribe was going to force the Pascagoula tribe to drown in the river. Rather than putting up a fight, it’s been said that members of the Pascagoula tribe joined hands and sang a death chant as they stoically marched into the Pascagoula River to die. It’s said the music heard today is the tribe still singing their death chant.
Alas, the history and fate of the Pascagoula people, or peaceful bread eaters as they were known, is unclear.
The myths of the Singing River continues to draw people to Pascagoula and the river’s romanticized identity creates tourism for the Coast. The river has instilled a sense of communal pride in Pascagoula residents with many businesses adopting the title of Singing River into their names. In 1985 a county resolution formally renamed a stretch of the Pascagoula River, the Singing River.
So does the river actually sing?
The answer depends on who you ask. Skeptics say it’s hyped up folklore, but those who know the Pascagoula River best say there’s absolutely a lot of truth to this Mississippi legend — especially in October.