The Pascagoula - Mississippi's Singing River
|Singing River of Mississippi
The Pascagoula River is known in Mississippi
legend as the "Singing River" because of the
remarkable sound that rises from its waters.
The Pascagoula River
The river flows into the Gulf of
Mexico at the coastal city of
Pascagoula, Mississippi. I-10
and US 90 both cross it.
Haunt of a Mermaid?
One of the oldest versions of
the legend holds that the
Pascagoula is home to a
mermaid and her followers.
The Pascagoula - Mississippi's Singing River
A Mermaid in Mississippi?
|Copyright 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: March 16, 2014
Water Mysteries of the South
The Pascagoula River and its
tributaries compose one of
the largest wetland areas on
the Gulf Coast and are critical
to the shrimp and other
The Pascagoula River is the centerpiece of
the largest unimpeded river system in the 48
contiguous states. It is legendary in the
culture of the South as the "Singing River" of
the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
For hundreds of years, visitors and residents
alike have described a mysterious humming
sound that rises from the waters of the river.
Theories abound, but to date no one has
explained the strange phenomenon.
Does the river really sing? The answer
depends on who you ask. Skeptics say the
tale is nothing but a folktale, but those who
know the Pascagoula best say there is truth
behind this Southern story.
Catherine Cole, writing in the New Orleans
Times-Picayune on July 24, 1892, described
hearing the sounds of the river:
...[V]isitors come from all along the coast to sit
on the rough, tumultuous roots of the oaks
that lean over the river and listen to the flute-
like sounds that are rubbed off from the river,
as a deft hand brushes melody from the rim
of a crystal goblet.
The sound produced by the rubbing of the
rim of a crystal glass or goblet is very similar
to the repetitive humming or singing that is
heard coming from the river.
Charles E. Chidsey, who lived in Pascagoula
during the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
spent his lifetime trying to unravel the song of
the river. In 1890 he penned an article for
Popular Science Monthly in which he told of
his first experience with the Singing River:
...From out of the waters of the river,
apparently some forty feet from its shelving
bank, rose a roaring, murmering sound,
which gradually increased in strength and
volume, until it reached its height, when it
Chidsey reduced the sound of the river into
music as a long F.
The water formed itself into a "towering
column of foaming waves, on the top of
which stood a mermaid." As the Indians and
missionary looked on, the mermaid began to
sing, "Come to me, come to me, children of
the sea, Neither bell, book, nor cross shall
win ye from your queen."
...The Indians listened with growing ecstacy,
and one of them plunged into the river to rise
no more. The rest, men, women, and
children, followed in quick succession,
moved, as it were, with the same irresistable
impulse. When the last of the race
disappeared, a wild laugh of exultation was
Since that time, the legend holds, strange
music has been heard in the Pascagoula
"The other Indian tribes of the neighborhood,"
wrote Gayerre, "have always thought it was
their musical brethren, who still keep up their
revels at the bottom of the river, in the palace
of the mermaid."
A somewhat different version of the legend
describes how the inhabitants of a village on
the site of todays Pascagoula walked singing
into the river rather than allow themselves to
lose their freedom to either the Spanish or a
Attempts to record the sounds of the Singing
River began in 1925. On August 25 of that
year, the Biloxi Daily Herald reported that
three record companies were planning to
distribute singing of the Pascagoula:
...Efforts were made by one of the companies
to obtain exclusive rights for the reproduction
of the phenomena, but this plan was
abandoned when two other companies
appeared on the scene. The work of
recording the music will be carried out under
the guidance of Hermes Gautier, well-known
The plan called for the placement of
recording equipment a points all along the
river, as well as aboard the yacht Flapper
Girl. Whether the companies succeeded in
their effort to record the river is not known.
Does the Pascagoula still sing? Ernest
Herndon, the foremost expert on the river and
the author of Paddling the Pascagoula and
Canoeing Mississippi, admits he was a
skeptic. After spending hundreds of hours on
the Pascagoula and hearing nothing more
than mosquitoes, he was stunned when the
river shared its song with him.
Herndon tells his story in a phenomenal
short documentary on the Pascagoula River.
You can watch it on the upper right of this
To this day, no one really knows for sure
what causes the Pascagoula to sing. The
story of Mississippi's Singing River remains
one of the South's oldest and most romantic
The Pascagoula River is a remarkable
natural resource and one of America's last
great unspoiled rivers. Beautiful, mysterious
and vast, it is a Southern treasure.
Where can you hear the Pascagoula River
sing? Be aware that many people wait for
decades before the river sings to them, but
try the waterfront at Pascagoula or the
Pascagoula River Audubon Center at 7001
Frank Griffin Rd. in Moss Point.
The Audubon Center is open Tuesday-Friday
from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from
8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Please click here for more
The French settled the Gulf
Coast of Mississippi in 1699
and were the first to write that
they had heard the song of
the Pascagoula River.
In the 1890 article, the writer suggested -
based on observations from other locations
by Charles Darwin - that the sound might be
caused by fish. Darwin noted in Descent of
Man that during his journeys he had heard
fish produce "various noises, some of which
are described as being musical."
Chidsey's article seems to have been the
origin of the unsubstantiated claim that fish
are responsible for the singing of the
Pascagoula. The theory has never been
proved and the source of the singing is still a
Whatever the origin of the strange music, the
Pascagoula River has been singing for a very
long time. French settlers who arrived on the
Mississippi Gulf Coast heard the river as
early as 1699.
Governor Perier of French Louisiana was
accompanied by some Pascagoula Indians
when he heard the river sing in 1727:
...While among the Pascagoulas, or bread-
eaters, he was invited to go to the mouth of
the river of that name, to listen to the
mysterious music which floats on the waters,
particularly on a calm, moonlight night, and
which to this day, excites the wonder of
visitors. It seems to issue from caverns or
grottoes in the bed of the river, and
sometimes ascends from the water under the
very keel of the boat which contains the
inquisitive traveler, whose ear it strikes as the
distant concert of a thousand Eolian harps.
(Charles Gayerre, History of Louisiana, 1867, p. 383)
The historian Charles Gayerre, who penned
the above account of Governor Perier's
experience, also recorded a Mississippi
legend that the sounds originate from the
mouths of ghosts.
As told by Gayerre, the story holds that a
peaceful and gentle tribe once lived along the
banks of the Pascagoula. Worshippers of an
idol carved in the form of a mermaid, they
sang and played strange instruments nightly
as part of their ceremonies. At the time of the
Hernando de Soto expedition in 1539-1540,
however, a Catholic missionary arrived in the
Friendly relations were established with the
visitor, but the mermaid honored by the idol
was jealous over her followers:
...One night, when the moon at her zenith
poured on heaven and earth, with more
profusion than usual, a flood of light angelic,
at the solemn hour of twelve, when all in
nature was repose and silence, there came,
on a sudden, a rushing on the surface of the
river, as if the still air had been flapped into a
whirlwind by myriads of invisible wings
Pascagoula - The Singing River
The Krebs House
Long called the "Old Spanish
Fort," the historic structure
dates from the colonial era
and stands in Pascagoula,
Mississippi. It survived
Haunt of a Mermaid?
One of the legends of the
"Singing River" holds that an
entire tribe was drawn into the
water by a mermaid's song.