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Bertha Sybert, 1938Neighbors and newspaper writers came to the Sybert home to watch the phenomenon of Bertha on the bed.
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School DaysBertha Sybert, circled, poses with classmates two years after her bed bounced her uncontrollably. Bertha Sybert died in 1986, at age 57.
Bertha Sybert, 1938
The noise was like "a rat gnawing at a piece of wood." The shaking was so violent that big men stationed themselves on all four corners of the bed to try to keep it still. Meanwhile, the nine-year-old girl causing all this ruckus lay perfectly still. It was the winter of '38 in the Virginia mountains. Just what was it that affected Bertha Sybert?
Bertha Sybert smiles an eternally sweet smile from the front row of her Sand Springs, Va. school picture amid restless classmates. Her delicate features encased in soft, chestnut waves easily mark her as the prettiest girl in her class. Indeed, the smile must have been well rehearsed, having been captured by the cameras of curious reporters just two years earlier who were attracted to her mountain home by intriguing rumors of bedevilment, witchery, and apparitions that reportedly plagued the nine-year-old.
A boy stands a few feet away, also in the front row, his hands jovially cocked on his hips, and an amused smile playing on his face. It is difficult to imagine this little boy frozen in fear as he stands in Bertha Sybert's home one wintry night in 1938, watching reason part ways with reality. Some six decades later, Miner is considered "good people" in Lee County, Va., a jocular soul with a down-to-earth manner that makes one a believer when he recounts what he witnessed as "something no human being had control over."
Miner, a retired manager of Powell Valley Electric Cooperative in Jonesville, was loosely linked to Bertha by the marriage of his uncle into the Sybert family. Miner, his father, and his uncle were among the first to witness the ghostly happenings in the Syberts' Wallens Creek home.
In a bedroom papered in newsprint in a simple mountain cabin Bertha climbed into the bed for visitors, who would then gaze open-mouthed at the fascinating spectacle before them as the ghostly bouncing began.
"Once she got into the bed it would begin," Miner says "with a noise just like a rat gnawing at a piece of wood, and it would seem to come from where the leg of the headboard sat on the floor. Then it would move . . . over until it got straight behind her head, wherever she was in the bed." The noise, Miner recalls, resembled "that you could make with a block of wood on a washboard." Miner also remembers his father saying that he could place his hand on the bed and "feel the vibrations of this anywhere [because] it was a very high level of noise." The activity would begin, Miner says, when everyone had become completely quiet:
" . . . The bed started just gently shaking. It became more violent and these big men got on all four corners of that bed, and in the center the bed would leave the slats and slap back down. Remember all this time, she's laying there, perfectly still. I couldn't tell that she moved a muscle. I was scared, because I knew it was impossible for her to [contribute] to what was happening."