The strange, true tale behind the mysterious …. Woman in Black

The strange, true tale behind the mysterious …. Woman in Black

I didn’t quite know what I was looking for, or expecting,when I went driving down U.S. 27 south to find the reported “woman in black” walking along the highway.

The Woman in Black
The Woman in Black

All I had was this ominous title — Woman in Black ­— and that was enough for me to be intrigued. I had not yet discovered that this odd figure had become an internet meme or that a Facebook page had been created just for her.
What I did know was that sightings of her walking down Paris Pike from Lexington and up US 27 toward Cynthiana had sparked wild speculations all over the internet. It became an instant topic of conversation and one of the few times in my memory when people sought out the Cynthiana Democrat Facebook page with anxious questions about “the story” on this woman.
And that was my mission on Monday morning. To get the story….
By the time I was in my car, this figure had become living folklore.
I drove the highways radiating from downtown searching for anything who fit the description of a wandering woman in black.
Then I got a tip on my cell phone. The woman had been seen passing Cockrell’s Auto on the highway heading toward Cynthiana.
As I exited the roundabout to southbound 27, part of me hoped I wouldn’t find this woman.
It somehow felt right that I should search and never find this person. Then I would be free to dismiss the whole story as groundless rumor. People would be talking about sighting the mysterious woman in black and I could add my two cents by telling about how I looked for her and she wasn’t there.
But not long after I had passed the Kentucky Farm Bureau office, sure enough, there she was — dressed in billowing black robes and head scarf bearing two large linen sacks dyed the same flat black.
Usually when something of this nature occurs, our imaginations far exceed the actual event.
But not this time.
In this one rare instance, the woman in black not only met my every expectation for a strange roadside encounter but, bless that dear woman, she exceeded them by responding to my presence in the best way possible.
She completely ignored me.
I found a place to stop on the side of the road, awkwardly awaited her approach with reporter’s notebook in hand, asked permission to talk and she walked past me without a word, glance or slight acknowledgement.
I knew in that moment that there wasn’t going to be an answer to this mystery and, to be honest, I was glad.
I had occasion to see others approach her along the highway. She refused offers of water or food, but never complained, or even reacted much at all, when people took photos.
I can empathize with the criticism that this woman was needlessly bothered by the attention of the press and passers-by. However, if it was her intention to travel a great distance on foot unnoticed, she chose to dress herself in a manner that drew the maximum amount of attention towards her.
What possible reaction can one expect when you choose to be a “strange, silent woman in black robes who wanders the highway?” That’s  something right out of an episode of The Twilight Zone.
And because she chose to offer no explanation, she opened the vaults wide for all manner of weird ideas. I like to think I’m above that sort of thing – but I’m not.
By Monday afternoon, the woman ceased to be the real story, if she ever was at all.
The story was the tales and theories being circulated among those whose imaginations she had captured.
My favorite was the theory that there were multiple women in black; some figured she was staging a wordless political protest; she was a self-appointed holy person on a spiritual pilgrimage; or it could be some kind of performance art to start people talking.
One person went into paranoia overdrive, suggesting that she was randomly planting bombs along her way … sigh.
For myself, I was influenced heavily by the brutal weekend accident that claimed the lives of two young people I knew well in Nicholas County. Combined with other fatalities and suicides that have happened this month, I could not help but apply a metaphysical explanation to her. A silent, blank-faced woman in black certainly lends itself to supernatural images of a spectral figure of death, even if the subject is clearly mortal flesh and blood.
Fortunately, I was able to dispense with these ideas when I heard updates on social media that she’d been seen shopping at the Wal-Mart in Alexandria.
That bit of intelligence returned her to human form.
But I am still no less intrigued by the mystery surrounding her presence. Ironically, though, I hope we never find out the truth.
In this case, I think, truth would ruin the story.

Last Night I Experienced Something New……


“There are times when a journalist truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the ‘new.’ The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new….” – Screenwriter Brad Bird, Ratatouille  

I have taken a slight liberty with the above quote which is from an animated feature film by Pixar. Though the quote addresses critics specifically, I think it has a profound application to my work as a journalist.  

There is very little that I don’t love about this work, but the opportunity to experience and convey the “new” to readers is high on my list of professional perks.  

However, in context to this column, I am applying a flexible definition to the word “new.”   

Confession time: I had no idea that James Baker Hall was a Harrison County resident until I learned of his induction into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame last week. He and his wife, Mary Ann Taylor-Hall, as many local people know, lived on the Harrison side of Dividing Ridge Road for over 35 years.   

Taylor-Hall still lives there, in fact. It’s a lovely home and she was a very accommodating host, taking considerable time to introduce me to her husband’s work and showed me a number of rare, handcrafted poetry collections from a wonderful little place called Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky.  

This unique publishing company in rural Owen County has been in operation since 1973. In my lifetime, I have traveled through the town of Monterey hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of times. I didn’t know a thing about Larkspur until last week.  

I don’t know if the average resident appreciates just how rich is the literary heritage of north central Kentucky.  Mind that I am casting a wider net than Harrison County when I say that. I include myself among the “average residents” by the way. Most writers in this area I know more by name than by a familiarity with their works.   

There was a time when I would be uncomfortable with this admission, but I’ve grown old enough, I guess, to realize that its just flat impossible to be familiar with everything. Besides, despite what the young and immature may say, even the old can be new. Especially to those who are receptive to it.  

Therefore, it has been a gift to read Hall’s poetry for the first time and I sincerely appreciate his wife sharing a small piece of his legacy with me.  

It is an irony that when I embarked on my research into Hall that I was more familiar with his wife’s novels. I have long been a fan her novel Come and Go, Molly Snow because I love bluegrass music and because I am a woefully amateur fiddle bower. (Note, please, that I didn’t say “player.”)   

I have long been an avid reader. Novels, short works, essays, articles — I am not inclined to favor one form over the other. But it has not been the same with me toward poetry. I have no explanation, rational or irrational, to justify why it should be … it certainly has not been for lack of exposure. My parents are long-time fans of Wendell Berry’s poetry and I remember listening to the works of Robert Frost being read aloud at home.  

But my past appreciation, and interest, in poetry can be best described as lukewarm. And really, that is no way to be toward anything, particularly to things that I consider to be an essential part of the spirit.   

Define that however you wish.  

Pertinent to the general subject of this column though, just as Hall said in a 2001 interview that “he had his eyes opened” by T.S. Eliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, I have had my enthusiasm for poetry sparked by something “new,” relatively speaking.   

I cannot recall the circumstances that led me to the IndieFeed: Performance Poetry podcast on I-tunes, but I have never once regretted subscribing to it.  

The oral tradition in poetry goes back centuries. Contemporary “Spoken Word” or “Performance Poetry”  has its primary roots in the groundbreaking work of the Beat poets of the late 1950s and 60s.  

It’s nothing really new.  

But it feels very new. A branch of contemporary poets are using web-based media to reach a huge audience of listeners.It is a new frontier and I believe that IndieFeed is the leading internet resource to showcase the work of these new and established poets.

Three times a week, the site features a broad sample of poets from around the globe.  

Some merely read their works before a live audience. Others utilize music to enhance their performance. But the web is inspiring them to craft a new branch of poetry and its reviving interest in poetry among a large audience, but it is a form of verse that relies as much on the sound studio and the performer as it does the page.  

Recently, I was entranced by a piece from an African poet, M. Ayodele Heath, entitled Of Ash and Dust.  

It is an elegy to the astronauts killed in the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle disasters. Heath uses every tool of the written word and the sound board to create an emotionally affecting listening experience. 

Below are links to four podcasts from the IndieFeed: Performance Poetry website

These four contain nothing offensive, but that is not true of every poem on the website. And, as is true of all things, none of the poems on the podcast will appeal to all tastes. But I invite you to listen to these and other works that appear there and on other sites, if you choose to explore this genre further.  

 Let me know if you find them as new and fresh as I did the words of our own late poet laureate who has only now become new to me.