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.
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 speculation. 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 some kind of wordless political protest; 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.