The Woman in White Motif

It is only a matter of weeks until it is Halloween. Here is a discussion to begin to set the mood for that fun autumn holiday.  It is a time for horror marathons, trick or treat events, and dress up.  It is also a time for storyelling (folk, historic, or urban tales).

Some tales are merely that - tales.  They have no true paranormal aspect to them, other than the ability to live forever as each new generation comes of age and the tale is retold.  One of the most prevalent themes in all of paranormal research and literature is the 'lady in white', 'the woman in white', and other similar descriptors.

Wilkie Collins in 1859 published what is considered to the the first mystery novel, The Woman in White.  It ranks as an  important book for that reason, along with the 1764 The Castle of Otranto, considered by many as the first Gothic horror novel.  Both are quick reads and full of the language and values of their respective time periods. They set the stage for decades of  high literary and popular strangeness.  

He no doubt drew inspiration from tales through out the British Isles of such women dating from medieval times.  The Irish Banshee may be a version that dates further back and reflect an older tradition still.  Other tales and legend of sightings of ghosts can easily fall into the category of this classic woman in white tale and include often a women wronged or harmed who restlessly wanders around in perpetual grief or remorse

Hispanic cultures may reflect the motif in their weeping mother or similar tales associated with the violation of innocence.  The La Llorna story pool with its versions of the woman who kills her children to join  a younger lover (harlot motif) and the mother whose children are robbed from her (the saint) may reflect the dichotomy of woman in a patriarchal society.  Although she is sometimes seen and reported as more sound than body, some legends suggest a pale waxen creature mourning and searching.

The famed "resurrection Mary' version from Chicago, and its many locale variants, may be inspired by ancient tales, Collins ,or be a manifestation of some ofter process at work in society.  The resurrection Mary story emerged at a time when young ladies were first gaining freedom to go out without chaperons and in wild automobiles to dance to hot music and drink cold liqueur.  There may be a tinge of a morality tale created to keep them 'down on the farm'.  She is often reported in a white dress, although some versions in Chicago and elsewhere will have the girl in a blue or red dress.  These, however, appear as mere attempts to separate their particular and regional version from the older Chicago story.

One local version of this woman in white motif in Oklahoma is set near Conners College, near Warner, Oklahoma.    There is supposedly (I have not verified any of this in the tradition of sharing a good story....) a College road that runs past the institution and passes a cemetery.  There, a 'white woman' has been seen by generations of people....

The informant told me the story "has been told for many years."

Marilyn A. Hudson, Historian and Storyteller....

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