The Ghost of Paris

Did the village of Paris, Missouri, for nearly seventy years play host to the macabre specter of a woman in black floating along the community’s streets? Or was the ghost merely an eccentric female who enjoyed late evening strolls in the fashionable black clothing of decades ago? Those questions have never been satisfactorily answered, but generations in that northeast Missouri community have passed on the legend.  

Darcy Ambrose saw the woman first. In the dusk of an October evening, Darcy stood in her front yard calling her children. Suddenly, the stranger swept down the street. She was swathed in black, her wide-brimmed bonnet shielding her face. In her hand she waved a cane. Darcy did not recognize her, but assumed she was a soldier’s wife or mother. The Civil War had just ended and relatives swarmed into Paris to greet menfolk home from the battlefields.

The next night the woman in black returned. Darcy and her husband were sitting on the front stoop, talking. The stranger brandished her cane as she passed and the couple shrank into the shadows of their little porch. Then, in the bright moonlight, Darcy noticed that the woman’s feet never touched the ground. Although she looked three-dimensional, she wasn’t real!

Soon the tavern in the courthouse square buzzed with talk of the ghost. For mutual protection, patrons arrived at the tavern in groups of threes and fours and left the same way. Children, scurrying home from after-supper play, burst into hysterics when the stranger brushed past them; three youngsters said they’d heard her long skirts rustling in the wind.

Indian summer lingered well into November. So did the ghost. Frightened residents kept their windows locked, doors bolted and shades drawn. Travelers abroad at night were wary. In several instances, grown men, meeting the ghost, ran down the middle of the street, screaming for help. Although the ghost always swung her cane, she never harmed anyone.

Even when northwest winds stripped the trees, and the snows came, the woman in black didn’t leave. Throughout the winter she glided down the icy streets late at night and sometimes peered into an uncurtained window. But when March arrived, she departed.

During the warm springtime and the long hot summer of 1866, the people of Paris almost forgot their ghost. But when the pumpkins ripened in mid-October, she returned and, as before, stayed until spring. For nearly seventy years the dauntless figure in black roamed the village each winter, frightening everyone who saw her.

Who was she? What did she want? Si Colborn edited the Monroe County Appeal for nearly sixty years before “retiring” at the age of eighty-two to write editorials and columns. Colborn says he heard the story when he came to Paris in 1920. His late partner at the newspaper, Jack Blanton, often told the tale, sometimes with variations. The woman was said to have had a face that glowed in the dark, and she floated rather than walked.

Colburn, however, said the mysterious figure may have been an actual person, a Paris spinster spurned when her betrothed ran off with another woman. The spinster had been nearly six feet tall, angular and “formidable.” Having known the woman, Colborn adds, it is obvious why her husband-to-be thought better of the marriage proposal and left town.

There may be some truth to Colborn’s explanation. The figure hasn’t been seen since 1934, shortly before the spinster’s death at the age of ninety.

But an Associated Press news dispatch in November, 1934, identified the woman as the ghost of a Civil War soldier’s jilted sweetheart who swore on her deathbed to haunt forever her faithless lover and the whole town of Paris.

Although there similarities, the news story seems to be at odds with Colborn's theory. The spinster would have been too young to have had a Civil War sweetheart (she was ten when the war ended.)

What the truth of the Paris ghost, the legend that had been passed down for generations disappeared about that time. Perhaps the newspaper publicity represented the last gasp of interest in the subject. At any rate, the streets of Paris, Missouri are safe again, and even the most timid citizen can walk fearlessly through the night.