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
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.
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
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.
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
ran down the middle of the street, screaming for help.
Although the ghost always swung her cane, she never
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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