In a town as historic as Greenfield, there’s bound to be a ghost story or two from the past. One series of articles from the 1881 Highland Weekly News chronicles the tale of a mysterious apparition that frightened Greenfield citizens young and old.
As the story goes, a strange woman, dressed in black from head to toe, wandered the Greenfield streets at night. Many daring teenagers attempted to speak with her, but she is said to have vanished into thin air. The entire town was abuzz with this rumor of the “Lady in Black” and many found rational explanations for the sightings.
Some thought she may be a wandering wife taking a late night break from her family, and others were convinced she was a young girl sneaking out to meet a secret lover. No matter the explanation, Greenfield’s ghost frightened nearly everyone as it drifted through the streets. Local police even patrolled the town at night in an attempt to capture the ghost, but none of them could locate the phantom.
The Woman in Black probably would have been considered a legend if prominent citizens hadn’t witnessed her themselves. In January, John “Windy” Harrison was startled so badly by the Woman in Black that he ran to the nearest shop and refused to go home without an escort. The local newspaper ran his story the next day, stating “Harrison actually looks ten years older since he saw the ghost and is the laughingstock of the town.” While the writers poked fun at Harrison, the town took the sightings seriously, as the police were actively involved in the search for the Woman in Black and constantly received calls about sightings.
Greenfield citizens didn’t have to wait long before the mystery was solved, however. On Feb. 23, 1881, the identity of the ghost of the Woman in Black was revealed — and it wasn’t a ghost at all. In fact, it wasn’t even a woman.
While returning home from work one evening, Greenfield merchant Harry Evans felt as if he was being watched. He soon realized he was being followed by the notorious spirit. Instead of being frightened like Harrison, he decided to put an end to the mystery, approached the ghostly figure and demanded to know its identity. He soon realized that the phantom was quite human, and Evans recognized it as a former Greenfield merchant and recent patient of the Athens Asylum.
The man had returned from the institution and had become despondent and prone to wandering the streets, dressed in a black coat with a shawl he wore over his head, appearing for all purposes a solemn woman. The former shopkeeper had been sent to the Athens Asylum two years prior for a mental break that left him unable to function.
The Woman in Black caused quite a stir in the town, but was eventually found and taken back to the asylum. Thus concluded the mystery of Greenfield’s ghost.
Information for this story came from the Highland Weekly News.
Isabella Warner is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.