(by Reed Johnson, The Dayton Herald News) -- Over the past week, residents throughout East Tennessee have reported seeing a woman dressed in a black shroud wandering the highways and roads. On Saturday, sightings were reported in Rhea County, leading many to question, just who is the mysterious 'Woman in Black'?
Southern Appalachia is filled with tales of ghosts and other myths. From the haints that haunt the Smoky Mountains that are said to appear as black mists only visible out of the corner of your eye to the Cherokee legends of the Yunwi Tsunsdi, a small, fairy-like race of men who are said to either help or play tricks on travelers in the mountain wilds, East Tennessee is filled with unique legends and stories.
And over the past week, another legend has been growing surrounding the appearance of a woman dressed in black shrouds wandering the highways and roads of East Tennessee.
She has been spotted in the recent week as far south as Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., and as far north as Kingsport, Tenn., near the Virginia border. And on Saturday, Rhea County sheriff’s deputies responded to calls regarding a suspicious woman, clad in a long black robe, walking along Highway 30.
“We did receive a couple of calls about her,” Rhea County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy John Argo said. “We checked her out on Highway 30, but she didn’t appear to be a threat to anyone or a threat to herself.”
Argo said the woman told deputies she was originally from an “Islamic nation” and that she formerly worked at the Pentagon, a claim that law enforcement officials doubt.
On Saturday, reports began flooding into a Rhea County forum on Facebook, with several posters claiming they had seen the mysterious woman in Rhea County, including a sighting at the Dayton Wal-Mart.
“I saw her [Saturday] at the Dayton Wal-Mart at 8:30 p.m.-ish,” Facebook user and Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., resident Kayla Orafferty posted.
The next day, on Sunday, the woman was spotted walking on Highway 27 near Graysville.
“I saw her walking towards Sale Creek [Sunday] morning around 7 a.m. on Highway 27 [near the] Graysville line,” Erich Lang-Seibold posted.
Some social media users claimed to have interacted with the woman while at the Dayton Wal-Mart, but details about who the woman is remain elusive.
“When she was seen at the Dayton Wal-Mart [Saturday] night, she was offered a gallon of water and refused,” Spring City resident Lisa Motes Price said in a Facebook post. “Later, someone saw her inside Wal-Mart at the McDonald’s. People have offered to help her but she refuses.”
But reports of sightings of the woman are not specific to Rhea County. Sightings have been reported in Cleveland, Bakewell, Kingsport and even as far west as Lebanon.
On Wednesday, June 4, sheriff’s deputies in Sullivan County stopped the woman after receiving calls of a suspicious person outside the Kingsport city limits.
According to reports, the woman told deputies that her name was Elizabeth Poles of Motts, Ala., and that she was on a “Bible mission” and needed a ride to Winchester, Va. She told Sullivan County deputies much the same thing she told deputies in Rhea, reports state — that she was originally from an “Islamic nation,” used to work at the Pentagon and that she was on a “Bible mission.”
Those same reports state that Sullivan County deputies drove the woman to the Virginia border and dropped her off so she could continue on to Winchester, Va.
After being dropped off in Virginia, the woman appeared three days later in Dayton — 184 miles southwest of Sullivan County.
The sporadic nature of the sightings as well as the large distances between sightings have caused much speculation on social media as to the identity and mysterious nature of the woman. Some have even questioned whether there are in fact several similar women walking the roads of East Tennessee.
Explanations for the intriguing behavior of the woman range from mental illness to missionary work, but the woman’s story remains captivating and mysterious for those who have seen her or heard about her.
Though the woman’s full story may never truly be known, some social media users have even referenced Hebrews 13:2 when discussing the woman in black. That verse states, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”