The strange, true tale behind the mysterious …. Woman in Black

The strange, true tale behind the mysterious …. Woman in Black

I didn’t quite know what I was looking for, or expecting,when I went driving down U.S. 27 south to find the reported “woman in black” walking along the highway.

The Woman in Black
The Woman in Black

All I had was this ominous title — Woman in Black ­— and that was enough for me to be intrigued. I had not yet discovered that this odd figure had become an internet meme or that a Facebook page had been created just for her.
What I did know was that sightings of her walking down Paris Pike from Lexington and up US 27 toward Cynthiana had sparked wild speculations all over the internet. It became an instant topic of conversation and one of the few times in my memory when people sought out the Cynthiana Democrat Facebook page with anxious questions about “the story” on this woman.
And that was my mission on Monday morning. To get the story….
By the time I was in my car, this figure had become living folklore.
I drove the highways radiating from downtown searching for anything who fit the description of a wandering woman in black.
Then I got a tip on my cell phone. The woman had been seen passing Cockrell’s Auto on the highway heading toward Cynthiana.
As I exited the roundabout to southbound 27, part of me hoped I wouldn’t find this woman.
It somehow felt right that I should search and never find this person. Then I would be free to dismiss the whole story as groundless rumor. People would be talking about sighting the mysterious woman in black and I could add my two cents by telling about how I looked for her and she wasn’t there.
But not long after I had passed the Kentucky Farm Bureau office, sure enough, there she was — dressed in billowing black robes and head scarf bearing two large linen sacks dyed the same flat black.
Usually when something of this nature occurs, our imaginations far exceed the actual event.
But not this time.
In this one rare instance, the woman in black not only met my every expectation for a strange roadside encounter but, bless that dear woman, she exceeded them by responding to my presence in the best way possible.
She completely ignored me.
I found a place to stop on the side of the road, awkwardly awaited her approach with reporter’s notebook in hand, asked permission to talk and she walked past me without a word, glance or slight acknowledgement.
I knew in that moment that there wasn’t going to be an answer to this mystery and, to be honest, I was glad.
I had occasion to see others approach her along the highway. She refused offers of water or food, but never complained, or even reacted much at all, when people took photos.
I can empathize with the criticism that this woman was needlessly bothered by the attention of the press and passers-by. However, if it was her intention to travel a great distance on foot unnoticed, she chose to dress herself in a manner that drew the maximum amount of attention towards her.
What possible reaction can one expect when you choose to be a “strange, silent woman in black robes who wanders the highway?” That’s  something right out of an episode of The Twilight Zone.
And because she chose to offer no explanation, she opened the vaults wide for all manner of weird ideas. I like to think I’m above that sort of thing – but I’m not.
By Monday afternoon, the woman ceased to be the real story, if she ever was at all.
The story was the tales and theories being circulated among those whose imaginations she had captured.
My favorite was the theory that there were multiple women in black; some figured she was staging a wordless political protest; she was a self-appointed holy person on a spiritual pilgrimage; or it could be some kind of performance art to start people talking.
One person went into paranoia overdrive, suggesting that she was randomly planting bombs along her way … sigh.
For myself, I was influenced heavily by the brutal weekend accident that claimed the lives of two young people I knew well in Nicholas County. Combined with other fatalities and suicides that have happened this month, I could not help but apply a metaphysical explanation to her. A silent, blank-faced woman in black certainly lends itself to supernatural images of a spectral figure of death, even if the subject is clearly mortal flesh and blood.
Fortunately, I was able to dispense with these ideas when I heard updates on social media that she’d been seen shopping at the Wal-Mart in Alexandria.
That bit of intelligence returned her to human form.
But I am still no less intrigued by the mystery surrounding her presence. Ironically, though, I hope we never find out the truth.
In this case, I think, truth would ruin the story.

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New exchange students arrive in Nicholas County

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Nicholas County will welcome three new foreign exchange students this year, two from Germany and one from Norway. They have all arrived and are preparing for their year as members of the Nicholas County Class of 2013. This week, the Courier profiles Maria Opperud.

Maria Opperud, 17, is not the first in her family to spend an extended time in the United States. Her mother, Vigdis Opperud, spent three years working as an au pair to a family in Connecticut when she was in her 20s.

While her mother never pushed Maria to be an exchange student, she supported the idea even if it meant that the two of them would be away from each other for nearly a year. Maria is Vigdis’ only child. They live in Hønefoss, Norway. Maria’s grandmother lives close by and she spends a great deal of time with her as well, almost every other weekend. Her grandfather passed away a while ago, so her mother and grandmother comprise Maria’s immediate family.

The village of Hønefoss is about an hour outside Oslo, Norway’s largest city, and has a population of about 30,000 people. It’s roughly the size of Bourbon County.

Most likely because of the stories her mother told of her experience abroad, Maria has always known that she would spend time in the United States. But she has wanted this opportunity for more reasons than just her mother’s influence. The USA has been a genuine curiosity for her for years and not in just the typical way that most foreign students view America through the movies and music that our country exports.

From watching news and sports events, Maria said that America seems so much more “gung ho” about the things that they like than she and her friends do in Norway. In particular, she loves the way Americans show how much they like their favorite sports teams.

She likes seeing fans in costumes and makeup cheering for their team. It is one of the reasons that she looks forward to being a cheerleader for the Nicholas County Bluejackets. She wants to experience that kind of excitement herself. High schools in Norway don’t have competitive sports programs, so there is no opportunity to cheer for a team in the same way.

Back in Hønefoss, Maria is a member of a cheer-dance squad called the Dandelions. Dance teams are popular in Norway, but they are very different from the cheerleading she watched in the United States. When she learned that she would be going to Kentucky, Maria also found out the University of Kentucky has a champion cheerleading squad. What she saw on the internet, the gymnastics and tumbling routines and coeds thrown high into the air, surprised her.

She has never been part of a cheerleading squad that does gymnastics. The chance to be part of the Nicholas County cheerleading squad and learn these routines is exciting. “I have already met with some of the [Nicholas County] cheerleaders and with my coach, Ms. Letcher. Everyone has been really nice to me,” Maria said..

That was one of the first things she noticed when she arrived in the United States. She spent her first two weeks in America at an orientation camp for exchange students at Norwich University in Vermont. The students would walk around campus and people just said hello like they were old friends.

“People don’t even know you, but they say hello and wave anyway,” Maria said. “That’s just not something that happens in Norway. Americans just seem so much more open.”

Maria knows she will miss her mother and grandmother, but there is always Facebook, Skype, e-mail and so many other ways to talk in this internet age. Norwegian chocolate, on the other hand, will not be so easy to get. Maria knows she will miss that a lot.

“There are many great things about America,” Maria said, “but Norway still has the best chocolate!”

One thing she won’t miss – Norwegian winters.

Even though she enjoys skiing and ice skating, winters in Norway can get so cold that students stay home from school not because of snow and ice on the ground, but because the temperature can get dangerously cold. Besides the deadly cold, there is also the fact that the sun doesn’t rise until nearly 10 am and then goes back down around three in the afternoon.

“I really won’t mind spending a year with just a mild winter.