Ghosts & Spooks,  Local History & Interest

The Mystery of the Woman in Black

“Tales of a mysterious woman haunting the streets late at night, dressed in black, with a veil over her face and a hand held under a shawl, have been told there since Monday night…The figure was seen coming from the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery one night. Another time it was in Beekman Avenue, and often in Beekman Walton’s yard. A heavy thunderstorm occured Tuesday night and the figure was out.”

Nyack Evening Star, Monday January 30th, 1899. “Effigy of Woman”

For a brief period in 1899, something other than the headless horseman haunted the streets of North Tarrytown, today known as Sleepy Hollow. A woman in black, shrouded, and face obscured, seemed to be lurking around the village after dark and no one was able to get a good look at her.

Was it a distraught widow? A specter of some tormented soul wandering out of the nearby cemetery? Or was she a harbinger of some incoming bad tidings for the village? For almost a week, residents who caught sight of her would hurry on their way, crossing the street to avoid getting too close, and then once safe at home would possibly stare out between closed shutters; keeping watch to be sure she would not darken their doorstep.

Hushed voices between family and neighbors describing encounters with the spectral woman spread across town and eventually to the notice of the local police.

One encounter with the woman supposedly ended with her tossing vitriol or acid upon another woman; an alarmingly frequent and cruel crime in the Victorian era. By the time the police followed up, the woman in black was long gone and the victim was found to be unharmed, and the details of her story thin.

By this time, the North Tarrytown Chief of Police, Milton Minnerly, was likely concerned with word of this mysterious woman in black plaguing the village. At first, she had been nothing but a dark visage loitering about at night, but the supposed but unprompted attack definitely was an escalation. Something had to be done, but not until she appeared again.

And sure enough, she did. Late one night, two frightened citizens came running into the police station sounding the alarm. The woman in black was out and she was in Beekman Walton’s yard. Chief Minnerly and his constables wasted no time reaching her where a small crowd had gathered. She was still and sitting quietly on Walton’s woodpile; head turned and silent. Chief Minnerly called out to her and told her that her nighttime wanderings were done. No more would she haunt the citizens of North Tarrytown. He was taking her in.

Reaching out, he grabbed her arm and attempted to pull her up. The figure crumbled under his grasp, and what was once a seated figure, turned into a constructed effigy of cloth and padding. Her loose fabric arm hung in his hand.

Chief Minnerly began to laugh. Surely now it was plain to see that the terrorizing in town was nothing more but a prank. Had not most of the reports come from tricksters out at night? Already the crowd was dispersing, a sense of relief settling over North Tarrytown with the mystery solved. There was no more danger, the woman was nothing more than a stuffed figure, an effigy.

Or perhaps the stuffed figure on the woodpile was the joke, the pranksters taking advantage of a real spook to scare the community further and get in on the fun of terrorizing. Perhaps the real woman in black having already thrown her vitriol and fulfilled some nefarious errand and had already returned from whence she came.

All we can say is that she hasn’t been seen since.