The eyelids of small children refuse to close as they lie in their beds with thoughts of goblins, spooks and ghosts in their heads. Even after the underside of the bed has been checked and the closets have been scrutinized there can be no assurance that a malevolent entity isn’t lurking somewhere waiting for them to fall asleep. For adults, the stories of haunted locations and ghosts make for interesting conversation but don’t completely fall into the realm of fantasy as science can neither validate nor dismiss their existence. Such was the case regarding the eerie legend of the Lady in Gray.
Larry, a young boy of fifteen, and his family lived east of the southwest Missouri Ozark town of Noel in an area known as Blankenship Hollow. This was an area of rolling tree covered hills that overlooked valleys that nurtured small streams and creeks. The small flowing bodies of water with the names of old settlers emptied into the Elk River and the Ozark sediment laden water was carried across McDonald County, left Missouri and made its way into Oklahoma.
The summer of 1954 was hot and the flowing bodies of water around Blankenship Hollow gave the young and elderly alike places to find cool relief from the Missouri sun, or fish if they had a mind to do so. Larry spent more time swimming and wading in Elk River than he did fishing, but if the mood came over him he did enjoy trying his luck with a rod and reel.
Larry’s Uncle Alden and his family came from Pittsburg, Kansas that summer to visit and enjoy all the beauty the Ozarks had to offer. Alden considered himself to be an accomplished fisherman and one evening, as the sun was nearing its lowest point in the Western sky, Alden asked Larry if he knew of a good place to do some night fishing. Larry thought for a moment then remarked that there was place on the Elk River not far from Blankenship Hollow that was reputed to be a good spot for fishing after the sun was down. That location was near, what the locals referred to as, the big rock.
The big rock was a large boulder that, many years ago, became dislodged from its place on the bluff overlooking the river and tumbled down the slope coming to rest on the river’s bank. Youngsters derived pleasure in jumping from the rock, over and over again, into the gently flowing cool waters when the heat of the long summer days became extreme. Larry, however, did want to inform his uncle of the ghostly local legend surrounding this potential fishing hole.
In the 1800’s a dirt road ran alongside this spot. That road was used by the Butterfield Stage Coach Line carrying passengers and mail as well as settlers with their horse and oxen-drawn covered wagons. Those were dangerous times as Indians and highwaymen were prowling the, then sparsely populated and unsettled area. The legend of a deadly confrontation between marauding Indians and settlers moving along the road in a wagon train is familiar to all who live in the area.
A small group of covered wagons moving alongside the Elk River came under Indian attack. As the settlers fought off the attackers, and in the ensuing chaos, one of the wagons rolled down a hill and into the river. The wagon’s occupants were small children and all, save one, were rescued. That small infant was lost and the body was never recovered.
The Indians’ attack was eventually repelled and the only loss of life was that of the infant child.
The mother wept uncontrollably as she and the other members of the party searched, and searched the river and its banks for the child, but the child was never found. After a time, the wagons moved on taking with them only the memory of the small child.
The legend maintains that on Thursday nights the ghostly presence of the departed infant’s mother returns to the river near the big rock and floats above the water clothed in a long gray dress as she searches for her lost child. After hearing the story, Alden seemed more interested in night fishing than of tales of spooks, so Larry and his uncle went fishing by the big rock.
It was a dark night and if there was a moon it was hidden by clouds in the darkened sky. Larry and Alden waded into a shallow area of the river, threw their baited hooks into the water and watched as the current carried the bait downstream to a deep hole where fish were known to be.
After only a moment or two, there, just above the surface of the darkening waters of Elk River, a slow moving ghostly apparition beckoned to Larry. The ashen, gray eerie presence seemed to penetrate into Larry’s very soul itself and caused his skin to become cold and clammy. He found that he could not swallow and for a moment no sound could be coaxed from his mouth. Finally he whispered to his uncle, “Look at that”.
Alden glanced in the direction of the vision, dropped his rod and reel, and began running toward the river’s banks. The water churned and splashed as he ran and for a time Larry stood motionless.
As Alden neared the bank Larry saw that the hook attached to his uncle’s fishing line had become tangled in his pants and as he exited the water and ran up the steep incline, the rod and reel were dragged behind him. Larry quickly followed his uncle out of the water and up the bank, and as he neared the road saw that his uncle had started the car and began to drive away leaving Larry quite alone to deal with the ghost. Larry waved frantically and, after gaining the attention of his frightened uncle, was able to enter the abruptly stopped vehicle.
When the two returned to Larry’s home, questions were asked about the number of fish caught and an inquiry was made into the reason for the brief time spent fishing by the big rock. Alden said Larry became frightened by something he saw so he decided to bring the outing to an abrupt end. Larry never told anyone that he was the last one out of the river, and Uncle Alden never admitted that he was the first.
Those interested in night fishing near the big rock on Elk River would be wise to avoid Thursday evenings lest you risk coming face to face with the grieving undead Lady in Gray as she floats above the water in search of her lost child.