Folklore and mythology abound throughout human history, some remaining the same through the generations, others changing with the times. Legends of ghosts exist throughout the world and common themes exist within these stories. One such legend that exists throughout the world is the woman in white, also known as the white lady. A female spirit, the ghost is most commonly found in the United States, England, and Ireland, but similar legends are found all over the world. The common thread throughout is a female spirit who was betrayed by a husband, lover, or boyfriend, doomed forever to be stuck between this world and the next.
In Brazil, the ghosts of the women in white, or dama branca, are said to be women who either died violently or during childbirth. Also connected with honor killings, the woman appears pale and in either a nightgown or long white dress. While normally mute, some of the women in white will relay their misfortunes to whoever will listen.
Perchta of Rožmberk is the most famous lady in white from the Czech Republic. The daughter of Oldřich II of Rožmberk, she married another noble, Jan of Lichtenštejn in 1449. According to the letters she sent her father, over thirty-two of which still exist, the marriage was a very unhappy one. One of the reasons that this might have been was because her father had been rather reluctant to pay her dowry on the marriage day. When her husband was dying, he asked her to forgive him for how he had treated her. She refused, and he cursed her, dooming her to roam his castles, unable to pass on.
In August, when the full-moon is in the clear sky, the most famous lady in white of Estonia can be seen. Residing in Haapsalu castle, the legends say that she fell in love with a priest, or canon, who lived there. For many years she hid there, pretending to be a choir boy, but her deception was discovered when the Bishop of Ösel-Wiek visited the castle. For her crimes she was immured in the wall of the chapel, and her ghost still haunts the castle halls.
In Berliner Schloss, the legend of a white lady was first reported in 1625 and sightings continued until 1790. As the castle she appears at was a residence for Prussian kings, there are two theories for who this woman could be. The first theory is Bertha of Rosenburg from Bohemia who was overthrown by Perchta. The other theory of behind the identity of the lady in white is that of Kunigunda of Orlamünde, who people believe is guilt ridden over the death of her children. Kunigunda wanted to marry Albert of Nuremberg, but had two young children. The legend goes that she murdered her two children in order to keep them from getting in the way of her marriage.
The white lady in Rheda-Wiedenbrück, Westphalia, also had marital issues. The wife of a prince, she took a wandering minstrel as a lover when her husband left for the Thirty Year War. The prince came home and surprised his wife and her lover in bed. After having the minstrel drowned, the prince walled up his wife in a room with enough food and water to last until he returned. However, the prince was killed in the war and the wife ran out of food and water, eventually dying behind the walled up door.
The Two most famous women in white in Malta both have similar stories. In the Verdala palace, a young woman was forced to marry a man she didn’t love. Rather than enter into the loveless marriage, on the day of her wedding she jumped off the balcony and committed suicide. To this day she is seen wandering the halls, still dressed in her wedding dress. The White Lady of Mdina was also forced into a marriage with a man she did not love, though her lover killed her rather than her killing herself. All the sightings of her take place at eight o’clock, and she often tries to get elderly men to join her ghostly followers.
A popular ghost story in the Philippines, the white women are generally used to scare young children and sightings are so common that almost every town has a legend. A well known version of these legends is that of the White Lady of Balete Drive. Located in Quezon City, the legend says that the women died in a car accident on the road. The majority of sightings are by taxi drivers late at night who describe a woman in a white dress with long hair. When she first approaches the taxi, she appears to be beautiful and asks the taxi driver for a lift. However, at one point during the car ride, the taxi driver will look back, only to see that the once beautiful face is now covered with blood and injuries. Many taxi drivers have reported being so scared that they abandoned their cars.
One version of the white women who appear in Irish and British lore is that of the banshee. A spirit who follows Irish families, foretelling the death of a family member. Legends differ on how she foretells the death, though the most popular legend is that she screams when the death draws near. Other legends say that she is seen washing the clothing of the soon to be deceased, while some it’s simply the appearance of the women in white that foretells death.
There are two white women legends that appear near roadways in the United Kingdom. The running woman appears in East Yorkshire near Beeford Straight. Drivers tell of a young woman in white running across the road. At times a motorist will actually stop and offer her a ride, though if you are in the area I highly suggest against it. Multiple motorists who have picked her up have later crashed, causing fatalities. Locals say this is the curse of the white lady.
The other white lady who appears near a roadway actually has two different legends surrounding her. The first legends tells of the woman jumping off the Portchester Castle while pregnant with a child she didn’t want. The other version says that in 1983, she was killed in a car accident. In this version of the legend, she is similar to white lady of Beeford Straight, if picked up, she’ll scream at the spot where she died, causing the car to crash and kill everyone inside.
Moral of the story is, don’t pick up hitchhikers in the United Kingdom.
The legends of white women appear all over the United States. In New York City, the White Lady of Acra is seen around the cemetery near where she died in a car accident. Another white lady haunts Durand-Eastman Park in New York and Stephen Crane wrote about the white woman near Metedeconk, New Jersey. The White Woman of Union Cemetery has been seen in Connecticut since the 1940s. There’s also a woman in white who hitchhikes near Mukilteo, Washington.
In New Jersey, there’s a white lady who haunts Branch Brook Park who has two legends based around her. In both versions of the legend, the white lady is a woman who was killed in a car accident, though in one version is was coming back from prom and in the other she was a newlywed who was killed with her husband. In the prom version of the tale, her boyfriend lived and the legend goes that she’s still wandering the streets to try and find him.
Bedford, Virginia has it’s own version of the white woman, though her identity isn’t a mystery. Known as the White Lady of Avenel, Mary Frances “Fran” Burwell is said to wait for her husband on the steps of the old plantation. Another lady in white looks for her husband in Altoona, Pennsylvania. During a foggy night, she and her husband were in a car accident where she died. On nights with similar conditions as the night she had her fatal car accident, drivers have been known to pick up a strange woman, still searching for her husband.