In Georgia, Tennessee, and then Ohio and West Virginia, there appeared sightings of a loner on foot in a dark robe with odd headgear. In the connected age of smart phones and social media, a strange sight can become a global media fad. Someone tags a photo "#womaninblack" and others who see her follow suit. As the hashtags and Facebook sharing added up, public curiosity grew. Who was this mysterious woman in black and why was she shunning most contact with others?
Why is she walking hundreds of miles? Where is she going?
She started walking in Alabama and by the time she neared Virginia she had acquired an unwanted following, including over 75,000 Facebook fans. Those fans created a MysteriousWomanInBlack Twitter feed and blog. USA Today, the New York Post, the BBC, and "Good Morning America" have wondered about "The Mysterious Woman in Black." Seemingly such interest came from her unusual appearance and her reclusive ways.
Family have reported that the mystery woman is Elizabeth Poles, an Army veteran who is a widowed, middle-aged mother of two. She lived in Winchester before moving to the deep south a few years ago. Just before starting her great walk she shaved her head, bought a black robe, and announced to family that they wouldn't be seeing her in the south anymore.
She was a distinctive roadside sight in her flowing black outfit with billowing sleeves. She had sunglasses which somewhat resembled goggles, often worn up high to make a sort of headband for her black head scarf. She sometimes carried a walking stick, other times she pulled a folding cart.
As her location was reported in real time on social media, crowds of up to around 100 onlookers would appear. It was beginning to resemble the "I just want to run" scenes from the film "Forrest Gump." She would deflect questions and keep walking while wishing aloud that people would mind their business. Sometimes this would antagonize onlookers.
Near Winchester, Virginia, State Police personnel and local law enforcement responded to crowd control calls due to "mystery woman" onlookers. It turned out that Winchester was her destination and police gave her assistance with wrapping up the journey. She is again residing in Winchester and she continues to want privacy. In a press release, the Winchester Police Department echoed her own words while on the great walk, "Please Respect the Privacy of the 'Woman in Black'."