Mysterious woman in black captivates the US

Last updated 15:17 01/08/2014
Sydney Morning Herald

She says she wishes people would "mind their own business", but a woman in black who has been walking across America for two months now has far too many fans for that.

Woman in black
Where is the mysterious woman in black?/Facebook
JOURNEY: The woman in black trudges through Kentucky.
Woman in black
Where is the mysterious woman in black?/Facebook
ROBED ROVER: The woman in black walks towards WInchester, Virginia.

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For the past two months, a mysterious woman, shrouded in flowing black robes from head to toe, has been walking through the southern states of the US.

From the swamplands of Alabama to the heights of the Appalachian mountains in West Virginia, the woman in black has captivated the country.

According to those who followed her on her journey, she was determined to be left alone, refusing water, food and accommodation.

She was just going for a walk, she said - of at least 1140 kilometres. 

"I wish people would mind their own business," she told a police officer in Winchester, Virginia, on Wednesday.

The woman in black's fierce pursuit of solitude has achieved exactly the opposite - her figure has been splashed across cable news networks, her silhouette captured and worked over by the Instagrammers of Kentucky.

Though her journey started much earlier, her paradoxical ascent to fame started with a Facebook group - "Where is the mysterious woman in black?" - on July 18.

The group picked up on her journey in Tennessee and has since amassed more than 60,000 fans.

Among the blatant game spotting from members of the group who sound more like a police radio - "she's on 50 east around Clarksburg seen her an hour or so ago" - there are messages of support, inspiration and admiration.

"I find her an inspiring, because most people would never make a journey like this," a fan told the BBC.

Then, on Wednesday, the woman in black wandered into a circle of followers in Winchester, and brought an end to her journey, telling police that, after two months of continuous walking, she would like to be left alone and call Winchester home.

It was then that the woman in black's remarkable story emerged.

A widow, a mother of two and a US army veteran, 54-year-old Elizabeth Poles had been walking purposefully home for the past two months, back to where her father raised her in Winchester.

After losing her husband in 2008 and raising two children by herself after leaving the army, Poles lost her father last year. The details of these circumstances are unclear.

She had since been in and out of Veterans Affairs hospitals, her brother Raymond Poles told Reuters.

Poles' journey was as much personal salvation as religious pilgrimage.

Reportedly a devout Christian, her story began outside a church in Alabama on a Sunday two months ago.

"When my wife and I picked her up [from church], she shaved her head and she was asking me where can I buy long black robes," her brother told ABC news in the US. "That's when she started travelling."

Her stoic solitude captivated onlookers everywhere she went.

"Every time we hear a story about her, we cry because we know there is something driving her," an observer told the BBC. 

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Now, she just wants to return to anonymity in Winchester.

"The Winchester Police Department wants local residents to know that she will be part of the community and to respect her privacy if you see her in the area," a police spokesman said on Wednesday. 

"She has expressed to officers that she wants to be left alone and is asking that the public respect her wishes."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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