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‘The Lady in the Woods’ – Mel McKay Park, Rock Island, Illinois
Posted: 24 Aug 2021 04:19 PM PDT
(From the witness) The following story is 100% true. The years listed above are the estimated dates that this story roamed free for me. It was the only time in my entire life that I ever questioned by own sanity and/or my own perceptions. I ask that you read this story in full, as this is one of those few cases where there is an actual ending to the story. I’m writing this today because I believe this story is one we can learn from:
Location: Rock Island, Illinois. ‘The Lady in the Woods’ was sighted at a small park, smack dab in the middle of town. The park is surrounded by roughly 4 to 5 acres of timber.
Sometime in roughly 1993/1994, was the first time I heard about ‘The Lady in the Woods.’ I was in 5th grade, hanging out with some other boys on the grade school grounds. The story is your typical ghost story. At Mel McKay Park (Our local hangout, just blocks away) a child went missing after the sighting of a ghost, more specifically, the ghost of a woman dressed all in white. They didn’t know the name of the child, but claimed it happened in 1987. Another boy chimed in, there was also an adult who went missing, the night after a sighting of this same ghost a few years later. In both cases, the sightings happened after the park closed, well after midnight. The park is nestled in between neighborhoods, and there have even been reports of people who have moved out of their homes after seeing the woman drift through the woods. There were other stories I heard in the years after that included witchcraft, satan worshiping, kidnapping, murder, and the occult.
The story gained more momentum when another boy in our class, a few months later, found a pentagram spray-painted on a tree on a path near the park. We actually rode our bikes out to see it, it was definitely there. Crudely painted in what looked like a real hurry. It was one of those things, where there was no real way to know if the pentagram was part of the story, or was put there because of the story. When you’re in 5th grade, you rarely stop to think these things through. You only see what’s in front of you, and what I was seeing was definitely creepy.
May 1995 – A friend of ours, named Michael, lived only a block away from Mel McKay Park. His parents decided to allow him to have a sleepover for his birthday party. He invited 10 of us boys to stay the night, just doing what boys do. Michael knew all the Mel McKay Park ghost stories. He lived the closest of all of us, and had a neighbor who gave him all kinds of crazy information (or so he claimed). He rehashed a lot of the stories we had already heard, and even added a few others. After some time, and as the clock made its way near 1am, it finally happened. One of the boys suggested we sneak out, see if we could find this lady ghost. So that’s exactly what we did, we all made it outside, quiet enough, and made our way to Mel McKay Park.
Once we made it to the park, we broke up into groups. A few walked on to the overgrown little league baseball field. A few headed towards the playground equipment (near the only streetlight in the park). Myself and another stayed in the parking lot nearest to Michael’s house. (Yes we were the skittish ones). I wish I could give you all kinds of cool things we did, but in real life, it’s not that cool. Essentially we just kind of walked around, looking, waiting. Really, we had only been there for maybe 15 to 20 minutes when it happened. I kid you not, just like the story, within minutes of us showing up.
It was like a Lifetime movie. There she was, in the woods, to my north, I see what looks like a pale white woman. White hair, white flowing clothes, and white pants. In the night, she looked to glow. It was literally the perfect example of what you would think of as a ghost. I have never been so scared in my entire life. To this day, it is still the most terrifying moment I’ve ever been in (that includes an automobile accident). Everyone saw her, all 10 of us. She stuck out like a sore thumb. We jetted. I mean, we ran faster than any of us had ever ran before. All of us completely silent, moving at our fastest rate, towards Michaels home and safety.
I could embellish here and tell you that she chased us, or made a move towards us. I could make it out like her head split in half and bees came flying out, but none of that happened. In fact, she was facing a different way entirely. I don’t believe the ghost lady even knew we were there. She looked as if she was simply peering deeper into the woods, as opposed to staring out at us frightened little boys running away terrified.
That was that, we all make it back safely. We spend the rest of the night worried this lady ghost is going to show up and kidnap us. She never showed. We return to school and the Lady of the Woods becomes legend. All of us share the story, all of us back each other up. We even told one of our teachers, she politely listened and then changed the subject. It was the coolest most terrifying thing that ever happened to us. We had one of the best campfire ghost stories in history.
So time passes, like it always does. We move on from grade school to junior high, then to graduating high school. Once we got a little older the story took a backseat to girls and just living life. I wouldn’t say the story died, I know we spoke of it in passing. I know the story continued on in the grade school, at least for a short time after we left. One of the 10 boys from the birthday party, died of suicide shortly after high school, and it took everything in me not to blame this ghost story on that situation (I don’t believe the two are related). We all move on to college. I lose touch with all but one of the 10, though a few I have on Facebook.
2010 – After coming home from college, and struggling to find my way in life, I finally start to get my act together. I find a full time job, married my now wife, got a dog, and even had a couple of kids. Eventually we purchased our first home, which so happens to be just blocks from my childhood house. I end up in a little tiny house, two streets over, from Mel McKay Park. After those floating years, I end up back where it all started. On my days off, I walk my dog in the very park where the Lady of the Woods scared me almost to death. This is where you really start to question yourself and your senses.
At 27 years old, I would stare at the location where I saw that lady glowing all those years prior, and try to make sense of it all. Now older and wiser you spend a lot more time trying to feel things out, rather than just reacting. How in the world did I see a ghost in 6th grade with 9 other people who all saw the same thing. I know it wasn’t a dream, how could we be collectively dreaming? I know it wasn’t imagination. It was really there. What I saw was real, but your brain has a funny way of making things fuzzy. Its hard to explain but, you start to question everything. You know its real but you know its not. That sentence shouldn’t be, but that’s just how my mind would read the situation. It really was something that I wrestled with a bit, just trying to figure it all out.
Summer of 2012 – There I am, on another walk with my dog, coming up along side the timber where I saw the Lady in the Woods all those years ago. I’m thinking of her again. I’m thinking of my childhood friends, I’m wondering if they ever think of that moment like I do. The thought passes as I move along a path that leads me out of the park.
In front of me, a large trailer hooked up to a pickup sits in the driveway nearest the park’s wooded area. There’s a middle aged man moving some things onto the trailer as I approach. He sees me and says “hello”, I say “hello” back and then decided to make small talk. I ask him if he’s moving. The man responds that he’s just recently sold the home. It was his parents house and it had sold to a young couple, closing was coming up shortly. I mention a few other things and then start to head off, but I stop. Because that ghost story was on my mind, I decided to ask a man I didn’t know if he knew the story. Why I did that is beyond me, its definitely not something I would normally bring up in conversation, but this house was the closest one to the sighting and I just needed confirmation that somebody else out there still knew the story.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I basically asked him if he had ever heard the ghost stories. I’ll never, in my remaining years, forget what happened next. The man looks at me and smiles, he tells me he’s heard those stories plenty. I’m actually relieved he had, because I didn’t actually think through how the conversation would go if he had no clue what I was talking about. I then proceed to give him the shortened version of the story you just read above. He listened and I could tell he was interested. When finished, he takes a moment and responds.
“I used to live in this house before the park was built, my parents raised me here. I moved out in 1983 or 84 (I believe the park was built somewhere between 84 to 86) and my parents have been here ever since. My dad passed away in 91 and it was just my mom after that. That ghost you saw, that was my mom.”
I looked at him completely confused. He continues.
“My mom had some medical issues that started in the mid 80’s and continued all the way up until she passed away this last spring. The medicine they had her on would cause her to sleep walk. I can’t even count the amount of times I received calls in the middle of night from the police department advising me that they had found my mother wandering in the park. I was told recently, one of the neighbors moved out because they were tired of all the commotion. My sister lives in Texas, I could never get it through her thick skull that our mom needed to be moved to assisted living, so this went on for years. I found out from some friends that she had become a ghost story to the park. You see, my mom had a favorite robe that was all white and always slept in the same pearl silk pajamas. Everything was white, she even had white gloves she would put on from time to time. I can only imagine what that would look like in the middle of the night. That lamp there over the playground would light her up like a Christmas tree so it was never hard for police to locate her. So you see, that ghost you saw, that was just mom sleep walking probably. I bet I even got a call that night.”
I’m speechless. The Lady in the Woods was real. She wasn’t a ghost. She wasn’t a dream. She was simply a women. She was this man’s mother, lonely, and suffering from some medical condition that had her wandering the woods at night. I only wish I knew more. I never saw that man again, the new couple moved in, probably oblivious to the ghost story its previous occupant had created.
So I wonder, does her legend live on? Is there some 5th graders right now hearing the story, for the first time, of the Lady in the Woods? How she appears and kidnaps children? How there is a witch who murders those who see her in the middle of the night?
2021 – I’ve moved from that tiny house to a new bigger house in a new city. I no longer visit Mel McKay Park. I never did learn that lady’s name and I always kick myself for not asking the man more questions. The thing that I find so interesting is how a story can become what it is. How one event/story can impact individuals like it did me. I still think of that lady all the time. When a story rolls out that seems impossible, The Lady in the Woods comes to my mind. Sometimes, the story is real, but the context is muddled. This single event impacted my approach to everything. I listen, I take in all of the story I can, if it seems impossible, I hold my tongue. Maybe it is impossible, or maybe it’s just being interpreted wrong.” SS
Phantoms & Monsters