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The Grey Lady - Ancestral Haunt?

Anonymous, NY, USA
July 2012

When I was a little girl, my Grandmother told me a story about the Grey Lady. As I later learned from my Father, Grandma Cora didn't particularly like talking about these sorts of things, ghosts and spirits, because they frightened her terribly and she believed them to the word. However, she was prompted to relay a family legend after an incident that I had in one of the upstairs bedrooms at my Grandparents farm (which I will get to briefly). According to Grandma Cora, the Grey Lady is a far off ancestor that has been seen throughout the generations by various members of our family ?" not everyone has seen her, and not everyone believes in her, but there are written accounts of her as far back as my Great-Great Aunt Alice, who was born in the 1860s and kept a journal all her life. We are old blue-blood Americans, descending from both the Dutch settlers and the Mayflower, and are proud of both our genealogy and heritage ?" however, according to Grandma, no one remembers who this lady was, regardless of how often she has cropped up in family stories. She is simply the Grey Lady, and she seemingly shows up in times of danger, sadness, extreme joy, and good tidings ?" preceding these events with a sighting, a glimpse, the smell of lilac, or even a touch.

Onto me. I'm the youngest of three, with two older brothers, and as the only girl, it got awful tiresome being picked on all the time. My Grandparents farmhouse was an old, sprawling Western New York farm house ?" to me, it seemed like a mansion, although I am sure it was, in actuality, fairly modest in size. They had a lot of antiques and paintings, toys and books, nicknacks and whoos-its, sprawled all over the upstairs rooms. Rooms which they no longer used being as my grandparents were getting on in years. Well, I liked to explore ?" Both to get away from my siblings, and for curiosities sake. I was roughly five, it was several months before my Grandmother Cora passed from colon cancer, and my Father, middle brother Jesse, and I, were over for a visit. Jesse was outside with Uncle Danny and I was playing in my favorite upstairs room while Dad visited with Grandma. The room was towards the back of the house, facing the duck pond, and had three huge floor-to-ceiling windows. I remember the curtains were a dingy lace.

The wallpaper was my favorite, though the room was full of interesting things ?" paintings and sewing things, old quilts, books, a large marble-topped vanity, a tall floor-to-ceiling Victorian mirror (now in my possession), a big brass bed, and probably much more that my little mind couldn't identify or absorb. But the wall paper was gorgeous ?" hummingbirds in flight through woven vines of flowers; I remember it had a glimmer to it and was faded in places where the sun had bleached it. I was tracing the flight of a hummingbird with my finger, trying to figure out where he came from, when I saw, in the corner of my eye, a lady at the center window. It wasn't unusual for aunts and uncles to pop in at the farm, so I didn't think anything of it at the time. I started talking to her about the bird, and I remember looking right at her during this one sided conversation. She was tall and thin, wearing a pretty floor length dress in floral print with shiny buttons down the front. Her hair was high in a bun with curls on the side and her face was kind. She didn't look like any of my aunts and uncles, she was too young, and she didn't say anything. What I recall the most is that she had absolutely no scrap of color to her in the slightest bit. She was grey, head to toe, but she was solid enough. I don't know how long I was talking to her for, even after I realized that she wasn't anyone I knew, but eventually I heard my Grandmother calling me from the bottom of the staircase ?" it was time for lunch!

I turned to shout "Coming!" and when I looked back at the window, my new friend was gone! I clambered downstairs, excited and full of story for my Grandmother and Father, but also peeking through the other rooms for my friend. Dad listened quietly, and Grandma went from cheerful, though sick, elderly woman, to afraid. People talk about "faces falling" ?" and that literally is what hers did. I had never seen her like that, not even when she was dying in the hospital. She asked me to repeat what the lady looked like several times and then got very quiet. I babbled on, eating my sandwich, and just being a kid. Jesse, my brother, didn't believe me one bit and we started that sibling rivalry of competing stories to see whose was the best. Soon I forgot about my new friend as my Uncle Danny told me there were new kittens in the barn. The rest of the day I spent playing with the kittens and other animals, and my father, brother, and myself went home later that afternoon without any further mention of the lady I had seen.

It was about three months later when Grandma got really sick and was admitted to the hospital. I remember going to visit her with my Dad and she always gave me her jell-o when it was green. One day she asked me to tell her again about the lady I had seen in the upstairs bedroom, months earlier. When I had finished, excited that she remembered my story and thus had to have believed me, whereas Jesse had been picking on me for months, she told me what she knew about the Grey Lady.

When Grandma was little, her mother was ill though nobody knew it yet. Grandma was outside in her Fathers orchard with a pair of beagle puppies. She was about six years old. Grandma was training the puppies to yield to basic commands, when she smelled a strong waft of lilac. It was early spring, too early for lilacs, even in Western New York, so she immediately knew it was someone's perfume. Looking up, she saw a woman standing beside an apple tree, long dress, hair in a bun, with curls to the sides. Startled, Grandma scooped up the puppies and ran back to the house, the smell of lilac following her the entire way. Grandma never told anybody what she had seen and what she had smelt, but days later, her mother fell deathly ill and died within the next month. At the service, some of the older aunts were talking about the Grey Lady, and Grandma came to listen. What she learned is this: The Grey Lady is a woman that appears before times of great trouble, though she has also been seen at weddings and births. She appears young, to wear late 18th century attire, and she is sometimes preceded by the smell of lilac, or never appears at all as anything more than the distinct scent. Apparently, two of the aunts swore up and down they had seen the Grey Lady before my Great Grandma Bissell passed.

Being so little, I didn't understand, but I thought it was a neat story. Grandma wouldn't say anything else about the Grey Lady and my Father and I soon left. Grandma died September 26th, 1992, roughly three months after I had seen the Grey Lady. At her funeral party, which was held at my parents' house, I remember being really sad. All of the aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and other family members tried coaxing me out of my room, but I hid under my bed and eventually fell asleep there. I didn't see, or hear about, the Grey Lady for several years after that.

When I was approximately nine years old, however, I woke up with an extreme thirst. I always had a nightlight in my room, and am still afraid of the dark, and for some reason, this light was MUCH brighter than usual. I mean B R I G H T! I got out of bed and made for the back staircase, which is on the other side of the house ?" I've never liked our front staircase, which is right outside of my bedroom, and I would do anything to avoid going down it at night. There's a long hallway connecting the front part of our house to the back, with a set of three steps in the middle, marking where the old portion (built in 1817) ends and the new portion, the front, (built in 1854) begins. As I made my way down the hallway towards the back part of the house, I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. Thinking it's my Mom, I turn around: No one's there. So I keep going, but as I approach those three steps descending into the back section of the house, I see her ?" The Grey Lady. Bold as brass, luminescent, with a sense of urgency on her face, about a foot in front of me, with both of her hands up, palms out, as if to say "Stop!" Not afraid, because I remembered my friend, I stopped. I heard my father's voice coming from downstairs, which was unusual as he tended to go to sleep early and wake up the same and rarely wandered around at night. Still thirsty, and now inquisitive about my father's goings on, I turned around and headed towards the front staircase, which I dreaded, but my thirst and curiosity had the best of me. I made my way down through the front rooms, and as I got towards the kitchen, I saw thick black smoke coming from our family room ?" and my Father putting out a small fire on our stereo system.

When he finally got the fire out, and the equipment unplugged and out of the house, my father asked me why I was awake, had I heard him? And I said, no, I was thirsty, and then my night light got really bright, so I wanted a drink. Usually I've very chatty (as you can see...), even when I'm sleepy, but that night I was quiet and so Dad asked me another question, "Did she visit you too?" And I sort of laughed, remembering how my family had chided me for my previous experience, and so denied anything strange had happened to me. Dad told me this:

He had been sleeping rather soundly, when suddenly he felt a push on his shoulder. Thinking it was one of us kids being sick or needing something, he woke up and asked what was the matter. Getting no answer, he sat up, looked around, saw no one there, and laid back down. A few moments later, he felt another push, harder, more insistent, and he sat up again, smelling a mixture of lilac and smoke. Getting out of bed, he then looked in on all the kids sleeping as he walked through the house. He said the smell of lilac soon became overpowered by smoke as he headed towards the back stairs, and then downward, where he saw that the stereo system had caught on fire. Then he asked me why I came down the front staircase, because everyone knew it scared me. He had got me. I've had several other experiences with the Grey Lady since ?" she visited me while I lived in New Hampshire in the winter of 2007 when my Grandpa Fred, Cora's husband, died. I hadn't seen Grandpa in some years, and would have been surprised when Aunt Barbara called to give me the news, but I wasn't. I saw her at the Christening of my youngest cousin, and again at another cousins wedding. I have never been afraid of the Grey Lady, and don't understand why anyone else in my family is. I think of her as protective, guiding, and vigilant. Thank you for taking the time to read, I know this was a bit wordy and long.

Anonymous, NY, USA
00:00 / 01:04
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