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Lavender Lily of Traverse Road

“Thoughts of dread,
Filled her head,
Denied of repair,
She walked in despair,
Until finally the thoughts,
Drifting through her got,
To be so severe,
We lost the poor dear,
Now they say,
That she chose to stay,
Pretty ghost girl, when will you rest,
All the children think it’d be best”

poem by: Priscilla Kittie Kay

It was a slightly chilly evening as the sun was going down.  A lone boy was making his way home from prom, dateless.  He rubbed his face and eyes with his hand, thankful the evening was over.  What will his friends say tomorrow at school?  He was sure they would give him a hard time for not having a date for the biggest social event of the year….  As the boy was lost in thought, his eyes came up to see a shadowy wisp of what appeared to be a woman walking alongside the long winding road. Thinking perhaps she was having car troubles, he started to pull over to the shoulder of the road.  He realized that he was right across the street from the old cemetery atop the hill in the area where he had grown up and spent most of his life.  As he slowed to a stop, the young woman came into focus more, and the boy noticed she was wearing a low-cut lavender prom dress.

She did not have a coat and was shivering horribly from the unusually cold, foggy night.  The boy thought to himself that she looked like a porcelain doll–she was so pale and petite, her eyes large, innocent and helpless.  She was hauntingly beautiful.  He asked her if she would like a ride home and she nodded yes, then got into his car.  On the way home, she explained she and her boyfriend had gotten into a horrible fight, and in his anger had left her to walk home in the dark cold all alone.  As she explained her story, she kept violently shivering, so the boy offered his jacket to warm her.

She gladly accepted and snuggled into the warmth of the coat.  As they neared an old farmhouse, the girl explained that was her home and that he could drop her off at the end of the driveway.  As she was getting out of his car, she turned back to him and gave him a quick kiss on his cheek in thanks for his aid.  She then made a dash to her house, but as she walked rapidly up her driveway, the boy realized he didn’t know her name.  He called out to her, “What’s your name anyway?”  With her back turned and half hidden in shadow, she replied, “Lily.”  Lily.  A very delicate name which fit her perfectly the boy thought.  He half smiled and hoped to see her again soon.  Then his smile faded as he touched his cheek where she had kissed it.  He recalled that her lips were like that of death; they were ice cold.

The next day, the boy realized Lily still had his coat so he decided to venture back over to her home and retrieve it.  Plus, he was a bit smitten with her so it was also an excuse to see her again.  He drove down the long dirt driveway, his heart starting to flutter and beat just a bit faster.  He made his way to the door and knocked hesitantly.  An old decrepit man answered the door, and when the boy asked to speak with Lily, the old man’s eyes welled up with tears.  He explained that one night, many years ago, Lily had had a fight with her boyfriend.  He pulled the car over and Lily got out in her anger. As the boy drove away, he started to calm down a bit and decided to head back over to pick her back up and take her home. As he headed up to the old cemetery atop the hill, the fog thickened and it was very difficult to see.  All of a sudden he felt and heard a loud thump and squealed to a stop.  There, in the middle of the road lay Lily.  The boyfriend rushed over to her, tears in his eyes, and held her in his arms as she took her last breath.

As the old man recounted the sad tale, the boy was in disbelief.  There was no way that Lily was dead, she was in his car and speaking to him just last night!  The old man could see the uncertainty in the boy’s face so exclaimed that if he didn’t believe him, he should head over to the cemetery down the road; the same cemetery where he picked Lily up last night in her prom dress.  The boy decided to check the cemetery out and see if this man was telling the truth.  As he drove away, the old man collapsed to his knees, weeping uncontrollably.  As the small old cemetery came into view, the boy immediately noticed something odd and shocking.  There, hanging from an old gravestone, was his jacket.  It was casually slung over the stone, almost waiting for him.  Stunned, he walked over to the grave, and hands trembling, reached out to grab his jacket.  As he did so, he was able to read the grave, “Lily, 16, may she rest in peace.”

This is one of the many legends regarding the “Lavender Lily” story.  They say even now on prom night, if you drive up by the old cemetery on Traverse Road near Independence, Wisconsin, you may see the beautiful ghost of Lily (or Lillian in other versions) walking along the side of the road, waiting for her next ride in the dense fog.  Most versions revolve around the prom or a dance and the lavender dress Lily is wearing.  Some tales say she is a college student, while another version is a bit- odd.  This particular tale states that Lily (last name of Schneider) was gored to death by a bull while she was walking home in the fog.  Another story claims that two high school boys decided to ditch prom and go road tripping instead. They came upon Lily, picked her up, and took her to the prom. Local legend states she is buried in an unmarked grave at a small cemetery which is no longer used that is located at the top of Montana Ridge Road.  The farmhouse she lived in is reported to have been near the cemetery but no longer stands.

I came across a website called, “Ghosts of America” and found an article about Lavender Lily under the Mondovi, Wisconsin ghost sightings.  It was authored by a man named Mike and stated, “There is a graveyard about 8 miles south of Mondovi; a long time ago a high school girl was murdered on the road next to it and since buried there. Her grave was stolen and is no longer there but paranormal activities continue to happen there.  Me and some of my friends decided to investigate one night. As we were standing in the grass near where her gravesite used to be we heard the sound of what sounded like high heels walking down the road towards our vehicle.  We immediately shined our flashlights near the sound and witnessed a large black figure float all the way through our vehicle. Upon further investigation we found out that the girl (Lavender Lily) was murdered on her prom night.”

I was able to find a lot of information, including the main legend of Lavender Lily from paranormal experts Chad Lewis and Richard Hendricks.  Lewis investigated the old cemetery and found nothing out of the ordinary.  After further research, Lewis was able to find out that the home where Lily supposedly lived, had actually caught fire on two separate occasions over the years.  He spoke with a retired fireman from the area who said, “The first call we had, we just put the fire out. It appeared to have started by someone experimenting with satanism, as there was a ram head burned in the floor and also drawn on the walls with what appeared to be blood.”  Within the month, another fire started in the house and this time the person who owned the property told the firefighters to just let it burn.

According to an article published on October 29, 2004 in the Arcadia News-Leader,

“Only a small amount of research would reveal one telling fact: the “vanishing hitchhiker” is a very common urban legend. Says Lewis, it is so common that there are at least 30 variations of the story. This doesn’t include the micro-variations told in Trempealeau and Buffalo counties.  The theme of the borrowed jacket, and also retrieving the jacket from a gravemarker, is also a very common thread.  “There are literally hundreds of similar stories around the U.S.,” said Lewis.”  

Indeed, the common thread of the “lady in white” or “Resurrection Mary” bear resemblance to the Lavender Lily story. Each includes a woman walking alongside the road and hitches a ride from a male.  The tale of “Resurrection Mary” hit me right away when hearing the legend of Lavender Lily.  Mary is a ghost who walks along the road and is dressed all in white.  When someone picks her up, she asks to be dropped off at the Resurrection Cemetery (Illinois) and then vanishes.  She is also reported to be buried in that particular cemetery.  When I first Googled information on Lavender Lily, I found a blog talking about the tale of “Lavender.”  It stated that years ago in Ramapo, New York, two boys borrowed a car to attend a high school dance.  On their way to the school, they came upon a young woman in a lavender dress.  They picked her up and she went with them to the dance. The one friend in particular was taken with her and danced all night with her.  After the dance, they got back into the car and one boy noticed Lavender was cold to the touch so he offered his jacket, and she accepted it.  As they were heading into the village where she lived, they started to drive over a bridge and the woman insisted she be dropped off there. The boys did and then drove off.

The next day they realized the mysterious woman still had the one boy’s jacket, so they decided to go back to the village where she lived.  They had trouble figuring out which house was her’s, but finally knocked on the door of an elderly woman who stated that Lavender was her daughter.  They were perplexed because the woman was much too old to be the young woman’s mother, but the mother insisted it was she (her daughter) who they had taken to the dance.  She then showed them an old photo of the girl and they recognized her right away.  The mother went on to state that many years ago, her daughter was struck on the bridge heading out of town while she was on her way to a school dance.  This was the very same bridge Lavender had asked to be dropped off at the night prior.  Her mother exclaimed her daughter was buried in the Ramapo Cemetery, so they decided to head over to the graveyard, not believing the old lady. Sure enough, there, hanging on a grave, was the boy’s jacket, and when it was removed, the tombstone was identified as Lavender’s.

Stories have been circulating throughout the country about a wisp of a woman dressed all in lavender.  Each story has similarities, so that makes me believe this is yet another urban legend.  I’m not saying it isn’t true, but it is very reminiscent of urban legends such as “the hook man.”  The New York tale seems to have circulated in the 1950’s because several people recalled reading about it in magazines in that era, in particular, “The Reader’s Digest.”  Some say the young woman was in love with a lavender gown she found at a church rummage sale.  Then she was killed on the side of the road while heading to a dance.  The story published in the Arcadia (Wisconsin) Newspaper in 2004 stated,

“An extensive search through News-Leader files doesn’t reveal any information of a young girl killed near Traverse Valley between when the story first surfaced in the early 1950s and 1900, about the time automobiles appeared in the county.  The cemetery in question was once adjoined by a branch of Saints Peter and Paul church. The church was disassembled sometime after the last mass was said in 1954. Records on the cemetery seem to have disappeared along with the church.  A survey of the graveyard doesn’t indicated any clear Lily candidates, and with no records to be found, it is almost impossible to prove that Lily is even interred there at all-that is if she ever existed.”  

Some locals claim Lily’s headstone was stolen.  Reportedly, there were four headstones stolen from the old graveyard during a stint from the 1980s until 1997 when there was vandalism going on, but the stones were later found in different locations throughout the area.

My husband Tony and I ventured out to the Independence area this past July and attempted to find the road where Lily’s house once stood.  We drove along a long dirt road and came to a fork in it.  The street pole and sign holder were present, however the name of the road was missing.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  Maybe there have been so many issues with vandalism or partying that the sign was taken down so legend trippers and thrill seekers cannot find it.  We were able to find the old cemetery atop Traverse Road.  It was small and looked to be no longer used, however, it was well manicured. There was a marker identifying it was the SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church which was established in 1878.  Now the only thing that remains is the old graveyard.  One of the coolest markers I have ever seen was in this cemetery–it was metal and had Jesus on the cross on the front of it.  When my husband took a picture of it, the sun was going down and he captured a stunning photo of the light reflected on the metal cross, but the trees and sky that were darkening.

The rolling hills were beautiful in the area and it was so peaceful and serene.  Even if you aren’t into the paranormal and do not wish to go seeking the mystery that is Lavender Lily, take a drive out in the area and enjoy the breathtaking views of the valley, the lush rolling green hills, the sprawling farms, and calm nature right before your eyes.  This is where some of Wisconsin’s allure and beauty reside and it is truly amazing to stand atop the hill on Traverse Road and take in all the views from afar.  And perhaps, you won’t be aware of the young wisp of a woman who is dressed in her pretty lavender dress, standing right beside you, taking in all the scenery as well.

Devon Bell currently resides in Wisconsin with her husband Tony. Devon and Tony own a paranormal film company called The Haunting Experiments. She has published five books on the ghostlore of Wisconsin and her latest, Haunted Summerwind: A Ghostly History of a Wisconsin Mansion, will be released by The History Press in Spring 2016.

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