Is she urban legend? Or is she really out there?

As if the Lady of White Rock Lake didn’t have enough problems, what with her tragic death and almost 70 years as a ghost, now she has a new one. People aren’t telling her story correctly.

Sometimes, she is said to have lived in Highland Park, rather than in Lakewood. Sometimes, she is said to have committed suicide, rather than having drowned accidentally. Sometimes, she is even said to be knocking on doors, asking to use the telephone, rather than hitchhiking.

Obviously, this has got to stop if she is ever going to find peace. And she should, because the Lady is an industry all to herself, the subject of countless stories, websites and newspaper articles. Dallas’ most famous ghost has inspired everything from periodic séances to what police called a near riot in 1967 when a radio station publicity stunt went awry.

The beginning of her celebrity is murky, and there are very few facts to support the story (which experts say is a variation of the very common vanishing hitchhiker urban legend). The first reference apparently came in 1943, in a publication of the Texas Folk Lore Society, which was affiliated with the University of Texas. The society’s version of the story was popularized by Dallas newspaperman and chilihead Frank X. Tolbert, who wrote about it frequently:

A couple is driving down Garland Road in the early 1940s, when they notice a beautiful young blonde woman in a white dress by the side of the road, soaking wet — hair, dress, everything. They stop, pick her up, and she gives them an address on Gaston Avenue. They drive to the address, but when they arrive, the girl, who had been sitting in the back seat, is gone. All that remains is a damp spot where she had been sitting. They’re confused, so they go up to the house. The man who answers the door says that he did have a daughter, but that she had drowned in the lake two years earlier. The Tolbert re-telling doesn’t say how she drowned, but typically, it was in some sort of car accident.

Roger Ramsdell, who runs DFW Paranormal Research of North Texas and has investigated the Lady of the Lake, tends to think this is an urban legend (and which would account for many of the embellishments). He says there is very little contemporary evidence that anyone actually drowned in the lake in the late 1930s or early 1940s, let alone a beautiful young woman from Lakewood.

Still, that hasn’t slowed the legend. It has taken a life of its own, so much so that the Cox Cemetery Association, which maintains a small burial plot of Texas pioneer families on the opposite shore of the lake from the where the Lady is said to appear, hires off-duty police each Halloween to keep the pranksters and thrill seekers away.

And then there are the séances.

On Halloween night in 1985, for example, several psychics held a candlelight vigil to try and contact the Lady. She didn’t show up, but the newspaper, radio and television reporters who were on hand did notice a strong, flowery scent, much like old-fashioned perfume. This, psychic Mary King told them, was the Lady’s scent. She also insisted that the Lady had told her an updated, “Dallas” TV-series version of her story, which included gangsters, murder, and a rape and pregnancy. About the only thing missing was Larry Hagman.

The Lady also was noticeably absent 18 years earlier, when KLIF (then a top-40 station) sponsored a pre-Halloween ghost hunt at the lake. Who did show up, local newspapers reported, were 1,000 teenagers and 47 policemen, including two dozen men from what was described as the specially trained riot squad.

What would the Lady have thought if she had seen that?

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