“Have you heard the story about...,” is usually how it all begins. A remarkable (often unbelievable) tale that’s passed down through the generations, told around the glow of a crackling campfire to wide-eyed kids – or served up with coffee at the diner, shared amongst the chattering of local gossip. It’s a story that grows and evolves with every telling. So entrenched it becomes a part of the community. It becomes a legend.
I can vividly remember the night I was first told the legend of Topeka’s Albino Lady. An innocent elementary school sleepover turned into a terrifying sleepless night, jumping at every sound I heard. Looking back now it seems like a right of passage. Another checkmark on my “How Topeka are You?” list. I may have even looked for her a time or two at old Rochester Cemetery since.
Last fall, while watching a virtual event hosted by the Kansas Explorers Club I first heard the story of the Blue Light Lady in Hays. The legend of the Blue Light Lady, or Elizabeth Polly to the locals, goes back to at least 1867. As with most folklore, there are numerous versions and mysteries of the Blue Light Lady and who Elizbeth Polly was. The consistencies are she provided medical care to soldiers stricken with cholera at Fort Hays, often walking to nearby Sentinel Hill for solitude. Unfortunately, Elizabeth herself succumbed to the illness. She requested to be buried at Sentinel Hill. The lone grave is believed to still be there. That’s when the stories of seeing a phantom blue light or a woman with the light began. Today, a monument for Elizabeth Polly, created by sculptor Pete Felten, sits atop Sentinel Hill as a memorial.
This summer I ventured to Hays in search of Elizabeth. A sweltering afternoon touring Fort Hays State Historic Site seeing where the old hospital stood - noticeable by the scarred landscape. Driving dusty roads to Sentinel Hill. Taking in a sunny morning at Elizabeth Polly Park. Alas, I did not see a blue light. Which honestly I’m good with. Legends have to keep their mystique. Speaking of legends, but of a different kind, did you know Hays is also home to the original Boot Hill Cemetery in Kansas.
If you’re like me and intrigued by the mysteries, legends, and lore around our state, along with this issue, you’ll enjoy Kansas Myth and Legends by Diana Lambdin Meyer and Roger Ringer’s books on Kansas. What’s your favorite Kansas legend or tale?