Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Mystery Woman, David Joles, Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN

David Joles had just left his workplace at the Minneapolis Star Tribune during a late winter snowstorm. The photographer detoured by the Fort Snelling National Cemetery to photograph the rows of white tombstones against a stark white background of fallen snowflakes. I’ve taken similar photographs at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC and Leavenworth, Kansas. The ordered rows of manicured grounds are sobering and awesome in their sheer numbers of visually geometric tributes to those who have served our great country and offered up the ultimate sacrifice.

As he scanned the blurred white surroundings with the lifeless “pen and ink” black outlines of trees in the background, a solitary black silhouette appeared through the lens. Joles instinctively realized that this was one of those serendipitous moments in life and pressed the shutter button on his camera. He captured a powerfully evocative scene with a mysterious dark figure wearing either a hooded winter coat or a black cloak to ward off the cold snow. She paused by a tombstone only briefly and then was gone. He didn’t want to interrupt even though his journalistic instincts always sought the details of any keeper image.

People have since speculated on the mystery woman and have considered that someone prompted to venture out into a snowstorm must have had a special occasion date to acknowledge such as a birth date, death date, wedding date, last date, etc. Certainly a more pleasant day would have made more sense if one was stopping by to pay their respects. I’ve stopped by gravesites when I was traveling with just a few minutes to visit a cemetery before I had another plane to catch. The weather wouldn’t have been a deterrent in that circumstance.

Joles now isn’t sure that it would be a good thing to know who the woman in black is or why she was there on such an unpleasant stormy day. He notes that “in her anonymity, she represents everybody.” We all can place ourselves or a loved one in that bleak surreal scene. We can all better understand the silent reflection that overcomes us at the gravesite of a loved one or a stranger that sacrificed his life for our freedom. We can all observe our own mortality reflected in the lone figure standing in stark contrast amongst all those restful spirits in a heavenly blanket of white snow that smothers all sound in the stillness of our soul.

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