The History of the White Lady: An International Ghost

The white lady is a familiar story repeated throughout history, and told around the world.

When people talk about ghosts, there is none more popular than the white lady. She has been featured in countless movies (hello, Sadako) and has become a sort of pop culture icon, being referenced in chick flicks such Mean Girls (Lindsay Lohan dressed up as a dead bride for Halloween), countless Japanese horror flicks, and a series of ruthless white lady pranks on YouTube:

Why is the white lady always tall, slim, and black-haired?

Stories of the white lady are told around the world, including Europe, North America, South America, Russia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. Wherever you hear about her, she always looks the same: She wears a white dress and has long black hair that often covers her face. Are white ladies scarier when they’re not plus-sized? Why is their hair always black even in Caucasian-dominated regions? Is this some sort of cultural appropriation among ghosts? Why is there just a white lady, and not a white gentleman’s ghost?

Tracing the history of several well-known white lady apparitions around the world, we noticed something similar in each story: A beautiful lady is murdered, and years later, her ghost would haunt the place she died in while wearing a bridal dress or the dress she was wearing when she was buried. Her having black hair seems to be a modern depiction in movies and pop culture.


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The White Lady of Germany

The story of the white lady of Germany has been around since 1625 and has been retold until 1790. According to legend, the white lady was the wife of a prince in Westphalia. While the prince was away fighting a war, the wife had an affair with a wandering singer. When the prince temporarily returned home, he discovered his wife’s illicit affairs and had the singer drowned in the castle’s moat. Meanwhile, as punishment for the wife, he had her sealed up in a wall in the castle while she was still alive. As a consolation, he left her provisions of food and water in the wall, which he thought of replenishing when he returns from the war. Unfortunately, the prince died in battle, leaving the wife trapped in the wall forever without sustenance, so she eventually died. Accounts of her hauntings were told throughout the century, with people sighting a lady in white roaming the grounds.

The White Lady of Ireland

One of the oldest stories of the white lady comes from Ireland, which dates back to the early 1800s. According to Irish legend, the ghost of a white lady stems from the story of the mourning bride of Kinsale Castle. After one of the soldiers in the castle married a local girl, they spent the night at the castle. When he got too drunk and passed out, the other soldiers found out that he left his post while on duty, so they shot him, following protocol. After learning of her husband’s death, the wife became so depressed that she threw herself over the ramparts and fell to her death while wearing her wedding dress. Years later, locals would report sightings of a lady in white, roaming the castle grounds. Since then, she has been named as the White Lady of Kinsale.

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The White Lady of New York

There are many tales about the white lady across the U.S., but one of the oldest is a story from the State of New York, which originated in the 1800s. According to legend, a mother lost her daughter and she became hysterical. She was convinced that her daughter was raped and murdered by a local farmer, so she searched for her daughter’s body in the fields every day, looking for the spot where her daughter was buried.

The story goes that she even brought two German Shepherd dogs with her, but failed to track her daughter’s whereabouts. Finally, desperate and in intense grief, the mother flung herself from a cliff, falling into Lake Ontario. The poor dogs howled in distress and then joined their mistress to her death by jumping after her. Sightings of the mother had been reported, dressed in white, and accompanied by howls of dogs through the night.

The White Lady in the Philippines

Unlike white lady sightings in other countries, the Filipino white lady is tied to a particular place of haunting: She can appear anywhere! Although she has a particular habit of appearing at night on the side of the road, near balete trees, and in your car’s backseat while you’re driving. If she is playful, she would hail cab drivers and disappear. She is believed to be a malevolent spirit who is out to scare you to death, literally. The Filipino white lady is blamed for countless road accidents due to drivers panicking at her sight.


One of the most famous haunts of the white lady in the Philippines is Balete Drive located in New Manila, Quezon City. The prewar residential area was considered the address of the elites and was once lined with balete trees. Countless tales of the white lady appearing here and sometimes hailing taxi drivers contributed to the belief that balete trees are the homes of otherworldly beings.

Interestingly, the white lady in the Philippines has a more malevolent counterpart: the black lady. The vengeful black lady is dressed in all black, has long black hair, and also appears anywhere, like in your bathroom mirror or outside your window at night. Just like the white lady, the black lady terrorizes drivers by appearing at night on the road. She does not hail cab drivers like the white lady, but just appears suddenly in the backseat of a cab.

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About The Author
Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor-at-Large
Mario Alvaro Limos is features editor-at-large at Esquire Philippines, and heads the Lifestyle and Esports content of as its section editor. Email him at [email protected] and [email protected]
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