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The Bag Lady

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A recent request to the reference team at MRL led to a woman I had forgotten about but who frequently was seen around Richmond in the past – Ethel Gibson, AKA the Bicycle Woman and, as her health declined, the Bag Lady. It would seem as though she had been forgotten, too, when she died in February, 1983, at the age of 100.

Ethel Gibson was a familiarly odd sight in Richmond in the 1950’s, 60’s, and early 70’s. She was quite shy and seemingly unsocial. She pushed a bike that was loaded down with paper bags and often was accompanied by one or two dogs. She frequently sought shelter at Morrisson-Reeves Library where the staff said “it was a difficult chore for them to advise her when it was time to leave, especially in bad weather.” In 1973, at the age of 90, Mrs. Gibson was forced to move into Richmond Nursing Home on Chester Boulevard. It was there that the public began to learn her “secrets.”

Ethel was a native of Indianapolis and had taught school there. She met Oscar Gibson in Oklahoma City where she was a teacher and he was a banker. They came to Richmond from New Orleans in 1929. Oscar was employed here at a nursery and later as a salesman for a roofing company. At some point after Oscar’s death in 1942, she took to carrying with her all of her possessions in paper bags. She was afraid someone would steal them from her empty home. At the nursing home, it was discovered that she had quite a talent for reciting poetry from memory and entertained social groups with her recitations.

Our inquiry from the interested patron was to track down her burial site. Her obituary said she was survived by “several cousins.” The patron offered that Oscar Gibson had been interred at West Lawn Cemetery in Hagerstown, but that there was no marker for Mrs. Gibson. The obit listed Culbertson’s Funeral Home as “in charge of arrangements,” so with that basic information I was able, with two phone calls and 15 minutes of my time, to learn that Ethel is buried in West Lawn. In a plot of four she is in the top left corner opposite Oscar who is in the bottom right. The grave is in section 3, lot 254, space 1A. Records on file indicated no next of kin. The MRL patron is planning to place a marker on Ethel’s grave.

While we may never know the whole story of Mrs. Gibson, it is comforting to know that she is not forgotten. Soon there will be a marker for all to see where her final resting place lies.

–Eric Burkhardt

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