Have you noticed cold spots around campus or small items disappearing without explanation? Or, perhaps you’ve seen something or someone. Known as “The Woman in White,” because she is often seen in her early 20th-century nurse’s uniform, Bessie is a ghost that many still believe walks the RMCAD campus. Bessie is considered a benevolent spirit, who stayed long after the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society left the grounds. Whether you’re a believer or a skeptic, there is much more than meets the eye with Bessie’s tale, but what’s the truth and what’s just hocus pocus?
According to folklore, 100 years ago Bessie was one of the most kind and attentive nurses at the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society (JCRS). The old tuberculosis hospital once occupied the grounds that now make up the RMCAD campus. One patient in particular was drawn to Bessie because of her considerate nature. He was known only as “The Violinist” because of the beautiful music he played each night as the nurses did their rounds. Because of the Violinist’s fight with consumption, he found himself at death’s door more than once. Each time he recovered and each time he credited his recovery to the diligent work of Bessie. For this reason, he fell in love with her, obsessed even, going as far as to propose on more than one occasion despite her consistent refusals. The Violinist was heartbroken by Bessie’s disinterest and decided one fateful night that he would propose one last time, and no matter her answer, their names would forever be entangled.
Late one night in the future RMCAD quad, The Violinist found Bessie, got down on one knee, and proposed to her with a loaded gun behind his back. When she declined his proposal this final time, The Violinist murdered the woman he claimed to love in cold blood. Overcome with guilt, The Violinist then took his own life. In the end, he received his final wish to be forever remembered together, even commemorated as one in the painting “The Violinist and the Nurse” in the atrium of the Texas building.
Bessie Gertrude Marold was a nurse at the JCRS. Born in Pennsylvania on June 8, 1893, Marold was a WWI veteran working as a nurse at Camp Mills in New York. Sources differ on whether she contracted tuberculosis or the Spanish flu, but we know that she left active service in 1918 to seek recovery at the JCRS in Lakewood. Within 10 months, Marold recovered from her ailments and was named Head Nurse at the JCRS in 1919.
As Head Nurse, Marold interacted with many patients each day including Issac Victor. Not much is known about Victor, other than the fact that he was a Russian Violinist diagnosed with tuberculosis who had moved to Colorado from Canada. On August 20, 1919, Victor’s condition had worsened. That evening as Bessie Marold left the facility’s dining hall (believed to be where the Triboro building now stands), Victor proposed. When Marold refused Victor, he shot her in the abdomen three times. She was then rushed to the campus’s operating room however she was pronounced dead by the time her body arrived. It is believed she died instantly upon the first shot. After murdering Marold, Victor then turned the gun on himself, pointing it at his forehead. However, breaking from urban legend, Victor survived, never having pulled the trigger on himself. Victor never stood trial for the murder of Bessie Gertrude Marold as he later died from his tuberculosis while in police custody without Bessie to save him this time.
Everyone enjoys a good scare, whether you believe in ghost stories or not. However, the legend of “The Woman in White” has eclipsed the life story of Bessie Marold. The truth is that Marold was a hardworking medical professional, military veteran, and tuberculosis/flu survivor in a time when women had to work exceptionally hard to achieve her level of success. Marold was one of many hard-working women in RMCAD’s history.
In Bessie’s Memory
360 Thinkers is an on-campus and online organization that has researched these women and is now working to raise awareness about them (including Marold) by celebrating their legacy in a mural! The organization will be painting the commemorative mural during the Summer B term 2024 in the Triboro 102 classroom. So, if you see the specter of Bessie Marold the next time you’re on campus, no need to scream, just thank her for all of her hard work — even if what you’re looking at is just a painting!
Header image courtesy of findmygrave.com, edited by Katie Sharkey.