One-hundred-and-ninety-seven years ago today, a woman known only as the Female Stranger died in Alexandria, Virginia. What little is known about this woman is recounted in Famous Mysteries: Curious and Fantastic Riddles of Human Life that Have Never Been Solved, a 1919 book by one John Elfreth Watkins. Available at Google Books, it contains this passage:

Our account of the mysterious and dramatic happenings to which this unknown woman’s death came as a tragic denouement must commence upon the 25th day of July, in the year 1816, when the brig “Four Sons,” bound from Halifax to the West Indies, diverted her course to enter the Potomac and anchor off Alexandria. She remained just long enough to lower a boat and send ashore a man and a sick woman. When the small boat pulled up at the wharf it was seen that the invalid had on a thick veil, which, in spite of the heat of that mid-summer day, she continued to wear while being carried through the streets to The Bunch of Grapes, the largest tavern in the city. After engaging the best room that the hostelry afforded, the anxious husband—as he described himself—hurriedly sent for a physician, who was, however, before being admitted to the sickroom, called aside and pledged upon his honor not to reveal what he might see or learn concerning his patient. The physician’s lips were sealed until his death, and the only information concerning his patient which could ever be obtained from him was that he had never seen her face.

The woman lingered for several months, attended to by her husband. After her death, he personally prepared her body for burial so that no one would see her face. Her husband ordered the mysterious tombstone without a name and then left town. For a dozen years, he returned on the anniversary of her death and then the tombstone fell into disrepair. The “Sphinx riddle” of the Female Stranger Tombstone is no closer to a solution nearly 200 years later.

Visit the Female Stranger tombstone at FindaGrave.