The vanishing hitchhiker (the ghostly hitchhiker, the disappearing hitchhiker, the phantom hitchhiker or the hitchhiker) story is an urban legend in which people traveling by vehicle meet with or are accompanied by a hitchhiker who subsequently vanishes without explanation, often from a moving vehicle. Vanishing hitchhikers have been reported for centuries and the story is found across the world, with many variants. The popularity and endurance of the legend has helped it spread into contemporary popular culture.
ONE OF THE most persistent and entertaining types of ghost stories is that of the phantom or vanishing hitchhiker. It’s also one of the most chilling because, if true,it brings ghosts in very close contact with mortals. More disconcerting still, the stories depict the specters as looking, acting, and sounding like living people – even physically interacting with the unsuspecting drivers who pick them up.
The archetypal modern vanishing hitchhiker is a figure seen in the headlights of a car traveling by night with a single occupant. The figure adopts the stance of a hitchhiker. The motorist stops and offers the figure a lift. The journey proceeds, sometimes in total silence, and at some subsequent point, the passenger appears to vanish while the vehicle is in motion. In many cases, the hitchhiker vanishes when a (normally red) vehicle reaches the hitchhiker’s destination. The basic story usually goes something like this: a weary driver traveling at night picks up a strange hitchhiker, drops him or her off at some destination, then somehow later finds out that the hitchhiker had in fact died months or years earlier – often on that very same date. Like many “true” ghost stories, tales of phantom hitchhikers are difficult to verify, and are most often relegated to the category of urban legend or folklore. But there are many such stories, and it’s up to you whether or not you believe any of them. Here are a few:
Red-Headed Hitchhiker of Route 44
There’s a classic urban legend called the Phantom Hitchhiker, which goes something like this.
One night, a man’s driving down a dark country road when he notices a young lady hitchhiking by the side of the road. She’s pretty, with long blonde hair, and she’s wearing a blue dress. The man thinks, “She looks safe. Why not pick her up?” The young lady gets in the passenger seat and says “There’s a big white farm house about a mile down the road. Could you drop me off there?”
The man agrees. The hitchhiker doesn’t say anything else, and he doesn’t push her for more information. After a mile, the man sees a big white farm house. He turns to the young lady and says “Is this the place?” But she’s not there. The passenger seat is empty. He pulls over in front of the farm house and looks in the back seat. She’s not there either. An old woman comes out of the house and says, “Hey! What’s all the commotion?” The man explains that a young woman just disappeared from his moving car. The old woman says,”What did she look like?” “She was pretty, with long blonde hair, and a blue dress.”
The old woman says “You just described my daughter. She died in a car accident on this road ten years ago tonight.” As far as ghosts go, the Phantom Hitchhiker is pretty innocuous. But there’s a hitchhiking ghost on Route 44 in Massachusetts who seems a little more malevolent. People who have seen the ghost describe him as a red-haired, middle-aged man in a flannel shirt. He doesn’t say much, and is pretty quiet – at least at first.In one story, a driver picks up the red-haired man, who gets in the back seat. Naturally, it’s late at night.
“Where are you headed?”, the driver asks.
The hitcher says nothing but just points straight ahead. But as they head down the road, he starts to giggle. The giggles become loud laughs.”You want to tell me what’s so funny?”, the driver says. The hitchhiker says nothing, and the laughs become howls of wild, derisive laughter. “You better knock it off if you want a ride!” the driver says. The hitcher keeps laughing. The driver looks into the rearview mirror, and sees the red-haired man’s face distorted with malice, his eyes bugged out with insane glee. And then, suddenly, the red-haired hitchhiker disappears like a soap bubble. Only his laughter lingers on, slowly fading away into the night.
The Dancing Ghost
This story has many of the classic elements. It takes place in Tompkinsville, Kentucky.Two young men are on their way to a dance when they spot a girl their age walking along the road in a party dress. They stop and ask if she’d like to attend the dance with them. She accepts and spends the evening dancing with them. When the dance is finished, the young men offer to take her home and she insists they drop her off at a certain spot. They agree, and since it is raining, one of the boys gives her his coat, saying he will pick it up from her later. As she requests, they drop her off at a house on Meshack Road. A few days later, the boy returns to the house to retrieve his coat… but is told by the woman at the house that the girl he describes sounds like her daughter, who died in an accident on that road. When the boy visits her grave at the cemetery, his coat is laying beside her tombstone.
The story of Resurrection Mary is considered one of “the most famous ghosts in Chicagoland.”The story begins on another winter night in 1934 when a young girl was killed in an auto accident while on her way home from the O. Henry Ballroom on Archer Avenue in Justice, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Five years later, in 1939, a cab driver picks up a young girl in a white gown on Archer Avenue. She sits in the front seat and instructs him to drive north on Archer. After driving a short distance, she suddenly tells him to stop… and simply vanishes from the cab. The cab is stopped in front of Resurrection Cemetery, where the girl is buried. According to a 1977 account, a woman may have seen Mary locked inside the iron fence of the cemetery. Reportedly, the metal bars bore the imprints of her hands. According to the Northwest Indiana Society of Ghost Research, the girl’s name was actually Elizabeth Wilson, and the cemetery she’s buried in is actually called Ross Cemetery.
The Girl on the Side of the Road
“The Vanishing Hitchhiker” relates the story of one Dr. Eckersall who, while driving home from a country club dance, picks up a lovely young girl dressed in a sheer evening gown. She climbs into the back seat of the car, because his front passenger seat is crowded with golf clubs, and gives him an address to take her to. As he arrives at the address, he turns to speak to her – and she is gone. The curious doctor rings the doorbell of the address given to him by the mysterious girl. A gray-haired man answers the door and reveals that the girl was his daughter who died in a car accident nearly two years ago. A very similar story is known as The Greensboro Hitchhiker.
The Basketball Player
It’s a winter evening in Oklahoma in 1965. Mae Doria, driving to her sister’s house from Tulsa to Pryor, sees a boy of about 11 or 12 hitchhiking on the side of the road. She stops for him, he gets into the front seat along side of her, and they make idle chatter as they make their way down Highway 20. In their conversation, the boy says that he’s a basketball player for a local school, and Mae reckons that indeed he has the height and build of an athlete. She also notices that he is not wearing a jacket of any kind, despite the fact that it’s winter. And the boy seemed to have no particular destination in mind. He points to a culvert on the side of the road and asks to be let out there. Mae is puzzled because there are no houses or lights anywhere in sight. Before she can even pull over, however, the youth simply vanishes from the car. Mae immediately stops the car, gets out, and looks around, but there is no sign of the boy. Mae later learns in a chance conversation with a utility worker that the same phantom hitchhiker was first picked up at the same spot in 1936 – 29 years earlier!
The Flapper Ghost
The ghost of an attractive young Jewish girl dressed in the fashion of the Roaring ’20s (hence the “Flapper Ghost”) is said to hitch rides on Des Plaines Avenue in Chicago. According to the story, during the 1930s, she would appear at the Melody Mill Ballroom, looking quite alive and human and dancing with the young men. She would ask for a ride home, then ask to be dropped off at the Jewish Waldheim Cemetery, saying she lived in the caretaker’s house. The girl would then dash into the cemetery and vanish among the tombstones. One of the last reported sightings of this ghost was in 1979 when she was spotted by the police walking from the Ballroom toward the cemetery, where she again disappeared.
The Smoking Ghost
On a night in February, 1951, a British officer stops for a fellow soldier hitchhiking on the road. The stranger is dressed in a Royal Air Force uniform, and after he gets into the car with the officer, asks if he can bum a cigarette. The officer gives him one of his Camels and a lighter with which to light it. With his peripheral vision, the officer sees the flash of the lighter, but then turning his head is astonished to see that his passenger has vanished into thin air. Only the cigarette lighter remains on the seat.
During the 1940s, a young girl is a white dress is said to be seen hitchhiking on Calvary Drive in St. Louis. The pretty girl with pale complexion and long dark hair would tell the drivers who picked her up that her car broke down or was otherwise stranded. Just as they pass Bellefontaine Cemetery, the girl, who has become known as Annie, would vanish from the car.
Sometimes a Bus Will Do
If you can’t hitchhike, why not take the bus? This seems to be the attitude of a ghost in the Evergreen Park community of Chicago. A beautiful young girl has on several occasions been picked up by drivers. She asks to be taken to a section of Evergreen Park. As they approach Evergreen Cemetery, she simply vanishes from the car. On many other occasions, however, she has been seen waiting at a bus stop across from the cemetery. On one occasion she actually got on the bus and, not surprisingly, did not pay the fare. When the bus driver approached her for the money, she disappeared before his eyes.
C.B. Colby tells the the story of the “Hitchhiker to Montgomery” in which two businessmen on their way to Montgomery, Alabama, stop for a little old lady in a lavender dress walking on the side of the road in the middle of the night. She tells them she is going to see her daughter and granddaughter, and they offer to drive her to the next town. On the way, she proudly tells them all about her children and grandchildren, their names, where they live, and so on. After a while, the men become engrossed in their own business conversation, and when they reach their destination, the old woman has vanished from the back seat. Fearing the worst, the men retrace their route, but do not find the woman anywhere. Finally, recalling the daughter’s name, they go to her house in Montgomery to report what might have been a horrible accident. The men identify her from photos in the woman’s house. But as it happens, the old woman was buried just three years ago that day.
The Ghost of Highway 36
Sometimes, it seems, these phantom hitchhikers don’t always ask for rides – they just take them. In the mid-1980s, a woman named Roxie was driving along Highway 36 near Edmonton, Alberta when she was astonished to see a spirit suddenly sitting in the passenger seat next to her. “I realized he wasn’t flesh and blood, but, needless to say, I was scared. He appeared in shades of black, gray and white, as if a black and white movie was being projected into my car.” His attire, she said, from from the previous decade and she was able to describe him clearly: black turtleneck, black pants, leather boots, blond chin-length hair. He turned, smiled at her with a small wave of his hand… and disappeared.