The Vanishing Hitchhiker
(The ‘vanishing hitchhiker’ legend is a reported strange and mysterious occurence in which people travelling by vehicle met with or are accompanied by a hitchhiker who subsequently vanished without explanation, often from a moving vehicle without leaving a trace.)
The questions asked over and over again – was it possible for a person that was seen and heard one minute and then totally disappeared within a flash, never to be seen or heard from again?
It was additionally weird that it only happened during the dark of night. It usually occurred to a driver driving through the loneliness of the hour through an equally quiet roadway. The figure was sighted with the hand sign of a hitchhiker in need of a ride to a certain destination. The motorist with good intentions then stopped and asked the man or woman to where he or she is headed. “Hop in, going that way..”, as the driver offered the figure a lift. The journey proceeded, sometimes in total silence, and at some subsequent point the passenger appeared to have vanish while the vehicle was in motion.
Throughout the annals of history, legends and stories had been told of strange figures that are picked up along roadsides and then vanished without a trace from the interiors of automobiles, from carriages and even from the backs of horses!
This mysterious legend in various forms has been with us for many years. Tales of these spectral passengers (usually young and rather beautiful women) are often attached to bridges, dangerous hills and intersections and cemeteries, especially those grounds in lonely spots. There were stories of “vanishing hitchhikers” being told as far back as the late 1800’s, when men would tell stories of ghostly women who appeared on the back of their horses. Those spectral riders always disappeared when they reached their destination and would often prove to be the deceased daughters of local farmers. Very little has changed from those days in the stories about the ‘vanishing hitchhiker’ that are still told today, outside of the preferred method of transportation.
Stories of phantom hitchhikers have been a part of ghost lore since ghost stories began to be told to rapt
listeners. In the old days, before automobiles, people told of picking up passengers in carriages and buggies, only to have them vanish before reaching their destination. Many of these stories exist as nothing more than urban legends that have been handed down from one generation to the next, but there are others that appear to be disconcertingly real… stories with reliable witnesses and strange facts which cannot be disputed
According to folklorist Jan Brunvand, the legend of the vanishing hitchhiker legend evolved from earlier European stories, usually about travelers on horseback. He states that in Hawaii, the hitchhiker became associated with the ancient volcano goddess Pele, travelling the roads incognito and rewarding kind travellers.
And along the East African coast the hitchhiker in their version of the legend takes the form of a beautiful girl who is picked up by cross country truckers: At some point the truck driver looked over at his beautiful passenger and discovered to his horror that she is a ‘jini’ and has goat’s legs. At this point the girl or jini laughed and disappeared into the void.
The phenomenon of hitchhikers that had been vanishing in the U.S. and throughout the world had been going on for many years, till this very day. What could be the reasons for this strange happening? Actually there might be quite a few reasons for these occurrences. It could be an illusion seen by the driver or perhaps the driver was in his cups. Other theories abound from extraterrestrial beings, or an actual ghost and spirits that neared his or her place of rest, usually near a cemetery.
Are these stories simply “urban legends” with no basis in truth – or is there more to the enigma than meets the eye?
Could any of them have a basis in truth? What if a somewhat true incident to a vanishing hitchhiker like one of many that actually happened somewhere and then was told and retold to the point that it lost many of the elements of truth if any? As the story spread from one locale to another, it was embraced by people all over the country and became a part of their local lore.
Time and time again there have been sober witnesses to a ghost of a beautiful young girl who had been appearing along the road near Greensboro since 1923. She stood (and probably standing) in the gloom of the coming dusk next to the US Highway 70 Underpass in a white evening gown and waved frantically for someone to stop and pick her up.
Those hapless motorists who stopped were introduced to a young and pretty young girl who says her name is Lydia and she always asked them to please take her to an address in High Point. She always related to them that she has spent the evening at a dance in Raleigh and was anxious to get home. She said that her date had gotten mad when she stopped his advances and had made her get out and walk.
She didn’t say much on the way. When drivers approached the house the girl always vanished from their car, never opening the door and getting out…. just simply she was there one minute and gone the next!
Those drivers who went to inquire at the house were always told the same thing… that Lydia died in a car wreck many years ago, coming home from a high school dance in Raleigh and perishing at the US Highway 70 underpass.
A similar story was told that along Highway 48 in South Carolina. Concerned motorists who claimed that they had seen a vanishing hitchhiker in the form of a young comely girl carrying a suitcase walking along the road signaling with her thumb. They stopped and offered her a ride and she told the driver that she is going to visit her sick mother in Columbia. As she entered the vehicle she gave the address of her destination, but throughout the journey she remained quiet, not uttering one word.
Then suddenly at the outskirts of the city she vanished from the auto; nor was her suitcase found. One motorist who picked her up went to the address and described the girl to a man who lived there. He said that it was his sister and that she was killed by a hit-and-run driver while walking to visit their sick mother. This happened to several independent witnesses over a three-year period in the 1950’s.
One hitchhiker story from Arkansas involves a girl in a formal dress standing by the side of the road who was picked up by two college boys on their way to their annual prom. One of the youths noticed she was shivering from the cool of the night air and he gave her his coat to wear. The girl was silent throughout the trip, only pointing out the house where she said she lived. When they had stopped they found that the girl had vanished.
The youth forgot to get the coat back, and when he and his companion returned to the house to retrieve the garment a woman dressed in black met them and said the girl was her daughter but she was dead and buried. At a later period they went to view the grave and there, draped across the tombstone, was the young man’s coat.
Another type of legend pertaining to the vanishing hitchhiker comes from a tale haunting the Green Mountain Cemetery south of Bellville in Illinois. As the story goes you can pick up a ghostly rider if one would drive around the cemetery three times on a stormy night with door to the car opened. The legend goes on to say that on the third trip, a ghostly woman will appear, soaking wet from the rain, will appear dressed all in black in the passenger seat. By the time one has finished making the third round, the spirit will have vanished, but to one’s horror a pool of water on the passenger seat will remain..
These legends would not be baffling enough, but consider the biblical text of a “Vanishing Hitchhiker” story in the New Testament in which the Apostle Philip baptizes an Ethiopian who picks him up in a chariot, then disappears. “When they came out of the water, the Spirit snatched Phillip away….” (see Acts 8:26-39)
The spirit of religious evangelism continues this very day.
New Zealand’s Christian community was abuzz with reports of a mysterious hitchhiker who had been thumbing rides on the North Island. The bloke they’ve picked up will say something like, “did you know the Lord is coming back?” and that’s the only thing the fellow said. Then he vanished from the speeding car. He’s appeared on several main roads, always to young Christian couples. Some had said the stranger was wearing immaculate white clothes, although no one had been able to describe his exact appearance.
The same story came from small towns around Natchez, Mississippi, that people were riding on the Traceway highway when they saw a man hitchhiking. When they stopped and he got in the back seat, he explained that he was Jesus and then disappeared. One couple said that they never pick up hitchhikers but they felt compelled to at that time only to have the same experience. They went to the park ranger station and reported it, only to be told that they were the sixth ones to stop and tell them the same story.
There are several versions of this story that was seen and heard throughout the world by motorist traveling on a road in the dark of the night hours. This ethereal person, usually dressed in white, usually fascinated the motorist. At some point, the hitchhiker would say something like “Jesus is Coming soon” then disappeared. And such reported incidents continue to be told till this very day….
Another version of the ‘vanishing hitchhiker’ legend is one of prophecy of a natural disaster. According to the reports in the Tacoma Washington News Tribune following the Mount St. Helens eruption on May 18, 1980 many drivers swore on oath that they saw a woman dressed in white with her skin matching the color of the garment, thumbing a ride by the side of the road near the mount. She would get into the car and would eventually say in a ghostly whisper, “The volcano is going to erupt again between October 12 and 14.” Then as suddenly as she appeared she would vanish. Sure enough lava flowed from the volcano on October 12th.. It was a talked about urban legend at the time, though. Some people even swore they had picked up the woman in white before May 18th, and that she predicted the big one. Then the question asked would be the truism of drivers’ experiences – Still it is quite spooky…
One story of such the frightening aspects of the ‘vanishing hitchhiker’ happened to a group of Australian teenagers on the prowl for lonely girls for a bit of fun. They went cruising together every weekend looking for excitement when one night they saw a beautiful girl hitchhiking by the side of the road. They stopped, and offered her a ride, which she accepted. She got into the backseat with the boys sitting on either side of her and away they went. When they neared the lonely intersection she asked, “to be let out here please”. They refused to stop and drove through the intersection. She started screaming and suddenly disintegrated before their very eyes. The story ended with screeching brakes, car doors flying open, screaming boys diving out of the car, and a slightly teed off father who has to sell the car because he couldn’t get the faint but nagging smell of decay out of the vehicle.
The appeal of vanishing hitchhiker stories lies in the nature of the encounter — an interaction with a ghost occurs not because the main character went looking for the supernatural, but because it came to him. Such tales and legends underscore the belief that representatives from the spirit world can be encountered at any time and by anyone. Adding to the horror factor was the phantom’s passing for a living person. That the driver could not recognize it as a ghost during their time together makes it all that easier in the belief we won’t recognize such a ghost when we meet one either.
There are those who would want to relate in their claim to be witnesses to just such a phenomenon. But where do those vanishing hitchhikers go? How is it time and time again when they are seen they seem to defy the very basic laws of nature, which we are familiar with. Sometimes logic cannot explain the very nature of the event, so it is labeled an unexplained mystery. Perhaps one day in the future we’ll have the answers, perhaps.. But for now we are only shrouded in questions to the ‘vanishing hitchhikers’.
1) Vanishing hitchhikers appeared in numerous songs and in the 1951 Orson Welles’ short film ‘Return to Glennascaul’ the 1985 movie Mr Wrong, and the 1824 Washington Irving novel “The Lady With the Velvet Collar”. (www.snopes.com)
2) The Stephen King short story, “Riding the Bullet” is an example of an opposite version of this story, in which case, a dead man picked up a young hitchhiker, that told him of his mother’s upcoming death, and subsequently disappeared.
3) The Twilight zone television series aired an episode entitled ‘the Hitchhiker’, based on a variation of the tale, written by Rod Sterling and based on a radio play by Lucille Fletcher.. And in South Africa in 1992 there was a cult film ‘Dust Devil’ by Richard Stanley that featured a vanishing hitchhiker..
4) One must be aware that these tales of meeting ‘vanishing hitchhikers or seeing ghostly phenomenon’s in varied cemeteries are tales referred to as ‘urban legends’. They are stories that have been told and told, either in ballads or related as somewhat true experiences of the present day and have no real basis in fact… or do they?
5) The first proper study of the story of the vanishing hitchhiker was undertaken in 1942-3 by American folklorists Richard Beardsley and Rosalie Hankey, who collected as many accounts as they could and attempted to analyse them.
1) Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia.- ‘en.wikipedia.org’
2) Peake’s Commentary on the Bible – H.H. Rowley, Old Testament Editor, Matthew Black New Testament editor, Nelson Publishers, England.
3) The Vanishing Hitchhiker – Jan Harold Brunvand – W.W. Norton, New York -1981.(excerpts in Wikipedia Encyclopedia)
4) Big Book of Urban Legends, Paradox Press – New York – 1994
5) Encyclopedia of World Mythology, Forwarded by Rex Warner, Octupus Books, Ltd, London 1970-71
One of the Midwest’s, and America’s, favorite ghost stories is the tale of ‘Resurrection Mary’, the vanishing hitchhiker. The cemetery, located in Justice, Illinois has been home to this famous spirit since the 1930’s.
The story of ‘Resurrection Mary’ is considered one of “the most famous ghostly legends in the city of Chicago. “The story began on one cold Winter night in 1934 when a young girl was killed in an auto accident while on her way home from the O’Henry Ballroom (now the Willowbrook Ballroom) on Archer Avenue in Justice, Il., a southern suburb of Chicago.
She rested peacefully for the next five years, but in 1939 a cab driver picked up a young girl on Archer Avenue wearing a white gown, her face as white as her garment. It was a snowy January night, but the girl was not wearing a coat. She jumped in the front door of the taxi and sat demurely by the driver. She gave him instructions to get her home, saying that he needed to go north on Archer. Suddenly, she told him to stop and the driver looked out the window to where she had pointed. He turned to the passenger seat and saw that the girl had simply vanished from the cab…and the door had never opened. The taxi was directly in front of Resurrection Cemetery, where the girl had been buried after the accident.
Over the years, sightings of Mary have been frequent. Many eager young men even claim to have picked her up and taken her dancing with them. Some very reliable witnesses say they have kissed her and found her lips chilled with cold. As they take her home, she always disappeared when they reach Resurrection Cemetery. Those stories were taken with a grain of salt, as they might have been spoken in the dregs of drink.
One night in 1977, a passing motorist saw Mary holding onto the bars of the cemetery gate. He called the police, thinking a girl was trapped inside of the locked cemetery. Investigators found no one inside when they arrived but two of the bars in the gate were bent apart and small handprints were etched into the iron. Supervisors at the cemetery had the sections of the gate cut out to keep the curiosity seekers away. They were embarrassed into welding them back into place a year later as the handprints reappeared. Between the time they were removed and then replaced, the bars were analyzed by a lab for trickery. It was determined that on one would have made those handprints without applying extremely high amounts of heat. The indention can still be seen in the gate today. Over the years, sightings of Mary have been frequent.
As the years have passed, sightings of Mary have continued. Taxi and truck drivers, motorists, reputable witnesses like police officers and ministers, and ghost hunters of all callings have reported the spirit as she walks along the side of the road or vanishes from the interior of moving automobiles. She has become one of the most famous ghosts of all time. Does she still haunt the gates and roadsides near Resurrection Cemetery?
Note: Resurrection Cemetery is located along Archer Avenue in Justice, Illinois. Follow 95th Street to Roberts Road, which goes north to Archer. The cemetery is located at 7600 South Archer Avenue. This street will also take you to Mary’s favorite haunt, the Willowbrook Ballroom, formerly the O’Henry ballroom.