Saturday, October 27, 2018

Ep. 280 - The Legend of the Hitchhiking Ghost

Moment in Oddity - Pumpkin Races

October is the time of year when our attentions turn to pumpkins. Pumpkins signal fall and, of course, Halloween. The German city of Ludwigsburg hosts the largest pumpkin festival in the world, which is held annually from early September to November. The festival includes more than 400,000 pumpkins representing 450 species of pumpkins. There is a really unique twist to this pumpkin festival though. This festival has its very own pumpkin race. This is a race held on water with huge hollowed out pumpkins that weigh at least 550 pounds. And while you might think it strange for people to watch a bunch of pumpkins race each other in water, imagine that each is like its own kayak being piloted by a human. The race covers a course measuring 115 feet and the prize is money that is awarded in six categories. Competitor Mailin Matuschek said, "It was hard fighting against the wind to get anywhere, but when you are in the groove it works. I imagined it would be more difficult.” We love pumpkins around here, but sitting in one on the water and paddling to win a race, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - The Calliope is Patented

In the month of October, on the 9th, in 1855, Joshua C. Stoddard patented the calliope. A calliope is a musical instrument that produces sound by sending a gas, steam or compressed air, through large whistles. These large instruments can be played mechanically via a music box drum or manually via a keyboard. A calliope can be quite loud and the whistles are tuned to a chromatic scale, although steam calliopes can be inaccurate with tuning since the temperature of the steam affects the pitch. J.C. Stoddard was a beekeeper from Massachusetts and he loved the sound of locomotive whistles. He took 15 train whistles and attached them to a steam chest, with a music box cylinder or roller to open the valves. The valves admitted steam into the whistles. He intended for his calliope to replace the church bells. Instead, the calliope became the famous sound of riverboats and circus parades. All of the working steamboats still around today have steam calliopes. These boats include the Delta Queen, the Belle of Louisville, and President. Their calliopes are played regularly on river excursions. Most calliopes disappeared in the mid-20th century and only a few survive today. You can still see a very elaborate one at Fort Wilderness at Walt Disney World.

The Legend of the Hitchhiking Ghost

Roadside apparitions have been witnessed by thousands of motorists and there seems to be a legend of a hitchhiking ghost in every state in America. Many countries around the world have these hitchhiking ghost tales as well. These tales are haunting and tragic. They usually involve a young woman standing on the side of the road, appearing to be in distress or in need of a ride and after being noticed or picked up in a vehicle, she disappears. There is a level of trust and intimacy in giving someone a ride in your car, particularly a stranger. In our modern era, it just isn't save to be either the driver or the hitchhiker. And maybe that is why these types of tales are so prevalent. There already is a basic level of fear involved in the act of hitchhiking. This episode can't possibly cover every single legend out there involving hitchhiking ghosts, but we will touch on several that include tales from across America and from several countries. Join me on the roadside as we search out the legend of the hitchhiking ghost.

Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand wrote “The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings” in 1981. The book traces the origin of the urban legend of the hitchhiking ghost  back as far as 1876, with the ghost of a girl appearing on a roadway after being killed in a carriage accident. For myself, the idea of a hitchhiking ghost was introduced to me as a child. One of my favorite rides in the world is the Haunted Mansion and it is inside this house that riders meet three strange characters known as the hitchhiking ghosts. There is Ezra who is the skeleton, Phineas who is the traveler and Gus who is the prisoner. They all thumb for a ride aboard your doombuggy at the end of the ride and one of them joins you in that doombuggy, carrying on with some kind of shenanigans. It all seems rather fun. But the true tales of hitchhiking ghosts range from the shocking to the truly terrifying.

Blue Bell Hill, United Kingdom (Suggested by Emma Pett)

Blue Bell Hill is a historic chalk hill in Southern England that has been designated a site of scientific interest. People have reported seeing ghostly hitchhikers here since the early 1970s. A man reported seeing a young girl appear in the road ahead of his car in 1974. She collapsed as his car approached and he slammed on his brakes and rushed to give her help. He found her bleeding as though she had been a victim of a hit and run accident. The legend claims that she asked him”why did you hit me?” He covered her with a blanket he had in his car and drove away to get the police. By the time the police got to the scene the girl was gone, but the bloody blanket remained.

White Woman of Belchen Tunnel in Switzerland

The white woman of Belchen Tunnel is a tale that started in Switzerland in the early 1980s. This hitchhiking ghost is an old woman that appears in the road ahead of lonely drivers at night. Drivers slow down and pick her up and take her a few miles before she suddenly vanishes from the car. Apparently the woman looks sick and tired. If a driver asks if she is okay, she responds by telling them something terrible is about to happen.

McAlester, Oklahoma (suggested by Jayna Fields)

Jayna's sister told her a tale about a hitchhiking ghost in the 1980s. The story takes place on a highway that passes Gowen Mountain near McAlester, Oklahoma. One evening, a hitchhiker became very tired as he wandered down the road. He decided that he needed to take a nap, but he didn't want to wander away from the road so he curled up very close to the roadway. Unfortunately, he rolled a bit while sleeping and ended up on the road. A car hit him and killed him. Not long after that, he began appearing in the back seat of cars that drove down the road. Jayna's sister had a friend that claimed that her hair was pulled by something unseen when she was on the road one time.

Ft. Myers, Florida (Suggested by Jaime Michelle)

In 1913, McGregor Boulevard was built. The construction workers used shells to pave the road and one night a skull rolled to the feet of a workman. This began an effort to dig up the rest of the skeleton and before long, 103 skeletons were unearthed. The thought was that this was a Native American burial site, but a medical examiner found that the bones were not those of native people and that is when historians claimed that the bones probably belonged to pirates. A pirate ship named the Gasparilla was captured by the United States Navy and they massacred the entire crew. The bodies were buried here and since there are no laws about disturbing pirate bones, the road was allowed to continue being paved. Drivers claim to see several people on the road that cars just pass right through.

Niles Canyon, California

The tale that comes out of Niles Canyon in California is not as well known. There was a young girl who died in a car crash on her way to her high school prom. The car crashed into the canyon somewhere and was never recovered, meaning that the body of the girl was never recovered. She died on February 26th and that is the day that people claim to see her ghost as she seems to return to the scene of her death on the anniversary. Witnesses claim to see her wandering the road in her dress and many stop to pick her up. She tells them where she lives and they agree to drive her there, but she disappears soon after that. When the drivers visit the address she has given them, they find an abandoned house.

Parkway Phantom of Exit 82 in New Jersey (Suggested by Jeanne Naurez)

The Garden State Parkway was completed in 1955. From that time until the present, people have claimed to witness an apparition that has come to be known as the Parkway Phantom. He is generally seen at Exit 82 at Route 37 in Toms River. The Phantom is described as a man crossing the road and waving his arms at night. The waving arms resemble a bizarre football cheer. He is very tall and wears a long topcoat that is belted at the waist. According to the State Police, this area of road has seen more than its fair share of car accidents.

From the Weird NJ website: "We all work as paramedics in Ocean County, and we see a lot of fatal accidents. About five years ago, on a rainy night along the spot on the GSP where it is also US 9, there was a guy whose car broke down on the curve. He pulled off to the side and began to walk along the shoulder when a driver hit him, throwing him into the woods and killing him. When the paramedics got there they knew someone had been hit, but due to the darkness and rain they could not find him. They finally did and tried to revive him, but it was too late. Several weeks later the same medic crew was coming back from Kimball Medical Center in Lakewood, heading toward Toms River, when they saw someone on the side of the road waving them down. By the time they were able to pull over and back up to the spot the man was gone, but they noticed it was in the same spot where the man was hit only weeks before. They just blew off the event until another crew reported a similar event in the same area. To date about three teams have seen this." –SeanEms17

Roseman Covered Bridge (Suggested by Brandon Marsh)

If you've seen the movie "Bridges of Madison County" you will be familiar with the Roseman Covered Bridge featured in the film. The bridge is rectangular shaped and brick red in color and spans the Middle River. It's located southwest of Winterset in Madison County, Iowa and is one of six remaining covered bridges in the area. The bridge was built in 1883 and it is this same year that the haunting connected to this bridge originates. An inmate escaped from the Madison County Jail in 1883 and ran to the bridge thinking he could get away, but the sheriff and a posse he formed caught up to the convict there. They trapped the man by blocking both sides of the bridge. Somehow, someone's gun discharged and the convict cried out in pain. The story gets really weird here as the inmate just seemed to disappear after he cried out. The sheriff and his men found no trace of the man. There have been reports of cold spots on the bridge and people hear disembodied voices. Sometimes the bridge shakes. An EVP was captured by Central Iowa Paranormal Investigators of a voice telling them to leave. And there is a hitchhiking ghost that people see when crossing the bridge. Could this be the spirit of the convict?

Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa, Florida

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge ranks fourth in the nation when it comes to people jumping off the bridge to their deaths. The bridge rises to 197 feet above the water, so most who jump from the bridge do not survive. Over 200 people have taken that leap. The original two-lane bridge opened in 1954, and officials built an addition in 1971. Two tragedies are connected to the bridge. On January 28, 1980, a buoy tender and a tanker collided while attempting to pass beneath the bridge and 23 servicemen were killed. That same year, in May 9, a freighter collided with one of the Skyway’s support columns and part of the bridge fell into the water taking eight vehicles, including a Greyhound bus full of college students. Thirty-five people died in the collapse. The bridge has been the scene of several paranormal happenings, one of which is a hitchhiking ghost. This spirit is believed to belong to a young woman who probably threw herself off the bridge sometime in the 1960s. In the 1960s and 70s, authorities received multiple calls from motorists claiming to have seen a young woman preparing to jump from the bridge, but upon investigation no woman was found. This same spirit or perhaps another female spirit has also been seen on the side of the road looking very troubled and sobbing. At other times, people have picked up the hitchhiking ghost only to have her break into sobs as they approach the summit of the bridge. When they turn to console the woman, she disappears. Motorists have spotted the hitchhiker on both the old bridge and the new one that was built to replace the one damaged in the collisions.

Highway 94 in New Zealand

This story of a highway in New Zealand features a Maori woman. It is said that the entire 160 miles of the highway is haunted by this spirit and that she is seen holding a frightened kitten. She appears to be hitchhiking by the roadside, so drivers pull over to give her a ride. But just as the car stops, the woman and the cat completely disappear.

Jenny Dixon Beach and Wilfred Barrett Drive (Suggested by Rachel Hore)

Creek Road in Ojai, California

Creek Road is a lonely stretch of road that branches off Highway 33 just outside of Ojai, California. It is a winding road full of ghost stories. There are several spirits that are seen along the road that could all be considered our hitchhiking ghost. There is a decapitated motorcyclist who wanders the road headless as though he is looking for his head. A bloodied bride is said to appear on the road on the anniversary of her death and there is another spirit that is just known as the Vanishing Hitchhiker. The creepiest apparition here belongs to a badly burnt male figure that locals call Char-Man. He is seen near the Creek Road bridge and so locals call it the Char-Man Bridge. He is most known for scaring anyone brave enough to walk or drive the bridge at night. No one is sure what happened to him, but the theory is that he died in a fiery crash or a brushfire.

Highway 666 in New Mexico (Suggested by Jessica Berry)

US Highway 491 is the former Highway 666. Obviously, with an unfortunate name like that, one would expect the highway to be haunted and they would be right. This stretch of roadway has several apparitions taking on the role of hitchhiking ghost. The first is a female apparition that lingers by the roadside. She not only appears once and then disappears as a car approaches, she continues to appear and disappear as they travel down the highway. Another spirit belongs to a little girl. She is seen wearing a pale dress and wanders along the roadside. People stop for her, worried that a child is all alone out there. Once they stop, she disappears. Some of the creepier hitchhikers here have no faces. They are actually hitchhiking, thumbing for a ride, but disappear when approached. And the infamous Skin Walkers have been known to frequent this stretch of highway.

Hotrod Haven near Louisville, Kentucky (Suggested by Michael Renegar)

There is a stretch of Mitchell Hill Road in Kentucky known to local folks as "Hotrod Haven." Between the 1940's and the 1970's, the road was a popular spot for teenagers to test their racing skills. This was not the wisest place to race because the road twists and winds. In fact, at least 25 people have lost their lives on the road. Two of those people include a couple. On September 23rd, 1946 Roy Clarke and Sarah Mitchell were on their way to a school dance when Roy lost control of the car and crashed at the curve. Both  of them were pronounced dead at the scene. There is a cemetery at the top of Mitchell Hill where the couple is buried today under a single stone. It is Sarah who seems to be our hitchhiking ghost on this roadway. Reports have been made over the decades of motorists seeing a girl wandering the roadway and aimlessly strolling the cemetery at the top of the hill. She vanishes after a time leading to her being nicknamed the "Vanishing Hitchhiker."

Bristol, Pennsylvania (Suggested by Deana Marie of TwistedPhilly Podcast)

This is the story of  Gertrude Spring from Bristol, PA, which is in Bucks County about 45 minutes north of Philadelphia (and it was founded in 1681, one year before William Penn came to the new world and founded Pennsylvania!)

Deana found a newspaper article about the death of Gertrude Spring. She is buried in St. James Episcopal Cemetery on Cedar Street in Bristol, PA.  No one knows why she's considered the hitchhiking ghost , but her name has been synonymous with the ghost of a young woman who is often seen on Bordentown Road and along nearby roads in Bristol and Bucks County. 

Years ago a truck driver picked up a young woman on Bordentown Road wearing a fancy pink gown. The dress looked old fashioned, and she seemed out of place particularly because she was wandering a dark road late at night, alone.  He picked her up and after a while he turned to talk to her but the young woman in the beautiful dress was gone. The only sign of her was a puddle on the passenger seat. The truck driver called the police to report what happened but what could they do about a young woman who disappeared (no proof of a report like this was made to the Bristol police, or when it might have happened.) 

Why was the seat wet?  It's believed Gertrude Spring drowned in Van Sciver Lake  under the Bordentown Road bridge when she died in 1935. There's an old story that one night Gertrude and a date were driving home from a night out and his car went off the bridge on Bordertown road.  The car and the boy were pulled from the lake, and although neither she nor her companion survived, Gertrude's body was never found. At least according to the legend, but the article Deana found clearly says something else.

Bristol, New Hope, that area is very old, there are so many ghost stories besides the story of Gertrude Spring, who is also called the Lady of the Lake due to her manner of death, and Midnight Mary because it's usually late at night when her ghost is spotted (although I think so many female hitchhiking ghost stories are called Midnight Mary.)  When people see Gertrude, it's often on the bridge of Bordentown Road, she's wandering in a pink gown, disoriented, and although she isn't hooking her thumb, it does seem she's looking for a ride somewhere.

Here's the myth buster - according to St. James Cemetery where Gertrude is burried, Gertrude Spring died from a skull fracture she sustained during an automobile accident in 1935.  Gertrude was born in 1909, making her 26 years old when she died.  The legend of her body never being found in the lake, well, her body was buried in St. James cemetery with other members of the spring family and she had a full church service.  The cemetery has no idea why Gertrude is considered the hitchhiking ghost.  I included a map of Bordentown Road in Bristol, PA.  Pennsbury Manor was William Penn's home - it's a historic site operated as it was in the late 1680s and you can tour it, churn your own butter - it's amazing.  You can also see how close this area is to New Jersey, and that section of the Delaware River isn't far from where George Washington made is famous crossing! 

Gertrude's tombstone is very simple, doesn't even have her last name listed, I think it's in a family plot.  The St. James cemetery dates back to the early 1700s and there are so many people buried there with ties to the revolutionary war and our earliest settlers in Pennsylvania.

White Rock Lake, Texas

White Rock Lake is a large reservoir in Texas. It’s a fairly normal lake other than the bizarre legend surrounding it. Legend tells that the area surrounding the lake is haunted by ‘the lady of White Rock lake’. She died during the 1930s at the young age of 20. To suit this, she can be seen wearing an old-fashioned dress soaked through with water. Like every other “Vanishing hitchhiker” on this list, she hitches a ride with kind strangers. A few minutes into the journey she tells the driver that she was just involved in an boating accident. Seconds after telling this, she completely disappears. Apparently she left behind a soaking wet book. The book contained no words – just blank pages.

Lydia of Jamestown, North Carolina (Suggested by Lisa Weaver and Michael Renegar)

June 20th of this year, 2018, marked the 98th anniversary of the crash that killed the woman known as the infamous Lydia who is the Jamestown Hitchhiker. Writers and ghost hunters Michael Renegar and Amy Greer wrote the book, “Looking for ‘Lydia:’ The Thirty-Year Search for the Jamestown Hitchhiker.” They think they have found the true identity of the spirit. The story of Lydia is very similar to all the other hitchhiking ghost stories. She is a beautiful woman who seems sad and just wants a ride home. She hangs out by Lydia's Bridge, which is actually an abandoned underpass about a hundred feet from where the present railway bridge crosses over East Main Street. The story goes that this woman was named Lydia and that she died at the underpass in a car accident after having been at a dance. Stories about Lydia mirror those of Resurrection Mary. She flags down a car, hops into the back seat, she gives her home address and then seems lost in another world, not open to conversation. She vanishes when the driver arrives at the address she has given. This story and the experiences have continued for nearly 100 years.

And while Michael and Amy believe the stories of the hitchhiking ghost, they think the information is wrong about Lydia. The main point being that her name was not Lydia. They believe she is Annie L. Jackson and that she was 35 years old when she died. Michael says that Annie's maternal grandmother Lucinda was known as Ludia, and that this was probably Annie's middle name. Ludia (Loodia) sounds similar to Lydia. And since Annie was 35, she certainly wasn't a young girl on her way home from a school dance. She was actually in a car with a male driver and another couple when the car flipped on a curved road in June of 1920. Only Annie was killed. A Greensboro Patriot article was written about the wreck back when it happened.

The legend usually claims that Lydia wants to be taken to her mother’s house in High Point, but Michael and Amy found that Annie Jackson’s parents died years before she did and that the house she wants to be taken to is that of her maternal first cousin and aunt whose house was in Jamestown near the underpass where Annie Jackson died.The story has been told and retold so many times that it eventually morphed into a young woman waiting in the rain for a ride to her mother's house after attending a dance. Based on the years of research that Michael and Amy have done, it would seem that Annie or Lydia was once a real person and could very possibly still be wandering the road where she died.

Resurrection Mary of Chicago, Illinois (Suggested by Kristin Swintek and Bonnie Nelson)

Archer Avenue in Chicago, Illinois is said to be one of the most haunted strips of road in America. One of the most famous hitchhiking ghosts calls this road home and that is Resurrection Mary. I've driven Archer Avenue and followed the path that Resurrection Mary took on the evening she died. I've also been to the cemetery where she is reportedly buried. Mary’s tale begins in the 1930’s. She went dancing with a date at the O Henry Ballroom, later known as the Willowbrook Ballroom. This location was still standing when I visited Chicago three years ago, but sadly, it burned to the ground in October of 2016. Mary and her boyfriend get into a fight sometime that evening and she stormed out of the dance hall. The evening was cold as Mary started making her way home up Archer Avenue. The evening was dark and a passing motorist didn't see Mary walking on the side of the road until it was too late. She was struck and killed and the driver fled the scene. Her parents had her buried in Resurrection Cemetery.

Some time after that, motorists started seeing a woman in white on the roadway. She looked very real and many of them would stop to offer her a ride. One such person was a taxicab driver who was traveling Archer Avenue in late December on the south side of Chicago. He noticed a young woman on the side of the road wearing what looked like a white cocktail dress and a thin shawl. She was not dressed for the elements and he pulled over to offer her a ride, which she accepted. Her hair was damp and she looked disheveled. She hopped into the back seat and told the driver to just continue down Archer Road. He tried to make small talk with her, but she wasn't interested in conversation.  A little ways down the road, the woman tells the driver to stop the car and that this is where she wants to stop. "You can’t get out here," he says to the young woman, "this is a cemetery!" She had been sitting in the back seat and when he glanced back at her, he sees that she is gone.

Mary was also said to appear at the O Henry Ballroom. A young man might dance with her for a while and then offer to give her a ride home. She would always accept and offer vague directions that would end up at the gates of Resurrection Cemetery. She would then disappear. More reports continued to come of people giving a young woman a ride, only to have her vanish.The more distressing stories featured Mary being in the road and getting hit, usually as she bolted out of the cemetery and into the roadway. When the motorists would stop to offer help, they would find no body. Some drivers claimed that their car passed right through the girl's body. Because the girl was thought to be Mary and since she was clearly connected to Resurrection Cemetery, the legend now calls her Resurrection Mary.
There are several theories as to who Mary really could have been. Some say that she is Mary Bregovy who was killed in an auto accident in 1934. The only problem is that she died on Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago. The car that she was riding in collided with an elevated train support and she was thrown through the windshield, so clearly this is not a woman who was walking down the side of the road and killed in a hit-and-run. Others have claimed that Mary was actually the ghost of a young woman named Mary Miskowski, who was killed crossing the street one night in October 1930 on her way to a costume party. No one knows for sure who Mary was, but the stories about her seem to be more than legend.There have been so many witnesses and the dates and times have been recorded, that this seems to be more than just an urban legend.

A man named Jerry Palus had one of the most credible stories. He claimed to have met Mary in 1939 and the encounter was so memorable that he still recalled it until his death in 1992. He appeared on a number of television shows sharing his experience. This is what happened. He went to the Liberty Grove and Hall, a dance hall that was near 47th Street and Mozart, and met a beautiful girl there. He asked her to dance and the couple spent several hours together. He noticed that this girl who called herself Mary had cold skin and when he leaned in to kiss her, her lips were cold and clammy. She seemed distant most of the evening as well. At the end of the evening, the young woman asked Palus for a ride home and she told him to drive down Archer Avenue. As they drove down the street, they approached the gates to Resurrection Cemetery and she asked him to pull over because she had to get out there. Palus was reluctant to leave her outside the cemetery and told her he would only let her out  if she allowed him to walk her across the street. She refused and said, "This is where I have to get out, but where I’m going, you can’t follow."

Palus watched as she quickly exited the car and ran towards the cemetery. Before she got to the gate, she disappeared before his very eyes. He was clearly shocked. The next day, he visited the address that the girl had told him the night before when he had asked where she lived when they were dancing. The woman who answered the door told him that he couldn’t have possibly been with her daughter the night before because she had been dead for several years. She invited him in and showed him a family portrait. There he saw the girl he had been dancing with and whom he gave a ride to the cemetery.

The most bizarre story occurred in 1976. A driver was passing by the cemetery around 10:30 one evening when he happened to see a girl standing on the other side of the gates. He said that when he saw her, she was wearing a white dress and grasping the iron bars of the gate. He didn't stop, but he went to the local police station and told them that a woman had been locked into the cemetery. An officer responded to the call, but when he arrived there was no one there. He went over to the gate for a closer look and he found that two of the bars in the gate had been pulled apart and bent at sharp angles. Even stranger was that at the points on the green-colored bronze where they had been pried apart there were blackened scorch marks. The marks had a skin texture and handprints seared into the metal. The marks of the small hands made big news and curiosity-seekers came from all over the area to see them. In an effort to discourage the crowds, cemetery officials attempted to remove the marks with a blowtorch, making them look even worse. Finally, they cut the bars off and installed a wire fence until the two bars could be straightened or replaced.

On September 5, 1980, a young man was leaving a softball game and driving down Archer Avenue. As he passed the Red Barrel Restaurant, he spotted a young woman standing on the side of the road in a white dress. He stopped the car and offered her a ride and she accepted, asking that he take her down Archer. He tried to draw her into conversation, even joking that she looked like "Resurrection Mary", but she was not interested in talking. He tried several times to get her to stop for a drink, but she never replied. He was driving past the cemetery, never having stopped or even slowed down, when he looked over and saw that the girl was gone. She had simply vanished!

Reports of Resurrection Mary continued into the 1990s, but nothing more recent has been reported. I myself saw no sign of Mary in either the cemetery or on Archer Road.

The stories about hitchhiking ghosts are so plentiful that it seems that some of them must be true. And if that is the case, why do so many spirits wander the roadways and why do so many take a ride in a car? For those that speak, we know they are intelligent and since they are not locked into some time/space continuum that is residual, why are they damned to walk the same road where they died? Do they vanish because they reach the limits of their boundary and can go no further? For those that leave their grave, is it truly because they need a ride back because the walk is too far? Are there really hitchhiking ghosts out there in the world? That is for you to decide!


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