By Eilfie Music
Old dirt roads that seem to go on forever and narrow strips of asphalt that twist around mountains. These paths that man created to get from point A to point B (and everywhere in between) also hold their own treasure trove of ghost stories.
For me, haunted roads with their ghostly hitchhikers and vanishing motor vehicles are some of my favorite tales. They are also some of the most difficult to investigate. Because these are often public roads that anyone at any time can be on, it’s not always the safest place to be. You have to deal with ill lit areas, and even in the deadest of times the occasional traffic. Another problem is police, who might wonder what you are doing out on the side of the road with cameras and recorders in the middle of the night. Just like doing an investigation in a cemetery, it’s always good to inform the local police of what you are doing, just in case someone calls in reporting strange lights on the road.
Almost every state has its handful of local legends about the back roads and old hangout areas. The lonely hitchhiker is a popular one that usually involves a cemetery or stretch of road that a spirit of a man or woman will be seen walking up and down trying to hail a ride. Once some good Samaritan has pulled over to give them a lift, the driver is either instructed to take them to a nearby cemetery or a house address. In some stories the ghost will talk like any normal person trying to kill time, in others they will stay silent the entire ride. Once at the destination, the hitchhiker will either climb out and thank the person for the ride, or the driver will turn around to tell there passenger they have arrived and find an empty seat. The driver will later find out from locals or family members that the person they picked up died years ago.
This is the most popular framework for the haunted highway stories, but another interesting one is the phantom vehicle seen racing down the road and zooming off into the darkness. One that I recently read about was a road dubbed “Hot Rod Haven” for all the nightly car races done on this twisting hairpin turn road. It had also seen its share of deaths from vehicles taking turns too wide and careening off the edge. People would report seeing a pale, luminous 1950’s car zipping along and at times playing chicken with people. Witnesses had also seen this same car seemingly taking the same turn each time and losing control as it tumbled over the edge. The driver of the vehicle is never seen.
A popular story my dad would tell me took place on a stretch of road near Lemont, PA. Supposedly this back road had its own headless rider, but instead of it being a horse like the Hessian in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow it was a motorbike with a headless rider. The story went that a local kid would take his bike out and drive around the back roads in the Centre County area. One night while traveling through one of the twisting roads, he either swerved to avoid another vehicle or lost control going at a speed much higher then the limit and went flying off his bike. His body hit a tree, and his head continued on. They found his head later, nestled safely in the helmet. So after this, every so often people will see a motorbike traveling along with a rider either with a helmet on who vanishes or a headless biker who goes off into the night where he died. Now I don’t know what truth this story had, but it definitely made a fun ghost story when he told it me years ago.
Many of these tales can be counted as just urban legends with kernels of truth. With some roads having high amounts of accidents, it is no wonder we think they are haunted or even worse, cursed. The best part these stories at times is to find the truth behind the tale, so even if you can’t investigate the place physically you can still find out if there is any merit to the tales.
Asfar, Dan Haunted Highways, 2003, Ghost House Books