The Vanishing Hitchhiker and the Ghosts of the Train Crossing

Once there was this guy who went out dancing and he met this girl. He danced with her all night, even though she seemed cold and distant. At the end of the night he offered her a ride home, and she said “okay.” She didn’t say much, other than to point him down Archer Road, and “the snows came early this year.” Then when they came to the cemetery, she shouted “Pull over! You have to pull over now!” The guy said “I can’t pull over here! This is the cemetery!” But she screamed “No! Pull over!” So he pulled over and said “okay, but you have to let me walk you the rest of the way home, okay?” She turned and said “Where I’m going, you can’t follow.” And she got out of the car, walked up to the cemetery gates, and vanished.

The Vanishing Hitchhiker is one of the most famous – and common – ghost stories in the world. Versions are recorded back to at least the third century BC. The most famous modern one is probably Resurrection Mary, who we’ve investigated like crazy around here in Chicago – she’s a common topic on The Weird Chicago Blog. We’ve dug up census records, combed through newspaper, trying to figure out who she’s the ghost of…all on the very broad presumption that she’s not just an urban legend in the first place!

One story that people ask me a lot when I’m running tours based on her is “didn’t she borrow someone’s sweater?” Though I don’t know of an account of this happening with Mary, the ghost borrowing a sweater, which turns up the next day on their grave, is a common variation – people my age and younger know it from “THe Night It Rained,” the variation that appeared in Alvin Schwartz’s immortal Easy Reader “In a Dark Dark Room” (which scared the pants off me as a kid, and still spooked me this week when my six year old stepson was reading it!). People older than me tend to know it from that “Strange Things Happen in This World” song.

My favorite variation is one i saw on one of those ghost TV programs back in the 90s – a guy gave a ride to a little girl only to have her vanish out of the car. He went to her door and the woman said “it couldn’t have been my daughter – you just let my daughter rest in peace!” He then noticed a picture of the girl on the wall. Seeing a picture on the wall is another common touch in these stories, but here’s where the TV show differed: in this, the girl was the ghost of a kid whose school bus was hit by a train, and who now, along with other ghostly kids, push cars over railroad tracks. Two urban legends in one! The old “ghostly kids pushing cars over the tracks” story is almost as common as the vanishing hitcher – there’re something like 50 such places in the country, most of which (including the one in the TV show, which focused on the San Antonio version) are nowhere near any place where there was ever actually a bus/train accident.

But this is a common urban legend – there are many places where you can put your car in neutral and find yourself rolling across the tracks, then pour some powder on your fender in see fingerprints. I don’t know of any place where this can actually be considered supernatural – invariably, it turns out that the road is just a downhill road that doesn’t LOOK downhill, the fingerprints are usually your own, and the long-ago train accident never actually happened.

Mary is probably the most famous of the hitchers, and the tracks in San Antonio are probably the most famous car-pushers, but variations pop up all over the world. Maybe I’m being too flip by dismising them as folklore. After all, there are quite a number of first-hand accounts of Mary, and who am I to say that dead people aren’t put on car-pushing duty til they earn their wings?

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2 Comments

  1. -Alan D Hopewell

    I used to live in Lorain, Ohio, near Cleveland. About ten miles south of Lorain is Elyria, the county seat of Lorain County. Near the business section of town there's a cemetery, Ridgelawn by name, that had a vanishing hitch-hiker story attached to it in the 50's / early 60's. It seems that on rainy nights, motorists and cabbies would see a woman standing just outside the gates of the cemetery, as if in need of a ride. When they'd stop, she'd get into the rear of the car, without a word. When the driver would turn to ask her where she was going, she'd be gone.

    Some friends of mine were coming past Ridgelawn back in 1975, and saw a woman standing by the gates. According to them, she was suddenly INSIDE the car, without having opened the door. She had glowing eyes, and looked "unhuman" (their words). The driver said he had no control over himself; he just began driving, although he was terrified, as was his front seat passenger and the two guys in back with …whatever.

    They drove, heading out of the city, when he noticed the control over him was gone, as was the strange woman…the guys in the backseat said she just disappeared.

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  2. Anonymous

    I went on a Chicago ghost tour with Dale Kaczmarek several years ago and that was one of the stories/stops.
    Supposedly this ghost burned the imprint of her hands into the cemetery fence (there's a section where the bars were burnt/twisted).

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