Phantom Hitchhikers

Most people who live in America, or read about American folklore, can likely point out a few major "players" in the scene. One of the most prominent of these tales is that of the Phantom Hitchhiker. Scholar Jan Harold Brunvand writes in his book,  The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings, that these are "the most often collected and the most discussed contemporary legend of all."

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If you're not familiar, the phantom hitchhiker, also known as "vanishing" hitchhikers. Can be a variety of different people. At their base all phantom hitchhikers are strange figures usually picked up on lonely roadsides that, before they are dropped of, they vanish without a trace from the interior of the car. In fact, this is quite an old folktale and there are even stories of them disappearing from carriages and horses! Additionally, they are often picked up by (or being driven near) to graveyards, bridges, intersections, tight turns, dangerous hills, and any part of the road where tragedy has stricken before.

But why are these stories so pervasive in American culture? Well, there are a few reasons. One of them being the prevalence of many people mobile and vehicle-related accidents. Almost every town, even small towns, have a dangerous intersection or a too-sharp-turn...so, in turn, every town could have one of these ghostly hitchhikers, forever traveling on the same stretch of road that killed them.

But that isn't the only theory. 

Scientific American's article on this mentions that there are two lessons one could take from these tales:

1. A reminder of the importance of community...that good people will pick up distraught-looking hitchhikers in need of a ride.

2. They also served as a warning for driving too fast because you too could end up haunting your own stretch of highway.

According to the writer, Krystal D'Costa, says "These stories aren't necessarily "spine tingling," but they reflect larger social concerns and are designed to encourage behavior change."

Resurrection Mary is one of the most popular of all of these stories. Although, we don't quite know who Mary was there are several primary theories. One of them is that she was a young woman who spent a wonderful night in Chicago dancing the night away at the O Henry Ballroom on Archer Ave. At one point in the night, she leaves the ballroom and begins making her way along the roadway. Presumably, a vehicle struck her, left the scene, and she died as a result of the accident. How do those that experience Mary know it is the same girl? Well, her unmistakable white dress and dancing shoes are her trademarks. Oh, and her destination is always the same...Resurrection Cemetery.

There have been over 30 "verifiable" sightings of Mary. The first encounter occurred allegedly occurred in 1939. Jerry Palus claimed he danced all night with the ghost girl at a dance hall on 47th Street, and when he went to drop her off at the address she gave...she vanished and he was at Resurrection Cemetery. According to Prarie Ghosts, he was desperate to find out more information about what he had experienced, "Determined to find out what was going on, Palus visited the address the girl had given him on the following day. 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. However, Palus was able to correctly identify the girl from a family portrait in the other room."

 

photo: This image is from Martin and is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).