Urban Legends and Beliefs

The phantom hitchhiker

The story: A college student was driving on a lonely country road late one rainy night when he was startled to see a young woman walking along the shoulder. Immediately he pulled over, leaned across the front seat to open the passenger door, and asked her if she wanted a ride.

Without a word, she got inside. It was obvious that she was cold and soaked to the skin. The college student reached behind him, grabbed his sweater from the backseat, and offered it to the lovely hitchhiker.

She smiled her thanks and draped the warm sweater over her shoulders, informing him that she had to get home that night to see her parents.

In the light from the dashboard, the student noticed for the first time that her face and hands were scratched and bleeding. When she caught him looking at her injuries, she explained that her car had slid off the road and into a ditch. She had stood there for what had seemed like hours, hoping for help; then she decided to walk the rest of the way to her parents' home.

The student told her that there was no problem taking her right to her parents' front door. In spite of her bedraggled appearance, it was becoming apparent to him that she was a very beautiful young woman, probably about his own age. She gestured into the darkness ahead and said that the house was only a few miles ahead.

As he was getting up his courage to ask her for her name, she pointed to a house down a very short lane. She asked him to stop, and she got out of the car. He protested that he would be happy to drive her the rest of the way, but she was already running away into the night. As he drove on, he berated himself for not asking her name, but then he remembered that she still wore his sweater. That would be his excuse to drive back to her parents' home and formally make her acquaintance.

Two days later, after his afternoon classes had ended, the student drove to his mystery girl's home and knocked on the door. He was surprised when an elderly woman opened the door and invited him to step inside. As he looked about the interior of the front parlor, he noticed a framed portrait of the beautiful young girl, and he asked the woman if her granddaughter was home.

Following the student's gaze to the portrait, the woman began to weep. Her darling daughter, she said, was still trying to come home. The student listened incredulously as the woman told him that her daughter had been killed in an automobile accident more than 40 years before.

By the time he managed to leave the old woman, he had concluded that she must be crazy. The hitchhiker he had picked up that night was no more than 19 years old. And she was very much alive.

As he passed a small rural cemetery, something blowing in the wind caught his eye. When he entered the graveyard to investigate, he found his sweater draped over a tombstone that marked the final resting place of a young woman who had died 40 years ago.

Some version of the above account of a phantom hitchhiker has been told and retold with variations for at least the past 70 years. In many areas, there are no shortages of witnesses who say that they themselves have stopped to pick up the ghost—nearly always a lovely young woman—and they swear that their encounter is true.

Chicago's "Resurrection Mary" has been hitching rides and spooking motorists since the 1930s. Said to be the spirit of a beautiful, blond Polish girl, Mary has been picked up by smitten young men at dances and asked to be taken home. The problem is, "home" always turns out to be Resurrection Cemetery on Archer Avenue on the South Side of Chicago. On occasion, Mary has been bold enough to open car doors and get in, explaining to the startled driver how she desperately needs a ride into the city. Once again, as the car approaches the cemetery on Archer, Mary bolts from the car and vanishes at the gates.

For many years, taxi drivers in Naha, Okinawa, have claimed that an attractive woman in her 20s, with short-cropped hair and dressed in black slacks, often hails them for a ride on the road to the U.S. Marine Camp. When the cab drivers turn to ask for a specific destination, she disappears. The phantom has been dubbed the "Nightwalker of Nago," because she most often appears on the mountain road leading from the fishing village of Nago to the marine camp.

Since 1965, dozens of drivers have slammed on their brakes to avoid hitting a pretty young woman in a flowing white dress standing in the road on Blue Bell Hill in Maidstone, England. The phantom is said to be that of a woman who was to have been a bridesmaid for her best friend when she died in a car crash the night before the wedding. Her spirit appears still dressed in her flowing bridesmaid's gown, still attempting to get to the wedding on time.

Stories of phantom hitchhikers constitute a category of urban legends that have been reported around the world and show no signs of ceasing. Motorists, truckers, and taxi drivers by the hundreds have a "friend of a friend" who really did give a ghost a ride.

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