Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts
Going Our Way?
I pulled along the side
And offered her a ride
Like the rolling mist she floated inside
As we pulled away
She had nothing to say
So I guess it doesn't matter anymore
— Blackmore's Night, "I Guess It Doesn't Matter Anymore"
You are in a car with a complete stranger, on the highway, where a mistake can easily result in a dangerous car crash. There is something about it that's not entirely comfortable. As if that weren't bad enough, your company might well be not from this world.
of vanishing hitchhikers are very widespread around the world and quite old: In the oldest ones, the vehicles picking up ghosts were still horses and carriages. The basic outline is the same:
- A driver picks up a hitchhiker on a lonely stretch of road, or sometimes just agrees to give a lift to someone met at a party or similar circumstances.
- The passenger is most often a beautiful young woman; more rarely, an old woman. The driver is almost always male.
- The passenger may complain of being cold, regardless of the actual weather. The driver will loan her his jacket or a blanket.
- The driver takes the passenger to the address she specifies, but when he arrives there, he finds that she has vanished from his car without a trace. Sometimes she disappears as the driver passes the graveyard where she is buried. Sometimes, she gets out and appears to enter the house, but the driver decides to check in on her the next day.
- He inquires at the house, where he learns that his passenger has died long before; sometimes, it's the anniversary of her death.
- When he visits her gravestone, he finds his jacket draped over it.
Or, in another variant found as far back as The Bible
- A driver picks up a hitchhiker on a lonely stretch of road. The driver is usually male; the passenger, often an old woman and very often a nun.
- The passenger issues prophecies during the ride. These vary by region and by story, and can be vague or specific, but don't necessarily have to come true.
- She vanishes from the driver's car before they reach her destination.
- The driver's subsequent inquiries reveal that she is dead or divine. In Hawaii, she is usually the goddess Pele.
There's yet another variant where the passenger
is alive and the driver
Fiction has taken its cue and the variations are manifold. It can be the driver, as well as the hitchhiker, who has some strange qualities.
There's a variation where the apparition will seemingly materialize in front of a moving car. Despite instant braking, it appears they had to have been hit. Getting out and examining the car and environs will not reveal any body. Rest assured, however, that the driver has been "marked."
The trope's name comes from The Haunted Mansion
ride at Disney Theme Parks
, which ends with this sage piece of advice. As it says this, the cars pass in front of trick mirrors that make it look like ghosts are sitting by the riders. Shortly after, the riders disembark from their vehicles, but as they do, the narrator warns that "a ghost will follow you home!"
- Afterlife Express: Another form of supernatural transport, but the Afterlife Express doesn't usually take the living.
- Ghost Ship, despite the name, isn't related—a ghost ship is simply deserted.
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Anime and Manga
- Subverted in the Shin-chan manga which has a series of AU short stories where the titular character grows up and becomes a cab driver. One of his lady passengers disappears mid-ride, leaving only a puddle of cold water on the seat. Much to said the ghost/passenger's exasperation, instead of realising that she is a ghost, he just becomes angry that the passenger ran off without paying and peed on the seat.
- Detective Conan: The Japanese legend of the yuki onna (snow woman) is discussed by Shinichi's father as a subtle clue as to how the murderer set up the crime scene so he could have an apparently air-tight alibi. In his version of the story, a man unwittingly picks up a yuki onna on his way home, and though she was intending to freeze him to death, his concern for her causes her to melt instead.
- Subverted in Anything But A Ghost. The mysterious, blood-covered girl standing by the roadside isn't a ghost. She just eats them. Presumably she made a meal of a classic example of the trope.
- Both variations show up in Ghost Stories with a ghostly taxi driver in the first instance and a vengeful ghost attacking taxi drivers in the second.
- Cherry Poptart appears as a phantom hitchhiker in a story in Cherry #9 (actually titled "The Phantom Hitchhiker"). This being a Cherry story, she has sex with the truck driver before disappearing.
- In the "Haunted America" arc of IDW 's Ghostbusters: Ongoing comic series, there's a multi-issue side story where Peter picks up a young woman named Laura whose car was totaled by a haunted 18-wheeler that's been terrorizing a certain local road. He captures the ghost trucker and drops Laura off at her house, though she disappears without getting out of the car. And when he goes to her house, her elderly mother says Laura was killed in an accident on that road twenty years earlier. Then again, the ending was essentially spoiled already by the story's title, "Who Killed Laura Parr?".
- The Phantom Hitchhiker a very common urban legend in several parts of the states, but the stories do seem to center around Chicago, where she is affectionately known as Resurrection Mary - from Resurrection Cemetery, where the final scene of the story takes place. A girl would be found on the side of a road; a friendly man (it's usually a man) would offer her a ride and take her to an address. Usually he turns around and she's gone, leaving a wet seat. Some stories follow up by having the man go to the address and learn that the girl has been dead for years (usually her death is reported as a traffic accident). Sometimes he visits her grave and finds the coat he lent her draped neatly over the headstone. In one particularly grisly variant, he actually digs up the grave, and finds the girl's remains wrapped in his coat.
- The story usually takes place on Archer Avenue near Resurrection Cemetery.
- Some versions get even spookier, with the girl giving prophetic warnings.
- Some versions involve her appearing in front of a moving car. Drivers have reported actually running her down with their car. When they get out, she's gone. In other reports the car drives right through her, and she then disappears through Resurrection Cemetery's gates.
- According to legend, there is a ghost of a hitchhiking man on Route 44 near Rehoboth, Massachusetts.
- Legend has it that there is a hitchhiker ghost in Malaysia that has a detachable head, who loves to demonstrate to those who give him a lift. One of them was persuaded to stop when a holy man threatened to toss their head out of the car window.
- Mormons have some folklore (that gets repeated so much not even gullible people believe it anymore) of a (mormon) person who picks up a hitchhiker. They talk, (sometimes about events and current events) and after a while the hitchhiker asks the driver "do you have a full year's supply of food?" and then disappears.
- The LDS church encourages its members to have at least a full year's supply of food, for themselves and to share with neighbors, in the event of an emergency.
- The Hawaiian version of the Phantom Hitchhiker casts the volcano goddess Pele in the role of the mysterious hitcher. She can appear as a young girl, a "Lady" who exudes a royal presence, an extremely old woman, or all three: in one memorable story a slightly drunk guy picks up a young teenager who seems to age a little every time the driver glances at her. The last time the driver sees her, she is now an extremely old woman! She laughs loudly and then vanishes, instantly sobering the guy up. The early meeting he has to go to the next morning is "quite successful".
- There is no clear consensus about what to do if you find yourself passing Pele on the road. Most people say you should pick her up out of respect and she'll bring you luck or save your life - the usual reason she appears is to warn people. Her MO is to sit silently then suddenly say something like "look out ahead" and disappear. When you stop the car in shock you'll find you just missed slamming into a boulder/fallen tree/rockslide. Ignore her and something terrible will happen, possibly your own death due to not being warned about the boulder/fallen tree/rockslide ahead. Others say if you pretend you didn't see her in the first place you can escape her.
- Yet another Hawaiian bus was haunted by a Chinese woman who "reeked of tons of dead, rotting fish" who shorted out the bus until the bus driver agreed to take her wherever she wanted. She guided him to an old Chinese cemetery, with "stones so old their names were eroded away". (All stories are from Obake Files.)
- One story inverts this trope - a living hitchhiker is picked up by a trucker who gives him money for coffee and tells him to go to a certain coffee shop, with the instructions to say that '(trucker's name) sent me'. When the hitchhiker does so, the coffee shop owner tells him how that trucker died because he drove off a cliff rather than hit a school bus, and then refuses to accept payment for the coffee, instructing the hitchhiker to keep the money in memory of the trucker. So in that story, the ghost is the driver rather than the hitchhiker.
- Large Marge from Pee Wee is a direct reference to this old tale; the trucker's name is traditionally "Big Joe."
- This may be more properly an example of God Was My Copilot (though less divine.)
- A certain hilly road in rural England is especially prone to this, having several reports a year. One man reported having struck a small girl who appeared out of nowhere; seeing that she was bleeding, he gave her a blanket to cover herself with and went for the police. When he returned with the constable, there was nobody there, the blanket was lying on the ground, clean, and the bloodstains had vanished from the lorry..
- Detroit's area of Michigan also has a woman in white causing accidents in a nearby suburb.
- Another variant found in on the East African Coast where the local Bantu culture is heavily influenced by Arab Muslim culture involves paranormal beings called "djinni" (English genies). The story typically takes the form of a beautiful girl who is picked up by cross-country truckers who are looking for some way to stay awake on their long journeys. At some point the truck driver will look over at his beautiful passenger and discover to his horror that she has goat's legs - like the god of mischief Pan. At this point the girl or djinni laughs and disappears, although in the worst case scenario, the driver is so shocked that he causes the truck to crash, which was the original intention of the djinni.
- There are stories of a ghost appearing as little old hunched back man, wearing a brown trench coat and Bogie style hat, hitching along Route 66 between El Reno and Weatherford, Oklahoma. One report states that after picking him up, he wouldn't talk to the driver, and soon the old man tried to jump out of the moving car. The driver immediately stopped to let him out, only to see the same man hitching farther up the road. Others report hitting the man, but finding no one there when they got out to check.
- New Jersey has Shades of Death Road in rural Warren County where legend has it that, among lots of other haunted stuff, a girl died in a car crash after being stood up for her senior prom. The crash is traditionally said to have been caused by a deer, and now drivers will see a girl in a prom dress on the side of the road. If they don't stop to pick her up they will crash themselves on the winding road, most likely because of a deer.
- New Jersey roads tend to have a few of these, other stuff like this include stories of a ghostly truck that actively tries to run cars off the road.
- There is an Australian version of this in the Newcastle area. After a large bridge was built over the road she started disappearing right under the bridge instead of further up near a hospital. A common story is that she was hit by a car while hitchhiking and died just before reaching the hospital.
- Another version of this story from another part of the US (possibly upstate New York) involves the ghosts of a young boy and a young girl who dart out in front of cars at night, trying to cause accidents.
- Maine has at least two versions of this. One is in downeast Maine, and supposedly the ghost will cause your car to crash if you don't stop for her- and the crash will be fatal. The other is more mellow; on Rt. 26 in Poland, a woman in white can be picked up or might even just appear in a passing car- both have occurred. When she is picked up, she will supposedly give a prediction of the future. A few years ago, a 16-year-old named David was seen speeding on 26, but was deliberately flagging down a cop; he had just had the woman disappear from his car and was completely terrified. The incident made the local papers.
- Dallas' hitchhiking ghost has a name: The Lady of White Rock Lake. The story follows the usual format — drivers find a young woman standing on the side of the road near the lake, or on the shore of the lake itself — and she's always dripping wet. She requests to be delivered to a certain address, but disappears, leaving nothing but a wet patch on the seat. Naturally, inquiry with the man living at the address reveals that his daughter drowned in a boating accident some weeks (or years, etc) ago, when the boat she was on capsized.
- Inverted in the Stephen King novella "Riding the Bullet", where the hitchhiking hero gets picked up by a ghost.
- In his book The Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman advises readers to pick up the hitchhiking ghost, promising that you will be surprised at what happens next.
- The frequency of the hitchhiker's appearance is also a handy way of keeping track of time if you don't have a clock.
- The above Apparition variety is beautifully subverted in the Douglas Adams novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, where the driver of a car is horrified when he sees the ghost of his boss appear in front of the car. The ghost, on the other hand, is horrified to see another ghost in the car's passenger seat.
- Older Than Print: A variation appears in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Merchant and future Liu Bei supporter Mi Zhu picked up a woman in his carriage. His genteel behaviour during the trip caused the woman to reveal that she was a fire spirit, sent to burn down his home in the night. She wasn't allowed to shirk her duty, but she did tell him that if he hurried home he would have time enough to evacuate his family and valuables, before vanishing. Mi Zhu took the advice, so when his home did burn down later that night, everything important was saved.
- The book Monster Road subverts it- the heroes expected the ghost girl to disappear when their car took her home, but when they got there, she forgot and her still-living mother saw her in the car and welcomed her back into the house in a happy ending. Since her mother was still alive and didn't seem very old, she probably hadn't been a ghost for very long, explaining why she forgot to disappear.
- Actually, the girl did know to disappear and it was implied from conversation with the mother (before seeing the girl) that the daughter had done the hitchhiking-then-disappearing trick to several others before the protagonists. The reason the ghost girl cannot disappear is that the narrator's uncle had her buckle her seatbelt before giving her a lift - a seatbelt which sticks and she is unable to open to disappear in time.
- A different version appeared in one story in a book called Railway Ghosts and Highway Horrors. A woman driving home late at night and running out of gas spots a hitchhiker on the side of the road. It's late, and she's alone, and he's grubby-looking, so she doesn't pick him up. She gets further on and comes down a hill...to see the same hitchhiker by the roadside. grinning at her. She passes him again, now very unnerved, and is almost home when she sees him a third time—and this time, he's holding a butcher knife. She's going up the final hill before her house, almost out of gas... The police find her car the next morning, sitting on empty at the bottom of the hill. She's in the driver seat with a cut throat. The story ends with "Needless to say, the killer was never found."
- The Sparrow Hill Road series is written from the point of view of the ghost. She's not malicious, but she frequently shows up for a driver who's going to crash soon, so she gets a bad rap.
- Anna Dressed in Blood opens with Cas hunting this type of ghost.
Live Action TV
- In a subversion of this trope, David Allen Cole wrote a song "The Ride" where he is given a lift to Nashville by the ghost of Hank Williams, who gives some advice on how to become a country music star.
- Keith Bryant's version of "The Ride" is about an amateur Nascar driver that gets a ride to Daytona International Speedway from Dale Earnhart. At the end of the ride Earnhart cried when they arrive at Daytona, pulling onto the track he says "This is where you get out boy, cause Number 3 ain't comin' back."
- Inverted and possibly subverted in the David Ball song, "Riding With Private Malone." A young man buys and restores a 1966 Corvette whose original owner, one Private Andrew Malone, had died in the Vietnam War. The car turns out to be haunted, but not unpleasantly so. The story ends when the young man has a serious, dude-my-car-is-on-fire accident: Malone's ghost pulls the young man out of the car and vanishes.
- Going into a bit more detail, the car is haunted by the dead soldier, who took pleasure in riding along with the new owner (just at the edge of the man's sight) whom he had left a letter to (via the glovebox), encouraging whoever claimed the car to enjoy it, as he had wished he could have before he shipped out and died. The song is a bit of a Tear Jerker.
- In the end, when the accident happens, Private Malone repays the new owner for the rides by dragging him free of the crash. A bystander claims to have seen a soldier rescue the driver, but didn't get the man's name. The driver ends the song, thanking God that the soldier was tagging along with him, knowing he wouldn't have survived otherwise. Sniff.
- "Bringing Mary Home" by Country Gentlemen is more sad than scary.
- "I Guess It Doesn't Matter Anymore", the above song by Blackmore's Night.
- "State Road 25" by ThouShaltNot, which is sung from the point of view of the ghostly passenger.
- "Phantom 309" by Red Sovine depicts Sovine thumbing a ride with a trucker. When the driver lets Sovine out a nearby truck stop, he tells him to inform the truck stop crowd of who sent him. Silence overtakes the truck stop before one of the patrons tells Sovine the story of the driver, who died after crashing his rig to spare a group of teenagers he hadn't seen in time to stop after topping a hill. (The song was later covered, with slightly different lyrics here and there, by Tom Waits on his album Nighthawks At The Diner)
- The Swirling Eddies released a song on their Outdoor Elvis album (1990) called "Urban Legends." In the lyrics, the narrator decides to believe any and all urban legends following an encounter with a vanishing hitchhiker.
- The contemporary folk-style song "Ferryman" by Mercedes Lackey and Leslie Fish offers another version of the reversal. The encounter here is between a young girl seeking to cross a river in a violent storm, and a ferryman who agrees to take her without charge. Although the tone implies an unworldly nature to the girl, in the end it is the ferryman who is revealed as the ghost. This version includes a garment as a token: the girl's shawl, left as a pledge for the fare, is found in the morning on the ferryman's grave.
- The Child Ballad of "The Suffolk Miracle" (Child #272) has this plot (with a horse instead of a car). In the ballad, the hitchhiker is the protagonist's lover, who died of grief when her father prevented him from seeing her; it also makes use of the reappearing garment device (in this case, a handkerchief which shows up in the man's grave).
- Country Joe McDonald wrote and performed a song about a vanishing hitchhiker called "Hold On It's Coming", later covered by New Riders of the Purple Sage.
- Stan Ridgway's "Camouflage" is a very odd variant where the ghost of a dead Marine helps another Marine survive a battle in Vietnam.
- Dickey Lee's 1965 hit "Laurie (Strange Things Happen)" has a variant of this without the hitchhiking. The singer meets a girl at a dance, takes her home, and loans her his sweater when she mentions being cold. When he goes back to retrieve the sweater, her father answers the door and says she died a year ago. Something compels the singer to visit the graveyard, where he finds her grave with his sweater lying atop it.
- This is much closer to the original story of Mary Bregovy (1913-1934), from which the Resurrection Mary story evolved.
- "The Road to Thunder Bay" by Stompin' Tom Connors tells of a driver picking up a "young man with a small blue guitar," and carrying him on some distance down the road before coming to a wreck where a man of the same description died, not much earlier. The apparition disappears, but the ghost's song lingers as the narrator drives on.
- Many pre-Christian mythologies in Europe have similar stories relating to individuals encountering wandering gods looking for a room for the night or on the road. It was considered a very good idea to give them room and board with stories of those who refused being punished and those who gave willingly being rewarded for their hospitality. In Norse Mythology Odin is a particularly common culprit in these stories and is usually identified either by Him missing an eye, a broad-brimmed hat, or a long coat often all of the above being involved.
- Speaking of Christianity and The Bible, the "road to Emmaus" narrative (in Luke 24:13-32) could almost be seen as a variation of this.
- Hebrews 13:2 also discusses the possibility of "entertaining angels unaware" should one extend hospitality to strangers.
- An early Japanese version of the trope involves the "Ghost of the Rashomon Gate" in old Heian Kyo. People have been vanishing mysteriously in the vicinity of the Rashomon Gate and a daring young swordsman decides to do something about it. However his watch proves completely uneventful and he is on his way home when he encounters a pretty young girl astray in the bad part of town and looking for a lift. He takes her up on his horse behind him but, luckily for him, turns his head just in time to catch her turning into a demon. He cuts off her arm with his sword and she vanishes upward like a rocket. Badly rattled the young man returns home, locking the severed arm in a chest. A few days later a woman claiming to have been his first nanny comes to visit. He pours out the whole story to this sympathetic listener and is persuaded to show her the arm. Predictably the old woman immediately turns into the demon, grabs the arm and vanishes again - this time for good.
- GURPS Infinite Worlds also has a double inversion: troubled people might get picked up by a mysterious stranger who gives them life-affirming advice before dropping them off. Turns out he's some kind of supernatural being (not necessarily a ghost) who drives across worlds for this very purpose.
- New World of Darkness' Geist The Sin Eaters mentions this in its rulebook, as one of the titular Sin Eaters picks up a ghost hitchhiker, hears her story, commiserates, and helps the ghost pass on as the car passes a cemetery.
- The trope also gets mentioned in the Midnight Roads splatbook, where it's mentioned that all sorts of supernaturals are known for pulling this off. In fact, it's a popular feeding method for road-wandering vampires, who use Dominate and/or Obfuscate to pull off the vanishing part when they're done.
- There's at least one Mad Libs book that uses this.
- Series 17 of the Living Dead Dolls was inspired by Urban Legends, and includes a Vanishing Hitchhiker.
- The "Apparition in front of a moving car" variety appears in both the videogame and movie versions of Silent Hill.
- It's also used — sort of — in the Nancy Drew game, The Haunting of Castle Malloy.
- A phantom hitchhiking woman may be picked up in Steambot Chronicles.
- In the opening dream sequence of Alan Wake, the title player character runs down a phantom hitchhiker, who then proceeds to menace him with an axe.
- The Happy Tree Friends Halloween Episode "Without a Hitch" features this trope. Subverted when the only thing really weird about the ride is Flaky's nervous hallucinations of Evil Flippy killing her... which results in them crashing into a telephone pole.
- An episode of Freaky Stories tells the classic version of the urban legend. A man picks up a hitchhiking girl on the road; she disappears during the drive but leaves her jacket. The man goes to her house to return the jacket, but is greeted by a woman saying the girl died several years ago, wearing that same jacket.
- Another episode (one actually set Twenty Minutes into the Future, complete with hover cars) had the teenaged hitchhiker turn out to be a (non-evil) old hag.
- The "Apparition in front of the car" variant is used again in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series - the Batmobile turns a corner and Batman thinks he's just managed to run Robin down, though in fact it's a hallucination caused by the Scarecrow's fear gas.
- The ghost in the Porky Pig cartoon "Jeepers Creepers" tries to hitch a ride in Porky's police car towards the end. Porky stops, backs up and holds up a sign that says "No Riders."