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
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.
Urban Legends 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 (Acts 8:26-39):
- 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 (as seen in Pee-wee's Big Adventure) where the passenger is alive and the driver is dead.
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.
- Hostile Hitchhiker: Another situation in which a hitchhiker isn't what they seem, but a Hostile Hitchhiker can be (and most commonly is) mundane.
- Ghost Ship, despite the name, isn't related—a ghost ship is simply deserted.
- Case Closed: 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 the Crayon 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.
- 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.
- Comic Cavalcade: On his way to cover the story of a football player's recent murder Johhny Peril picks up a hitchhiker in the rain who claims to have seen the murder and gives him the name of the perpetrator. His hitchhiker later turns out to be the ghost of the victim.
- 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?".
- Given that the trope namer is Disney's Haunted Mansion ride, the fanfics Haunted Mansion and the Hatbox Ghost just had to feature the original three Hitchhiking Ghosts, Gus, Phineas and Ezra, as secondary characters.
- In Atlantis: Milo's Return (the Direct to DVD sequel to Atlantis: The Lost Empire), the team is driving through the Arizona desert when they pick up a mysterious Shoshone man who they appear to pass several times. Turns out he is a Wind Spirit guarding a mass trove of ancient artifacts, and his search for a stolen pot is what's causing the mess in the southwest.
- A popular Bollywood horror movie of the 1970's Bees Saal Baad has the sequence where the leading man gives a lift to a beautiful woman on a stormy night. Her manner is mysterious and answers questions vaguely and she asks to be dropped off at a gate. He says "But that's a cemetery!". She looks at him, smiles enigmatically and gets off the car and walks into the cemetery. The gate opens automatically for her.
- Graveyard Gus tells a story about a couple who have a rather nasty encounter with Mary Hatchet's ghost, which they pick up one night in Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet.
- In the 1960 British horror film City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel) actor Valentine Dyall plays a centuries-old warlock who hitches a ride with two different characters in the movie and then vanishes from the car as soon as they reach an ancient New England witch village.
- Used in Creepshow 2 when a woman accidentally runs down a hitchhiker; when she drives off instead of helping him or calling for aid, he haunts her all the way home.
- The first sign that the Mind Screw is starting in Dead End (2003) is when the family picks up a mysterious woman in white carrying a baby, which is later revealed to be dead.
- Dust Devil, a 1993 cult film by Richard Stanley set in South Africa was, according to the DVD commentary, inspired by the director's memory of being told the Vanishing Hitchhiker legend as a youngster.
- Field of Dreams has an inversion: the protagonists are on their way home when they pick up the hitchhiker, and they take him home with them, rather than to a destination of the hitchhiker's choice. An added twist: the ghost is a younger version of someone they've already met ...
- An early scene in The Fog has a young woman appearing in this manner, but she turns out just to be an ordinary person who just happened to be out on a particularly eerie night.
- Forget Me Not: Of the standing in the middle of the road variety.
- A ghost of the car-accident causing variety appears in the movie Gothika as well.
- One of the victims of the Abaddon Hotel in Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel was hitchhiking to the disastrous opening of the Hell House'' and has continued to lure victims to the hotel by standing on the roadside looking for rides.
- Hell's Highway has a sexy but homicidal goth chick hitchhiker who keeps coming back after being killed, though the twist ending reveals she was the subject in a government experiment involving cloning, and escaped with several of her duplicates.
- Although The Hitcher has a living Hostile Hitchhiker, John Ryder has no social security number, driver's license, or any other indication that he exists. Oh, and he's a psychopathic killer that beats down anybody he pleases.
- In the Mouth of Madness had a rather twisted variant on this in that it wasn't a hitchhiker but the passenger who happens to be the protagonist's girlfriend whom it turned out there was something horribly wrong with.
- In Jack the Reaper, Railway Jack appears multiple times along the side of the road: visible only to Jessie. Then he appears in front of the bus, causing the bus to crash.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street:
- Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, the sixth A Nightmare on Elm Street film uses the "apparition in front of the car" version. A little girl appears on the road as the characters are driving to Springwood, telling them "Go back!". Only one character can see her, and he jerks the wheel, nearly crashing the vehicle. Interestingly, the vision is not a ghost, but actually a manifestation of another character when she was younger. The character in question was actually the one driving, but couldn't see her younger self, presumably because she was fully awake.
- Freddy himself does this in the fourth film, but it's a trick. The protagonist attempts to run him down, but he is revealed to be an illusion, and she crashes into a tree instead.
- As a Mythology Gag, he pulls the same stunt in the remake (except the protagonists crash into a ditch, instead of a tree).
- Inverted in Pee-wee's Big Adventure: Pee Wee Herman is lost in the countryside and hitches a ride with a truck driver. Just after they get going, the driver tells him the story of a terrible accident she witnessed. At one point, she shows him how badly managled the driver's body was by shifting into a Nightmare Face. After she drops him off, she says "Be sure to tell 'em 'Large Marge sent ya!'" Pee Wee then walks into the nearest restaurant and tells the patrons "Large Marge sent me." They react in shock and horror and one tells him the same story of the accident. He also reveals that night is the anniversary of said accident which killed Large Marge. Pee Wee then realizes he got a ride from her ghost.
- Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave ends with a Tarman zombie holding a sign reading "rave or bust" on the side of a highway. When no one stops, he gives up, angrily throws the sign at the ground, and starts walking. Brains!
- Hilton Edwards directed a 1951 movie called Return to Glennascaul, starring Orson Welles, which centered around a Vanishing Hitchhiker event. Two women, an older lady and her younger daughter, hitch a ride home with a man and invite him in for tea and drinks. He returns and finds the house abandoned, eventually discovering that the two women are long dead.
- The "Apparition in front of a moving car" variety appears in both the videogame and movie versions of Silent Hill.
- The Tree of Wooden Clogs features a character telling a scary bedtime story. A man robs the grave of a recently deceased woman, cutting off her hand to get her jewelry. He later meets a woman on the road dressed all in black, who asks for a ride. When the man's cart passes the cemetery the horse stops and won't go any further. The woman asks to get out, the man moves to help her out of the cart and asks her to give him her hand, and the woman says he already has it.
- A hitchhiking ghost features in the Chinese ghost movie Whos The Ghost In Sleepy Hollow; hitching a ride on a motorcycle and then vanishing as the bike passes a cemetery.
- The 'apparition in front of the vehicle' version occurs in The Windmill Massacre. Jennifer sees her father step in front of the bus and screams at Abe to stop. However, when she gets off and looks, there is no sign of anyone. However, when she boards again, the bus won't start...
- Die Spook van Uniondale (the Ghost of Uniondale) is an Afrikaans-language South African movie retelling the story of events on Good Friday 1968, at Uniondale in the Western Cape of South Africa, where a motorbike crashed fatally injuring the pillion passenger, a girl called Maria Roux. Since then, there have been many accounts of the ghost of Maria Roux being seen at the roadside, or else being picked up by random drivers and motorcyclists, only for her to disappear as suddenly as she got into their cars and bikes.
- 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. (Some versions are that the man meets her at the Willowbrook Ballroom, an old dancehall not far from Resurrection Cemetary that's since burned down.) 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. (The Willowbrook Ballroom was also on Archer.)
- 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. This version overlaps with God Was My Copilot, albeit to a less divine extent.
Don't see how he eats 'em, though... Not havin' a head and all..
- Large Marge from Pee Wee is a direct reference to this old tale; the trucker's name is traditionally "Big Joe."
- A version of this story appears in Daniel Cohen's Railway Ghosts and Highway Horrors, a non-fiction book for younger readers interested in the paranormal.
- Subverted for comedy with the Ghost Truck which haunts the roads around Ravensblight. Chester Floyd may give you a lift to a gas station in town and disappear, whereupon you tell the clerk your story, and, bracing for the "worst accident I ever did..." line, you hear instead "Chester? Oh yeah, he was just in here for a bag of cheesy yums". Double subverted when you voice your concerns and he tells you that, yes, Chester is indeed dead, worst accident he ever did see... but still comes in for cheesy yums. Loves 'em.
- A version of this story was also adapted into the song "Phantom 309" by country singer Red Sovine, and subsequently covered by Tom Waits. See below under Music for more.
- 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.
- Pennsylvania also gets in on the act with several hitchhiking ghosts, at least one of them the ghost of a murdered girl. And the (in)famous Hawk Mountain has its own ghostly truck that tries driving people off the road. As well as a ghostly serial killer innkeeper and (supposedly) literal murderous devils.
- 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.
- In Jamaica, there are many stories of this nature, in relation to the deadly Kendal Train Crash which happened on September 1, 1957 when the train derailed, claiming 186 lives as a result. According to one such story, a taxi driver picked up two well-dressed women who specified a certain address to him, and on their arrival the two got out of the car and went into the house. The driver assumed they were getting money to pay their fare, but when they did not come back after several minutes, he honked his horn impatiently, grabbing the attention of an old man from inside the house. When the driver explained why he honked his horn and described the two women, the old man exclaimed, "Those were my two sisters; they died in the train crash." The driver immediately fainted.
- In South Africa, on Good Friday 1968, at Uniondale in the Western Cape of South Africa, a motorbike crashed fatally injuring the pillion passenger, a girl called Maria Roux. Since then, there have been many accounts of Maria/s ghost being seen at the roadside, or else being picked up by random drivers and motorcyclists, only for her to disappear as suddenly as she got into their cars and bikes.
- The Disney Theme Parks, in addition to providing the trope name with an In-Universe example at The Haunted Mansion, allegedly have a few of their own ghosts, at least one of which is said to act this way, albeit on a rollercoaster instead of an automobile. Dubbed "Mr. One Way", he is supposed to board Space Mountain (the Disneyland version, in California) like a normal guest, but at some point the person seated next to him will realize that he has vanished from the moving vehicle. When they ask their friends or park cast members if they saw what happened, they will be told that no one has seated next to them.
- Inversion: A man is walking along the road at night when he sees a car coming his way. He decides to hitch a ride and the car stops for him. After he gets in, he's shocked to see there's no one driving and the car takes off on its own. The car starts rolling towards a turn when suddenly a hand reaches through the window and turns the wheel, freaking the man out more. After several minutes of this, the car comes upon a truck stop and the man jumps out and runs inside. He tells his story to the patrons who are mystified or question his sanity. Then two more men walk into the truck stop and go to order food. One spots the man and says "Hey, that's the guy who jumped into the car while we were pushing it!"
- Anna Dressed in Blood opens with Cas hunting this type of 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.
- The Ghost Roads 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 (she's actually attracted to people who are about to die on the road so she can save their life or, if that's not possible, act as a Psychopomp to prevent them from becoming a malicious ghost). The story also ties together several variations of the "vanishing prom date" subgenre and provides a plausible explanation for the borrowed jackets.
- The Ghosts of Sleath: A variation - parapsychologist David Ash, horrified when he seems to have hit a young boy, gets out of his car to find no one there.
- The outdoor humorist Patrick McManus parodied this trope in one of his short stories: Pat and his buddy Retch Sweeny pick up a strange young hitchhiker while returning from a day's fishing. It turns out the guy is totally still alive and steals their tackle boxes.
- 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.
- Nick Velvet: At the start of "The Theft of the Bermudan Penny", Gloria reads Nick an article about several young people reporting picking up a mysterious hitchhiker dressed in white on a particular stretch of highway who spoke to them about god before vanishing from the vehicle. Later, when the target of Nick's latest theft seemingly vanishes from a moving vehicle, Nick contacts the source of the article to see if there could be any connection (or explanation).
- Nina Tanleven: The Ghost Let Go references and plays with this - it has Nine, Chris and Nine's father get in an accident because of what they initially suspect might be a hitchhiking ghost, with Nine and Chris theorizing that she caused them to crash rather than ask for a lift because the driver wasn't alone. The "ghost" later turns out to be the very much alive Dolores Smiley. Her mother is a ghost, who was accidentally struck and killed by a car almost identical to the Tanleven's (Dolores mistook their car for the one from long ago, which is why she ran out in front of them and caused their accident), and Dolores goes out every year on the anniversary of Mrs. Smiley's death, hoping she'll find her spirit wandering the road where she died so that she can finally apologize for the last, hateful words she ever said to her mother.
- 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."
- Inverted in the Stephen King novella "Riding the Bullet", where the hitchhiking hero gets picked up by a ghost.
- 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.
- A longer timeframe than usual, but Kara Thrace in Battlestar Galactica (2003). Dies, turns up again and hitches a lift, gives mystical prophecies and information, vanishes into thin air when her "task" is done.
- Played with in the Freaky episode "Hitcher". Picking up hitchhikers while driving at night never seems like a good idea. Especially when the hitchhiker tells creepy ghost stories. Maybe Dad and Michael will have the last laugh when they share a story of their own...
- In the pilot episode of The Greatest American Hero, Ralph and Bill keep passing the ghost of a dead man in the desert.
- Growing Pains: In a Halloween episode, Mike claims he had met a beautiful teen-aged ghost named Kara, who had died 17 years earlier in a car accident. An in-joke in the episode is that, along the way, Mike and Kara stop at a roadside bar, where a talent show — featuring all of the guests dressed as dead celebrities — is taking place. Mike's making up the tale.
- A Happy Days episode has Fonzie getting involved with a girl who he comes to believe might be a ghost. (It turns out to be All Just a Dream.)
- In The Mighty Boosh season 1 episode "Hitcher", Howard Moon picks up one of these.
"I'm the Hitcher! Lemme put you in the pitcha!"
- In the Supernatural episode "Roadkill" we see this from the ghost's perspective. For that matter, it happens in the pilot.
- The Twilight Zone (1959): The episode "The Hitch-Hiker" involves a woman who keeps passing the same creepy hitchhiker while driving cross-country, and comes to believe he's trying to kill her. When the woman calls home, she learns that she died in a car accident. It ends with her driving back to the hitchhiker, who is actually Death.
"I believe you're going...my way?"
- The story was originally written as a Radio Drama by Lucille Fletcher, and was featured on several different programs throughout the 1940s, including Suspense, Philip Morris Playhouse, and Mercury Summer Theatre; in each of these, the protagonist/narrator (originally written as a male) was portrayed by Orson Welles.
- In the "Girl on the Road" episode of the obscure TV series The Veil hosted by Boris Karloff, a motorist aids a girl stranded on the highway. After she vanishes, he searches for her, eventually discovering she had died years before in a wreck on the stretch of road where he met her.
- 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. 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.
- "I Guess It Doesn't Matter Anymore", the above song by Blackmore's Night.
- 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).
- In an inversion 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."
- "Bringing Mary Home" by Country Gentlemen is more sad than scary. The driver reaches the address his hitchhiker asks for, and she vanishes. He doesn't understand what happened until he knocks on the door and Mary's parents explain:
Thirteen years ago today in a wreck just down the road
Our darling Mary lost her life and we miss her so.
So thank you for your trouble and the kindness you have shown,
You're the thirteenth one who's been here bringing Mary home.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stan Ridgway's "Camouflage" is a very odd variant where the ghost of a dead Marine helps another Marine survive a battle in Vietnam.
- "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 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.
- 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.
- Richard Thompson's "Where the Wind Don't Whine" (on Hand of Kindness) in which the singer picks up some kind of gorgeous female elemental who vanishes, leaving him in the middle of nowhere haunted for life.
- "State Road 25" by ThouShaltNot, which is sung from the point of view of the ghostly passenger.
- 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.
- Chinese legends say that the goddess of fire sometimes manifests as a young woman in a red dress asking for a ride. If a kind person offers to help, then during the ride, she'll warn them of coming fire-related disasters in their neighborhood and offer advice on how to avoid or at least escape them. Another tale has the famous mad monk Ji Dian attempt to bar the fire goddess from a monastery, only to be forced to let her in on order of the abbot, who believes she is just another pilgrim. Soon after, the monastery burns down.
- Fortean Times has collated these stories from around Great Britain, ones which began almost as soon as the first cars rolled off the production lines and those which seem to go back even further and have been "repurposed" for the internal combustion engine. The legend of the phantom hitch-hiker on Bluebell Hill in Essex, for instance, appears to date back to the 1950's but the ghostly girl hitching a lift has been seen and reported on so often that this now has all the status of myth.
- Gender-Inverted and Zig-Zagged in the Alice Isn't Dead episode "Alice," wherein an elderly man stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop which confines him to the mobile Vanishing Village of Charlatan attempts an escape by manifesting in the cab of the visiting the narrator's truck and silently pointing to the road out of town. The silence as he enters the truck suggests that he's intangible, and may be a ghost. The Narrator escapes the loop, but sees the man restored to his usual mark in her rearview mirror. Unusually, the Narrator is unable to make sense of events, and never gets an answer as to the nature of the town or its people.
Narrator: I don't know what this meant. I only know that its meaning does not include me. I am not necessary to it.
- 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.
- 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 "apparition in front of a moving car" is used — sort of — in the Nancy Drew game The Haunting of Castle Malloy.
- Protagonist Rick Rogers picks up a lovely young woman one night at the start of Paranormal Files: Fellow Traveler. And then his life goes From Bad to Worse.
- The "Apparition in front of a moving car" variety appears in both the video game and movie versions of Silent Hill.
- A phantom hitchhiking woman may be picked up in Steambot Chronicles.
- 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.
- In Mystery Skulls Animated the ghost Lewis gets hit by a trucker, though in this case he straight up steals the vehicle as his reaction is to start appearing at the wheel and the trucker quickly jumps out to watch his rig get a ghostly make-over before taking off without him.
- Bedtime Stories (YouTube Channel): The entire premise of the episode "The Uniondale Hitchhiker",note where the ghost of a woman named Maria Roux is often picked up by random drivers and motorcyclists, only for her to disappear as suddenly as she got onto their cars and bikes. Several other examples of this phenomenon are also discussed, with the hitchhikers ranging from old women to young boys.
- Inverted: SCP-1337 of the SCP Foundation started out as a traditional hitch hiking ghost, down to the last detail of the traditional American version of the myth. Then (without authorization) the head researcher of that particular SCP project had her elderly parents killed, and her gravesite destroyed, arguing that if she has nothing to return to, she'll stop coming back. She stopped coming back... for a time. Then she started appearing again, but now as a horrible, malevolent spirit that brutally kills people who drive past her without stopping. The researcher was her first victim.
- In the Amphibia episode “Night Drivers”, Sprig and Polly encounter one while trying to take a dangerous shortcut back home in the middle of the night. Upon finally reaching home, the two realize that the ghost was actually trying to keep them safe the entire time.
- 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.
- 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 20 Minutes into the Future, complete with hover cars) had the teenaged hitchhiker turn out to be a (non-evil) old hag.
- 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."