Travel Log…The Devil’s Tramping Ground

There’s something to the Name Game, but there are times when a legend plants itself so deep into the minds of residents it forces them to actually name the place for the odd folklore born there.  We recently came across something like this with Bloody Bucket Road in Wachula, Florida, a road named after a story which then inspired a story which inspired an urban legend.  We’ve also found our way to places informally named after the weird happenings there, like the Devil’s Tree and Thrill Hill.  Rarely does a crazy story, known by the people living in the area if not fully believed, make the powers that be change the name of a place to reflect the popularity of a story.

20170711_113012The Devil’s Tramping Ground in Bear Creek, North Carolina is one of those places.  As we heard more about the story, given our obsession at the time with all things named after the Devil, we knew if we were going to North Carolina to look for phantom trains and hitchhikers, we were going to have to stop in and see if we could glimpse something unknown and supernatural making circles in the middle of the woods.

It started with a search into an area of North Carolina known as the known as the Piedmonts.  While looking for something else, I stumbled upon Craig Payst’s Web site North Carolina Ghost Stories.  He has a whole section of his site dedicated to the odd stories from that area, including a weird legend that has gained popularity among the people there over the last few decades.  Some of the details were familiar in that way a good piece of folklore should be, but one of the most interesting slants to the story was that the legend was shifting, adapting with the times to conform to changing ideas.  As we changed as people, the little tale of a patch of land where nothing would grown changed with them.

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The basics of the story should sound like something you’ve heard before.  In the woods near an area known as Harper’s Crossing there is a patch of land where things would not grow.  The infertile pattern was in an almost perfect circle, so people said there had to be something sinister and supernatural about it.  The first stories, which is said to date back at least two hundred years, tell of the Devil himself cast down, or up, to earth to contemplate what evil deeds to commit against the people of the Piedmonts.  Payst attributes this foundation to the strong religious ideas of the Scotch-Irish immigrants who made their way to the State.  No reason is given as to why these people should be a target for him, but there he walked in a circle debating and scheming what to do and tearing up the ground as he walked.   

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Listen to Episode 17…Trips, Triangles, and North Carolina Folklore

20170711_105007.jpgThere is more than just barren land in the story though.  Men and beast avoid the spot for reasons they can’t explain.  People who have dared to try and stay there at night have left with terrible visions.  It is also said that anything placed in the middle of the circle, living or dead, will be cast out by unseen hands.  Some have seen unexplained lights, and like many sites like this one, people have reported seeing hooded figures, either dark souls or Satanic cult members, walking the circle and the surrounding woods.  

If that was end of the story, it would make for an interesting tale.  But there is more to the story.  In the past few years, every trend in the paranormal has been used to explain the site or offer up a backstory for the unexplained.  According to Payst and some others who have looked into the stories, over the years the story has shifted to aliens, a witchcraft hotspot, and an ancient Indian burial location.  Each variation reflects the fears and the interests of the people who are making the story their own, evidenced by the newer idea that the spot is actually a vortex.  Whether to keep the deep folklore alive or just to claim a little ownership in the story, the little patch in the woods transforms itself into what people want.  

This, along with the idea of being pushed by unseen hands drew us to the site.

When we got there is a warm summer day with clouds and a slight breeze.  It was not hard to find, especially considering the street is named for the legend.  We set up a stationary camera to capture the whole thing and walked the perimeter of the circle.  It was littered with garbage, convenience store cups, and beer bottles.  There was a metal chair set up roughly in the middle and a makeshift fire pit.  Someone had been there recently, confirming the Devil’s  Tramping Ground as a party place.  

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We walked a ways into the woods and found evidence of other activity.  There were animal bones scattered in different locations, proof of either cult activity or people wanted it to look like there was cult activity.  Other than the bones and tarps, there was not too much to the area itself.  We spent time in the circle itself to see if we could feel anything trying to get rid of us, but our feet remained firmly planted.  Natalie had the idea to make a cross out of some of the local vegetation to see if it would get tossed from the circle.  We stayed for about an hour, mainly to say we had been there, and made our way to the hotel to get some much needed sleep.

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The original plan was to go back that night and see if we could talk to some of the people who partied there or even interview the dark forces, but we spent too much time looking for the hitchhiking Lydia and were not able to get back.  A follow-up the next day revealed nothing else out of the ordinary and our cross was in the same place.  In fact, after the being molested by ghostly redheads in Greensboro and getting new Pukwudgie reports in Indiana, the Harper’s Crossing and the Devil’s Tramping Ground felt mundane.

IMG_3104It was not until we reviewed the camera some time later that things got eerie.  One of the things I noticed, and we had not talked about it at the time of the trip, was how little time we spent in the middle of the circle.  Most of the time we were there was spent trailing the woods, but we seemed to unconsciously avoid actually being where the Devil was believed to walked.  It was subtle.  We had travelled 1,000 miles and didn’t spend much time in the middle.

You can’t put your hands on that kind of idea or hold it up.  It could just be an overactive mind wanting to justify having touched a legend.  The camera, however, picked something up which almost defines the eye.  At one point the lighting completely changes (perhaps due to the clouds overhead), but then several odd noises are heard.  These climax with a clear clanging of metal.  At that exact moment, something flies through the frame and out of the circle.  We have broken it down and determined it was not a bird and was too big, even in perspective, to be an insect or something else hanging out in the woods.  This, mixed with the sound heard right before the movement, leads us to believe one of those beer or soda cans was kicked out of the circle while we played in the woods.

Like the legend itself, there is no clear cut answer to what we saw.  The Devil’s Tramping Ground has exist for decades, and if every bit of folklore is born from some truth, there might be more to the story than just some dead vegetation and some odd lights in the woods.  People will continue to tell their stories about the place, odd first hand accounts with their choice of background to give it context.  The legend will continue because we want it to, but just when you think it’s safe to sit back and think of it all as just a story, a swift kick and clang might happen and make you rethink whether a ghost story, or even a tale of the Devil, has more fact than fable to it.  

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Listen to Episode 19…Tripping Carolina in My Mind

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Listen to Conversations on Folklore with Craig Payst

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Travel Log…Investigating Vs. Tripping

 

by Natalie Crist

 

I didn’t know what to expect. This really isn’t one of my areas of expertise.

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Listen to the Tripping on Legends episode about it…

This was a friend of Christopher’s whom I had never met, and being my normally socially awkward self, I was especially nervous about coming into a stranger’s home with the intent of removing a ghost.  Going into someone else’s living space is so very intrusive, so up close and personal to the situation. Rarely do we experience a first hand account when Chris and I are on our trips, so this was a completely different animal.  However I rationalized the event by at least being able to offer an outside perspective and maybe just a shoulder to lean on for this obviously scared and shaken up woman.  

IMG_4291The story has been told so I don’t need to go into those details, but the short of it is that Chris’ friend hadn’t actually experienced anything but her family had. Being only a few months post-newborn, she had those newly created mama-bear instincts kick in.  She wanted this spirit gone, mainly to protect her infant. It was slightly overwhelming to think that she was placing her trust and her family’s safety with us.

The odds were stacked against us for my first real investigation.  Honestly, I had never met Nicole (the psychic/medium Christopher discovered) and knew nothing of her genuineness.  Chris is a super brilliant scholar, but I’ve never actually seen him be effective in investigating/removing a spirit.  And me, well I hadn’t even been successful in removing my own ghost. So there was definitely a thought of, “Why are we even here? This is hugely out of our pay-grade,” and, “We should be calling a priest.”

IMG_4258.JPGAfter we actually got set up and began to build a rapport with the family, my natural soothing nature kind of kicked in.  I wanted to fix it. I had to fix the situation. The friend was out of her mind with worry. But this isn’t my thing – although I naturally try to assert myself whenever there’s an issue and take charge – there really wasn’t a tangible solution.  How DO you remove an unwanted ghost, or psychic recording? How do you actually cleanse a space of what you consider a negative or draining energy?

Nicole and Chris obviously took the bull by the horns and each began their own methods of trying to figure out the story and achieve a result. Chris’ approach was one I was slightly familiar with, setting up a camera aimed at the room in question, setting down the recorder in the room, taking a bunch of pictures, and then getting the facts about the experience. Although I learned later that he didn’t actually do everything he had wanted, I thought it was a pretty standard setup.

IMG_4264.JPGNicole on the other hand walked around and got a feel for the room(s), trying to, I assume, soak up the energy and get an idea of what was there. I had messed up in the car on the way over and told her what we had discussed prior to going over there, about us believing it may be an old man that had once lived there – the idea that she clung to. She tried to describe the man, guessing at “old man’s sounding name,” telling us she felt like he was drunk or woozy all the time, and that she felt like he was searching for the wife who had obviously stayed in the room. I tried to talk to the spirit, and asked “him” to leave. Nicole said that confused and upset him.

It was at that point that she “helped” him moved on. She stood in front of the bed, eyes closed hand outstretched at one point, and spoke to the man. She told us she brought him to Archangel Michael, and he helped him go. That the space was now clear.

IMG_4276I wasn’t sold on Nicole’s whole moving the spirit along with the assistance of Archangel Michael. The sick feeling was still within the bathroom, and then seeing the ‘kiss’ in the mirror I was freaked. I just observed after that, trying to determine whether the friend and her family were assuaged by Nicole’s actions. There seemed to definitely be a weight lifted, even if partially, on the family’s faces. Relief and hope. Nicole performed Reiki for each of them which aided in that relief too.

Nicole was essentially done with her part of the investigation by this point, and took a backseat while Chris continued.  He directed the friend on how to change the atmosphere. Lighting candles and spraying a salt and water mixture within the rooms. At one point he too had a conversation with whatever was there.

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We had done really all we could at this point I suppose. Doing an investigation into activity isn’t the difficult part.  I’ll bet you could realistically find paranormal activity everywhere if you’re looking for it. But that’s just my idea that the other worldly lives amongst us, just in a different dimension coming thru.

Getting rid of that activity is extremely difficult and almost impossible to determine success immediately. Only time was going to tell whether or not Chris and NIcole’s actions actually did anything. But at least Chris’s friend was calmer. That’s all that mattered. Maybe she was able to finally get a good night’s rest that evening (the tequila probably helped, too).

After hearing that there was still activity that evening in the form of a Christmas snowglobe’s song I was disappointed, but not shocked.

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Listen to the Tripping on Legends episode about it…

It’s probably a very rewarding career or hobby to investigate and assist in matters such as these.  Of course, that’s if you’re successful.  However, to disappoint something who has trusted you is a bit crushing. I wouldn’t consider ever taking this type of activity up on the regular, at least not with the intention of removal. The experience was neat, but mostly I just felt badly for not being able to be useful.  

 

Travel Log…Oak Ridge Cemetery: Arcadia, Florida

Natalie investigating the difference between traditional Mary hair and the statue's

 

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Listen to the Tripping on Legends episode about it…

Some legend trips are about the excitement of the moment or the depth and mystery of the mythology behind the story.  Others are about the anticipation of being in the dark with the weight of what has happened there breathing down your neck and making your hairs stand on end.  At the heart of all of them is the hope that there is a connection between the history of the location and the ghostly stories that develop around them.  As we look into the stories what’s looking back at us are lost moments waiting for someone to pick them up again and share with the world.  They become more than legends or ghost stories.  They become a way for the dead to live again and for lost history to dust itself off.

As we started looking into legends throughout South Florida to begin our journey, we sent out e-mails to historical societies and libraries in the area asking for insight into their hidden treasure other people may not have heard about yet.  We didn’t get many responses, but one came from the coordinator of the DeSoto County Historical Society’s Research Library with a reference to an article in the September/October 2016 edition of Gasparilla Magazine.  One of the locations writer Marcy Shortuse explored in her Haunted Arcadia was Oak Ridge Cemetery in Arcadia, Florida.  Arcadia was a little over an hour away, not too far for a quick drive and a perfect training ground for Natalie’s first official, researched, legend trip, especially given its proximity to what we thought was a primary location for the Singing River legend.

What drew us in were stories that came out of the location.  The first was a talking Mary statue located in the cemetery.  According to Shortuse’s article and further research we conducted into the story, people had talked for years about a stone woman looking over a patch of graves who spoke to people who stopped to pay their respects or just spent time around her.  The article spoke of people having entire conversations, but most of the other accounts online were sporadic occurrences, happening randomly and with no specific connection to people or times.  This was of interest to me as I had researched haunted statues throughout the country.

img_1653The idea was to try and find the statue and get her to speak with Natalie.  Many of the reports involved woman speaking with Mary, so we hoped that whatever was talking to people would be more drawn to her empathic, almost psychic side.  Our plan was to also record the whole session with a digital recorder to try and gather some EVPs if we couldn’t hear anything with our own ears.

The second legend was more connected to the history of the town and drove us into research mode before we arrived in Arcadia.  The real centerpiece of the cemetery is a memorial to the British Royal Air Force pilots who trained and died in Florida during the World War II era.  This was a part of Florida history neither of us knew anything about, and as we have spoken to more people over the course of the last year, we discovered most outside of Desoto County haven’t either.  In reaction to the Lend Lease Act, FDR decided to allow British pilots to train in the United States because the sky over their own country were a bit too dicey to allow new pilots to get the experience they needed.  Arcadia petitioned to use Carlstrom Field which had been opened during WWI but had closed after peace had been established and the need for American war pilots had decreased.

img_1635The first class of RAF pilots graduated in 1941 but were not without their issues.  Many of the foreigners were not used to the hazing which was a vital part of American troop training and that damaged their moral.  As explained in Wing Over Florida, many of the trainees also suffered from homesickness and overindulgence.  It seems the young men had come from a land of war into a land of plenty, and many became overwhelmed with how much food and Florida oranges they were able to get at a moment’s notice.  It would also seem they were distracted by the number of Florida women with “loose morals” in the area they also could find at a moment’s notice.

Even given the distractions, many of the airmen went on to distinguish themselves in combat.  23, however, died in training in or near Arcadia and are buried in Oak Ridge along with their commander who requested to be buried with his men 40 years after he helped to train them.  The cemetery is their final resting spot, along with a memorial commemorating Arcadia and the fallen pilot’s, contribution to history.

The stories coming out of the memorial are traditional haunted folklore for soldiers’ graves.  People are seen standing before the headstones and then disappear moments later.  A dark figure is said to move from grave to grave mourning each and leaving memorials, much like the legend of the man who leaves flowers at Edgar Allen Poe’s grave in Baltimore.   There are also reports of phantom planes, seen but mostly heard above the cemetery, maybe explained away by airports nearby, many of whom host airshows which feature older, WWII planes.  If these stories are not merely legend, it might make sense.  Part of the mythology of the paranormal includes spirits being at rest.  These pilots would be more likely to walk their graves because they are not buried in their own country but in a foreign one far from home and they may not be able to find peace or find their way back home.

img_1636One of the other unusual stories we unearthed mentioned the Union Jack flying at the memorial.  People have reported the flag sometimes disappears although no one is there to remove it.  According to reports, the flag was taken down and put up daily, but that no one currently moves it.  The flag is supposed to fly at all times.  In addition, many of these reports involve the Union Jack disappearing or being moved to half-mast while they are visiting although there is no visible caretaker present.  I noticed while we were there, however, that in certain locations on the grounds the pole was obscured by trees, perhaps giving the feeling it had temporarily disappeared.

We arrived at the cemetery a little after noon on a fairly windy Sunday.  We entered through the wrong gate, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it allowed us time to explore the cemetery as we searched for Mary.  One of the things we noticed was the seemingly segregated nature of Oak Ridge.  A large field separated the main part we entered through and a large section towards the back.  As we walked the graves it became clear that African American were buried in one part of the cemetery, separate from what might be considered the main section.  As a Northerner, I also was taken aback by the colored graves and how many graves had colored pictures built into the stone, something I had never seen in the hundreds of cemeteries I had spent time in while living in New England.

And all the time we kept our eyes on that Union Jack to make sure it was still there.

By the time we made it to the RAF memorial, the wind had mostly settled and it was a bit after 1:00 PM.  We had seen several stone statues of women but narrowed down which one we believed was the one from the story based on the description and the picture from Shortuse’s story.  First, we wanted to pay our respects to the airmen and see if we could touch some of the stories attached to them.  We spent some time reading the headstones and the memorials.  We said each airmen’s name and left a penny on each grave, a British military tradition.  To try and spark a response, Natalie read the poem In Flanders Fields, written by Canadian poet and soldier John McCrae, which has a deep connection to British veterans of both World Wars.  We also played the song “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn about English soldiers and pilots going off to WWII.

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Nothing unusual happened while we were at this part of the location, although the rope on the Union Jack, which never disappeared the entire time we were there, went crazy clanging against the pole even though the wind had basically died down.  On the recording you can hear it, but no wind.  When we read the poem, every noise, including the birds and the rope, stopped entirely.

After spending time at the memorial, we moved on to the statue, which seemed to be looking over a plot dedicated to the Hollingsworth family, who we researched later and found to be an important family in the history of Arcadia.  We determined, based on its location to the fence (some reports came from people who had played near the fence as children when they heard the voice) and the mere age of it, that this had to be the woman from the stories.

The first thing we noticed was how cold the statue was, especially in relation to the other headstones and statues we had touched.  The other was an abandoned wasp’s nest, which in at least one of the stories we had read was used as an explanation for the voices heard.  It was clear that the statue was not of the Virgin Mary based on the way she looked and was wearing.  Natalie, trying to get in touch with her sensitive side, got the name Agnes and went with calling her that, although an Abby Hollingsworth was one of the dominant graves in the family plot.  We spent about a half hour at the location, recording about 26 minutes of audio before leaving.  Natalie felt she heard some unexplained noises she was unable to account for, but nothing that felt like a voice speaking words to her.  She also was overcome at one point by the smell of incense.

 

It was not until we got on the road and listened to the recording that we fully understood just home much Mary may have been talking to us.  Even through the speakers of the car with no enhancement we could hear unexplained voices and noises on the tape.  Several times we hear an odd honking, more of a train whistle or harmonica or accordion than car horn.  It also sounds a bit like bagpipes, and there have been reports of ghostly pipes being heard at the RAF site.  The noise also seems to be deliberately interrupting what Natalie is trying to say.  At the time we heard nothing that resembled this, as we make a point to speak about noises we hear as they happen.  This could be attributed to the sensitivity of the recorder itself, as we have been amazed at some of the things we have heard from a great distance with it.  At several moments we also hear the recorder being played with although neither of us moved it.

Throughout most of the recording there are voices under what we are saying or under other noises from the cemetery.  At one point Natalie asks who is speaking to people and a voice is heard saying something like, “I’m a Hollingsworth” or a first name followed by Hollingsworth.  We also heard someone saying “Hey” trying to get our attention.

Please listen to the audio yourself to find out more…

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Listen to the Tripping on Legends episode about it…

We found some other connections in the research we did after we went, but nothing that was able to explain who might be looking over the graves or talking to people who spend time around the graves.  Of course, that’s the nature of the beast when it some to trying to track down a legend.  What is clear after being there and looking the history of the town and the cemetery is that Oak Ridge Cemetery is a crucial link to heritage of Arcadia.

And a damn good ghost story for them to be proud of.

 

My First Year as a Tripper

by Natalie Crist


This will be my first dive into the realm of personal online publication. Naturally  I’ve written previously, however it was always for the purpose of professional advertisement, or literature for product knowledge. In short I’ve never put myself out there for the world to read. Wish me luck!

 

In 2016 I was introduced to Christopher Balzano, and quickly learned about his ongoing Legends Project. Immediately I was drawn in by his enthusiasm, and extensive knowledge. Not only was I in presence of someone who truly had a passion for his field, but a highly educated individual who could offer fresh perspective and alternative opinions on the popular or widely accepted ideas the modern paranormal world had to offer. Hell, not even just the world of weird, he has an opinion on everything!  He asked me to join in on the Legends Project – specifically resparking the Tripping on Legends part, and of course I wanted in.  
shirt1At the time I didn’t even really realize what I was signing up for… I’ll never fully grasp why me, but I suppose it has something to do with my naiveté, my natural inclination to trust what’s given to me. Be it words, smells, sounds, or gut instinct, I have a tendency to blindly believe, and ask questions later. And I was a newbie into the paranormal, so I had no preconceived notions of right or wrong when it comes to stepping into the spooky.  


From the very beginning we hit the ground running. I had never been a part of such an engaging adventure.  Picking the theme song for the podcast was like destiny embodied. I’ll never forget that moment. Pure entrancement. Choosing artwork for the cover. (We argued here – for I’m not zombie fan!) We compromised. The picture of the spooky forest, was perfect for us in my humble opinion.. For me it stood as an allegory – a seemingly blank yet terrifying forest, with a touch of mystery – this was us. It calls to me. It has a luring quality, like you just have to know what lies beyond the blackness…  We had both undergone life altering changes in our personal lives, and we were ready for the next chapter. The empty spaces needing to be filled with adventure; paranormal adventures.

 

17626251_10212808826124518_9004207747878773194_nThis adventure came with a set of issues though – I’m prone to spiritual attack, or at least I think I am.  It could just be my empathic tendencies picking up strong emotions, and I can suffer.  Number two, I despise attention (Not really the personality traits of a Paranormal Podcast host, huh?). Thankfully we’ve worked around these issues!  Christopher is kind enough to shoulder my need for anonymity and does most of the publicity. I don’t really love to be seen on camera, and he respects that. (He’s also much more charismatic, and, er, enigmatic, so the role fits him) But, I am slowly stepping up.

 

2016-2017 was a hell of a year!

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Listen to the Tripping on Legends episode about it…

We’ve been to so many places I had never heard of, experienced so many things I never thought possible, had lengthy discussions about the philosophical meaning of legends, but in the same breath joked about them as well. We have had the cards stacked against us, and we’ve had to learn on our feet. We’ve shelled out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars just experiencing new places, and I wouldn’t want a dime back for the lessons, the connections, and the memories are invaluable.

 

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Natalie investigating the difference between traditional Mary hair and the statue’s

The next time I write I think I’ll delve into the what draws me in so strongly and what my reactions have been. One sentence kind of drives me – Often I forget the words that are said, however I feel forget the feelings.

 

Thanks for reading… I welcome feedback!

 

 

Name That Symbol

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Here are some of the grave symbols we discovered while looking over the Manasota Memorial Gardens with the kids during our Tripping with Kids Episode.

We have searched for some, but still can’t figure out the meaning of some.  We’ve tried to focus on the ones that we are still in need of, especially the wax-like substance and its meaning and the three Freemason Chair set up.

Please keep in mind; we’re not only looking for who the symbol belongs to but what the markings actually mean.

You can send your feedback to spookytripping@gmail.com

Listen to the episode here:

Story of the Singing River

The Singing the River Sings Back

Tripping on Kids

The Red Headed Hitchhiker of Route 44

It’s odd how things work out.  A student recently sent me an e-mail with a link to my old material from Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads.  I decided to post some of the stories as part of documenting some of the hauntings and legends I’ve covered over the years, but also as a way of tracking how some of these stories have changed over the years since they were originally published.  
The story of the Red Headed Hitchhiker or Phantom of Route 44 was the first story I every tracked down after reading about it in Charles Robsinson’s New England Ghost Files.  I decided to post it with no editing for two reasons; first, I wanted to document how I first published on the topic back in 2003, second, I wanted to put it out there to see how the public has changed its opinion on the it and how might have changed how I feel about it.  The only change is a switching around of a few paragraphs to move some first hand account I published in a follow-up the next year up into the main article.
Enjoy, and let me know what changed to the legend you’ve heard over the years.

 

People from New England survive on a history of oral tradition, passed down by word of mouth in accents that sound funny to the rest of country.  Whether it is the sports they play or the lives they live, people from that area are natural storytellers.  From the beginnings of European settlement to today, the history of this country goes through New England, and an area with such a rich history is bound to have rich legends and folklore, but that reputation might work against reality.  People with real experiences are seen as spinners, and although they might try to raise a voice to protest, their words become part of the myth of the state.  People have claimed to see a red-headed man walking down U.S. Route 44 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, and some have stopped to pick him up only to have him disappear on them.  It sounds like an excellent story, giving people chills around a campfire, but the story might be more truth than legend and the ghost might be more supernatural than literary.

015Descriptions of the ghost and the encounters seem to follow the same basic pattern.  The driver is driving along Route 44 at night, usually near the Seekonk-Rehoboth, Massachusetts line, when they encounter a well-built man between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-five.  He has red hair and usually a beard and is dressed in a red flannel shirt with either jeans or brown work pants and work boots.  Sometimes he is well kept, but other times he appears disheveled with an overgrown beard, dirty pants and an untucked shirt.  Most times he appears solid to the drivers but not quite all there and there is a rare report of him seeming transparent throughout the entire encounter.

The biggest discrepancy in the physical description of the hitchhiker is with his eyes.  Some say they look normal but just don’t feel right.  Some say they are black and empty, others glowing and lifeless.  Every color has been attributed to them at one time or another, from yellow and red to green and it is this inconsistency which adds fuel to the skeptic’s argument against the existence of a genuine spirit.

The basic encounters all follow a similar pattern.  Someone is driving along the road, usually alone, when they see a man in the road or on the side of the road.  They may hit him or stop to pick him up.  The hitchhiker will interact with the person and then eventually vanish before their eyes or no longer be there when they turn to look.  This is followed by some type of audio finale where he laughs at them, yells or taunts them.

Anyone who has driven that stretch of road at night can understand the uneasy feeling that pervades Route 44.  A similar scene plays itself out in any rural towns across America where there are more legends than streetlights.  It is a classic movie set up, which may have something to do with the appearance of the spirit.  There is documented proof of accidents in that area that have proved fatal, and Rehoboth is located at one end of the Bridgewater Triangle, an area in Massachusetts made of about a dozen small towns having a documented history of high paranormal activity, UFO activity and anomalous animals.  Rehoboth might be the most active town, with Route 44 being home to the haunted Annawan Rock and several cemeteries that have supernatural histories ranging from sightings and car failures to attacks.

31+Q6-m65nL._BO1,204,203,200_The earliest formal written record of the occurrence was set down by Charles Turek Robinson in his 1994 book New England Ghost Files. In it he describes several encounters in detail.  In one, the hitchhiker is seen outside the window of a fast moving car.  Another person picked him up, only to have him vanish from the car.  The most disturbing story in his book tells of a couple who broke down at about 10:00 PM.  The woman stayed in the car while the man went to get help.  They both suffered separate experiences.  The man saw him on the side of the road and tried to talk to him.  The red headed man began yelling at him and then disappeared, laughing from all directions as the man made his way back to the car.  The woman heard his voice come over the radio, taunting her until she ran from the car.

Stories like this make the believer in us nod our heads and avoid roads and the skeptics laugh.  Every state has something like this, they say, and despite dozens of sighting over the decades, there is no documented proof other than first hand stories of the encounters.  There are psychological and physical alternatives to the hauntings, as well as entire cannon of myths and urban legends utilizing the basic motif of the lonely road and the hitchhiker or traveler.  Yet just because something can be explained doesn’t mean it has been.

Most hauntings like the red headed hitchhiker have fallen into the realm of local legend, told as cautionary tales and local color.  The most famous of these is Resurrection Mary in the Chicago area that has been reported in books and television shows such as Unsolved Mysteries.  Mary was a teenage immigrant who was killed in a car accident while going home from a dance. She is still seen in her dress traveling the road between the hall and cemetery at which she is buried trying to get home.  She is often picked up and has been known to interact with the people who do so.  She asks to be dropped off near the cemetery and vanishes near it or vanishes from the car as it passes.

If this sounds familiar, it should.  It has been adopted by most states and several countries on both sides of the ocean.  There have been similar occurrences in other parts of the country including Kentucky, St. Louis, North and South Carolina and Arkansas.  Hawaii has a long history of hitchhikers vanishing, and for a long time it was thought to be the volcano god Pele who stole rides with horsemen and drivers.  All have some twist to unique to that area of the country and all are built upon first hand reports later spiced up and allowed to fall into myth and exaggeration.

1743591_10203778409366409_603218265_nThese stories might be part of a broader tradition that continues to grow.  Jan Brunvard, the most decorated folklorist in modern times, has written extensively on the topic of the vanishing hitchhiker, even naming one of his collections of urban legends after the tale.  It is one of the most popular urban legends and seems to stretch across different times and cultures, and new variants are being added every year.  Some stories have a man pick a girl up and drop her off at her house only to find her no longer in the car.  When he approaches the door, he is told by the people inside that it was the ghost of their daughter that died years ago on that stretch of road.  Often there is a picture the driver of the girl so the driver can identify her.  Another has two men or a group of men pick her up and bring her to the prom.  They dance with her all night, noticing how cold she feels before she vanishes.  There is often proof left behind, like a scarf or a jacket left on a gravestone.

Another whole string, more in line with the hitchhiker on Route 44, has a man being picked up or just appearing in the backseat.  He often has something prophetic to tell the driver that comes true and is sometimes Jesus himself.

One of the most disturbing tales is of a naked woman seen lying in the road in California.  The driver gets out, but she is no longer there.  Despite his searching and the help of the police, there is no one found.  After three nights of sightings, they finally find her car off the road and hanging off of an embankment.  She is dead inside, but her son is still alive, hanging on to the last moments of life.

Our time and place does not have exclusive rights to the hitchhiker tales.  Mythology from England and Ireland has its own version of the tale that dates back hundreds of years.  The Fortean Times has published dozens of accounts, sometimes with a supernatural creature such as a vampire, werewolf or black dog filling in.  A famous British politician once saw his doppelganger on such a road.  Irish fairy tales tell of people straying from the road only to fall into a fairy circle that causes disasters to befall them.  There are tales from Roman days of walking along the road only to encounter some paranormal or supernatural being.

There is an account in the Bible and the Devil is known to appear at crossroads to strike deals for hapless victim’s souls.

Rte 44 HitchhikerThe connective tissue of these stories is the lonely road and the unknown and there symbols resonate with the reader because they are common and universal. Roads have long been associated with life; the path of our lives, the journey we must take.  They also imply the soul is still traveling, never able to get where it needs to go.  Are these just motifs of our collective unconscious or is there some basis for these localized hauntings.  Myths might point out the archetypes of the traveler trying to get home and the obstacles he must overcome, the lonely road, dark turns, isolation in the woods.  The very locations of these hauntings allow our minds to wander and sends us crawling back to our bedrooms as children where we shrink back from the darkness of our closed closet and the underneath our bed.  We see the crosses on the sides of roads and maybe even know the names and this adds to our tension.

Michael White offers another theory in his 1999 book Weird Science. He writes about hypnagogic and hynopomic hallucinations and claims it explains away the majority of the hitchhiker stories.  During long drives at night, especially in dark, secluded places, we tend to fall asleep.  The repetitive scenery, the lull of the motor and the constant yellow or white lines in the road put us in a hypnotic state that simulates the beginning and ending stages of sleep when we begin to enter a type of dream state.  Our imagination is fed by the stories we hear about an area or the cliché environment we are in and we see things that are not there.  People have even been known to interact and feel physical sensations from this stage of sleep.

With mounting evidence against the possibility of the existence of the red-headed hitchhiker is there any evidence that he does exist.  Back roads are primed for paranormal occurrences.  People often suffer tragic accidents or die in violent ways in these rural setting without streetlights and quick turns that can not be seen until you are on top of them.  Does this particular legend just sound like an established bit of folklore, or is the folklore based on activity that is more common on roads than other places?

Folklorists look for similarities in stories when they create motifs and variants, but evidence of the existence of the hitchhiker in Massachusetts might be gained by looking at what is different in these tales.   Recently reports have been posted on the internet by people claiming to have seen the ghost.  The majority of these can be discounted because the information seems to be a compilation of the rumors heard.  Most do not get the town or physical description right.  If you look at the reports before the area was modernized however, some things stick out.  First, most of the people reporting the occurrences did so with no ulterior motives, and most of the people Robinson interviewed were asked about a separate legend completely and offered the hitchhiker story.  Next, many of the people had never heard the legend and did not know each other.  At times, the phantom has appeared to more than one person which would make a hallucination like the one White talked about near impossible.

Then there is the ghost himself.  He seems unworldly, unlike the people often seen in the urban legend.  He offers no advice or prophetic promises.  In fact, he doesn’t talk.  His goal does not seem to get home but to scare and taunt.  He also has appeared outside cars moving over fifty miles an hour, which shows up in none of the urban myth research.  Lastly, he comes from an area long known to have paranormal activity.

Several employees of the Cumberland farms spoke of the spirit.  They had not seen it themselves, but had heard of the ghost.  One’s brother had been driving alone when he saw him on the side of the road.  He stopped and called out to the man who started to walk towards him.  As he got closer, he faded until he had completely disappeared.

One e-mail told of the hitchhiker appearing in the backseat of his car.  He was alone and saw him in the rear view mirror.  The radio started to scan the stations and then became so loud it shook the car.  The man disappeared and began to laugh on the radio.

Another e-mail offered some possible explanations and clarification on the source and nature of the haunting.  A resident of Rehoboth, the women who sent the e-mail had seen a shadow in her rear view mirror near the area the hitchhiker is known to lurk.  She had conducted interviews herself with people in the area.  Her research found the identity of the spirit might be that of a local farmer who was hit while changing a tire on 44.  His description matches that of the hitchhiker, although his actions during his death do not match traditional hitchhiker stories.  She also identified another aspect of the story might contributes to the legend aspect of the story.  Some people remember a ghost story involving a traveler seen on the road between Redway Plain and Wilmarth Bridge Road.  The name of the street may have helped change the description of the ghost over time, creating the legend that endures today.

There is no physical evidence that the Red-Headed Hitchhiker on Route 44 is real, and that might be enough for the skeptics among us.  He has never been recorded by tape or film and never been photographed.  Descriptions of him vary.  He never talks or explains why he might be there.  There is no record of who he might.  Just because his existence can be explained by science and anthropology and superstition doesn’t mean it has been.