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Encyclopedia > The Vanishing Hitchhiker

The Vanishing Hitchhiker (UK: The Phantom Hitchhiker) is a reported phenomenon in which people travelling by vehicle meet with or are accompanied by a hitchhiker who subsequently vanishes without explanation, often from a moving vehicle. Hitchhiking (also called lifting or thumbing) is a form of transport, in which the traveller tries to get a lift (ride) from another traveller, usually a car or truck driver. ...

Vanishing Hitchhikers have been reported for several centuries and the story is found across the world, in several variants. While known to be widespread as an urban myth, some cases (a very few) appear to be reports of genuine incidents, which remain unexplained.


Basic form

The archetypal modern Vanishing Hitchhiker is a figure seen in the headlights of a car travelling by night, with a single occupant.

The figure adopts the stance of a hitchiker.

The motorist stops and offers the figure a lift.

The journey proceeds, sometimes in total silence, and at some subsequent point The Vanishing Hitchhiker is found by the frightened motorist to have vanished while the vehicle is in motion.


A common variant on the above involves The Vanishing Hitchhiker departing as would a normal passenger, having left some item in the car, or having borrowed a garment for protection against alleged cold (whether or not the weather conditions reflect this claim). The Vanishing Hitchhiker can also leave some form of information that allegedly encourages the motorist to make subsequent contact.

In such tellings, the garment borrowed is often subsequently found draped over a grave stone in a local cemetary. In this and in the instance of 'imparted information', the unsuspecting motorist subsequently makes contact with the family of a deceased person and finds that their sometime passenger fits the description of a family member killed in some unexpected way (usually a car accident) and that the driver's encounter with The Vanishing Hitchhiker occurred on the anniversary of their death. A car accident in Yate, near Bristol, England, in July 2004. ...

Not all Vanishing Hitchhiker reports involved allegedly recurring ghosts. One popular variant in Hawaii involves the goddess Pelee, travelling the roads incognito and rewarding kind travellers. This article is about the paranormal. ... State nickname: The Aloha State Other U.S. States Capital Honolulu Largest city Honolulu Governor Linda Lingle (R) Official languages Hawaiian and English Area 28,337 km² (43rd)  - Land 16,649 km²  - Water 11,672 km² (41. ... Mount Pelée (French: Montagne Pelée) is an active volcano on the northern tip of the French département of Martinique in the Caribbean. ...

Other variants include 'prophetic' hitchhikers, who utter divinations (typically of pending catastrophe or other evils) before vanishing.


The first proper study of the story of The Vanishing Hitchhiker was undertaken in 1942-3 by American folklorists Richard Beardsley and Rosalie Hankey, who collected as many accounts as they could and attempted to analyse them. For the Nelly Furtado album, see Folklore (album). ...

The Beardsley-Hankey survey elicited 79 written accounts of encounters with Vanishing Hitchhikers , drawn from across America.

They found: "Four distinctly different versions, distinguishable because of obvious differences in development and essence."

These are described as:

  • A. Stories where the Hitch-Hiker [sic] gives an address through which the motorist learns he has just given a lift to a ghost.

49 of the Beardsley-Hankey samples fell into this category, with responses from 16 states of the USA.

  • B. Stories where the Hitch-Hiker is an old woman who prophesies disaster or at the end of World War II; subsequent inquiries likewise reveal her to be deceased.

Nine of the samples fitted this description, and eight of these came from the vicinity of Chicago. Beardsley and Hankey felt that this indicated a local origin, which they dated to approximately 1933: two of the version B hitchhikers in this sample foretold disaster at the Century of Progress Exposition and another foresaw calamity "at the World's Fair". The strict topicality of these unsuccessful forecasts did not appear to thwart the appearance of further Version 'B' hitch-hikers, one of whom warned that Northerly Island, Michigan, would soon be submerged (this never happened). Chicago (officially named the City of Chicago) is the third largest city in the United States (after New York City and Los Angeles), with an official population of 2,896,016, as of the 2000 census. ... A 1933 Century of Progress worlds fair poster The Century of Progress Exposition was a worlds fair held in Chicago, Illinois from 1933-1934 to celebrate Chicagos centennial. ... Worlds Fair is the generic name for various large expositions held since the mid 19th century. ...

  • C. Stories where a girl is met at some place of entertainment, e.g., dance, instead of on the road; she leaves some token (often the overcoat she borrowed from the motorist) on her grave by way of corroborating the experience and her identity.

The uniformity amongst separate accounts of this variant led Beardsley and Hankey to strongly doubt its folkloric 'authenticity'.

  • D. Stories where the Hitch-Hiker is later identified as a local divinity.

Beardsley and Hankey were particularly interested to note one instance (location: Kingston, New York, 1941) in which The Vanishing Hitchhiker was subsequently identified as the late Mother Cabrini, founder of the local Sacred Heart Orphanage, who was beatified for her work. The authors felt that this was a case of Version 'B' glimpsed in transition to Version 'D'.

Beardsley and Hankey concluded that Version 'A' was closest to the original form of the story, containing the essential elements of the myth. Version 'B' and 'D', they believed, were localised variations, while 'C' was supposed to have started life as a separate ghost story which at some stage became conflated with the original Vanishing Hitchhiker story (Version 'A').

One of their conclusions certainly seems reflected in the continuation of Vanishing Hitchhiker stories: The hitchhiker is, in the majority of cases, female and the lift-giver male. Beardsley and Hankey's sample contained 47 young female apparitions, 14 old lady apparitions, and 14 more of an indeterminate sort.

Ernest W Baughman's Type- and Motif-Index of the Folk Tales of England and North America (1966) delineates the basic Vanishing Hitchhiker as follows:

"Ghost of young woman asks for ride in automobile, disappears from closed car without the driver's knowledge, after giving him an address to which she wishes to be taken. The driver asks person at the address about the rider, finds she has been dead for some time. (Often the driver finds that the ghost has made similar attempts to return, usually on the anniversary of death in automobile accident. Often, too, the ghost leaves some item such as a scarf or travelling bag in the car.)"

Baughman's classification system grades this basic story as motif E332.3.3.1

Subcategories include: E332.3.3.1(a) for Vanishing Hitchhikers who reappear on anniversaries; E332.3.3.1(b) for Vanishing Hitchhiker who leave items in vehicles, unless the item is a pool of water in which case it is E332.3.3.1(c).

  • E332.3.3.1(d) is for accounts of sinister old ladies who prophesy disasters;
  • E332.3.3.1(e) contains accounts of phantoms who are apparently sufficiently solid to engage in activities such as eating or drinking during their journey;
  • E332.3.3.1(f) is for phantom parents who want to be taken to the sickbed of their dying son;
  • Hitchhikers found at E332.3.3.1(g) simply request a lift home;
  • E332.3.3.1(h-j) are a category reserved exclusively for vanishing nuns (a surprisingly common variant), some of whom foretell the future.

Here, the phenomenon blends into religious encounters, with the next and last Vanishing Hitchhiker classification - E332.3.3.2 - being for encounters with divinities who take to the road as hitchhikers. The legend of St Christopher is considered one of these. This article is about the Christian saint known as Christopher. ...

Pre-modern Vanishing Hitchhikers

Despite appearances, The Vanishing Hitchhiker has not confined his or her peregrinations to the tarmac highways and byways of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

A 1602 manuscript held by Linköping library, Sweden, describes a recognisable account of The Vanishing Hitchhiker . This page covers both the city and the municipality Linköping Aerial photo of Linköping. ...

Entitled Om the tekn och widunder som föregingo thet liturgiske owäsendet (On the Signs and Wonders Preceding the Liturgic Broil), it is the work of a scholar named Joan Petri Klint (d 1608).

Klint's work is a quasi-journalistic collection of strange events and portents, which to his apocalyptic mind presage the triumph of Protestant reform (the 'liturgic broil' of the title). For other uses, see Apocalypse (disambiguation). ... Protestantism is a general grouping of denominations within Christianity. ...

One account dates from February 1602, and was collected from an unnamed vicar of Klint's acquaintance, who was travelling back from a Candlemas fair at Västergötland to Vadstena, by sleigh. Candlemas is the last festival in the Christian year that is dated by reference to Christmas; subsequent holidays are calculated with reference to Easter, so Candlemas marks the end of the Christmas and Epiphany season. ...   Västergötland?, (Westrogothia in English), one of the historical provinces of Sweden (landskap), lies in the southwest of Sweden. ...

The three men stopped to give a ride to a young girl by the roadside.

When they stopped to draw in at an inn for refreshment, the girl requested a drink and was given a jug of beer. She did not drink from it, and the surprised vicar observed that the beer had changed into malt.

A second jug was brought and this was handed to the child, whereupon, to general consternation, it mysteriously changed into acorns.

This was too much for the vicar to bear and he closely supervised the fetching of a third jug, only to see its contents transmute into blood in the young girl's grasp.

At this point, the passenger announced: "There will be good crops this year. There will be enough fruits of the trees. There will also be many wars and plagues." Having delivered this information, she vanished.

Klint's account contains all the characteristic hallmarks of a classic Vanishing Hitchhiker , fitting Beardsley and Hankey's Versions 'B' (prophetic) and 'C' (vanishing).

The beer-transforming waif also fits Baughman's 3.3.1(b) (by virtue of leaving behind the malt, acorns and blood), 3.3.1(d) (prophesying, although Klint does not record whether the forecasts were correct), 3.3.1(e) (wanting refreshment) and 3.3.1(g) (homeward bound).

An English ballad, found in a 1723 anthology, relates the story of A Suffolk Wonder, which mysterious appellation is explained in a somewhat lengthy subtitle: Or, a Relation of a Young Man, who, a month after his death, appeared to his Sweetheart, and carried her on horseback behind him for forty miles in two hours, and was never seen after but in his grave. English in common usage may refer to: The English language. ... A ballad is a story in song, usually a narrative song or poem. ... Events February 16 - Louis XV of France attains his majority Births February 24 - John Burgoyne, British general (d. ... Suffolk (pronounced suffuk) is a large traditional and administrative county in the East Anglia region of eastern England. ...

The similarities with the modern Vanishing Hitchhiker are striking. The titular girl is given a lift on horseback -- presumably a solid horse, not least since the girl recognises it as belonging to her parents -- by her recently-deceased lover.

The lover had previously been separated from the girl by her disapproving parents, during which time he had (unbeknown to his beloved) expired through unrequited love.

Forty miles distant she was sent,
Unto his brother's, with intent
That she should there so long remain
Till she had chang'd her mind again.

The ghostly lover is also a token-leaver (cf, Beardsley and Hankey's Version 'C', Baughman's E332.3.3.1(b)).

He borrows his former love's handkerchief to knot around his aching head, and this becomes the means through which the girl's disbelieving parents ascertain the truth of their daughter's account:

A handkerchief she said she tyed
About his head, and that they tryed;
The sexton they did speak unto,
That he the grave would then undo.
Affrighted then they did behold
His body turning into mould,
And though he had a month been dead,
This kerchief was about his head.

Nor is this the climax of the tale. In true melodramatic style, the shock of this double-blow -- the death of her love, and his ghostly reappearance -- results in horrid tragedy for all concerned:

This thing unto her then they told,
And the whole truth they did unfold;
She was thereat so terrified
And grievd, she quickly after dyed.

Needless to say, there is a moral conclusion to be drawn from the foregoing.

Part not true love, you rich men, then;
But, if they be right honest men
Your daughters love, give them their way,
For force oft breeds their lives' decay.

This ballad has itself been traced to far older sources [1], although because of the apparently recurrent nature of the Vanishing Hitchhiker phenomenon, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Goethe's The Erl-King (1782) also displays some similarities to the Vanishing Hitchhiker story. A young boy on a sleigh ride with his father, hears the voice of the 'Erl-King' (roughly: 'Elf King') tempting him to leave his father. The 'Erl-King' (unseen by the worried parent) grabs the boy by the arm, doing him 'a cruel harm'. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (pronounced [gø tə]) (August 28, 1749–March 22, 1832) was a German writer, politician, humanist, scientist, and philosopher. ...

The father shudders, his ride is wild,
In his arms he's holding the groaning child,
Reaches the court with toil and dread. -
The child he held in his arms was dead.[2]

Although a work of pure fiction, not written with intent to confuse or deceive, the narrative of 'The Erl-King' would appear to fit Beardsley and Hankey's Version 'B' and Version 'D' and (more loosely) Baughman's E332.3.3.2.

Prophetic hitchhikers of the 1970s

For some unknown reason, the Vanishing Hitchhiker phenomenon took on a decidedly divinatory cast during the 1970s and early 1980s. This article provides extensive lists of events and significant personalities of the 1970s. ... // Events and trends The 1980s marked an abrupt shift towards more conservative lifestyles after the momentous cultural revolutions which took place in the 60s and 70s and the definition of the AIDS virus in 1981. ...

  • 1975 saw a rash of reports of a prophetic nun vanishing from cars after hitching lifts near the Austrian-German border. On 13 April that year, after a 43-year-old businessman drove his car off the road in fright at the disappearance of his passenger, Austrian police threatened a fine equivalent to £200 (1975 value) to anyone reporting similar stories.
  • In early 1977, nearly a dozen motorists in and around Milan reported giving lifts to another vanishing nun, who (prior to her unexpected disappearance) forewarned her benefactors of the impending destruction of Milan by earthquake on 27 February (needless to say, this disaster did not happen) (La Stampa, 25 and 26 February, 1 March, 1977; Dallas Morning News 25 February 1977).
  • In 1979, near Little Rock, Arkansas, a 'well-dressed and presentable young man' was hitching lifts despite laws against such activity. When safely aboard, he would confide details of the forthcoming Second Coming of Christ to his startled host(s), although he is also reported to have commented on more topical items such as the taking of hostages at the American Embassy in Iran. After revealing his insights, he would vanish from the moving car. The 'presentable young man' continued his excursions for over a year. The last sighting took place on 6 July 1980, when the Vanishing Hitchhiker's prophecy was apparently a bungled kind of meteorology. He assured his worried driver (and passengers, thus making this a multiple sighting) that it would 'never rain again' - before vanishing from the speeding car a moment or two later. A named Arkansas State Trooper - Robert Roten -later confirmed to the press (Indiana Star, 26 July 1980) that they had logged two reports of this character's behaviour, but were unofficially aware of many more.
  • At around the same time as the above prophetic hitchhiker, a second itinerant soothsayer was vanishing from cars around Interstate 5, between Tacoma, Washington, and Eugene, Oregon. Described as a 50-60 year old woman, sometimes in a nun's habit, the hitchhiker would discourse on God and Salvation before vanishing from the car's cabin. Another witness had been warned to repent his (unspecified) sins, or die in a road accident. As 1980 progressed, this Vanishing Hitchhiker began to display a worrying interest in Mount St Helens. She took to warning motorists that the eruption of that volcano in May 1980 signified God's warning to the North-West and that those who did not return to the fold could expect to perish volcanically in the very near future (18 June, to be precise). Tacoma police logged twenty calls from motorists who had met this sinister individual. Mount St Helens did indeed experience some increased activity that month, but no eruption resulted. Latterly, the woman took on a new guise (or perhaps a new Vanishing Hitchhiker with similar preoccupations assumed her duties) and the roads were again busy with whispered intimations of pending disaster (this time, set for 12 October). The Midnight Globe (5 August 1980) quotes two police officers who had dealt with shocked motorists and one motorist who claimed to have met the vanishing woman or women.

1975 was a common year starting on Wednesday (the link is to a full 1975 calendar). ... 1977 was a common year starting on Saturday (the link is to a full 1977 calendar). ... Location within Italy Piazza della Scala Milan (Italian: Milano; Milanese dialect: Milán) is the main city in northern Italy, and is located in the plains of Lombardy, the most populated and developed Italian region. ... 1979 is a common year starting on Monday. ... There is also a Littlerock, California. ... State nickname: The Natural State Other U.S. States Capital Little Rock Largest city Little Rock Governor Mike Huckabee (R) Official languages English Area 137,732 km² (29th)  - Land 134,856 km²  - Water 2,876 km² (2. ... Mount St. ...

The Vanishing Hitchhiker in the media

  • The Vanishing Hitchhiker was the inspiration for Dickey Lee's recording on a 45 rpm single (TCF-102) of the song Laurie, which is subtitled "Strange Things Happen ..." Laurie, an "angel of a girl," meets the narrator at a dance, walks home with him, and borrows his sweater ("[She] said that she was very very cold ..."). Very shortly thereafter, the narrator apparently has second thoughts about giving his trendy sweater to a stranger (although he may have other motivations) and retraces his steps to Laurie's house. There, he is informed (by Laurie's understandably annoyed father) that Laurie "died a year ago today." A "strange force" draws our hero to the graveyard, and the sought-for sweater is found "lyin' there upon her grave." [3] This song reached #14 in the US charts in 1965.

See also

This article needs to be wikified. ... Reputed ghost of a monk. ... Highway hypnosis is considered to be common and normal; in the sense that it is not unusual to experience it. ... Jan Harold Brunvand (born 1933) is a professor emeritus of English at the University of Utah in the United States who is best known for spreading the concept of the urban legend, or modern folklore. ... John A. Keel. ... Urban Legend is also the name of a 1998 movie. ...

External links and references

  • Brunvand, Jan Harold, (1989), The Vanishing Hitchhiker
    • (ISBN 0-393-95169-3)



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