Forteana: Phantom Hitchhikers
by Michael J. Hallowell

In the UK one can see the entire panoply of paranormal phenomena represented, including UFOs, ghosts, cryptids and a host of other weird stuff that doesn’t fit comfortably into any conventional category. One such aspect of Forteana is the enigma known as the Phantom Hitchhiker.

Readers will probably have heard the classic Phantom Hitchhiker tales, such as the young woman picked up by Telly Savalas, who, being the gentleman that he was, offered her a lift home. It later transpired that she had passed away some years earlier, which must have came as something of a shock to the legendary star of the TV series Kojak.

There are multitudes of variations on the Savalas tale. In some versions the Phantom Hitchhiker was not a woman, but a man who had died in a car accident. It matters not; the essential feature of the story remains intact – that Savalas had given a lift to someone who had been, to put it bluntly, a long time dead.

The UK has generated a host of Phantom Hitchhiker stories, and I’m fortunate enough to live really close to the locations of some of them. One such Phantom Hitchhiker has put in an appearance several times just up the road from where I live.

The first such encounter occurred several years ago, when a motorist was travelling along Newcastle Road, which forms part of the route between the cities of Newcastle upon Tyne and Sunderland. He picked up a young lady who was standing beside our local greyhound racing stadium, and she asked if her knight in shining armour would be kind enough to drop her off at a local bus terminus at Monkwearmouth. As the weather was extremely inclement, he offered to take her to her home in Houghton le Spring, which was several miles further away.

As the motorist drove through her home town he asked her where exactly she wanted dropped off. She told him, and he proceeded to that very junction and pulled up. You’ve guessed it – when he turned around to bid her farewell she was no longer in the car.

Phantom Hitchhikers truly are an enigma. In some ways they are like ghosts, but unlike conventional apparitions they seem to have no difficulty interacting with those they meet and often engage motorists in protracted conversations. Why do Phantom Hitchhikers find it easier to talk to those who encounter them, as opposed to other wraiths? We do not know.

There is a theory regarding Phantom Hitchhikers that has gained much currency in the UK. Many believe that they are the souls of the dead who are trying to “get home”, engaging in a journey that seemingly never ends. Trapped in some sort of eternal loop, they continually strive to reach their abode but never quite make it. It's true that many Phantom Hitchhikers are picked up on a route that leads to their family residence. It's also true that they often ask to be dropped off at or near the place they lived before their untimely demise. A further common denominator is that many Phantom Hitchhikers seem to have died suddenly in accidents, particularly car wrecks.

There is something intensely intriguing about the Phantom Hitchhiker phenomenon. These travelling shades of the departed seem to present those who encounter them with an opportunity to interact with the unseen world like no other.

Personally I’ve never encountered a Phantom Hitchhiker, but this afternoon I’m going to visit a location where one appears with unnerving regularity. I’ll let you know how I get on, and – yes – I’m going to take my camera just in case…

© Mike Hallowell, 2008

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