Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Hitchhiker Vanishes

The vanishing hitchhiker is one of those urban legends that appears the world over and has so since at least the 19th century. Author Patrick Harpur elaborates:

"Twenty-five years ago it was well known locally where I lived that a stretch of the London to Guildford road was haunted by a ghost. A fellow I knew knew a fellow whose uncle picked up a young girl hitchhiking on this stretch of road -only to find that she had vanished from the car. I didn't know then what I know now, namely that this is a tale which is repeated all over the world, with only slight variations...

"In other variants of the story the girl is a woman. Sometimes she leaves some 'physical evidence' behind in the car -a book, purse, sweater, scarf, etc. which subsequently identifies her as a dead person. She can be a girl to whom someone gives a lift home from a club or dance. She asks to be dropped at the cemetery and is never seen again. A popular American variant makes the girl a nun who cryptically predicts some event such as the end of a war before disappearing. In these versions she is sometimes Christianized, no longer a ghost but an angel. Sometimes she is a man, particularly (for some reason) if the driver is a woman."
(Daimonic Reality, pgs. 109-110)
My home state of West Virginia has several variations on this tale, complete with names. The following tale occurs in 1933 during the Great Depression and involves a traveling salesman named Hank Collier who is attempting to navigate the back roads of the WV during a heavy rain when he encounters a certain someone:

"Late one afternoon, Hank was making his way along a rutted dirt road when he saw a young woman ahead waving at him. She was bundled in a heavy coat, and he could barely make out her pretty features as the rain washed across his windshield. But Hank was a gentleman, and he could not pass by the woman without offering to help her. Stopping the car in the middle of the road so that he would not get mired down, he rolled down his window and offered the young woman a ride. She promptly accepted it...

"For a man in Hank's line of work, detours were a hindrance. Delays cost him both time and gas, but what he minded most about detours was getting lost. The young woman beside him chatted amiably while he drove. He asked her if she knew how to get around the washed-out bridge, and she gladly volunteered to direct him. She told him her name was Ida Crawford, and she lived in a house not far away. She quickly routed him around the washed-out bridge and down yet another old road that led them back to the highway. Once they were on a paved highway again, it did not take long for her to direct him to her home. It was growing dark by the time he pulled into her driveway, so Hank said a quick good-bye and hurried on his way. He paid little attention to the young woman as she got out and ran toward the house."
(Haunted West Virginia, Patty Wilson, pgs. 58-59)
Ole Hank stops at a grocery store a few miles down the road where the inevitable group of old timers set him straight on the events that just unfolded:

"The old man eyed his friends sharply before he began his story, and someone pushed a chair in Hank's direction. Hank grabbed the back of the chair but did not sit down. He felt as though he were pinned to the floor.

"The old man rubbed his chin as if choosing his words carefully. 'Well, Ida Crawford grew up around here about twenty-five years ago. She was a pretty little thing just like you described her, with long blonde hair, big brown eyes, and a smile that just made you want to smile right back. She used to drive around in a little buggy that her pap had made her. It was about this time of year when she had her accident. Just like this year, the spring melt and the spring rains came at the same time, and all the creeks and streams were flooded. Ida was on her way home from visiting a friend when she came to that bridge was under so much stress. She drove her little buggy out on the middle of the bridge, and then the bridge collapsed. They found part of the carriage downstream, but no one ever did find Ida's body. A couple years went by, and then a young fella came through here and told a story just like yours. He said that he had been driving along the road during a flood, and Ida flagged him down. He offered her a ride and she showed him the detour that she showed you today. He took her home, too, only to find out later that she'd been dead a couple of years.

"'There was one other fella after that whom Ida also helped. Anytime that bridge washes out, she seems to keep a sharp eye out for folks who might get hurt on it. Son, you are the third fellow that Ida has saved from that washed-out bridge."
(ibid, pg. 60)
In shock, Hank heads back to the house where he dropped Ida at. He finds that it is abandoned and has been for some time, with not so much as a squatter within. It's interesting to note that the appearances of Ira Crawford are tied to the seasons (the spring rains) as have been numerous Fortean events. After a quick Google search I was able to find no mention of Miss Crawford. I'm sure that there are other accounts of this haunting as well as investigations, but the names probably varies as a suitable spirit is found to justify the notion of a 'ghost.'

So, is this vanishing hitchhiker simply an urban legend? Patrick Harpur does not take such a simplistic view.

"The strange ambiguous nature of the folk tales as not-quite-fact, yet not-exactly-fiction is admirably encapsulated in the 'friend-of-a-friend' convention which distances us from the alleged event, but not too remotely. It expresses the in-between nature of the tales -which sometimes turn out to be even trickier than we thought. For instance, just as we can definitely say that the 'Vanishing Hitchhiker' is too widespread (it appears in many different cultures) to be 'true' and, moreover, is certainly very old (it appears in the nineteenth century, where a horse and cart replace the car)...

"We cannot know whether the Vanishing Hitchhiker motif began with some apparitional event such as this, or whether such an event occurred because it somehow crystallized out of a current fiction, a 'vanity,' or 'legend hanging in the air.' We cannot know the truth as to whether folklore is fact or fiction because the truth does not lie in this distinction, but elsewhere. Like the daimonic reality itself, 'folklore is never literally true, but it may always be fundamentally true.' It eschews 'either-or' distinctions and embraces the 'both-and.' It spans the gap between fact and fiction, just as daimons span this world and some other. Unlike myths which relate the archetypal deeds and patterns of a divine world, only touching upon our world where the humans are already semi-divine heroes, folklore's protagonists are ordinary humans who encounter daimonic persons or events..."
(Daimoic Reality, pg. 112-113)
It's possible the origins of the Vanishing Hitchhiker tale are even older than what Harpur is implying. Since as far back as antiquity peoples have attached supernatural elements to travelers, in some cases believing that they are their gods in disguise and taking great pains to treat them well along the road.

But not all cases of the Vanishing Hitchhiker are lacking in earthly origins... In some cases there have been well documented deaths surrounding such an apparition. Such a case also appears in West Virginia, near the small town of Logan. But before we address the murder of Mamie Thurman, we must also address the especially bloody history of this region of West Virginia in which these events unfolded.

Logan is located in the southwestern region of the WV, in what is known as the Metro Area. It is here we find a bloody history indeed. It all began with Chief Cornstalk, a Shawnee leader in the mid-18th century who became entangled in the American Revolution along with the rest of his people. The Shawnee wished to side with the English, but Chief Cornstalk attempted to negotiate with the colonists at Fort Randolph. There Cornstalk, along with his son and another chief, Red Hawk, were taken hostage and held for several months. Eventually a soldier was found scalped outside the fort and the other soldiers, bent on revenge, went after Cornstalk and his companions. As the Chief lay dying he supposedly placed a curse upon the lands and its peoples.

Some of the most brutal campaigns of the Revolutionary War as well as the numerous Indian Wars the proceeded and followed the Revolution were conducted in this region of West Virginia. A century later and a bit further south, along the West Virginia/Kentucky border, the infamous Hatfield/McCoy feud would be played out:

"...On January 7, 1865, young Harmon McCoy -discharged from the locally unpopular Union Army on Christmas Eve, 1864 due to war wounds -had been murdered in his hiding place by men loyal to the Confederate Hatfields.

"Then, in 1878, Randolph McCoy, while visiting a Kentucky Hatfield, spotted what he believed was one of his pigs. McCoy accused Hatfield of stealing his pig, and the two went to court. A key witness testified that the pig was, indeed, property of the Hatfields, and they won the case. The witness was slain by the McCoys a few months later. Tensions rose.

"In the spring of 1880, Johnson Hatfield met Roseanna McCoy at a party at the home of one of the Kentucky Hatfields. They immediately eloped, Roseanna being taken to the Hatfield home in West Virginia. Their romance was doomed to failure, however, as everyone opposed it from both sides of the Tug River...

"The spring elections of 1882... were the scene of another hideous murder. Roseanna McCoy's brother -Tolbert, Pharmer and Bud -stabbed Ellison Hatfield twenty-six times and then shot him in the back. No one knows why. The three brothers were then themselves murdered only a few days later: executed, while tied to bushes, to the sound of their mother's screams.

"And on it went, claiming a total of thirteen lives and numerous beatings, burnings, woundings, and other damage across the border between the two states. Finally, Kentucky officials under command of Frank Philips invaded West Virginia in 1888 and captured nine Hatfields, bringing them back to stand trial. Several Hatfields had attacked the McCoy home, burning it to the ground after killing two McCoys they found there on New Year's Day, 1888. Eventually, the nine prisoners were brought back to Kentucky, stood trial, and some received the death penalty. The feud was officially over."
(Sinister Forces Book One, Peter Levenda, pgs. 105-106)

As an interesting side note, as the Hatfield/McCoy feud was unfolding along the Kentucky/West Virginia border another tragedy was unfolding in border town of Ashland, Kentucky. Generally referred to as the Ashland Tragedy, it involved the brutal murders of three local teens on December 23rd, 1881 in which they were torn apart with axes. The circus that followed, in which three men -William Neal, Ellis Craft, and George Ellis -were accused of the brutal murders was another fine display of frontier justice. Ellis himself was ultimately lynched in Ashland after receiving a mere life sentence. State militia was called on several occasions to ensure the safety of the prisoners, which nearly resulted in full scale pitched battles with the locals on several occasions. Needless to say, much debate still rages over the actual guilt of Neal, Craft, and Ellis as well as the shocking brutality of the killings of the Gibbons teens near the winter solstice.

Ashland remains a cursed spot to this day -Charles Manson himself was born in Ashland while another notorious serial killer, Bobby Joe Long, was born directly across the river in Kenova, West Virginia.

A Hatfield would sit on the jury of one of the accused Ashland killers. The Hatfield name would continue to play a major role in this area of the country into the next century as well. The significant Hatfield was Sid Hatfield, the Police Chief of Matewan, West Virginia. Sid was not apparently related to the infamous Hatfield clan but that didn't stop him of boasting of a relation.

Matewan was a mining town largely controlled by the Stone Mountain Coal Corporation. In the early 1920s it became a battle ground for the growing labor movement. To this end, the notorious Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency (who had been involved in the Ludlow Massacre) were dispatched to bring the miners back in line. Sid Hatfield sided with the miners and led the opposition against Baldwin-Felts. Things came to a head on May 19th, 1920, when 13 heavily armed Baldwin-Felts detectives (including Albert and Lee Felts) headed into town. They were met by about 50 miners under the command of Hatfield. The Battle of Matewan ended up being pretty one sided -the miners easily won, leaving seven detectives dead, including both Felt brothers.

Hatfield was eventually charged with murder and then acquitted in Welch, West Virginia. Afterwards he was assassinated on the courthouse steps by a Baldwin-Felts undercover agent named C.E. Lively. Lively was himself acquitted after claiming self-defense in the shooting of the unarmed Hatfield.

These events ultimately led to the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest armed insurrection in US history outside of the Civil War in which 10,000 to 15,000 miners went to war with an assortment of local and state police, and eventually the US Army itself. It also marks the only time the US Air Force has ever (officially) fired on US citizens. The Battle of Blair Mountain is one of those incidents of history that has largely been ignored by mainstream historians for obvious reasons. A full account of the conflict is well beyond the scope of this article, but hopefully I can return to this topic at a later date. For now, I can only send you toward the Wikipedia entry for more information.

Naturally this area of the country became entangled in one of the most bizarre sequences of Fortean events in this nation's history. The events unfolded at Point Pleasant, a town near the site where Chief Cornstalk was murdered. The origins of Point Pleasant stretch back to George Washington himself, who first encountered the site in 1770.

"On October 24th, 1770, Washington had camped out at a more obvious choice for a house, on a broad terrace at the mouth of the Great Kanawha River, a place already hallowed by the ruins a large ancient Indian settlement. His descendants made use of it during the nineteenth century, calling it point Pleasant. It had been his chief experimental station in western colonization, where potatoes, turnips, and corn were raised amid the two thousand peach trees he caused to be planted."
(Hidden Cities, Roger Kennedy, pg. 103)

Given how much attention Point Pleasant has drawn over the years from Fortean researchers, I find it rather remarkable that the mysterious Indian ruins there as well as involvement of the Freemason Washington in the town's founding, along with the continued involvement of his family there, have largely been neglected. Regardless, the true landmark of Point Pleasant is undoubtedly the legendary Mothman, which began to appear there in 1966.

"The basic outline of the story is that, on November 15, 1966, a strange creature was sighted about ten miles north of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. It was seen at night, was about six-seven feet tall, with what appeared to be wings folded against its back. It seemed to be male, and the most startling diameter, six inches apart on its face. It was clearly not completely human, according to the eye witnesses..., but walked upright like a man. Thus was the legend of the Mothman born.

"Accompanying the sightings of Mothman were strange electrical disturbances, such as bizarre patterns on television sets, phones ringing with either no one at the other end or a kind of strange buzzing sound, plus weird warbles on police radios, etc. The thing actually seemed to fly, and in at least one instance was known to have chased a car full of people, and in another a Red Cross bloodmobile filled with whole blood on its way to Huntington... The sightings began to take place quite regularly all up and down the mound-ridden stretch of the Ohio River -from Marietta, Parkersburg and points south -but centered on the town of Point Pleasant.

"Exactly thirteen months later, to the day, the sightings abruptly stopped. Everyone in Point pleasant remembers the date -December 15th, 1967 -because that is also the date of the Silver Bride disaster, the worst bridge disaster in American history. The bridge, spanning the Ohio River between West Virginia and Ohio, was full of cars and trucks at rush hour, people buying Christmas presents or going to and from company Christmas parties or just trying to get home. At 5:04 P.M. the bridge collapsed, causing vehicles and the people inside them to plummet to the icy river below. Forty-six people died, more than sixty vehicles were lost to the river. Two persons were never found.

"And the mothman was seen no more after that day."
(Sinister Forces Book One, Peter Levenda, pgs. 89-90) 

I must say, I find the recurrence of the number 13 in this area of West Virginia especially interesting -13 people were killed in the Hatfield/McCoy feud, 13 Baldwin-Felts agents were involved in the Battle of Matewan, and the Mothman graced Point Pleasant for 13 months. All of this occurred around a region of the country filled with ancient Indian mounds, of which I have written much more on here as well as the peculiar history of West Virginia.

And now, at long last, we return to the Vanishing Hitchhiker.

For the final portion of this rambling diatribe we turn our attention to Logan, West Virginia, another community within the Metro Area that happens to be located roughly between Matewan and Blair and little over a hundred miles south of Point Pleasant and 80 some miles south of Ashland, KY. It was here in 1932 that the ghastly murder of Mamie Thurman occurred.

"Mamie was the wife of local patrolman Jack Thurman. She was a thirty-one-year-old dark-haired beauty with a sense of style. She was active in her church, had a lot of friends, and seemed to know many prominent businesspeople. Everyone was stunned when a young deaf-mute named Garland Davis found Mamie's body on a local mountain. Davis was picking berries on June 22 when he came upon her body on the side of Trace Mountain. She was a gruesome sight. Clad in a dark blue polka-dot dress, she still wore one shoe, and the other lay nearby. Her throat was slit from ear to ear, her neck was broken, she had a severe crack in her skull, and she had been shot twice at close range with a .38-caliber gun on the left side of her head. Someone had obviously wanted Mamie Thurman dead.

"The police arrested a prominent local banker and political figure named Harry Robinson and his African American handyman, Clarence Stephenson. Soon the whole town was in an uproar, and rumors circulated that Robinson and Mamie had been having an affair...

"...On the day of Mamie's funeral, the state police executed a search of the Robinson home. In the basement, they found a small bundle of bloody rags and several bloody spots on the floor that had been quickly wiped up. Attempts had been made to hide what appeared to have been a bloody mess. They also found a razor and a small hole in the wall that looked like a bullet hole. Later a chemist determined that the blood found on the rags and in the basement was human blood, but blood analysis was not yet allowed in courtroom testimony, so the jury never heard it...

"Harry Robinson finally testified during his indictment hearing that he had been carrying on an affair with Mamie Thurman for more than two years. He stated that they often conducted the affair at an area club called the Key Club, where many prominent men and their secret lady friends met. Robinson went on to further besmirch Mamie's reputation, saying that he had been given a list of sixteen names of men with whom she had recurring affairs. He said that he had continued to have an affair with Mamie despite the fact that she had refused to give up the other men."
(Haunted West Virginia, Patty Wilson, pgs. 28-30)

Robinson was later acquitted while the black handyman, Clarence Stephenson, eventually took the fall for Thurman's murder. Needless to say, many have questioned this out come. More information on the Thurman murder can be found here.

While the secret society in this story, the Key Club, is typically dismissed as nothing more than a gentleman's club, the date and fashion of Mamie's death indicate that the Masons, or a like organization, was behind the Key Club. Supposedly one of the penalties for revealing the secrets of Freemasonry is to have one's throat slit, as well as having your tongue pulled out and having your body buried by the sea at low tide.

Mamie kept her tongue, but it's difficult to say what became of her body as its been missing for some time.

"Mortuary and cemetery records validate that she originally was interred at the Logan Memorial Park Cemetery in McConnell. The same funeral parlor also has record of payment to disinter Mamie years later and move her body to Crawfordsville, Kentucky, where her family came from. But there is no record of her ever being reburied anywhere in, around, or near Crawfordsville. Today no one knows what happened to her body."
(ibid, pg. 31)
Apparently the sum of money paid to acquire Mamie's body from the Logan Cemetery was quite considerable -a $1000 -and paid by a local business man. It's also interesting to note that her death occurred on June 21st, which in some cultures is considered to be Midsummer's Night Eve. The typical date is June 23rd, but the summer solstice can occur anywhere between June 20th till the 23rd. According to this link, the summer solstice occurred on June 21st in 1932.

So to recap, we have a woman seemingly murdered in quasi-Masonic fashion by powerful business peoples involved in some kind of secret society during the summer solstice. It's a rather apt symbol for this region of the country, if nothing else... But something tells me the rituals here, as in most other events that occurred around here, go far deeper. And of course, some kind of entity would have to mark this bloody rite. And what better than that of the Vanishing Hitchhiker?

"It would seem that Mamie was unhappy with how the courts handled her death as well. It wasn't long after the case was considered closed that stories started to surface about ghostly sightings and weird happenings on the mountain. People claimed to see the figure of a woman in a polka-dot dress walking along the road near where Mamie's body was so callously discarded. Others tell a tale that sounds like an old urban legend, of drivers offering a lift to a woman who appeared to want a ride to town, only to have her disappear before leaving the mountain. Bus drivers who traveled the route from Holden to a town on the other side of the mountain claimed to pick up a woman in a remote stretch of the road late at night, but when they arrived at the town her seat was always empty."
(Ghost Stories of the Appalachians, Susan Smitten, pg. 189)

Is this wraith some kind of fragment of Mamie Thurman? Or is this Vanishing Hitchhiker simply a marker of the bloody deeds performed in this area of West Virginia? I am not a big believer in 'ghosts' as I outlined in a prior article on macrobes. I suspect this ghost is more a projection/manifestation of the horror and ritual this area endured, not unlike some of the paranormal sightings we have witnessed thus far during the North African/Arabic protests.

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