Ghosts come in many forms. From orbs to mystery lights, mischievous poltergeists, and full on apparitions, there are a countless variety of shapes, sizes, and ways in which they seem to present themselves as they push through the veil between our worlds. Then there is seemingly a subsection of ghostly phenomena that relates to either phantom vehicles, or these vehicles and the apparitions that serve as their drivers. One subset yet again of this phenomenon is that of the ghost rider. Literally. These are the cases of specters and spirits roaring down the road on their phantom mechanized mounts, revving and thrumming away into the night just as they may have in life but most certainly firmly entrenched within the dark realm of the dead. It is unclear just what laws of the unexplained there are that allow these riders to take their vehicles with them into the afterlife, but what is known is that there are plenty of stories claiming that they are out there still raising hell even in death.
Perhaps the most circulated tale of phantom riders is that of the headless ghost rider of Elmore, Ohio, in the United States. This sleepy town of around 1,500 people is not much different than many other similar towns dotting the region, and might be a place one could drive by without giving much thought to, yet there is said to be a rather eery paranormal phenomenon pervading the area. It is here, along dark country backroads where a mysterious headless phantom is said to tear about on its motorcycle to invoke terror in those those see it.
Like many such tales, the ghost rider of Elmore has its own tragic and eery background story. While there are several different versions that have evolved over the years, most of them share some core similarities. A soldier was away overseas at war during World War I, and having survived the bloody chaos of battle he wanted only to return to the arms of his girlfriend, or his wife in some tellings, who was dutifully waiting at home for him. Depending on the version, upon returning he either goes to meet his parents and picks up his motorcycle, buys one, or has one waiting for him when he gets off the ship, but either way, he gets his hands on a motorcycle and rides off from his parents' farm into the night to go see his beloved, who lived not far away across a small bridge called Mud Creek Bridge.
Since he wanted to surprise her, the soldier is said to have cut the engine and quietly rolled the bike up to his girlfriend’s house, and, again depending on the version, when he got there he finds that she was with someone else, or is told that she had thought he was dead and had found a new lover, not waiting for him anyway, regardless of the version. The soldier, crushed and betrayed, then speeds off on his motorcycle in a fit of rage and sadness. Adding to the fact that this is perhaps not the best state of mind to be careening about on a speeding motorcycle, the road is also said to have been unpaved, full of curves, and it was night time. The soldier goes faster and faster, perhaps trying to outrun the agony he feels, perhaps in a way knowing that he is going to die and embracing it, but the end result is the same; he loses control of his bike and launches off the bridge into a ravine. The mangled body is later found to have been decapitated, either from the crash, by barbed wire on a fence below, or by a wire that had been strung across the bridge as a malicious prank, again depending on the version. The main point is that he lost his head in the incident, and would apparently never get it back, even in the afterlife.
Since then, it is said that the spectral rider can be seen taking the same route as on that fateful night, minus his head, every March 21st, which is believed to be the day when he died in the tragic accident. Many witnesses have claimed to have seen the ghost start as a mysterious light originating from the farm where the soldier’s parents lived, then congeal into the ghost rider as it travels along the road, passes by without even registering that he realizes he is being watched, only to blink out of existence as soon as he reaches the bridge. At other times a motorcycle can be heard to roar by but there is no sign that anyone is there. Every March 21st, thrill seekers looking for a peek at the mysterious and macabre apparently flock to the bridge in the hopes of getting a glimpse of the infamous phantom rider of Elmore, with some people calling out to it, honking their horns, flashing their headlights, or otherwise trying to coax the specter out.
This desolate legend has gathered about itself so much notoriety that is has attracted the attention of various paranormal investigators and folklorists over the years, who hope to find some answers and any reality to the tale. By far the most well-known investigation into Elmore’s ghost rider was carried out in 1969 by a paranormal researcher named Richard Gill. On the night of March 21st, 1969, Gill and an associate made the trip to Mud Creek Bridge along with cameras and recording equipment with the intent to see the ghost rider for themselves. Apparently they succeeded, as Gill reported that a spectral light made its way towards them and across the bridge before fading out.
After getting over the shock and excitement of what they had just seen, they then attempted to summon the rider again through a ritual of blinking one’s headlights 3 times and honking the horn, which is said to invoke the specter. Before doing this, they claim that they put up a string across the bridge to see what would happen. The ritual worked, the headlight appeared again, and roared right past the string to leave it unbroken. The next step of their experiment involved Gill’s friend standing in the middle of the road, after which they summoned the rider again. This time the light passed by but was claimed to have knocked the man into a ditch to leave him badly shaken and disoriented, with some bumps and bruises but otherwise unharmed.
It all sounds very dramatic and it is, but they had equipment to record these supposed events right? Well, unfortunately the evidence they gathered seems to be inconclusive at best. The cameras only show a light that could really be anything, and the recording holds only a high pitched noise, which while certainly eerie is certainly not the proof they were looking for. Although the experiment can not really be called a success, and seems to be perhaps fairly exaggerated, Gill’s research on the matter is often credited with keeping the ghost rider of Elmore from fading into obscurity. Other research on the phenomenon have met with mixed results. For one there seems to be no record of such an accident on the bridge during the claimed timeframe, and it is unclear if the Mud Creek Bridge is really even where the incident occurred, if it ever occurred at all. There is little to confirm this story at all. Add to this the elements such as summoning the ghost through flashing lights and one gets the strong impression that this is all mere urban legend, but nevertheless there are those who still insist they have seen the phantom rider of Elmore, and Gill remains adamant that he did not make any of his story up.
Motorcycle riding spirits seem to have a way of being without a head, and the phantom rider of Elmore is not the only one to have this spooky trait. One lonely stretch of road in the rural farming community of Exeter, in Tulare County, California, is supposedly the stomping ground of a similar ghost. In this case, in the 1950s a group of friends allegedly decided to play a prank on one of their friends by stretching out some rope across a narrow road called Bardsley road, in the Fresno Valley, after which they lied in wait for their motorcycle riding pal to come cruising by on his way home from work. The plan was for the rope to hit him in the chest and knock him off his bike, which was pretty mean but they certainly didn’t intend to seriously hurt him.
The story goes that the rider came along the darkened road as expected and hit the rope just as expected. What wasn’t expected was that the rope would be too high and lop his head clean off. In the aftermath of the gruesome accident, people started occasionally claiming to see a bright light shooting up and down the road, sometimes accompanied by the sound of a motorcycle engine, and with the full apparition of a headless rider visible as well. Motorists and people walking along the road at night have also told of being followed or even chased by the phantasm motorcyclist, and it is believed that if you encounter the rider you will be cursed to be in an accident yourself. Again, there is little evidence that the story has any element of truth to it, and it is unknown if this is a possible real phenomenon or spooky urban legend. Another headless rider is said to prowl Creek Road of Ojai, California, apparently riding a vintage 1940s motorcycle. Interestingly, Creek Road is ground zero for all manner of ghostly phenomena and high strangeness, including at least two phantom horse riders, numerous apparitions, a smoking, horribly burned and disfigured entity called the Char Man, and even a supposed vampire, making a headless motorcycle rider actually one of the less bizarre tales from this place.
Other states have their own sightings of ghostly riders. One report from Louisiana claims that a group of friends were out on a dark, spooky road one night when their car went dead for no apparent reason, after which they realized that their cell phones had gone dead as well. Already unsettled, the friends then noticed what appeared to be the headlight of a motorcycle ahead blinking its light on and off. Some of the people in the car were suddenly roused by what they claimed to be voices in their heads, and they exited the vehicle in an agitated state, screaming for the voices to leave them alone. It was at that time that the shrieking roar of a revving motorcycle engine pierced the night and everyone got out of the car and started running away in a panic. As they ran, one of the friends told another that the light was “smiling” at him, and they also noticed that the light had approached the car and turned a sinister red color. The group reached a police station and were given a ride back to their car, but as they were there they heard the motorcycle engine bellow again. Oddly, the cops did not hear the noise, and suspected that the group was either playing a prank or were high. The friends never went back to that road again.
A place in Waco, Texas called Cameron Park is also purportedly home of a ghost rider. Here at one of the largest municipal parks in Texas there is a place called Lover’s Leap, down from which there was a series of hills and gullies called “The Motorcycle Pits,” which were once a popular place for thrill seeking bikers to go out bike jumping. Sometime in the 1970s, a young man is said to have died at the pits while trying his daredevil stunts, and his devastated mother came here to mourn the tragic death of her son. In the ensuing years, the mother also passed away, but not only is she said to still make routine visits to the Motorcycle Pits, but there is also the occasional disembodied sound of a motorcycle tearing about out on the pits even though it is no longer open to such activities. Ghost or urban legend? It’s hard to say.
These sorts of reports are not even isolated to the United States. One very weird account comes to us from India, from a valley known as Kasara Ghat. The roads here are notorious for accidents, as they are too narrow for two vehicles to pass each other, requiring one of the vehicles to back away until they could make room to pass, which could be a treacherous and deadly proposition considering the steep drop and sudden curves in the road. The valley is apparently littered with the rusted husks of cars that have tumbled down to their doom here.
One such road leads to a holy place known as the Shridi Temple. In one report, a driver making his way to the temple in the early morning hours claims that a motorcyclist had pulled up behind him and began incessantly honking its horn. Wanting to give the motorcycle some space to pass, the driver veered to the side as much as was possible, but the bike kept honking. The driver of the car slowed down and meant to shout at the motorcyclist, and this time the motorcycle went around to pass. The strange thing was, as it did, the driver of the car noticed to his horror that the rider had no head. The bike passed by, and then sped off to seemingly shoot off the road and suddenly vanish into thin air. When the terrified driver told villagers of what had happened to him, he was told that a motorcyclist had died on that very road while trying to overtake a truck, and that ever since the spirit had haunted the area. Indeed, the driver was given the stern warning that those who did not let the motorcycle pass were doomed to meet with misfortune or a fatal accident.
Is this all spooky myth and urban legend? Is it stories passed down through the years that have inevitably accrued certain aspects of exaggeration, over-imagination, embellishment, and the paranormal? Or is there anything to these tales of phantom riders that have chosen to keep on riding rather than resign themselves to oblivion in the wake of their deaths? What elements to these stories hold any grain of truth and which are merely the artifacts of frequent excited retellings over the years? We may never really know for sure, but what does seem apparent is that there is a certain allure to these reports and they will likely keep cropping up into the future. Are they all pure fiction, or are they real, and if so what sort of performance specs do these spirits' bikes have? We may very well never know for sure, but just make sure you stay to the side of the road, just in case.