The tale of the vanishing hitchhiker may be the most widespread and popular folktale of all. It has been collected by folklorists in, among other countries, the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Malaysia, China, and the Philippines.
The vanishing hitchhiker is the ghost of a victim, usually female, of an automobile accident. The ghost is trying to get home and is picked up by a Good Samaritan. When the Good Samaritan arrives at the ghost’s house, the ghost vanishes.
The bewildered Good Samaritan then learns from the still-grieving family that yes, this was a ghost that had been trying to get home for days, weeks, or years. Some variants add the detail of the ghost being cold, and the Good Samaritan lending her a sweater. When the ghost vanishes, the sweater is left behind, or, in a neat twist, is found draped over her tombstone.
|John the Baptist|
One of the earlier recorded versions of the story is in the New Testament. An Ethiopian driving a chariot picked up the Apostle Philip, who baptized him, and then disappeared.
Other versions of the basic story include a tale from Hawaii. An old woman was given a lift by a Good Samaritan. She asked to be driven near Mount Kilauea and then disappeared, leaving the Good Samaritan to realize he had just given a ride to the volcano goddess, Madame Pele.
Another version, from Appalachia, involves a vanishing hitchhiker who turned out to be John the Baptist. He told the Good Samaritan that Jesus Christ would return and then disappeared.
The vanishing hitchhiker also turns up in movies, such as Orson Welles’s Return to Glennascaul (1951), in which both a mother and daughter are hitchhiking ghosts who vanish after they are taken by a Good Samaritan back to their home.