Do you like ghost stories?
Come to the first Spooky Story Swap at Pedego Electric Bikes Boothbay Harbor on October 22 from 6:00-8:00 pm. This is a free event with refreshments and Pedego swag for the taking. This will be the first of a series of talks to be held over the winter months that will feature all manner of paranormal topics, including ghosts, UFOs, and cryptid animals. If you are curious about things that go bump in the night or have experienced something that you can’t explain, my hope is that our stories are given and received with a sense of kind-hearted acceptance and a fellowship of respect. For those who have beheld, you’re not alone in knowing that there is much more mystery and wonder to this world than most will ever believe or accept.
Stories of phantom hitchhikers can be found in every state. Not all of these stories have been as well researched as the following “The Red-Headed Phantom of Route 44” from Charles Turek Robinson’s classic book, The Ghost Files of New England (Covered Bridge Press, 1994). Perhaps you’ve seen the red-haired man too...
GHOST FILE #7
“The Red-Headed Phantom of Route 44”
Location: Seekonk/Rehoboth, Massachusetts
Number of Witnesses: 5+
Interview Date(s): 10/92; 12/92; 3/93; 7/93
Joseph Woolfe, while driving alone down a lonely stretch of Rt. 44 in rural Seekonk, Massachusetts, experienced a very startling occurrence in the winter of 1969. It was about 11:30 pm, and, as he proceeded along the dark highway, Joe suddenly witnessed a bizarre apparition.
“I saw a man’s face outside the car, pressed against the passenger-side window,” he recalls anxiously. “This was physically impossible...my car was traveling about fifty miles an hour. The face was looking in at me, grinning. I could see that the man had red hair and was wearing a red plaid shirt. I swerved off the highway and brought my car to a stop. By that time, the man had vanished. After about ten minutes I finally calmed down enough to restart my car and drive home. That (incident) has left me shaken up for the past twenty-five years.”
Joe is only one of several area residents who have purportedly experienced strange nighttime encounters on Rt. 44. Along a sparsely settled section of the highway (a five-mile stretch running from Seekonk into Rehoboth, Massachusetts), at least five bizarre incidents have allegedly occurred, all involving a spectral red-haired man wearing a plaid shirt.
Is it just the spread of local folklore that accounts for so many separate reports involving the same alleged phantom? The skeptics among us might say so, though it should be noted that the witnesses interviewed by the author were intelligent, non-superstitious people who related their accounts sincerely, consistently, and credibly. In all cases, they had clearly been affected by their very strange experiences.
Fred Durpis, a resident of Seekonk, Massachusetts, allegedly encountered the phantom on a summer evening in 1973, when he was traveling that part of Rt. 44 in his pickup truck.
“I saw a man hitch-hiking on the highway,” he recalls. “He was about forty, and he had thick red hair. He was wearing blue jeans and a red plaid shirt. He looked normal enough, so I stopped to give him a lift. It was fairly late (about 10 pm), and I thought that maybe his car had broken down.”
Fred pulled to the side of the highway, about thirty feet in front of the hitchhiker. In his rearview mirror, he could see the redheaded man hurrying toward the truck.
“He reached the truck and climbed in,” Fred indicates. “I pulled back onto the highway and began to drive. I asked the man where he was going. He looked at me sort of (blankly) for a minute, and then he smiled. He didn’t say anything, so I asked him again where he was going. He still just kept smiling at me. He was starting to make me feel a little (uneasy). I pulled the truck to the side of the road and told him to get out. He did get out, but not quite the way I was expecting. He didn’t open the door and climb out of the truck. Instead, he just vanished. Right in front of my eyes, he started to get very hazy until I could begin to see through him. And then, he just disappeared. It took me a long time to accept what I saw that night.”
Barbara Sutton’s encounter with the phantom was even more unsettling. On the evening of February 25, 1981, the Taunton resident was driving home after a visit with her daughter in Seekonk. As she preceded down a dark section of Rt. 44, she suddenly saw a man standing in the middle of the highway, about fifty feet ahead of her car.
“He appeared out of nowhere,” she says. “I was going about sixty, and he was just suddenly standing there in the middle of the road. There was no time to brake or even swerve the car. In a matter of seconds I ran him over. I mean, I thought I had. Actually, my car passed right through him. There was no thud, and there was no damage to my car. When I stopped the car and checked the road, there was absolutely no trace of the man. It just made no sense.”
Feeling shaken but relieved that she hadn’t actually hit someone, Barbara began to walk back to her car. All of a sudden, she heard something startling.
“I heard this loud, horrible laughter coming from the woods to the side of the road, right near the spot where I thought I hit the man,” Barbara remembers. “The laughter was terrible. I quickly got into my car and locked the doors. I started the car and pulled back onto the highway.”
After driving along the highway for about another half-mile, Barbara was suddenly startled to see the strange man again standing in the middle of the road.
“Like before, he just appeared out of nowhere in front of my car,” she says. “I had no time to stop or swerve. I drove into him, but my car passed right through him, just like the last time. There was no thud or anything. I stopped the car at the side of the road, but this time I didn’t get out. I just stuck my head out of the window and could see that the road was empty. Then, I suddenly began to hear that laughter again, (except) this time it was even more (horrifying), because it sounded much closer, like it was coming from just outside the car - only a few feet away. I quickly rolled up the window and pulled my car back out onto the highway. I floored my car and just flew out of there.”
From her earlier brief glimpses of the man in the car headlights, Barbara says she is quite certain that he had thick red hair and a red plaid shirt. She has never encountered the ghost again, though, whenever driving at night, she feels terrified. Even fifteen years after her encounter, she still avoids that part of the highway and instead uses side streets.
Harry and Sheena Hanson are Swansea residents who also claim to have encountered the red-headed phantom. On the evening of October 14, 1984, the couple’s station wagon broke down on Rt. 44, close to the Seekonk-Rehoboth line. The breakdown occurred a little after 10 pm.
“I told Sheena to stay in the car,” Harry indicates. “I began to walk up the highway, hoping to find a house with a light on where I could call AAA. I had walked a fairly good distance, when suddenly I saw a man sitting on the side of the road. He was a sloppy-looking guy, with messy red hair. He had on a red shirt that wasn’t tucked in. He looked maybe fifty or so. I thought it was sort of strange that he was just sitting there at that time of night, but I (approached him and asked him if he knew where I could find a phone.”
Harry asked about the phone several times. The red-headed stranger didn’t respond; instead, he stared at Harry with a strange grin. Finally, Harry asked the man if he was okay.
“Suddenly, the man’s face got very strange,” Harry remembers. “He stopped grinning, he twisted his mouth, and I noticed that there was something wrong with his eyes. They were all clouded over...no pupils or anything...just (blank) and all white. I began to feel weird and started to walk away from him. As I hurried away, I heard the man laughing. I turned around, but he was no longer there. I mean, I could no longer see him there, but I still heard the laughing, (as though) it was coming from just a few feet away from me. And the laughing kept switching locations. First I heard it in front of me, then behind me, then to the left of me. It was bizarre. I began to run along the highway back toward the car, and, as I did, the laughing followed me for a good two or three hundred feet. It scared the (expletive) out of me. And then, it suddenly stopped.”
When Harry finally reached his car, he noticed that Sheena was as upset as he was.
“She was crying, and she said that something very strange had happened while I was gone,” Harry indicates. “While she had been waiting for me, she had turned on the car radio. She said that a strange voice cut into the song. At first she thought it was the DJ, but then the voice began to (address) her personally by name. Over the car speakers, the voice began to (taunt) her and laugh strangely, so finally she jumped out of the car, but she was too afraid to go anywhere.”
The couple eventually flagged down another car and were driven to a pay phone, where they called AAA.
“To this day we still can’t explain what happened,” Harry says. “Sheena is a much more nervous person ever since the (incident), and, actually, so am I. I don’t know who that man on the highway was, but there was something very, very (unnatural) about him - something that I’m not sure I even want to understand.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: When the author began a series of unrelated ghost accounts in a local newspaper (involving a different alleged phantom entirely), he was contacted by no less than six area residents, including those quoted above, who wanted to report bizarre nighttime encounters with a strange, red-headed man along Route 44. Who is (or was) the red-headed man in question? There are no clear clues to his identity, though, over the years, there have been numerous fatal car crashes on Route 44, several of them in that immediate area. Is the ghost a remnant of some person who died on the highway - someone who refuses to acknowledge his death and who therefore still lingers at the scene of his demise?
And on a last note from me: A friend of mine who I met at my first job after college saw a phantom hitchhiker standing alongside a busy Los Angeles freeway. The guy appeared solid, wearing a jean jacket and black turtleneck, and holding out his hand with his thumb up. The only problem was that he didn’t have a head. As soon as my friend drove by him he looked in his rearview mirror and the headless man was gone.