by Richard Southall
(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)
For those unfamiliar with Route 66, it is a 2,448-mile roadway that was commissioned by the federal government in 1926 for people to have one main route from Illinois to California. Rather than creating a new highway system, Route 66 was comprised of several different roads that already existed. Route 66 started in Chicago, Illinois and ran through the states of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally ended in Santa Monica, California.
Shortly after Route 66 was commissioned, entrepreneurs opened businesses to accommodate the increased traffic, which led to some one-of-a-kind places for the traveler to visit while driving cross-country. Route 66 passed by several historical landmarks and towns, many of which have local stories and legends associated with them. Although some of these legends were created in order to draw tourists, most were at least partially based on actual events and have a paranormal twist to them.
Although I believe that many of the hauntings that I have described in Haunted Route 66 are based on actual occurrences, I wrote the book in part to preserve the legends that may have overlooked when people traveled The Mother Road. I felt it was important to document these ghost stories as a way of keeping Route 66 alive and available for many years to come.
I would hope that anybody interested in the paranormal events along Route 66 would take the time to check out the people, places, and things that have made Route 66 such a wonderful part of our nation’s heritage. To ignore what Route 66 has to offer would be to miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity.
That being said, after reviewing the over two hundred stories included in Haunted Route 66, I have noticed that most of these accounts can be placed into one of five distinct categories.
- Scenes of accidents that involve fatalities.
One of the most common reasons that a place becomes haunted is that a terrible accident has occurred at that location. Whether it be a lone vehicle accident on a lonely stretch of road or a large-scale tragedy, there is generally a sense of terror and helplessness associated with it. These feelings can often leave an impression, which in turn can lead to a haunting.
Although there are undoubtedly scores of fatal accidents that have taken place along Route 66 that have not been documented, one of the worst accidents was Chicago’s Eastland Ship Disaster that took place on July 24, 1915, nine years before Route 66 was commissioned.
On this date, the Eastland capsized into the Chicago river and 849 men, women, and children drowned. It took several days to collect the bodies, and due to the sheer number of dead, at least two nearby office buildings were converted into makeshift morgues. Since that time, there have been reports of the sounds of children’s laughter, women’s sobs, breaking glass, and music that was popular during that era.
- Scenes of violence (murders, suicides, etc.)
There is one main difference between accidents involving fatalities and acts of violence. In regards to an accident, there is no forethought and very little warning before it occurs. With violent activities, such as murders, there is usually a great deal of planning before the event takes place. However, in both cases, there is often great suffering and surprise on the part of the victims, which can result in a haunting.
An example of this is the River Legacy Park in Arlington, Texas. During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers would take captured Union troops to this area to be executed. While some were hung, a great number were shot, execution-style. After they were killed, the Union soldiers’ bodies were taken to a nearby location and buried in unmarked, shallow graves. It has been estimated that over one hundred Union soldiers met their fate in what would become River Legacy Park. There is an old rusty gate in a secluded area of the park; some Confederate soldiers referred to the gate as Hell’s Gate, as it was the last thing that many of the Union soldiers saw before they were murdered. To this day, there are accounts of the sound of men pleading and sobbing, followed by the sound of gunfire. There has also been the apparition of a Confederate general on horseback near Hell’s Gate.
- Historic Landmarks
There are several locations along Route 66 that have considerable historical significance to local towns and to our nation’s history. Often, the sites of battles or areas where people have struggled to overcome great adversity are overlooked for years before there is an effort to preserve them by individuals or groups that realize their importance. Renovations of historic sites can increase the prevalence of hauntings.
Such a restoration that may have led to increased paranormal activity is Fort Richardson, which was built in 1867 near what is now Jacksboro, Texas. Eventually, Fort Richardson was abandoned until there was a concerted effort by the Texas State Parks and Wildlife Department to preserve the deteriorating fort. In 1973, Fort Richardson State park was opened.
Fort Richardson’s hospital, morgue, and officers’ quarters are reportedly haunted. Footsteps and apparitions have been encountered at the hospital. A Union soldier has been seen standing in front of the morgue. Also, one or more union soldiers in uniform have been seen at the officers’ quarters.
- Areas with a high concentration of people
Although many areas of Route 66 are very isolated, there are places along The Mother Road that have a very high concentration of people. It makes sense that an area that has a high concentration of people may have an increased possibility of paranormal activity as well.
Take for instance the London Bridge, located at Lake Havasu, Arizona. Originally spanning the River Thames in London, England, the London Bridge that was built in 1824 was sold in 1967 (to make way for an updated bridge), and moved to Lake Havasu. During its busiest times while in England, this particular bridge saw as many as eight thousand people and up to nine hundred vehicles cross it hourly. It took four years to transport and reconstruct the bridge brick by brick, and since its dedication ceremony in 1971, there have been dozens of sightings of people in period clothing who disappear halfway across the bridge in plain sight of witnesses. Also, an apparition of an English policeman can be seen patrolling the bridge on occasion.
- Locations where people have had an emotional connection.
Most people have a special place that always back memories. It could be a secluded vacation spot, a favorite restaurant, or some other special location to which we feel a connection. Even if we have not been there in years, there is that place that we think of when we think of home.
People have dedicated their lives to locations that they have had a strong emotional connection to. Although it may be easier to simply relocate, some people decide to stay in a place because they feel they belong there; sometimes, that connection can be so strong that it can survive a person’s death. This affinity to a special place can lead to a haunting. Perhaps a person does not realize that he or she as died or it may be that they have loved a place so much that it has kept them earthbound.
There are plenty of places along Route 66 in which people have made their livelihood and as such have developed a strong emotional tie that may lead to a haunting. One place that many people had a strong emotional connection to was the small mining community of Calico, California.
Calico was a bustling town during the California Gold Rush that drew hundreds of people hoping to find their fortune in the mountains behind the town. Although life was hard, people remained; many stayed on even after the Gold Rush and the influx of newcomers ended.
One haunted building is the Lane Home Needlepoint Store. In addition to being a store, it was the private home of long-time resident Lucy Lane, who loved the town. After becoming a tourist attraction, employees and visitors have seen Lucy’s favorite rocking chair move on its own. An apparition that fits the description of Lucy Lane has also been seen walking toward the Needlepoint Store.
At the Old School House, there has also been considerable paranormal activity. A girl about ten years old has been seen peeking out of one of the school house’s dusty windows. When people investigate, the school house is always empty. In addition to the little girl’s ghost, a woman in a long dress can be seen at the front entrance of the school, as if she is calling children into the school house.
Several of the abandoned mines in the mountains behind Calico are reportedly haunted by miners. A man with a pick axe over his shoulder has been seen walking into one of the mines, and the sounds of men arguing have been heard coming from within one of the mine shafts.
There are undoubtedly hundreds of accounts of paranormal happenings that take place along Route 66, many of which will never be published or shared with others. While it may be exciting to investigate some of these stories or legends of The Mother Road, it can be just as exciting to take a look at what Route 66 has to offer. The five main categories that I have listed above can be used to help identify the different types of hauntings along The Mother Road. However, most hauntings in other locations can fall into these categories as well, which may prove useful when conducting a thorough investigation of a haunting.
On one level, the paranormal events that have taken place along Route 66 can really be looked at as a reflection of what it means to be human. If we are to believe that ghosts are real, it is important to know that they were living people at one time, people with many of the same hopes and fears that we have now. They were simply people like you and I that either left an impression that replays itself or somehow got stuck on their way to the afterlife. As people interested in the legends of the paranormal, we should take that into consideration and be respectful of any location that we decide to investigate.
Is there more to these legends of The Mother Road than meets the eye? Or are they simply legends passed from generation to generation to entertain others? I personally believe that there is something paranormal to many of the stories that are told in Haunted Route 66. However, it is important for you to come to your own conclusions, but be open to any adventures may be in store for you if you decide to investigate these stories on your own.
Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2013. All rights reserved.