UBC’s Ghostly Hitchhiker

First Posted October 8th, 2012

With Halloween approaching, the Vancouver media is likely to print some stories of local ghosts and haunted locations. This is always fun and occasionally they reveal some ‘true’ ghost stories that haven’t been recounted in the past. But one Vancouver ghost story I’m tired of hearing about is the supposed ghostly hitchhiker of the University of British Columbia (UBC). While I always enjoy a good ghost story, this one’s a yawn because it’s been talked about for many years as being a true haunt, but it isn’t.

To set the record straight, the UBC hitchhiker ghost story is based on an urban myth known as the “Vanishing Hitchhiker.” In this particular urban legend, a hitchhiker is seen in the headlights of a car travelling at night. Often, it’s a young woman in a white dress. The motorist, apparently not concerned about picking up a stranger on a lonely road at night, stops and offers the hitcher a ride. They drive off, sometimes with the hitchhiker sitting in total silence in the back seat. At some point in the narrative, the passenger mysteriously vanishes. In many versions, the hitchhiker disappears when the car reaches the requested destination.

The UBC ghostly hitchhiker story, which is hauntingly familiar (pardon the pun), tells of how, on rainy nights in October, a young woman can be seen hitching a ride along University Boulevard at UBC. When a driver pulls over to give her a lift, she seems distressed and jumps in the back of the car. Soaked from the rain, she tells the driver that she’s anxious to get home and gives her address. When the car reaches the destination, the driver turns around and sees that she’s gone. Shocked and confused, the driver knocks on the door to the house, which is opened by an older lady. When he tells her his story, she knowingly smiles and tells him how her daughter was a pedestrian killed in a hit-and-run accident one rainy October night many years ago. She had been walking back from a Halloween party on campus along University Boulevard when she was struck by what was probably a drunk driver. Every year around the anniversary of her death, her spirit hitches a ride home.

Like any tall tale, there are variations of this ghost story. Another version tells of how the woman was left on the road by her boyfriend after they had an argument in his car. Regardless, the general gist is that the ghost of the woman who had been killed on a campus road hitches a ride and then vanishes. It makes for a good yarn at Halloween but there’s no truth to it.

There are many Vanishing Hitchhiker tales told in various locations around the world, the most notable of which are “Resurrection Mary” of Chicago, Illinois, the ghost of Niles Canyon in California, and the “White Woman” of Belchen Tunnel in Switzerland.

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4 responses

  1. Michael Horan says:

    Actually, she’s been known to frequent 16th Ave (not UBC Boulevard; she doesn’t golf). On a rainy, early Nov night in 1983, I picked up a disheveled, srtingy-haired girl, who was soaked through her clothing. Not wanting her to think that I was a weirdo, I assured her that she was safe, that I would help get her down to Dunbar St. She slowly entered my Austin Mini, and seemed distressed, discombobulated, and very much detached from … happiness, really. I asked her where she was going (as I began driving thorugh the heavy rain eastward toward Dunbar St) and she said nothing, as if she hadn’t heard me. She was sitting askew from me almost facing the passenger-side window, and appeared to have in her hand a piece of paper, but I though nothing of it. As I neared Queen Elizabeth Elementary school, resplendent in all its pink glory, she asked me to stop the car. ‘Wow, she speaks,’ I though to myself. I pulled over, she opened the door and exited. I never did get a look at her face, but did notice how soaking wet she was. The piece of paper she held in her hand went with her, as did any of my further concern as to who she was or what she was doing. I was tired, and pissed that I missed Magnum PI earlier, so I thought nothing of it. Later in life, I began to learn that this singular “me only” experience was shared by many. So, … ya.

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for your story. While it’s surprising and a little spooky that the hitchhiker didn’t say much to you, we can’t say there was anything paranormal about what happened. I mean, unless she suddenly vanished in front of your eyes or something, you simply gave a cold, soaking wet (and therefore miserable) young woman a ride on a rainy night. It was a kind thing to do on your part. And while she seems to have been unfriendly and ungrateful, there was nothing ghostly about her. As such, I’m still not convinced the ghostly hitchhiker of UBC is anything other than an urban myth.

      Thanks again for your post 🙂


      PS – You had an Austin Mini, huh? Cool. They were crazy-fun to drive!

      • Greg,

        Yes, agreed. I appreciate your comments. Plus, I don’t believe in ghosts. But it was more than that. The story below outlines my experience, as it was so very real.

        What I neglected to include in my telling of this experience was that I reached back to the back-seat floor, grabbed a cheap umbrella I knew was there, and exited the car to offer it to her. This was by the soccer field of Queen Elizabeth Elementary School. She simply wasn’t there…at all. I peered east, west and south, across the field, to no avail. I was terrified (honestly). A mere 5 or 6 seconds had passed before I exited the car to give her the umbrella. But she had literally vanished! I then concluded that she was simply never there.

        Here’s the story I wrote in the third person in the early 2000s about this experience. This was for my daughters; I wanted to share it with them. I hope you and your readers enjoy it.

        By Mike Horan

        Rain pelted the windshield with a mighty fervour, known all too well to native Vancouverites. The 1976 Austin Mini, wipers on full, drove through the unrelenting veil of heavy raindrops that relentlessly smashed their way through the night. The sound of the wipers blurred into one long, whirring noise that mimicking the thrum of a helicopter.

        On this early-November night in 1983, the young drver, a 20-year-old man, guided the Mini eastward on West 16th Avenue on Vancouver’s West Side. He had just left the University of British Columbia after successfully romping his athletic brother-in-law in a game of racquetball. He was feeling pretty satisfied about the win, and was not at all upset about having missed Magnum PI on TV for the game.

        Tapping his fingers on the steering wheel to a song by Patti Smith, courtesy of UBC’s campus radio station, CITR, he found himself relaxed by the hypnotic humming of the torrential cataract on the car. Driving with serene control, he glanced through the windhshield at the typical wet, autumn evening. He loved seeing the sight of rain landing hard, bouncing off parked cars and paved surfaces in his headlights.

        The drive was a short one, as he lived near the UBC campus. While he wasn’t a student there, the university’s Endowment Lands were his home. Through his childhood he had garnered a keen knowledge of its forested jogging trails, bogs, pools, bullrush patches, and swampy quagmires. From the Fraser River to the south, where the Musqueam Nation resided, all the way out along the beaches, around the tip of Point Grey to the famous beaches of Spanish Banks, Jerico and Locarno, this area of Vancouver lived permanently in his heart.

        The drive eastbound on West 16th was easy enough, as he was in the inside lane that was double the width of the passing lane. Not surprisingly, little other traffic was out with him that night. To his right was the brush-forest lands, where no sane individual would linger in under these horribly wet conditions. Yet, that was when it happened. That is when he saw her. Right before Tolmie Street, he recalled later. And later again, as he was now on the verge of having an eerie experience that would etch itself in his memory for the rest of his life.

        Her odd, unexpected appearance was of a disheveled, soaking wet girl. She wore a light, beige-gray trench-coat-like garment. Her grisly hair, fibrous and gangly, covered her face as she quickly hoisted out her right hand, thumb in the air, fully aware of his approach.

        At first glance, in the light of his headlights that pierced the sheets of relentless rain, she looked somewhat daunting. He could see she was staring at him intently through the cloak of the autumn storm. Her face was obscured by her dangling, dripping-wet hair. She stood on the curb of West 16th, soaking wet, with the dark forest as her backdrop.

        Jesus, what’s her story? he asked himself. She needs help, he quickly concluded. Instinct took over, and with a sense of regrettable foresight, he applied the brakes, pressed the clutch, and geared-down to what he thought was someone in need of … A ride, you idiot. She needs a ride!

        Stopping his car right next to the woman, he reached over to the driver-side window and rolled it down. An immediate invasion of moisture came into the car, soaking his right arm. But that was nothing compared to the soaking wet apparition who stood there. She had a ghastly aspect to her, with bedraggled hair obscuring her face. He felt he had to struggle to focus on her, like he was looking at her under water. He purged that strange thought from his mind and returned to his usual civility.

        “Are you okay?” he enquired geniunely through the open window. “Hey, If you need help,” he continued, “I can drop you down on Dunbar Street. There’s a pay phone outside the Dunbar Lumber. Look, I’ve even got a spare quarter you can use”, gesturing toward the ashtray. There was no hesitation on her part. She leaned toward him, dimensionless, and approached the car. Silence shrouded her with mystery. Why was her face not … visible?

        “I just need a ride”, she whispered plainly, if not helplessly. With her wet, stringy hair hanging over her face, she looked in his direction but not directly at him.

        “No problem, hop in” he replied in an easy tone to give her an opportunity to look into his harmless eyes. But her gaze was distant. She opened the door and eased into the car with a sense of grace. She seemed to softly land on the passenger seat. She didn’t face straight ahead but, rather, she sat askew, three quarters of the way toward the passenger window. She held a piece of paper in her right hand but he gave it no thought. She seemed to want privacy, no face-to-face contact. To him she seemed, perhaps, not well.

        As he put the car in gear and accelerated it forward, he felt it was his unwritten duty to begin harmless conversation. “Sure is a hum-dinger out there tonight, eh?” followed by what must have sounded like a fake chuckle. “Tennis anyone?” His sense of humour betrayed him. The honest attempt to provoke conversation failed, however. It was met with silence.

        Just get her down to Dunbar Street, he thought to himself with an uncomfortable mix of fear and curiosity. He though it better to help an ‘unwell’ person than leave her out in the torrential weather. Thinking of the pay phone on Dunbar Street, he knew she would more than likely be okay. She would call a family member to pick her up. Whatever. He’ll get her there.

        She just sat motionless with the small scrap of paper in her hand, peering through the fogged-up windhshield on her side of the car. He drove them along West 16th, constantly tempted to glance over at her and ask questions. But her stony silence repelled any mood for conversation.

        When they approached Queen Elizabeth Elementary School, the landmark that signalled the eastern edge of UBC’s Endowment Lands, the young woman became agitated. “Pull over here”, she quietly demanded.

        “Are you sure?” he responded, surprised she would want to leave the dry warmth of the car. “I really don’t mind helping you get to the pay phone on Dunbar.” Just the same, he applied the brakes and pulled the Mini over beside the school’s soccer field and running track that was, until recently, a bullrush swamp.

        He felt he needed to say something. Anything to put her at ease. “Please be careful, its a rainy night” he offered, as if she was completely unaware of this blatantly obvious fact. He felt stupid, like he had said or done something offensive. Why was she launching herself back into the stormy night?

        She stepped out of the car, floating weightlessly it seemed, and he sensed she was crying. She mumbled sporadic, incomprehensible words, none of which he could properly hear. Had she said thank you for the ride? He doubted it. He noticed how she exited his car with the same graceful swiftness with which she had entered it. She closed the passenger door, and began slowly stepping westward, back towards the University Endowment Lands. Back to where he first saw her.

        Utterly confused by her actions, he suddenly remembered the small, black umbrella on the floor in the back of the car that had been left there by his sister a day or two ago. He reached back for it quickly, opened his door, and stepped into the rain to follow the woman, hoping to at least partially accomplish his original intention of helping her. In those few seconds, however, she was gone. He peered in all directions but she had completely vanished. The heavy rain poured down on him with a sense of mockery and laughter. His spine chilled with a horrible, terrifying frost.

        Where in God’s name is she? What the hell’s going on? he pondered. The only thing soaking him more deeply than the night’s rain was the unyielding fear in which he was now fully immersed. It was there and then, standing in the cold rain he didn’t even feel, that he realised she had simply never existed. He wasn’t out of his mind. Just the opposite. But he was there alone that night — the night she wasn’t — and he kept this experience to himself for many years.

        • Hi Mike,

          Thanks very much for sharing your experience with the hitchhiker near UBC on that stormy evening so many years ago. This is an engaging account and certainly spooky.

          There are hints that the woman you kindly gave a lift to in your Austin Mini could have been the well-known UBC hitchhiker ghost. But skeptics could easily argue that you simply met up with a person who had some psychological issues. With her odd behaviour and it being so rainy and dark, it made the experience seem surreal.

          I’m on the fence on this and welcome other readers to comment.

          Thanks again!

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