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.
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.
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!