Highway haunts

| October 20, 2012

The Miami Spook Light in Miami, Okla., also has seen its share of explanations since the 1800s. The most common story is that the light is the lantern of a woman searching for her missing daughter. “The woman sent her daughter to look for some stray cows in a heavy fog,” Troy Taylor says. “After several hours, the girl didn’t return home. Her mother went out each night until she went insane with grief looking for her daughter.”

The Old Brewery Hill Spook Light in Le Sueur, Minn., harbors another eerie tale. Farmers and residents claim to have seen a red light resembling a lantern bobbing along the Omaha Railroad tracks south of Le Sueur. In 1875, George Kienzli started the area’s first brewery, which featured two cellars where beer was stored in wooden casks while it aged. “It was believed that a man later lived in one of the brewery caves, and people claimed to see him leave the cave, walking along and carrying a red lantern,” Taylor says. The ghost of the old hermit is said to still haunt the stretch of tracks near Old Brewery Hill, waving his red lantern as he walks along and vanishing if anyone gets too close.

Patrick believes spirit lights like “spook lights” exist and notes the consistency these lights have in specific areas. “They tend to come out at the same time and act the same ways each night,” she says. “Spirit lights act independently and have a place memory of the area they haunt.”

Resurrection Mary

Though Patrick has never personally encountered a vanishing hitchhiker, she doesn’t doubt their existence. “The energy of an entity never leaves an area,” she says. “You just have to wait for the right time to see it, like after bad weather.”

While tales of vanishing hitchhikers come and go like their stories, Justice, Ill., in southwest suburban Chicago, is home to the famous — and enduring — tale of Resurrection Mary. The ghost is said to be that of Mary Bregovy, a young Polish girl who died March 10, 1934, in a car accident while coming home from a night of dancing at the O. Henry Ballroom (now known as the Willowbrook) down Archer Ave. from Justice in Willow Springs. Bregovy was buried along Archer in Justice at Resurrection Cemetery, one of the Chicago area’s largest cemeteries.

A few months after Bregovy died, reports of her reappearance began making their way around town. Stories say Mary often is seen walking barefoot down Archer in a white dancing dress, holding her dancing shoes. Many people stop and offer her a ride home. “As people drive her home, she asks them to stop in front of the cemetery gates on Archer,” says Brad Steiger, author of “Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits and Haunted Places”. “She gets out of the car, runs across the road and dematerializes at the gate.”

Chicago professional ghost hunter Richard Crowe says it wouldn’t be uncommon for truckers to encounter Mary’s spirit. “Interstate 294 runs over State Highway 171, or Archer Avenue,” Crowe says. “If any trucker were to take that road or find themselves lost on it, there’s a chance they might encounter Mary.”

“As people drive her home, she asks them to stop in front of the cemetery gates on Archer Avenue. She gets out of the car, runs across the road and dematerializes at the gate.” —Brad Steiger, author, “Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits and Haunted Places.”

Crowe has conducted numerous interviews with people who claim to have seen Resurrection Mary. One classic encounter, Crowe recalls, was in December 1977 when a sergeant was called to Resurrection Cemetery because a young blonde girl was locked inside. “When the sergeant got there, he didn’t see anyone,” Crowe says. “As he was leaving, he noticed there were black handprints burned into the iron bars, and both bars were bent apart.” The entire gate has since been repainted, but it remains a popular tourist attraction, Crowe says.

A typical encounter of Mary is like the one that happened to Shawn and Gerry Late in May 1978. “The couple was driving down Archer Avenue after 10 p.m. and spotted a young blonde woman in a white gown running into the road,” Crowe says. “To avoid hitting her, they slammed on the brakes only to watch her disappear into the cemetery.”

Weather conditions also seem to play a role in the appearance of Resurrection Mary. Nights during and after lightning storms, rain and snow are some of the best times to look for Mary’s ghost. If you do pick Mary up, one way to ensure she’s the real thing is that her clothing and hair will be untouched by the current weather conditions. “It might be raining cats and dogs, but Mary will be completely dry,” Crowe says.

Highway 666

Best known as “The Devil’s Highway,” U.S. Route 491 has had its share of odd occurrences. Before becoming U.S. 491 in 2003, the north-south highway was known as Route 666. The road connects the Four Corners region of the United States, beginning in Gallup, N.M., at a junction with I-40 and continuing through Shiprock, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado before ending in the farming town of Monticello, Utah, at the base of the Abajo Mountains. According to the New Mexico Department of Transportation, between 2000 and 2001 there were 489 accidents and 13 fatalities along U.S. 666 between mile markers 0 and 69. In 2007, after the highway had been renamed, the number of accidents dropped to 20 and fatalities to one.

The original route number struck fear in the hearts of travelers because the number 666 is by some accounts associated with the biblical depiction of the Antichrist. In a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation, one resolution stated that “people refuse to travel the road, not because of the issue of safety, but because of the fear that the devil controls events along United States Route 666.”

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