The vanishing hitchhiker of Deer Lake
Those of you who grew up in Deer Lake may be familiar with a spooky story involving the old spillway bridge. The bridge in question is just after the power house in Deer Lake, just before a little place that is called Spillway.
Several years ago there was a tale floating around Deer Lake which said that if you went driving in the night in that direction, you would sometimes see a hitchhiker.
This hitchhiker always took the form of a woman in a white dress, hitching for a ride to Corner Brook. If you stopped to pick her up and drove over to the side of the road, the woman would never be there. The puzzled driver would carry on and would not see the woman again.
If, poor soul, you did not stop to pick the woman up, an even more puzzling thing was said to happen.
Those who carried on down the road without her would often turn their head to look into the mirror to see the woman. Terrifyingly, the woman would be seen suddenly sitting in the passenger side seat.
It was local knowledge at the time that the strange hitchhiker was the ghost of a girl who had been trying to thumb a ride out of Deer Lake, and who had been killed on the highway. It was said that if you showed compassion on the girl and stopped to pick her up, she went away. If you did not, she vented her eternal frustration by scaring the proverbial Bejeezus out of you.
This story was sent to me this past September by a woman in British Columbia, who grew up in Deer Lake and who heard the tale as a teenager. While I do not know for certain, she probably heard it from a friend, and that friend probably had a friend whose second cousin had actually met the spirit.
And now that it has been written down here, someone, somewhere, will claim with great conviction that it was true, because they read it in the newspaper.
You can not, of course, believe everything you read, nor hear for that matter. Those of you who are skeptics or Memorial University folklore students will recognize this as an intriguing Newfoundland version of the classic Vanishing Hitchhiker story.
It is referred to most popularly as an urban legend, though many folklorists today prefer the term contemporary legend. The core of the Vanishing Hitchhiker legend involves the driver of a car turning to bid an unusual hitchhiker goodbye and discovering that the passenger has disappeared. In many versions of the tale, the driver later learns that his mysterious passenger had died years before.
Sometimes the ghost leaves a book or scarf in the car, which grieving loved ones later identify as belonging to their long lost husband, daughter, nephew, great Aunt Euphemia or what have you.
Vanishing hitchhiker stories are told all over the world and date back over a hundred years, evolving from earlier European stories about travellers on horseback.
As time rolled on, the wagons and horses of those days transformed and by the time of the Great Depression, the evaporating spirit was riding the cars of today.
The Deer Lake version of the tale is interesting because of the spin it places on the legend, turning it into a modern day parable illustrating the value of showing generosity to those in need.
Of course, there are just as many urban legends about horrible things that happen to people who do stop for hitchhikers. Those tales, however, will have to wait for another time.
Dale Jarvis can be reached at