Tom Lohr is an avid traveler and has driven the entire length of Route 66 twice.
Any place that has existed as long as the Mother Road generates its share of legends and tales. It should come as no surprise that with the storied history that accompanies Route 66, it has its share of fables; some of which are unsettling. Route 66 was a well-traveled path before it was even a road, and as Americans migrated westward, the human traffic increased as the route became the favored course west. In the towns that sprung up along the way, each had someone or something hellbent on doing dastardly deeds. When people meet a less than normal end, some say they have trouble transitioning to the other side. Others are said to continue causing unpleasantness from beyond the grave.
If you are looking to add a little queasy excitement to your Route 66 road trip, take the opportunity to visit the supernatural sites sprinkled along the route. Suspense and ghastly encounters await those willing to brave the mysterious landscape that surrounds the traveler as they motor down the Mother Road. There are hundreds of supposedly haunted sites along the road, but you can easily hit the highlights. You can leave your wooden stakes and silver bullets at home, just make sure you have your affairs in order if you plan to visit any of the following.
1. Resurrection Catholic Cemetery, Chicago, IL
As you leave Chicago, you will drive directly past Resurrection Cemetery, home of the world's largest mausoleum and Chicago's most famous ghost, Resurrection Mary. Mary was a young woman who loved to dance. In the 1930s, she left the famous Oh Henry Ballroom (later the Willowbrook Ballroom and destroyed by fire in 2016) and was either killed in a car crash or struck by a driver while walking down Archer Road. Since then, she has been seen on many occasions. Often she appears as a hitchhiker who either disappears during the ride or asks to be dropped of at Resurrection Cemetery and then vanishes after leaving the car. No one is certain who Mary really was, but there are a few theories about her identity. Regardless of who she was in the land of the living, she has become famous in death. How famous is she? There have been songs recorded about her and there is an annual 5K race named after her.
2. Collinsville, IL
Just before you depart the Land of Lincoln you will drive close to Collinsville. This burg has the honor of being home to two very disturbing landmarks:
The Seven Gates of Hell
If you take the backroad from Collinsville to Troy, IL you start your journey on Lebanon Road. Along the way there are seven underpasses, mostly under abandoned railroads. Legend has it if you start precisely enough to pass under the last one at exactly midnight, a portal to hell will open up. Fortunately, you will not be going to hell; at least one of the gates has been filled in and is no longer usable.
On one of the backroads, close to the Seven Gates of Hell, is a bridge that was/is known as a party spot for youngsters. It gets its name from the drug of choice used back when it first became famous. A teenager was reportedly killed on the bridge, either by a ricochet gunshot or a vehicle as the story varies with the storyteller. But since, it has been a hotbed of paranormal activity. There is supposedly occult activity in the nearby woods as well, perhaps related to the close proximity to the Seven Gates of Hell. To get there take Lebanon Road (road number 32) and stay on it until you pass Riebold Road. It is the heavily graffitied bridge just beyond and before you get to Stevenson Road.
3. Tri-County Truck Stop, Villa Ridge, MO
In its heyday, this was a restaurant called The Diamonds that opened in 1927. It became the Tri-County Truck Stop in 1971 and subsequently closed in 2006. It had a magnificent sign and a large rounded end that was mostly windows; it was a unique landmark. Now, the only people that hang around inside are dead. How dead? The place was the subject of an episode of the Syfy channel's Fact or Fake: Paranormal Files. While investigators were inside the diner they experienced a crashing coffee pot, a flannel wearing apparition and were able to video a bluish ghost-like figure crossing the room. The verdict? The Tri-County Truck Stop is indeed haunted.
4. Peace Church Cemetery, Joplin, MO
The Peace Church Cemetery is anything but peaceful. The graveyard was founded in 1855 and is home to many the area's pioneers. It has been abandoned for over 30 years and relies on volunteers to keep the grounds from becoming overgrown. It is also the final resting place of Billy Cook, a young man who went on a 22 day killing spree in 1950. Before being apprehended, Cook had killed six people, including three children and a family dog. Cook met his end in the gas chamber in California. His remains were shipped back to Joplin where, after no one would claim his body, he was buried in Peace Church Cemetery. Since, visitors and workers at the site have seen mysterious lights, heard voices and been pelted with debris. Some have returned home with inexplicable scratches on their body.
5. Oak Hill Cemetery, Galena, KS
Near the back of this graveyard, on a small hill, is the grave of a witch. Little is known about her and the circumstances surrounding her death, but she is said to be the source of voices and apparitions at this haunted place. She is particularly active at 3:33 am. If you are in Galena and have insomnia, be sure to test the early morning activity claim.
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6. Hornet Spooklight, Near Hornet, MO
Also known as the Hollis Spooklight and the Joplin Spooklight, this either singular or tight grouping of lights of varying colors appears near the corner where the states of Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri meet. The eerie lights have been seen since the mid 18th century, usually from the town of Hornet, MO. The lights are believed to originate from the Quapaw, OK area. The most accepted legend of the lights' origin is the story of a Native American couple who jumped into the Spring River when their parents would not consent to their marriage. The lights are said to be the couple looking for each other. The best viewing spot for the lights is a short distance off of Route 66. Just south of Quapaw, OK, in the curve in the road, take E Future Farmer Road. That road turns into E 50 Road after a short distance. Turn right onto S 630 Road, follow the road and it will curve to the left (and become E 60 Road), you pass underneath I-40 and continue until you reach the S 680 Road on the left. Take S 680 until it ends. Turn right and you will once again be on E 50 Road. Anywhere along the next ½ mile of E 50 Road, is a good place to park, look west and keep an eye out for the Hornet Spooklight.
7. Spotlight Theatre, Tulsa, OK
This small but beautiful art deco theatre within sight of the Cyrus Avery Route 66 Memorial Bridge lays claim to having the longest running play in America. It is also home to some pretty spooky happenings in its basement. Those who dare enter can hear phantom footsteps and scratching noises. There have also been scratch marks on the basement walls discovered. Who or what is making them is anyone's guess, but it is unquestionably something otherworldly.
8. Dead Woman Crossing, Weatherford, OK
Dead Woman Crossing is the actual name for an unincorporated town on the outskirts of Weatherford. The town gets its name in honor of Katy Dewitt James, an unfortunate woman who, in 1905, filed for divorce on grounds of cruelty. She then boarded a train with her infant daughter and steamed off to live with a cousin. On the train, she befriended an alleged prostitute named Fannie Norton. Fannie took Katy to the home of her brother-in-law in Clinton. The following morning Fannie, Katy and her baby departed in a buggy stating they would return in three hours. Fannie returned two hours later without Katy or the infant. Investigators learned that the buggy had disappeared into a field for an hour, then emerged without Katy, and Fannie giving the baby, wrapped in a bloody dress to a farmer's son. Fannie was suspected of killing Katy for reasons unknown, but committed suicide before she could be charged. Katy's severed head and body were found in Deer Creek over a month later. Today, if you take the Airport Road exit off of I-40 just east of Weatherford, then turn right on E 1010 Road, and take the first left on N 2440 Road you will quickly come to an unassuming bridge that crosses Deer Creek. The bridge is near the spot where Katy was murdered, locals have reported seeing a blue formless light near the bridge, and the unnerving sound of a woman crying for her baby.
9. The Natatorium, Amarillo, TX
The Natatorium, also called The Nat, started off as a swimming pool in 1922. It has also been a dance hall, a cafe, and is currently an antiques mall. The new owners noticed cold spots in the upstairs which used to double as a gambling hall. They would also arrive in the morning to find furniture moved around. Finally, there is an apparition that occasionally appears of a woman in a white dress with a red stain. The stain is purported to be wine that was spilled on her while partying at The Nat. You will drive directly by the Natatorium on your way through Amarillo on Route 66.
10. The Devil's Highway, Gallup, NM
As you pass through Gallup, take a few minutes and take the exit for highway 491. This road seems innocent enough, but before I-40 existed Route 66 was the main thoroughfare. What today is highway 491 was the 6th spur off of Route 66 in New Mexico. That gave it the designation as highway 666, a number that is historically linked with satan. Given that the road has experienced an inordinate number of traffic fatalities and being named as one of the 20 most dangerous highways in the United States did not help dispel any superstition associated with Route 666. Finally, in 2003, the designation was changed from 666 to 491. Some of the old signs still exist next to the newer ones, helping guide your way along the Devil's Highway.
11. Navajo County Courthouse, Holbrook, AZ
This building is the home of George Smiley, who in 1899, became the first person legally hanged in Navajo County. In fact, George is still “hanging around.” Since his death, George has been spotted wandering about the building, opening and shutting doors and moving objects about. And George may have company, there is also a woman called Mary who has been seen looking out of the building's windows. Mary, is claimed to be the ghost of a woman who died in one of the courthouse's holding cells.
12. Canyon Motel-Caboose Suites, Williams, AZ
If you are in Williams and plan on overnighting, spend the night in a caboose at the Canyon Motel. They sport two 1929 Santa Fe cabooses that have been converted into suites. Be warned however, if you choose caboose number two, you will not be spending the night alone. Guests have reported lights going on and off without explanation, as well as a conductor that walks through in the middle of the night swinging a lantern. During the day, the housekeepers have heard whispering when no one else is around.
Los Angeles, CA
After visiting these terrifying places, why not add a little fun to your venture into the supernatural...Hollywood style.
Start by parking your car about two blocks north of the Route and walk by 1428 N Genesee Ave, Los Angeles. Perhaps the residence will look familiar. The place itself is somewhat of a celebrity. Its screen name is 1428 Elm St, Springfield, OH. The home terrorized by one Freddie Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. After Freddie has gotten you in the mood, stop by 5901 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles to climb aboard one of the Dearly Departed tours. The company offers a tour of terror for any taste. Choose a rock 'n roll themed tour to visit the tragedy sites of musicians, or perhaps a Charlie Manson jaunt is your thing. You will visit crime scenes, death sites, grave sites, listen to recordings of famous 911 calls, and visit filming locations of horror movies. These consistently highly rated tours are perfect ending to a journey down the road of mayhem, spooks, spirits, and phantoms that is sometimes called Route 66.
Enjoy—But Be Cautious
If you haven't driven Route 66, you should. And when you do, remember that all of the aforementioned events happened. Perhaps embellished over the decades, but happened nonetheless. These were ordinary, albeit sometimes ornery, people until something terrible happened to them. Take care and tread lightly, or someday someone will be reading another tale of fright and horror...about you.