Michael Goss appears to have gone to some lengths to unravel the tale of the Phantom Hitchhiker, analyzing multiple international articles on sightings, reviewing folktales for earlier references, interviewing the few people who have gone on record as witnesses to the vanishing passenger and personally photographing sites in the UK where the hitchhiker was sighted.  The book’s strength lies in a thorough review of the facts as presented in the media and historical record.  The author is determined to come to a reasonable conclusion about the veracity of the tale exploring the angles of paranormal research, folktales, urban legends, psychic phenomenon and altered states.  If your primary interest in the Phantom Hitchhiker is research oriented, this book is well investigated.

I found the earliest tales of phantom passengers on horseback, coach rides and even sleigh rides to be of interest. I had no idea that this tale is so old.  Even previous researchers who collected American folk tale versions did not find the historical antecedents in literature that are brought to light.  Having heard the tale told in the US, it was also surprising to learn that the phantom is famous in Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa and the UK.  It is more than an American urban legend. There is something about the vanishing hitchhiker that appeals to the psyche of people everywhere.

Mr. Goss researched this story with a scholarly and journalistic eye. His search for the original witnesses quoted in newspapers led him to conclude that most sightings cannot be verified by a witness willing to go on record with some rare exceptions.  Black and white photographs of the locations where phantoms were reportedly picked up by drivers and where the phantom subsequently disappeared provide additional details. As the author resided in England, the in-person research was limited to the UK.  Wherever a phantom appeared, Mr. Goss investigated the potential matches to the tragic deaths of people in these roadside locations to see if there was a connection. 
There are four common variations of the Phantom Hitchhiker and each one is examined. You’ve probably heard of the young woman hitchhiker who gives an address that turns out to be the home of her parents. After her inexplicable disappearance from the moving vehicle the driver goes to the address where the parents tell the driver she passed away two years before.  In one true life tragedy, a bride and her three bridesmaids were in a lethal accident the night before the wedding. Naturally the locals pinned the phantom sightings in this locale to the accident. The author looks up the accident reports, dates them, and then finds the father of the alleged phantom to ask why she would be haunting the road. The father admits he cannot think of a reason.  Finding definitive answers is as elusive as the phantom hitchhiker.

The exhaustive analysis of witness accounts and events is undeniably complete but also a bit tiresome. I felt that the book could have been equally informative in a shorter version that did not spend so much time questioning the motives of witnesses and casting skeptical glances at the parties involved.  The interest of the author is genuine if obsessive.  I gained some valuable insight into the origins of what I thought was just a modern urban legend.  For those seeking more information, the prior research by folklore researchers and literature reviews will prove valuable.

~review by Larissa Carlson Viana

Author: Michael Goss
Weiser Books, 2015
pp. 160, $14.95

Note: this books seems to be a reprint of Goss' 1984 book of the same title

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