The Vanishing Hitchhiker at Sunset Hills Cemetery

(This was a story that was actually written down somewhere as an event that happened in Edwardsville where I worked. It said, in the article, that was written in 1947, that so many people believed this event happened, that on one spring evening on the supposed anniversary of the event, cars were lined up…up and down Rt. 157 near the Sunset Hills Cemetery in hopes of catching a glimpse of the ghostly spirit - a true testimony to the power of urban legend. This urban legend has made its way into the lore of Edwardsville.)

                                                                               retold by

                                                                   Marilyn A. Kinsella




Back in the late 40’s there was a legend that was widely accepted as the gospel truth. It was even written up in the Intelligencer – so you know had to be true!  According to my Aunt Erna who heard it from her good quilting friend, John Baker – you remember the Baker boys, don’t you? Well, John was coming home from working at the Richard’s Brick factory. He had the late shift so it was well on midnight when he made his way down Rt. 157. Now, you know back in the late forties the only thing between Edardsville and the bluffs was corn fields until you came to the Sunset Cemetery – sits right there at the top of the bluffs, you know. There weren’t even any streetlights…darker than pitch out that way. Well, according to Mable, that’s Aunt Erna’s quilting friend, it was raining cats and dogs the night of May 19, 1947. John was tired, but was alert cause of all the rain and lightning and such. He just passed the cemetery entrance when he saw someone run right in front of his headlights. He squealed to a stop…afraid he may have hit someone. He had just stopped the car when a young lady opened the door to the back seat and hopped in. John tuned on the overhead light and when the yellow light spilled down on top of her, he could see she was dressed in a fancy prom dress…all chiffon with beautiful gardenia corsage. But her hair was plastered down and her makeup was smeared.


“Young lady,” said John,  “What in heaven’s name are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere on a night not fit for man nor beast?”


 Then he could tell her make-up wasn’t smeared from the rain, she’d been crying. “I’m so scared. I just want to go home. My mama must be awful worried.” 


“Don’t you worry your pretty little head, I’ll take you home. Where do you live?”


“201 North Fillmore.”


“Yeah, I know the place. Let me swing this car around and I’ll get you back in no time.”


The girl settled back in the seat.


“You still haven’t told me what you were doing out here.”


“My boyfriend, Charles, asked me to the prom. We had such a great time. Afterwards, he said he’d take me to see the glowing tombstone at the Sunset Cemetery. Everybody talks about it in all and I just wanted to see it for myself. But when we got to the entrance gate, I got real scared. So I jumped out of the car and ran right out to the main road. Charles must have gone home, cause I couldn’t find him anywhere.”


“Sounds like that young man doesn’t know how to treat a lady. You just settle yourself down. You don’t want your mama seeing you cry.”


John could hear her sniffling and crying all the way back to Fillmore. When he stopped the car at the house marked 201, she jumped out and yelled back, “Thanks!”


On the street corner there was a bright streetlamp, but it made for a dark shadow across the porch, and with the rain John couldn’t be for certain that she made it safely inside.


John didn’t get a wink of sleep that night. He worried so that the next morning he went back to the house and knocked on the door.


An old woman answered, “Yes, what do you want?”


“Hi, my name is John Baker and I just wanted to make sure your daughter got home safely. You know, I didn’t even catch her name. She was mighty upset, as you probably know.”


A look of unbearable pain came across the woman’s face. “Come in.”


John walked into a dark room. All the curtains were pulled tight.


“Mr. Baker, my daughter’s name was Diane.”


“Was?” asked John, “What do you mean…was?”


“Well, five years ago she went to the prom with Charles. They’d been dating since they were freshmen in high school. I’m not sure what happened that night, but somehow they were foolin’ around at Sunset Cemetery. Diane must have gotten scared. She hated cemeteries. Anyway, she jumped out of Charles’ car and right into traffic. She died that night, Mr. Baker.”


“Impossible! She was in my car. I took her home to this address.”


“You, and some other nice strangers, Mr. Baker. Every year since she died I answer the door just like I did this morning and I hear the same story over and over. Come here and look at this picture. I took it right before they left for the dance. Is this the girl you saw?”


John looked at the grainy black and white photo. There was no mistaken it. This was the girl he bought home the night before same chiffon dress, same gardenia corsage.


“I’m sorry to have bothered you. This must make you sad.”


“Not at all, Mr. Baker. You see, I told Diane I’d be waiting up for her. I told her curfew was 12:00 midnight. She was such a good girl, Mr. Baker. Every May the 19th she comes home. You see…she knows I’ll be waiting.”


John handed her back the picture and said his goodbyes. As he walked out into the sunlight, he thought maybe he had made up the whole thing. Maybe he was breathing in too much of that brick dust. He got back in his old green dodge when something got his eye in the backseat. When he opened the door for a closer look, he could see what it was. He picked it up and sniffed – dried up gardenia petals.


Of course, John couldn’t keep a story like that to himself. Soon the whole town was talking about it. It even made it into the newspaper.  People believed this story so much that by the time the next year rolled around there was a line of cars lined up – up and down Rt. 157 waiting for a glimpse of that young girl. No one ever saw her again. Her mama had died that year and John? Well, he moved out of town.

But I know it happened! My Aunt Erna told me she heard it from Mable, and now I told you.

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