We’ve all heard the ghost stories or urban legends about motorists driving down a deserted stretch of highway, who suddenly encounter a ghostly figure or strange creature. It’s easy to scoff at these tabloid stories, yet these bizarre reports seem to happen quite often on certain roads. In some cases, these highways have become famous for their haunted events, drawing paranormal investigators, and, of course, curious people who just want to see for themselves what goes bump in the night. Here are five American highways with a reputation for the supernatural.
5. Shades of Death Road
Given the name, it’s no surprise legends and stories have been circulating for years about this 7-mile-long road in Northwest New Jersey. The road’s name may have originated long ago when highway bandits would ambush travelers and slit their throats after robbing them. A deadly malaria outbreak struck the area at one point in the 19th century. Or the name may have more recent origins; in the early 20th century there were several documented murders along the road, including a woman who beheaded her husband and buried his remains on different sides of the road.
In more modern times, there have been many reports of supposedly supernatural activity. The magazine Weird NJ notes people have sighted ghosts, strange fogs, and mysterious orbs of light. Oh, some of these phenomena have been spotted near Ghost Lake, located just off the road. Many curious people have driven the road, looking for a ghostly encounter; many have resorted to stealing “Shades of Death Road” signs. Angry residents fought back by greasing the sign poles to make them harder to steal.
4. Mount Misery and Sweet Hollow Roads
These two roads on New York’s Long Island have bad vibes going back centuries; Native Americans reportedly considered the area taboo, according to WeirdUS.com. Just the name of the one road, Mount Misery, is a clue that bad things have happened here. One supposedly horrible incident involved an “insane asylum” from the 1700s. One disturbed patient reportedly set her room on fire and burned down the entire hospital. Through the years, motorists have reported seeing her wandering the road in her hospital gown.
Sweet Hollow Road, which runs roughly parallel to Mount Misery Road about a mile away, also has a history rife with paranormal tales. At the Northern State Parkway overpass, legend has it you can sometimes see the ghostly bodies of teens that have hanged themselves under the bridge. Another spirit that supposedly haunts the bridge died in a crash near there in the 1970s. As the legend goes, if you park your car under the bridge and shift into neutral, the woman’s invisible hands will push your car to safety … uphill. Other tales are even more disturbing. There’s a ghostly policeman who has supposedly been sighted in the area. He looks fine, but on closer look he is missing the back of his head.
3. U.S. 491/191 (Formerly U.S. 666, the ‘Highway to Hell’)
This highway long ago earned the nicknames, “Devil’s Highway,” and “Highway to Hell” and that’s only partly due to the fact it was numbered as U.S. Route 666 (cue the ominous music.) Renumbered in 2003 as U.S. 491 and U.S. 191, this highway covers almost 200 miles through mostly desert terrain in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. It’s understandable how a road known as Highway 666 could spur the imagination of Christians familiar with the tale of the Number of the Beast (or Antichrist) from the Book of Revelation. But even many non-Christians long feared the road, which had a reputation for deadly accidents. In fact, it was named one of the most dangerous highways in the country in the late 1990s. In one seven-year period around that time, 22 pedestrians were killed on an eight-mile stretch of road near Gallup, N.M.
It’s no wonder that many locals blamed Satan for the highway’s carnage. Many locals worried that the road’s bizarre 666 designation scared off not just tourists, but development. Hence the name change in 2003. Just to show how serious state officials took citizens’ worry about the highway, the recommendations filed by Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to eliminate the 666 designation included the following resolutions: “WHEREAS, the number “666” carries the stigma of being the mark of the beast, the mark of the devil, which was described in the book of revelations in the Bible; and WHEREAS, there are people who 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 …” etc. That sounds like a textbook definition of a haunted highway. Even today, the highway is commonly referred to as the “road formerly known as the “Devil’s Highway.”
2. Archer Avenue
The legend of the “vanishing hitchhiker” is hardly a modern phenomenon. It dates back to at least the 1870s and can be found in several countries around the world, including Russia and China. Archer Avenue, in the village of Justice a few miles west of Chicago, may be home to the most notable vanishing hitchhiker tale in the U.S. Since the 1930s, dozens of drivers have reported picking up a young, blond woman in a white party dress hitchhiking along the road. The mysterious woman remains silent in the vehicle, then asks to be let out at Resurrection Cemetery along the road, where she promptly vanishes. In one version of the legend’s origin, the ghost known as “Resurrection Mary” had been dancing at a local nightspot when she got into an argument with her boyfriend and decided to walk home; a hit-and-run driver struck and killed her. Mary’s parents buried her in a white dress in Resurrection Cemetery. But some researchers who have attempted to determine the origin of the Resurrection Mary tale believe she was a young woman who died in a car crash either in the 1920s or ’30s.
If that were all there were to Archer Avenue, it would be a fine tale to tell around the campfire, nothing more. Yet the road has been the scene of other strange encounters going back generations. There are several other cemeteries along the road known, and it passes through some forest preserves. One theory holds that the road runs along a “ley line,” one of the hypothetical lines that circle the Earth and concentrate paranormal energy.
1. Clinton Road
The New York Daily News did a feature on this road in 2014, calling it, “The scariest and strangest stretch of road in the U.S.” Located in the town of West Milford in Northeast New Jersey, this 10-mile stretch of highway is heavily wooded, curvy, and there are only a few houses set back from the road. As a local police chief once told the Hackensack Record, “It’s a long desolate stretch that makes the imagination go nuts.” Imagination or not, there have been countless reported sightings of paranormal activity. The most prevalent incidents involve sightings of a ghost boy who supposedly died at the bridge over Clinton Brook and near Dead Man’s Curve. Phantom vehicles have been sighted, appearing out of nowhere; one is a Camaro driven by a girl who supposedly died in a crash along Clinton Road. Others have reported encountering cryptids, mysterious unidentified creatures.
Clinton Road’s true history is spooky enough. A mobster once disposed of a body along the road. Also easily visible along the road are the ruins of the abandoned Clinton Ironworks. Built in the early 1800s, these remains have been likened by some to a Druid temple or Satanic worship site. Then there’s Cross Castle, a family home in the early 1900s that later burned and was abandoned. Many reported supernatural sightings have been reported there. So many people visited the ruins that local government officials ordered the remains torn down, although hiking trails still lead to the area. It may be no coincidence that several of the roads in this story are rural highways near major population centers. People have heard the creepy stories, drive the road to see for themselves, and share their adventures, true or not. And so the legends and mythos surrounding these highways continues to be passed down through generations.