U.S. Route 66: Hauntings & Strange Phenomena
In every city and small town across the world, there are roads, and anywhere you find roads, you'll discover strange stories. Oddities and unusual tales, often involving the supernatural or some form of evil, come with the territory. Whether it's a disappearing hitchhiker, a rundown old gas station, a ghost town, drivers who forever disappear, or the devil at a crossroads - the stories are everywhere if you know where to look, what path to walk, or what route to drive.
In every city and small town across the world, there are roads, and anywhere you find roads, you'll discover strange stories. Oddities and unusual tales, often involving the supernatural or some form of evil, come with the territory. Whether it's a disappearing hitchhiker, a rundown old gas station, a ghost town, drivers who forever disappear, or the devil at a crossroads—the stories are everywhere if you know where to look, what path to walk, or what route to drive.
There's an old highway that runs across most of the United States, from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. It's a road whose history runs for over a hundred years, and it's served as a means of escape, a symbol of hope or wanderlust, and for some, a place where lost dreams were laid to rest.
The Rise of the Mother Road, U.S. Route 66
November 11, 1926, is when U.S. Route 66 was officially born. As of writing this, in 2022, we're quickly approaching the one-hundredth anniversary of the creation of one of the most famous roads in the United States of America. I'm betting most people in the U.S., and many people worldwide, are familiar with the 66 highway shield (or, at least, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck) but may not know that the route is chock full of weird.
Back in 1926, automobiles were beginning to become popular, and severe drought drove a lot of farming families out of the midwest and into California. The road wasn't even fully paved until around 1938, but that didn't stop it from becoming so popular. It now runs all the way from Chicago to Santa Monica pier, and the original route was 2,448 miles (around 3,939 kilometers).
Many families simply hopped onto Route 66 and just started driving, hoping where they ended up would be better than the Dust Bowl (that's a newsreel-style documentary from the 1950s—what!) they left behind. As the road became increasingly popular, new small communities popped up along the way, and people settled into the areas. Route 66 was even a road favored by the military for moving supplies during World War II.
Route 66 became an American icon and ran through so many states with such a wide array of interesting and unique spots that it still remains popular today. Plenty of roadside attractions came and went over the years, some of which can still be seen in the dusty remains left alongside the road.
With so many travelers on the road, inevitably, there were car crashes and deaths—enough for Route 66 to become known as Bloody 66. It wasn't only car crashes; all along the route, people fell to every kind of thing imaginable in cars, motels, roadsides, gas stations, and shops.
A Small Sampling of High Strangeness Along Route 66
With a road as old as Route 66, there have been plenty of years for all sorts of weird things to occur, so what follows (in no particular order) is just a tiny sample of the odd tales of high strangeness on the Mother Road.
Did You Know?
The phrase "high strangeness" is a "term of art" used in the field of paranormal research.
term of art
: a term that has a specialized meaning in a particular field or profession
— from Merriam-Webster
(idiomatic) A quality of being peculiar, bizarre, utterly absurd.
— from Wiktionary
Oatman, Arizona: Oatman Hotel
The ghosts of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard reportedly haunt the honeymoon suite, laughing and whispering together.
Flagstaff, Arizona: Hotel Monte Vista
Room number 210 of the Hotel Monte Vista—a knock in the middle of the night means the ghost of a bellboy is bringing room services, but no one is there when the door is opened.
South Pasadena, California: Rialto Theater
Strange phenomena recorded by the Travel Channel. The stalls in the women's restroom reportedly shake as if in an earthquake, and the ghost of a man is said to wander the theater.
Claremore, Oklahoma: Belvidere Mansion
A Victorian-style mansion that was finished after the death of the creator John M. Bayless. John was trying to build his dream home but died of an appendicitis attack before he ever had the chance to see it completed. The ghost of John M. Bayless (un?)living in his dream home after his death is just one of the odd things about the place. Check out some recorded evidence for yourself.
Joplin, Missouri: The Ghost Light
Near the Missouri-Oklahoma border, there's an eerie glow during the night that's been seen as far back as the 1830s. Someone even caught it on video. There are plenty of theories on what it is, but none have been proven.
Amarillo, Texas: The Natatorium
You're probably wondering what in the world a "Natatorium" is. It was a nightclub, a music venue, and an occasional event space—with spirits still lost in dance sighted since around the 1930s. That doesn't even scratch the surface of the place. Here's a twenty-minute video exploring the ghost stories of "The Nat."
Stanton, Missouri: Meramec Caverns
A former hideout of outlaw Jesse James. Some tourists have seen what they believe to be his ghost. Take a guided video tour right here.
U.S. 491, Formerly Route 666
Seriously? Someone actually named a highway "Route 666"? Apparently. As you might guess, the Satanic highway was cursed—with persistent sign thefts. Okay, there were and still are other oddities about the place. On this stretch of road, drivers have been chased by packs of vicious dogs running as fast as the cars they're chasing. Demon dogs aren't the only dangerous thing on old Route 666—there are also vanishing ghost cars, odd accidents, and UFOs.
Today, Route 66 has many names—The Mother Road, Will Rogers Highway, and the Main Street of America—to name a few. It's been featured in everything from music, novels, comics, film, and television, but the underlying idea that's driven so much fame is the functional connection Route 66 has been for almost a century. Before we had smartphones, social media, or the ability to tap and pay, U.S. Route 66 was one great highway connecting hundreds of millions of people to one another. It's still there, an open road welcoming future travelers much like yourself, and if you're interested in a popular spot for the afterlife, you may want to keep this long stretch of road in mind.
Relevant & Related
I could have compiled a multi-volume reference guide here because Route 66 is so full of awesome. I didn't, though, so here is a decent list to get started on exploring more about the Mother Road.
- Take a two-hour-long road trip covering 14 days of driving Route 66 with Through My Lens on YouTube.
- Vox has an excellent ~20-minute documentary on Why Route 66 became America's most famous road.
- A while back, I wrote about a small town in Kansas along old Route 66 with a strange legend: The Witch's Grave of Oak Hill Cemetery in Galena, Kansas.
- Don't miss more about the history of Route 66 in The Rise and Fall of Route 66 (Why America's Greatest Road Fell into Oblivion)
- American singer, jazz pianist, and actor Nat King Cole with a live performance of his song Route 66 from way back in 1951.
- JustinScarred has a ~25-minute video about the Forgotten Ghost Towns of Route 66
- This whole time reading about Route 66, how did you pronounce the word "route"? Was it "rowt" or "root"? You might be interested in these 27 fascinating maps that show how Americans speak English differently across the U.S.
- Author Devon Monk has a series set along the lonely roads of Route 66, beginning with Wayward Souls.
- Joe Sonderman created a stunning book of photos (and stories) titled Route 66 Then and Now® that you won't want to miss. That's not an affiliate link, and I gain nothing by endorsing this other than the satisfaction of passing along something extraordinary to you. Just check out the "Look inside" on Amazon to see what I'm talking about.
- If you're ever planning a road trip along Route 66, you'll want to check out The Best Hits on Route 66: 100 Essential Stops on the Mother Road by Amy Bizzarri.
- Anyone into abandoned places will want to look at Ghost Towns of Route 66 by Jim Hinckley and photographer Kerrick James.
- Speaking of ghost towns, there's a town called Amboy in California that's almost a ghost town with a total population of fewer than five people.
- Listen to a scary short story from Jess Paul: I run a haunted diner off Route 66
- Take It Easy by The Eagles? Yep. Route 66. Standin' on the Corner Park.
- You can still stay in the Blue Swallow Motel—"A Unique Experience out of Another Time"—in Tucumcari, New Mexico.
- I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Route 66 television series from the 1960s. You can watch the first episode online for free over at Route 66: Black November | Season 1 Episode 1 (Full Episode).
- If you want that old spooky lonely road vibe, you'll want to check out author Seanan McGuire's "Ghost Roads" series, starting with Sparrow Hill Road.
I could continue forever, just like a drive on Route 66, but we all need food and rest at some point, so imagine I'm stopping at an old diner for a burger and fries and then hitting the sack at a motel frozen in time across the highway. I'll revisit this page in the future, mainly when I write more about the high strangeness along the Mother Road. In the meantime, remember to take it easy.
Originally published in my weekly newsletter Into Horror History - every week, I explore the history and lore of horror, from influential creators to obscure events. Cryptids, ghosts, folklore, books, music, movies, strange phenomena, urban legends, psychology, and creepy mysteries.
About the Creator
J.A. Hernandez enjoys horror, playing with cats, and hiding indoors away from the sun. Also, books. So many books—you wouldn't believe.
He runs a weekly newsletter called Into Horror History and writes fiction.
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