By Kathi Kresol
Most people in this area have heard of the Resurrection Mary story from Chicago. But Rockford had its own hitchhiking ghost during the summer in 1933. What makes this story especially intriguing is that the Chicago story was first reported in 1934 or 1935 (depending on the source).
In an article written in the Register-Republic on July 15, 1933, a couple told of their encounter with the “hitch-hiking wraith.”
The couple was returning to Rockford after a visit to the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. They were on Highway 20 which was more commonly called the U.S. Grant Highway. Theirs was the only car on the highway when they spotted the woman on the side of the road. She was dressed all in black and just seemed to appear in their headlights.
They pulled to the side of the road and asked if she needed some help. The woman accepted their offer and slipped into the back seat. They all spent some time chatting. The couple noticed that the young woman was beautiful and dressed as if going to a party. She spoke of friends and dancing the night away. The woman told the couple her name was Mrs. Johnson and gave them her address in Rockford.
Mrs. Johnson spoke quite a bit about her life in Rockford and the party she had attended. The conversation wound down after a while and the couple noticed that the woman had gone silent. They figured that she had fallen asleep. The wife leaned over the seat to check on the woman and was horrified to notice that the back seat was completely empty.
The husband brought the car to a sudden stop and the couple searched the car and the surrounding area for the young woman. They found no sign that she had even been in the car.
They traveled the rest of the way back to Rockford in silence. Neither of them got much sleep during that long night. In the morning they discussed the incident, trying to remember every detail that the girl had shared with them.
They decided to go to the address she had provided the night before. They arrived at the house and hesitantly approached the door. The man that answered the door looked very confused as they explained the whole situation. He answered that yes, a young lady named Mrs. Johnson had lived there. But she had been killed some time ago when she was struck while walking on the highway.
The man showed them a picture of Mrs. Johnson and they were able to identify the girl in the picture as the one they had picked up the night before. Unfortunately, the couple was not identified in the article nor was Mrs. Johnson’s address shared.
Research into possible deaths on the U.S. Grant highway did reveal that there was a Mrs.Johnson that was struck by a car and killed on that road in 1932. She was out with two other women when for some unknown reason they pulled their car off the highway by a little cafe outside of Belvidere. The three women decided to walk on the highway and were struck by a car driven by a local businessman. Mrs. Johnson was instantly killed and the other women suffered severe injuries though not life-threatening. The three women had spent the evening at a party and were supposedly intoxicated. This was during prohibition and there was an investigation into where they had obtained the liquor. Mrs. Johnson was divorced and the mother of two small children. The last mention of the accident stated that the authorities were still attempting to find the relatives of Mrs. Johnson.
The stories of the ghostly hitch-hiker along U.S. Highway 20 continued for quite some time during 1933. All of the stories were very similar and spoke of the confusion and fear of the good samaritans when they realized that their passenger disappeared without a trace from the back of a moving vehicle. R.
Kathi Kresol is a local author, historian and organizes paranormal events for Haunted Rockford. Her latest book, “Haunted Rockford, IL” was released in the beginning of October. Kathi will be sharing some of her favorite ghost stories from the area at several events during the Halloween season. Please visit the website at hauntedrockford.com for a complete listing of events and ticket information.