THE VANISHING HITCHHIKER
This version has the basic elements -- not necessarily "original" ones -- well known in oral tradition and occasionally reported in newspapers since the early 1930s. The stable story units have been labeled in brackets in the following text from South Carolina collected by workers of the South Carolina Writers' Project (Work Projects Administration) sometime between 1935 and 1941:
Variations on the basic story are endless, and trying to sort them out into any kind of possible chronological development is hampered by the fact that the date when a version happened to be collected and published bears little relationship to its possible age in tradition, and by the principle that legends become highly localized and rationalized with many circumstantial details whenever they are adopted into a particular context. For instance, the plot has several different twists and turns in this 1935 version (paraphrased by the collector) from Berkeley, California:
A strictly urban setting for the story allows for more precise and thorough double-checking of factual details. In 1941 Rosalie Hankey of the University of California, who was gathering materials for a lengthy study of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," tried to verify specific accident reports from Berkeley. In one version the automobile crash in which the girl was killed was supposed to have happened in 1935 or 1936 at the corner of College and Bancroft. But in checking the Berkeley city records from 1934 to 1937, Hankey found that only a single accident involving personal injury, non-fatal, had occurred at that corner during the five-year period.
The specific "proof" in the story of the hitchhiker's actual presence in the car and her status as the ghost of a particular individual is always a key motif. Besides the book she leaves behind in Example C, the object may be a purse, a suitcase, a blanket, a sweater, a scarf or some other item of clothing, or simply footprints or water spots in the car. The identification of her at the family's home may depend upon showing the object to her relatives, or upon the driver's description of her, the girl's name, or a photograph of her which is displayed on the piano or mantel and which often shows her wearing the same party dress in which her ghost appears. One group of variants which includes either the clothing (hers or something borrowed from the driver) or the portrait detail (sometimes both) moves the climax of the story to a cemetery. Also, as in this example from Los Angeles (1940), the pickup in these variants is often made at a club or dance rather than along a street or highway:
(Most versions incorporating the borrowed coat, or sweater, motif improve upon the climax by first establishing through a conversation at her home who she is and when she died. Example D, however, does suggest to us the interesting possibility of hitchhiking-ghost hoaxes, based on the plot of the popular urban legend.)
"Vanishing Hitchhiker" stories involving the portrait-identification motif frequently take a couple of other characteristic turns. The driver may be a cab driver and his passenger a nun who delivers a prophetic message -- albeit an unreliable one -- before evaporating from the back seat. This example comes from Chicago, December 1941:
Mike, the cab driver, tells this story of a mysterious fare he had in early December. Cruising on a street in downtown Chicago he picked up an elderly Sister of some Catholic order and was told to take her to _______ Street. He had his radio on and they talked ahout Pearl Harbor for a while. She said, "It won't last more than four months." Then they drove on and Mike drew up at the address. Jumping out to open the cab door he was surprised to find no one there. Afraid the little old lady "jumped" her fare he hastened to inquire at the address. It was a convent and when questioned by the Superior in charge Mike told of the Sister who had disappeared and hadn't paid her fare. "What did she look like?" the Superior asked, and explained that no Sister from the convent had been downtown that day. As Mike described her, he happened to look at a picture hanging on the wall behind the Superior's desk. "That's her," Mike said, and thought to himself that he would get the fare after all. But the Mother Superior smiled quietly and said, "But she has been dead for ten years."
In a San Francisco variation of the tale collected the following year the cab driver recognizes his passenger in a "life-size statue of the Blessed Virgin," while in some Kingston, New York versions the passenger was identified as Mother Cabrini, the first American citizen canonized as a Catholic saint. About eight years earlier, versions of the "prophesying passenger" subtype of the legend associated with the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933-1934 appeared in the Chicago area. This one, from Joliet, Illinois, 1933, is typical:
Again proving folklore's constant variability, the prophesying passenger tale acquired a new and more accurate form of "proof" which has been dubbed "the corpse in the car." And, as this typical report published in the San Francisco Chronicle (January 26, 1942) shows, the vanishing motif then itself vanishes from the story. (Another possibility is that "The Corpse in the Car" is a separate legend which has merged with "The Vanishing Hitchhiker.")
Near Indianapolis an ambulance passed the Nuddin car, skidded and overturned in a ditch. The driver asked Nuddin to take the patient to a hospital in Indianapolis. The patient was dead on arrival.
"The Vanishing Hitchhiker" is unusual among urban legends in deriving from earlier supernatural folk legends with foreign antecedents. Many ghosts, in fact, are said to be on endless quests -- such as The Flying Dutchman's -- for peace and contentment back home. Folklorist Louis C. Jones established this link to traditional ghostlore by citing a number of New York state versions -- some of them associated with European immigrant storytellers -- reliably dated to the late nineteenth century and involving travelers on horseback. Here is one of his examples:
Mother has told of tales that she has heard of a ghost rider who used to jump on young men's horses as they went past a certain woods near Delmar on their way to parties. The rider, a woman, always disappeared when they arrived at their destination. She was believed to have been a jealous one, but did little harm except riding behind the young man.
A long, artistically told, and highly detailed version of this same legend was collected in Mountain Home, Arkansas, by Vance Randolph in 1941 (credited as being current "about 1930"). Here the girl rides double behind a young man, holding on to him and breathing against his neck. She says her name is Lucy and asks to dismount a short distance before her home near a small country cemetery. The young man rides on to her home, eats supper with her father, Judge Stapleton, and this is the description of their conversation the next morning:
The fellow just set there, and the Judge went on a-talking about what a fine girl his daughter was, and how him and the old woman was pretty lonesome nowadays. "We buried her in that little graveyard," says the Judge. "You can see her stone from the front gallery. There ain't a day goes by, rain or shine, that my wife don't walk over there and set by the grave awhile."
Everything was mighty still for a minute, and then the traveler says: "What was your daughter's name?" It sounded kind of funny the way he said it, but he uas obliged to know. "Her name was Lucy," says the Judge.
Three other versions, from Illinois (2) and Georgia (1) dated by storytellers as having been known in 1876, 1912, and 1920 place the hitchhiker in a horse-drawn vehicle; Professor Jones has also called attention to a Chinese story collected from immigrants in California in which the ghost of a beautiful young girl walks with a young man along the road to her parents' home, whereupon she disappears. In an interesting counterpart to the American legend, the Chinese girl walks behind the man (just as the hitchhiker almost invariably sits in the car's backseat or rumble seat), so that he must turn around in order to notice her disappearance. Also, the Chinese father's reaction is a clear parallel of the scene in later accounts "Yes, that is the precise place where she was killed. It was her spirit which led you here." With such earlier non-automotive versions as this in mind, we can easily agree with Louis Jones's conclusion that "The nonghostly motifs have tended to die out and the more vigorous ghostlore has adapted itself to the changes of transportational environment, as the horse gave way to the auto and bus."It might be added, however, that modern automotive vanishing hitchhikers are documented in far greater numbers and places than any earlier stories involving foot -- or horsepowered travel, and that not all links between foreign and domestic versions or nineteenth and twentieth-century versions of the story complex have been discovered by any means.
One such apparent missing link was produced in 1954 by Haruo Aoki of UCLA when he published this tale of a Korean hitchhiking ghost which bears striking similarities to several of the American variants. He heard it in 1941, which suggests that any cross-influence between the United States and the Far East (possibly through Oriental workers in the West) must have been accomplished at least a few years before the outbreak of war with Japan.
The portrait-identification motif, as we have already noted, has become a regular feature of many American versions. Its source abroad (rather than merely its occurrence) was strongly suggested by a published account of a legend that had swept Petersburg (now Leningrad), Russia, in 1890 which was discovered in 1964 by William B. Edgerton in Moscow's Lenin Library. From the December 16, 1890, The Citizen (Edgerton's translation):
"I was asked to come here and give the sacraments to a sick man," said the priest.
"You must have made a mistake. Nobody lives here except me."
"No, a lady came up to me today and gave me this very address and asked me to give the sacraments to the man who lives here."
The young apartment dweller was perplexed.
"Why look, that is the very woman who asked me to come," said the priest, pointing to a woman's portrait hanging on the wall.
"That is the portrait of my dead mother."
Awe, fear, terror seized hold of the young man. Under the impression of all this he took communion.
That evening he lay dead.
Such is the story.
A version of this story -- "The Ghost in Search of Help for a Dying Man" -- involving a doctor rather than a priest, was reported from London in 1942, and one California "Vanishing Hitchhiker" tale told about 1932 mentions that the ghost, an old woman, is trying to get to the bedside of her dying son. The driver of the car arrives, following his passenger's disappearance, just minutes after the young man has died. (It is assumed that the ghost had made it to the deathbed in time to console her son.) Some folklorists might argue, incidentally, that identification by means of a portrait is a "natural" enough detail to have been invented independently more than once. The theory is called "polygenesis," and it is probably unprovable either way.
The quest for the ultimate origin of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" and its variations pretty well comes to a halt at this point, at least until further nineteenth-century and foreign prototypes are discovered. But updated and localized treatments of the legend continue to flourish in modern folklore, suggesting that the old ghost tale must have some important appeal to contemporary folk. In Hawaii, for example, where forms of the story have been told since the mid-1930s, the hitchhiker has been associated with the ancient Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele. Katharine Luomala of the University of Hawaii and her students collected forty-eight hitchhiking-Pele variants and three more in which Pele is a disappearing guest in a Honolulu luxury hotel. In a totally different urban setting-on Cline Avenue separating Gary, Indiana, from East Chicago and Hammond -- folklorist Philip Brandt George of Indiana University discovered "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" combined with stories about the traditional Mexican spirit La Llorona, or "The Weeping Woman." Perhaps the most striking adaptation to an American cultural tradition is the merging of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" with the Mormon "Three Nephite" tradition. As reported by Utah folklorist William A. Wilson, this combination "from 1955 to 1965 -- was the most popular and intluential story in Mormon folklore...."
According to the Book of Mormon, the three Nephites were disciples of Christ who were granted earthly existence until His Second Coming, and (quoting the Latter-day Saints' scripture) they "... can show themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good" (3 Nephi, 28:30). Oral accounts of their appearances -- usually singly, to Mormons in times of need or distress -- have circulated among the Mormons since the late nineteenth century, with the first hitchhiking-Nephite story reported in 1938. The popular version of the 1950s and 1960s usually included a specific warning to participate in the Mormon food storage program, a hedge against future economic calamaties urged on members by the Latter-day Saints Church since 1936 and repeatedly stressed by Church authorities. Some of these hitchhiking-Nephite stories are projected back in time to the pioneer period, but most of them are modernized, as illustrated in this example:
Professor Wilson, who compared fifty "Nephite-Vanishing Hitchhiker" legends in the Brigham Young University Folklore Archives, points out that the reference in many versions to the travel of Mormons to a Latter-day Saint temple, where only qualified members may enter, lends credence to the stories among Mormon folk. Also, Wilson feels that some Mormons identified the Korean War and the Cold War with the disasters the Book of Mormon prophesied would occur before the final apocalypse for which food was supposed to be stored. Thus this period was conducive to the spread of the legends. Mormon church authorities downplayed the possibility of any of these Nephite stories being authentic messages from God, for, as Wilson puts it, "If He had something important to say to the entire church, God would certainly not bypass His chosen leaders and attempt to spread the message abroad by sending Nephites hitchhiking through the countryside." Apparently this logical reasoning has not bothered the many Mormon folk who find the story to be one acceptable way to help rationalize the great mystery of revelation upon which much of their doctrine is based. As varieties of modern folklore grew and spread they have had to adapt in order to survive. (A biological metaphor is apt, and folklorists have long spoken of "the life histories of folktales" and regional "oikotypes" [ecotypes].) Thus we have seen that the retellings of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" in the United States have varied greatly, bringing in current events (such as the World Wars), local persons (e.g. cab drivers), Mormon "Nephites," a Spanish-American weeping-woman spirit, and countless specifics of places, names, photographs, clothing, and the behavior of the wandering ghosts. Nevertheless, the legend always retains the same basic plot and a powerful core of wonder -- about the strangers we see along the highways and about the fate of those who died young and tragically. As drivers of automobiles ourselves, we imagine that we might sometime pick up one of these lost souls and experience firsthand the things the legends speak of. A literary ghost story such as Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" makes a fine schoolbook piece, but being frozen in print and remote in setting it could never keep pace with the ghost and horror lore in oral tradition. Schoolchildren read Irving's story (at least when they are required to), but they do not tell it. They certainly do tell "The Death Car" and "The Vanishing Hitchhiker."
Another major development in the long and complex history of the roadside ghost is almost predictable, given the nature of folklore and the changing times. Lydia M. Fish of the State University College of New York at Buffalo discovered in more than sixty texts she and her students collected locally that the current hitchhiker is likely to be "a beautiful young hippie clad in shining white" who engages his host or hosts in a conversation about Jesus and His Second Coming before disappearing. Sometimes he even leaves his seat belt buckled up. Actually, up to the disappearance, and perhaps taking the description "shining white" for poetic license, the story is believable, though we have no firsthand version. Hitchhiking youngsters do sometimes have a cause to promote, and Jesus may be it. Here is an example of "Jesus on the Thruway" told in 1972 by a nineteen-year-old man from Amherst, New York, a suburb of Buffalo:
One wonders about the nun in this story. She seems to have no function in the plot and may be simply a survival of the prophetic-nun motif in earlier New York State legends. In a southwest version, the pious passenger is picked up (like many of the female ghosts of the past) on a lonely road at night during a storm. This text was collected by folklorist Keith Cunningham in Arizona in 1978:
As if the life history of this legend is not baffling enough, consider that there is a prototypical "Vanishing Hitchhiker" story (not the true ancestor of our legend) in the New Testament in which the Apostle Philip baptizes an Ethiopian who picks him up in a chariot, then disappears (see Acts 8:26-39). And also, contemporary with the special adaptations of the legend, such as the Mormon or counterculture variants, there continue to be many new accounts of the old ghost story including occasional alleged firsthand reports, such as the following, collected in 1969:
I just hope that poor girl gets wherever it is she's going.
So do I!
|"The Vanishing Hitchhiker" is the only urban legend with a specific motif number assigned to it in the standard folkloristic reference works. See motif E3220.127.116.11. in Ernest W. Baughman, Type and Motif Index of the Folktales of England and North America, Indiana University Folklore Series, No. 20 (The Hague: Mouton and Co., 1966) for a summary of this and related themes as well as bibliographic references.
Published versions of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" are listed below in chronological order with commentary and identification of the sources of texts quoted in this chapter in square brackets:
Jon Lee, The Golden Mountain: Chinese Tales Told in California, Asian Folklore Society and Social Life Monographs, vol. 13 (Taiwan, China: The Orient Cultural Service, 1972). Originally published as Occasional Papers, Manuscript Series, No. 1 (San Francisco: WPA, 1940). [No. 9, "The Daughter Returns," pp. 7-8, is discussed in this chapter.]
Grace Partridge Smith, "Folklore from Egypt [a region in southern Illinois]," Journal of American Folklore, 54 (1941), 48-59. ["The Traveling Spirit," pp. 54-55; ghost enters a bus but vanishes when it crosses a bridge. Identified as a person who died at the spot where picked up.]
South Carolina Folk Tales, Compiled by Workers of the Writers' Program of the WPA (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1941). ["The Girl in the Swamp," pp. 72-74. Example B in this chapter is in footnote no. 187 on p. 72.]
Rosalie Hankey, "California Ghosts," California Folklore Quarterly, 1 (1942), 155-177. [Thirteen texts of "Stories of the Hitchhiking Dead." The version from Berkeley which Hankey checked against police records is on p. 173, and the ghost of a woman traveling to the bedside of her dying son is on p. 175.]
Richard K. Beardsley and Rosalie Hankey, "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," California Folklore Quarterly, 1 (1942), 303-335. [A comparative study of seventy-nine versions. Example C is no. 8, p. 320; Example D is no. 14, pp. 324-325; E is no. 18, p. 327; and F is no. 11, p. 322.]
Richard K. Beardsley and Rosalie Hankey, "A History of the Vanishing Hitchhiker," California Folklore Quarterly, 2 (1943), 13-25. [An attempt to sort out the development of materials summarized in the item preceding. Example G in this chapter is quoted on p. 20, and the London example of "The Ghost in Search of Help for a Dying Man" is in footnote no. 19, p. 17.]
William Hugh Jansen, "Folklore Items from a Teacher's Notebook," Hoosier Folklore Bulletin, 2 (1943), 1-8. [Three texts of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," pp. 2-4; in two she wears a white formal dress under a black cape.]
Anne Clark, "The Ghost of White Rock," Backwoods to Border: Publications of the Texas Folklore Society, No. 18 (1943), 143-147. [Ghost in a sheer white dress, dripping wet, rides in rumble seat; she had drowned three weeks earlier in White Rock Lake. Another version of this story is given in Joe Nick Patoski's article "GGGhost Stories," Texas Monthly, October, 1978, p. 136.]
Louis C. Jones, "Hitchhiking Ghosts in New York," California Folklore Quarterly, 3 (1944), 284-292. [Modified some of Beardsley and Hankey's conclusions, and reported on forty-nine New York versions. Example H in this chapter is on p. 289.]
William Marion Miller, "Another Phantom Hitchhiker Story," Hoosier Folklore, 5 (1946), 40-41. [Occurrence near Canton, Ohio.]
William Marion Miller, "Another Vanishing Hitchhiker Story," Hoosier Folklore, 6 (1947), 76. [From Brown County, Ind.]
Ernest W. Baughman, "The Hitchhiking Ghost," Hoosier Folklore, 6 (1947), 77-78. [Version dated to 1876 from Watseka, Ill., a horse-drawn carriage.]
Edmund Burke, "Funnel Country," New York Folklore Quarterly, 4 (1948), 256-267. [Version set on the Waverly-Owego Road, near Elmira, a place called "Devil's Elbow."]
Hector Lee, The Three Nephites: The Substance and Significance of the Legend in Folklore, University of New Mexico Publications in Language and Literature, No. 2 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1949). [No. 57a. "The Hitchhiking 'Ghost' Nephite," pp. 147-148, an example collected in 1946 in Green River, Utah. Hitchhiker predicts end of war and that the car will carry a corpse later in the day; thirdhand report of a personal experience.]
Gerard T. Hurley, "The Vanishing Hitchhiker Again," Western Folklore, 11 (1952), 46. [Set in the Catskills, New York, about 1933; little old lady hitchhiking to her son's house.] Vance Randolph, "Folktales from Arkansas," Journal of American Folklore, 65 (1952), 159-166. ["A Pretty Girl in the Road," pp. 163-164 is Example I in this chapter. Reprinted in Randolph's The Devil's Pretty Daughter and Other Ozark Folktales (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955, pp. 79-81.)]
Margo Skinner, "The Vanishing Hitchhiker Again," Western Folklore, 12 (1953), 136-137. [Report of a well known ghost on the road between La Porte and Michigan City, Indiana, several times reported in the press.]
Mildred R. Larson, "The Vanishing Hitchhiker Again," New York Folklore Quarterly, 9 (1953), 51-52. [Several versions discussed, example quoted from Kenmore, New York.]
"Vanishing Hitchhiker," Western Folklore, 13 (1954), 54. [Report in Los Angeles Daily News, June 10, 1953, of "the ghost of a norteamericano hitchhiker" in Mexico.]
Haruo Aoki, "A Hitchhiking Ghost in Korea," Western Folklore, 13 (1954), 280-281. [Source of Example J in this chapter.]
Leonard W. Roberts, South from Hell-fer-Sartin: Kentucky Mountain Folk Tales (Lexington, Ky.: University of Kentucky Press, 1955). [Text no. 98a, p. 190, "Spirit of the Wreck," is set "up in New York".]
Louis C. Jones, Things that Go Bump in the Night (New York: Hill and Wang, 1959). [Chapter six, "The Ghostly Hitchhiker," used the materials of Jones's 1944 article but reported a total of seventy-five versions from author's New York collection. Called the ghost "Hitchhiking Hattie."]
Jan Harold Brunvand, "An Indiana Storyteller Revisited," Midwest Folklore, 11 (1961), 5-14. [Collected in 1959 from a storyteller from whom it was also collected in 1942, text is on pp. 10-11. She sits in the backseat because she has a cold.]
William B. Edgerton, "The Ghost in Search of Help for a Dying Man," Journal of the Folklore Institute, 5 (1968), 31-41. [Example K in this chapter is on p. 32.]
Stewart Sanderson, "The Folklore of the Motor-car," Folklore [London], 80 (1969), 241-252. [Summarized British version on p. 251.]
George G. Carey, Maryland Folk Legends and Folk Songs (Cambridge, Maryland: Tidewater Publishers, 1971). ["Ghostly Hitchhiker" from a Salisbury, Maryland, man who came from West Virginia, pp. 81-82.]
Douglas J. McMillan, "The Vanishing Hitchhiker in Eastern North Carolina," North Carolina Folklore, 20 (1972), 123-128. [Eleven versions reported, five printed, of which Example O in this chapter is on pp. 124-125.]
Katharine Luomala, "Disintegration and Regeneration, The Hawaiian Phantom Hitchhiker Legend," Fabula: Zeitschrift fur Erzaehlforschung, 13 (1972), 20-59.
Philip Brandt George, "The Ghost of Cline Avenue," Indiana Folklore, 5 (1972), 56-91.
William A. Wilson, "The Vanishing Hitchhiker Among the Mormons," Indiana Folklore, 8 (1975), 80-97. [Example L in this chapter is on pp. 84-85.]
William Lynwood Montell, Ghosts Along the Cumberland: Deathlore in the Kentucky Foothills (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1975). [Twenty texts, nos. 317 through 336, are grouped under the heading "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" on pages 118 to 129, but these really constitute a number of similar tales which are not necessarily related. Of particular interest are five legends (collected from 1961 to 1965) telling of a non-hitchhiking ghost riding horseback behind a person (nos. 318 through 322) and four texts of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" proper (nos. 333 through 336) collected in 1968 and 1969 and invariably including the motif of the borrowed jacket or coat. The ghostly rider is identifed either by a descriptlon or by her name.]
Susan Smith, "Urban Tales," in Edith Fowke, ed., Folklore of Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976), pp. 262268. [Example A in this chapter, "The Disappearing Hitchhiker," p. 265.]
Lydia M. Fish, "Jesus on the Thruway: The Vanishing Hitchhiker Strikes Again," Indiana Folklore, 9 (1976), 5-13. [Example M in this chapter is on pp. 9-10.]
Ruth Ann Musick, Coffin Hollow and Other Ghost Tales (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1977). [Eleven West Virginia texts, collected from 1963 to 1968, contained "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" motif. The dates of occurrence, when specified, were said to be from the "early 1900s" through the 1930s, and some, by implication, were recent. Considerable variation in details and style is perhaps partly explained by the fact that most informants wrote out their texts. Tales involved are nos. 20, 71-77, 79, 80, and 83.]
Editor [Keith Cunningham], "The Vanishing Hitchhiker in Arizona Almost," Southwest folklore, 3 (1979), 46-50. [Example N in this chapter is on p. 46; also contained four texts of versions which differed significantly from the subtypes established by earlier folklore scholars'writings.]
Lydia Fish (see above, 1976) also provided some information on an MA thesis at the State University College of New York, Oneonta, Cooperstown Graduate Program, 1966, by Jansen L. Cox, titled 'The Vanishing Hitchhiker." Of forty-nine texts with male hitchhikers, she reported (p. 7) that Cox has twelve Nephites, an angel, one rider identified as St. Joseph and one as Jesus.
Carl Carmer's story "The Lavender Evening Dress" from Dark Trees to the Wind (1949) is based on "The Vanishing Hitchhiker." It is reprinted in John T. Flanagan and Arthur Palmer Hudson, ea., Folklore in Ameritan Literature (Evanston, Ill.: Row, Peterson, 1958), pp. 99-101. For a "Vanishing Hitchhiker" reference in Jesse Stuart's fiction see Kentucky Folklore Record, 9 (1963),43.
"The Vanishing Hitchhiker" has been the inspiration for sev eral songs and television plots. Perhaps the best known of these popular culture adaptations is Dickey Lee's recording on a 45 rpm single (TCF-102) of the song "Laurie," which is subtitled in parentheses "Strange Things Happen." Laurie, an "angel of a girl," meets the narrator at a dance, walks home with him, and borrows his sweater; later she is revealed to have "died a year ago today," and the sweater is found "lyin' there upon her grave."
In Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter's study When Prophecy Fails (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956), a version of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" is told as part of a sociological study of traditional religious practices; see pp. 239 - 240.