I decided to write Haunted Route 66 because I wanted to chronicle some of the more interesting and bizarre tales of the "Mother Road." However, the project took on a life of its own: Rather than simply collecting ghost stories, I found myself driving down a road -- metaphorically and physically -- toward something profound.
As I made my way through Route 66's history, I wondered what it would have been like to drive along the road in it's heyday. This was once a bustling place and, In addition to the hauntings covered in the book, I began to appreciate the real ghosts of Route 66: empty shells of gas stations, restaurants and hotels. I thought about the people who had traveled the road over the years and realized that many of the stories I was telling in Haunted Route 66 were really about them. The ghosts I was writing about were just normal people pursuing their aspirations and dreams down an American road.
Another thing that I started to realize was that, in its prime, the people traveling along this road had a much different mindset than we have today. These people were -- for the most part anyway -- more interested in quality rather than quantity.
Our world has certainly changed in the 87 years since Route 66 was commissioned.
John Steinbeck may have put it best in his classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, when he wrote: "They's a change a-comin. I don't know what. Maybe we won't live to see her. But she's a-comin'. They's a restless feelin'. Fella can't figger nothin' out, he's so nervous." Maybe that is what Route 66 can give to those who have that restless feeling, an opportunity to reach back in time to a more carefree and uncomplicated way of life.
For a history buff and longing for a simpler time, driving down and researching Route 66 felt like a homecoming for me. The stories I found along the road provided an opportunity to explore a new and rather mysterious world. I didn't meet any ghosts, but I was haunted by the image of what our greatest highway once was.
For years prior to the construction of Lawler Ford Road as an access road between the Meramec River and a nearby railroad in the 1860s, the area has been known for its orbs or ghost lights. Today, the ‘spook lights’ can still be seen on occasion. In 1876, a woman named Della McCullough was struck and killed by a railroad car. Her screams can still be heard and have been recorded on several occasions. Eventually, Lawler Ford Road became a popular hangout for teenagers, who nicknamed it Zombie Road because of the number of paranormal events that have taken place in the area.
The 200-foot Goldenrod Showboat was constructed in 1909 in St. Charles, Missouri and for nearly twenty years the riverboat provided high quality musical, vaudeville, and other forms of entertainment. In 2002, the Goldenrod was purchased and moved to its current location in Kampsville, Illinois. One ghost associated with the riverboat is believed to be the daughter of the Goldenrod’s captain, who was found brutally murdered and found floating in the Missouri River. Another ghost is known as the Man in Black, who has been reported to watch visitors while they tour the Goldenrod today.
Shortly after opening in 1929, the Coleman Theater developed the reputation of being a first-class vaudeville theater that hosted several acts including Bob Hope, Will Rogers, and Bing Crosby. Several years later, the Coleman was renovated into a movie theater. One ghost is that of a projectionist known to wear Bay Rum cologne, which can occasionally be smelled in the projection room to this day. Another ghost can sometimes be seen in one of the old dressing rooms backstage.
Some believe that John Wilkes Booth did not die shortly after assassinating Abraham Lincoln in 1865, but rather changed his name to John St. Helen and moved to Granbury, Texas. Like Booth, St. Helen had a considerable limp, quoted Shakespeare in everyday conversation, and was an alcoholic. St. Helen frequented the Granbury Opera House before one day leaving as suddenly as he arrived. Today, the strong smell of liquor and an occasional apparition of a man thought to be John St. Helen can be seen backstage at the Granbury Opera House.
The Mine Shaft Tavern is located in Madrid, New Mexico. Madrid was mining town founded in the 1850s and all but abandoned a century later. In the 1970s, several buildings in the town were purchased and renovated, including The Mine Shaft Tavern. Today, the Mine Shaft Tavern is reported to be one of the most haunted places in Madrid. In addition to poltergeist activity, there is a mirror in the tavern that may be haunted. It is claimed that if a person looks into the mirror, he or she can see the apparition of miner looking over their shoulder.
On April 10, 1992, we lost one of the great comedians, Sam Kinison, in an automobile accident when his 1989 Trans Am was hit by a 17 year old boy near Needles, California. Kinison died at the scene of the accident. Since that time, at the site of the crash, there have been reports that the Trans Am that he was driving will appear with the occasional sounds of the crash accompanying the apparition.