Here in the mountains of East Tennessee there’s a legend of a horsedrawn wagon, with a man holding the reins and a woman riding shotgun, that appears on a certain very curvy road, usually on misty mornings. The wagon is moving along at no faster than a horse’s walk, and a number of motorists have risked life, limb and transport to avoid hitting it—but it vanishes into the mist as mysteriously as it came, just at the moment of impact. It may be the ghostly residue of a long-ago crime, in which a farm couple were murdered along that stretch of road.
Vanishing vehicle tales—ranging from horse and buggy through train cars through locomotives on the railroad on up to cars—are not that uncommon. One of my favorites is an actual ghost tale, told by Leslie Rule (the ghost-story-collecting daughter of true crime writer Ann Rule) in her 2006 book When the Ghost Screams.
Rule’s story begins in 1929, with the building of the Cooper River Bridge (also known as the John P. Grace Memorial Bridge) over Charleston, South Carolina’s Cooper River and Town Creek. The ghost story has its origins in a ghastly accident that occurred on the bridge in February 1946.
On February 24 of that year, a ship called Nicaragua Victory was anchored in Charleston Harbor, near the Cooper River Bridge. The captain of the ship gave his crew orders to take up slack in the anchor chains, to keep the ship more or less in one place. However, the crew, misunderstanding the order, raised anchor altogether, and the ship began to drift dangerously close to the bridge.
A married couple named Bill and Dorothy Clapper were on the bridge (it was 2.71 miles long and one hundred fifty feet above the river) when their car was passed by a green Oldsmobile driven by Elmer Lawson. Also in the car were Lawson’s wife, Evelyn; his mother, Rose; and his son and daughter, Robert and Diana. Robert was a seven-year-old, and Diana a mere three.
In 2005, in an interview, Dorothy Clapper recalled that as the Lawsons’ car passed theirs, the two children waved at her and Bill.
And, just as Elmer Lawson got back into his lane of traffic, Nicaragua Victory, adrift, slammed into the bridge, causing a two-hundred-forty foot span to collapse into the river.
The Clappers were able to stop in time. The Lawsons plunged into the river, and all five were killed when the Olds hit the water. It took days to recover the bodies, and six months to repair the bridge.
From that time until the bridge was dismantled in the late 1990s, there were infrequent reports that people driving on the Cooper River Bridge, especially in February, have spotted an old model green Olds, stopping and starting erratically. The most detailed sighting was by a family of five, who reported that, as they passed the strange old car, they saw a family of five inside it, all of them obviously lifeless, pale, eyes set—a man and wife in the front seat, an older woman and two children in the back. The living driver, scared nearly to a halt, dropped back as the Olds vanished before his (and his family’s) eyes.
The old Cooper River Bridge has been replaced, nearby, by the eight-lane Ravenel Bridge and, as far as I know, there have been no more reports of sightings of the Lawson family, dead now for more than six decades.
There is one other story of a vanishing vehicle that has mystified three witnesses from Louisiana for nearly four decades now, but it may be a story not of ghosts, but of, of all things, a time slip—when someone from one historical time finds themself, inexplicably, either in a past or future setting. I first encountered this story in Janet and Colin Bord’s Unexplained Mysteries of the 20th Century (1987), but there are a number of online links that give more details than the Bords’ account, which appears in a “gazetteer of strange events” at the end of the book.
Two men—identified online as “L. C.” (allegedly his true initials) and “Charlie” (a pseudonym) were traveling on Highway 167 between Lafayette and Abbeville, Louisiana on October 20, 1969 when they spotted, ahead of them, a car that appeared to be a 1940 model. The driver, a woman in 1940s clothes and hat, seemed to be driving erratically, as if lost, looking out the windshield and both side windows; when the two men drew alongside, they saw a small child—a girl—standing on the seat by the woman’s shoulder, looking frightened. Charlie, on the passenger’s side, rolled down the window and asked the woman if she needed help; she seemed to indicate that she did, so L. C. and Charlie pulled off onto the shoulder. The woman followed suit, pulling offroad directly behind them, but when the pair looked back, the vehicle had vanished.
L. C. and Charlie got out of their car to investigate and were met by another driver who pulled to the shoulder and leaped out of his car. This man ran toward them, perhaps even more shaken than they, for he had been traveling behind the old car and had seen it pull to the side of the road and disappear.
And there the story ends. L. C., Charlie and the unidentified man have stayed in periodic contact over the years, as much to verify with each other that they did have that odd experience so many years ago, but also to report that, from that day till this, there have been no other sightings of a lost woman and child in a car from 1940 along that stretch of road, nor yet any reports of a woman and child missing in the area who might have returned as ghosts.
The most likely explanation for this “vanishing vehicle” is, in fact, a time slip—but if so, no one has been able to trace a story from another, “normal” place and time of a woman and child who found themselves inexplicably in a strange place in a strange time.
Either way, it’s spooky.