It happened like this: Shortly after midnight on July 11, a police officer in Mechanic Falls stopped to check on a teenage driver who was frantically flashing his headlights. When the cop approached the car, he found a 16-year-old named David who was badly shaken. The kid was in tears and babbling about something that happened moments ago in Poland.
The story David told was a crazy one but not unique. For generations, travelers through this dark place have told tales of a young lady dressed in white hitchhiking along Route 26. Sometimes she’s dressed in a prom dress and sits quietly in the passenger seat. Other times, she is a bride dressed in white or a morose young woman with a cautionary message to deliver.
But our friend David had never heard those stories. He sat in his car stammering and trying to explain to the frowning policeman what had happened.
Just before 2 a.m., David was driving on Route 26 bound for Oxford. In the midst of all the darkness that collects in the middle of the night in Poland, suddenly there was a gleam of light at the roadside.
“She was standing on the side of the road, near the frozen custard place. At first, it was just a white glow,” David said. “I drove up closer and saw that it was a woman. She looked to be between 20 and 24. I pulled over and she said, ‘Can you bring me to the church on Route 11?'”
You or I might have left 100 yards of peeling rubber on the road as we beat a hasty retreat to a safer and more illuminated patch of the world. Because we have heard the legends before and brother, the Samaritan within us all tends to wither before the mighty force of self-preservation.
But David did the respectable thing and stopped to help the stranger. The woman in white climbed into the car, tucking her gown in around her. Past the middle and high schools they drove. The woman in white asked David if he went to school there. They made small talk but she appeared agitated.
“She asked me if I could start driving faster, because she was late for her wedding,” David said.
Those of us who have been around a while know that when a woman found wandering the back roads starts babbling about going to meet her beloved, what you have on your hands is a ghost. We will take appropriate action, which may include flinging ourselves out the window.
But David steeled up and drove on with the curious woman in the wedding gown. He turned onto Route 11, where even greater darkness gathers, and within a quarter of a mile, he found what appeared to be a church. He stopped between two posts out front and asked his eager rider if this was the right place.
“She looked back at me and she looked like a regular person,” David said. “She said, ‘There is a cop coming.'”
Startled by the comment, David turned to look out the window. Sure enough, the lights of an approaching car appeared and as it passed, he saw that it was a police cruiser. As he continued to watch the police car shrink into the distance, he heard one final word from his passenger.
“She said ‘goodbye,'” David said. “When I turned to look at her, she was gone.”
I’ll give you a moment to rub the chill from your skin.
David is absolutely sure the passenger door of his Camaro was never opened. When he peered out into the night around him, he saw no sign of the woman in white. No brightly glowing gown in all of the blackness along Route 11.
“I was so freaked out,” David said. “I didn’t stop crying until the next afternoon.”
How rattled does a 16-year-old boy in a Camaro have to be to speed off into the night to chase down a police officer? You and I, when we were 16, avoided cops at all costs in the wee hours.
When he found the officer in Mechanic Falls, David begged him for insight. Did you see anyone in my car, officer? Did you see a woman in white climbing out of the passenger side? The officer had seen none of that — only a kid alone in a car sitting at the roadside.
The ghost hitchhiker of Route 26 comes with a variety of stories. In the most common, the woman wandering the dark roads is the murdered bride of George Knight, slashed to death in 1856 in her farmhouse on Route 11. The woman will deliver a warning, or perhaps a prediction, to the person who picks her up. Then she vanishes.
In another version, the roaming woman is the ghost of a young girl killed on her way to the prom. She is said to wander near the Poland Spring Inn, waiting for a ride in her eternal quest to make it to the dance. Like the slain Mrs. Knight, the ghost of the prom girl is said to vanish before the ride is over.
“I don’t think it was either of them,” David says of his spectral passenger. His research — there is plenty to be found on the Web regarding the ghost of Route 26 — has led him to believe that the lady who sat in his Camaro was a bride struck and killed by a car on the way to her wedding in the 1930s; a woman forever trying to reach the site of that long-ago blessed event and disappearing once she arrives.
David was also told that the man who was to marry the young lady is still alive, an elderly man who lives in Oxford.
The terrain of local legend is a labyrinth of falsehoods, misinformation and tiny kernels of truth that get built upon and built upon like papier-mache over decades of retelling. David relates his tale with excitement but without the kind of rhetorical battering you find in those who are trying to convince you of a lie.
I sought him out for this story; he didn’t come to me. He spoke to me only hesitantly once I explained what I was after.
And at last, there is a police report on the matter. The prettily dressed lady may not have identified her killer, or made her way to the altar or the prom. But at the very least, she climbed her way up out of local lore and into the public record.
It took a brave kid in a Camaro to get her there.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can tell him about your sighting of the ghost of Route 26 at firstname.lastname@example.org.