Sunday, August 27, 2006

THE MYSTERIES OF OHIO: THE PHANTOM OF ROUTE 40
This is less a post than a request for information. While checking out Wikimapia, Wikipedia's globe-mapping project (slogan: "Let's describe the whole Earth!") I naturally drifted to Englewood, Ohio, the suburb of Dayton I call home. (A side note: I'm currently returning from a trip there and enjoying the free Internet access at the Dayton International Airport.) Naturally, one of the landmarks singled out for description was the Englewood Dam, one of several massive dirt dams built in response to the Dayton floods of 1913. It's a remarkable structure that's also the base for a mile-long stretch of Route 40, the original cross-country highway that's since been more or less supplanted by Interstate 70.


So here's what Wikimapia says about the dam: "The largest dam maintained by the Miami Conservancy district, it was constructed in 1919 and consists of as much earth as the Great Pyramid of Giza." That last bit's news to me, but it makes sense. Then the entry takes a strange turn. "This was the haunt of the Phantom of Route 40 (the National Road) circa 1952." Wha huh? I grew up around there a couple of decades later and never heard anything about any phantom. Seeking out information, I went to Forgotten Ohio, a website maintained by Andrew Henderson, author of Weird Ohio and Forgotten Columbus. I came across a somewhat chilling account of a ghost girl said to haunt the dam, but this didn't sound like my phantom.


A Google search yields this item from the Englewood Independent referencing a Route 40 exhibit has this reference: "Visitors to the society's history tent can enjoy listening to a recording by Jim Colegrove of 'The Phantom of Route 40,' a song that tells the story of the harrowing experiences of truck drivers crossing the Englewood Dam in 1952." Elsewhere, you can find the lyric to the song, but it doesn't shed as much light on the phenomenon as you might expect, apart from referencing a skeletal phantom and a sheriff who dared to challenge him.


So, anyone out there know what this is all about?



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6 comments:

Gregg said...

I don't remember it from the first three volumes of Haunted Ohio, but apparently there have been additions to the series since I stopped purchasing. I can say that if that Dam was haunted, I certainly would have seen the ghost given the number of times I drove across it in the middle of the night.

Keith said...

I checked for it in all volumes of Haunted Ohio (five now, believe it or not) and found nothing. The author of Forgotten Ohio has yet to get back to me.

Jim Colegrove said...

The Phantom is a mystery that wasn't solved. Sometime around 1952, truckers traveling on Rt. 40, usually in the vacinity of the Dam, experienced an approaching auto that would flash its bright lights at them and head straight for them. As the car then got closer to the truck, the car's lights would go off. As the car passed the trucker, it was reported, the trucker saw a glowing skeleton behind the wheel. There were numerous sightings. This mysterious driver sent a letter to the county sheriff, and challenged him to catch him if he could. The lyrics in the final verse of the song I wrote (Phantom of Rt. 40) are direct quotes from the Phantom's letter. Alas, he did dissapear without a trace.

I have spoken with a journalist, Martha Hardcastle, from the Englewood area about the Phantom. She thought that the Phantom might be included in a future edition of Haunted Ohio. She even did an article on me and the Phantom song but it was not published as far as I know.

The Phantom of Rt. 40 is on a CD titled "Down On The Borderline" by my group Lost Country (R). It is available at Amazon.com - http://www.amazon.com/Down-On-Borderline-Lost-Country/dp/B00006B5WL/sr=1-3/qid=1157479478/ref=pd_bbs_3/104-4481790-7006300?ie=UTF8&s=music.

I can be reached at coolg@thecoolgroove.com - http://www.lostcountry.com

andyh027 said...

This is Andy from Forgotten Ohio. Keith, I'm mortified that I missed your e-mail since I'm a big fan of yours and a very regular AV Club reader. I get so many e-mails I just don't open them all, and I feel terrible about it, but I just can't keep up with them. How do you handle it, since I'm sure you get a hundred times what I get?

The Phantom of Route 40 lyrics are absolutely fascinating; I'm going to have to find a way to post them on my website. Unfortunately I never heard of the Englewood Dam's ghost being associated with the old National Road; it's a very local haunting. It does happen to be tangled up with the Pattys House nearby, and the supposed "hanging tree" (but there are hanging trees all over the placee). In the other direction, there are a couple of ghosts said to haunt Route 40 itself. One is the woman who floats above Lady Bend Hill in Belmont County; another haunts a dip in the road called Deep Cut in Muskingum County. I've been to both locations but never saw anything (not that I've ever seen a ghost).

I wonder if those lyrics are based on anything more than the songwriter's imagination. If that's a "real" legend from the Dayton area, I'm ashamed that I've missed it after all these years. And I just sent my "Ohio Hauntings" book in to the publisher.

Anyway, write me anytime and I'll be sure to get it. I'm doing better these days. I think.

theo paijmans said...

I have collected a huge amount on the Phantom of Route 40 and am planning to write an article about it.

You can find my blogs here:http://dieschwarzesonne.blogspot.com/, http://hyborea.blogspot.com and http://subterraneus.blogspot.com/

kind regards,

Theo Paijmans

Chris Woodyard said...

You'll find my version of the story in Haunted Ohio IV, starting on page 15. And on this blog post giving some of the contemporary news accounts here:
http://wp.me/p3gOGE-2fJ