Is The Headless Motorcyclist Legend True?
Every March 21st, like clockwork, just outside the quiet Ohio town of Elmore, legend has it that you can summon the dead from beyond the grave.
Roughly one hundred years ago, a young man returned home from World War I only to find the love of his life had left him for another.
In a fit of blind rage and sorrow, he raced his newly purchased motorcycle through the dark countryside only to suffer a horrifically fatal accident. When processing the scene of the deadly accident the next day, local authorities never found the motorcycle’s headlamp. Neither did they find the young man’s head.
Now, it is claimed, you can drive out to the exact spot where he died and perform a ridiculous ritual that will summon the Headless Motorcyclist from beyond.
If you honk your horn three times and flash your headlights three times, a phantom spooklight will appear from around a bend in the road, glide past you, and disappear as it approaches the halfway point of the bridge where he lost control of his motorcycle so long ago.
Many people have claimed over the years to have performed this exact same ritual and witnessed the phantom spooklight move smoothly down the road past them in the dead of night.
Of course, and as with any piece of folklore, there are just as many people who say the phenomena isn’t real as there are people who claim otherwise; just as many who say they’ve seen it as there are those who claim the ritual doesn’t work.
Whether or not the phenomena is real isn’t the point of this particular entry, though. What is in dispute, for me anyway, is the story used to explain it, namely the accidental death of a motorcycle rider.
Preliminary research into this tale has so far revealed that no such motorcycle accident ever took place, at least not during the timeframe provided by the legend, i.e., the World War I era.
According to existing records, only three motorcycle-related deaths occurred during that timeframe.
In 1913, a woman fell off the back of her fiancee’s motorcycle, suffered a traumatic head energy, and died.
In 1916, a guy died after crashing his motorcycle into a wagon.
And, in 1923, a guy riding a motorcycle died when he got into an accident with a car.
The next motorcycle-related fatality didn’t occur, as far as I can tell, until 1930.
Correspondence with Elmore’s historian turned up no further leads either, but her assurance that the phenomena is legitimate has continued to keep me interested in getting to the truth of the matter.
In answer to your request for information, I have to tell you that I have been unable to find a police report. I have tried hard to find more information but I can’t find an obituary for that time frame of anyone who was killed in a motorcycle accident at that time and at that place.
I am sure, however, that there have been occasions when people have driven to this site (a country road not traveled a great deal), parked their car, went through the kind of goofy rituals required and actually experienced this single headlight come up the road behind them, silently whiz on past and then go out. About 10 years ago, one of my pages (a highly respected honor student), along with her mom and her 2 brothers, went there one evening and the above is what they saw. Lots of people have tried but only a few, as far as I know, have had any success. It sure is intriguing…
Grace Luebke, Local Historian
Harris-Elmore Public Library
But, even though no record has thus far been found that matches the accident as described in the legend, there is still the matter of the phenomena people have claimed to witness year after year. Perhaps the phenomena is real, but the story that explains it is not.
There is even a claim that you can witness the phenomenal event whenever you wish; that you don’t need to wait until March 21st.
According to an anonymous reader submission to the GhostsOfOhio website, a group of people went to the bridge during the summer. The ritual they used differed slightly from the accepted legend. After honking their horn and flashing their headlights, they then allowed the car they were in to idle down the road to where it dead-ends into a “T” intersection. They turned to the right, towards the house that once belonged to the Headless Motorcyclist’s girlfriend and that’s where they witnessed the phantom spooklight come up behind them.
“Whatever it was was right on our rear bumper and the light was so intense we couldn’t see anything else behind us.”
They went back a month later, repeated their summoning procedure, but, this time, nothing happened.
Interestingly, Norm Van Ness from NBC24 in Toledo wrote a small piece about this legend for the channel’s website. In the comments section of the page, there were as many believers as skeptics.
But the final comment is the most interesting…
Is he related to the same Richard Gill that successfully documented the phenomena in 1968? Is he tired of his family name being associated with Ohio folklore?
Either way, people continue to claim they have personally witnessed the phantom spooklight in Elmore. I just don’t think the legend that explains its existence is based in fact.
Time will tell. Stay tuned!
The exact location of the bridge seems to be in dispute as multiple re-tellings of this legend routinely differ as to where the Headless Motorcyclist can be summoned. Of those who claim to have seen the phantom light, for some reason, they are keeping the “true location” a secret.
Cover Photo credit: Joe Thielen, All Rights Reserved, Used Here With Permission
Encounter With The Elmore Ghost, Ghosts of Ohio