Roads are essential to daily life. These paved travel routes take people everywhere that they need to go, from the workplace to the grocery store and right back home. But roads can also be places where monsters and restless spirits dwell, making their frightening presence known in the darkest hours of the night. Such roads are common throughout the civilized world, and are famous (or infamous) for the legends that surround them. One of the most mysterious of these legends centers on River Road in Perry County, Indiana, where stories of a phantom rider on a fiery spectral horse have persisted since the mid-1800s. Locals know this spirit as the Ghost Rider of River Road.
The Ghost Rider is said to haunt River Road, which is found in Perry County in Southern Indiana. At one time, this three-mile highway was the only thing connecting the towns of Cannelton and Tell City. Today, this route is blocked off to travelers (Marimen, Willis, and Taylor 173). Other roads that are faster and more convenient have been built since those times. But one cannot help but wonder if it was blocked off because of the legend…
The legend of the Ghost Rider began on September 8th, 1858 during a wedding (of all things). Paul Schuster and Amanda Brazee were finally getting married, and both of the couple’s families and friends were gathered together at the Brazee family estate in Mulberry Park for the joyous occasion. Ironically, the estate was located right alongside River Road. Without warning, the festivities were brought to a complete stop when something was seen coming down the road at an ungodly speed. Witnesses soon saw that the figure appeared to be a man, riding on the back of “a fiery black horse” (Marimen, Willis, and Taylor 173). The figure wore a dark, hooded cloak that hid his face and carried a riding crop that he urged his mount onwards with, the steed’s hooves blazing as it galloped down the road. Some of the guests dove for cover, while the others just stared with their mouths hanging open. When the figure reached the party, just before colliding with the terrified onlookers, it stopped and stared at the frightened guests for a moment in utter silence. The rider then reared back on his horse and bolted down the road, vanishing completely when the two came to the end of the property (Marimen, Willis, and Taylor 173; Willis 64).
Gradually, the wedding guests began to regain their senses. They tried to make sense of what the hell they had just seen in rational terms, but no answers were forthcoming. Far too many of them had seen the apparition, so they knew that it wasn’t a hallucination. But they couldn’t help but wonder whether it was a ghost, a demonic manifestation, a malicious hoax, or something else entirely. Finally, they decided that it would be in their best interest to forget about the entire ordeal and get back to the wedding party (Willis 64-65).
After the wedding, news of the ghostly encounter quickly spread throughout Perry County. Most of the folks who heard the tale broke into uproarious laughter, saying that perhaps the liquor had been flowing too freely during the party. However, as time went on, more and more people reported coming face to horse with the apparition as they traveled down the road. These witnesses were honest, churchgoing people, who had little to no reason to lie or to fabricate an outlandish ghost story. Perhaps the sightings of the Ghost Rider actually weren’t the result of a drunken hallucination after all…?
On one quiet night sometime later, a young man was driving his horses and buggy along River Road on his way to Cannelton. From out of nowhere, the Ghost Rider materialized on the road in front of him. The man quickly reined in his team and brought them to a whinnying halt. Scared out of his mind, the young man drew his revolver and fired several shots at the spectral horseman. To his horrified dismay, the bullets had no effect on the rider whatsoever! Freaking out, the man whipped his horses and drove them all the way back to Cannelton like the Devil himself was chasing him down! When he finally got home, his mother and father immediately noticed that their son’s face was as white as a sheet! The young man immediately recounted his harrowing encounter with the Ghost Rider and his fiery steed. Needless to say, they believed him (Marimen, Willis, and Taylor 173).
The next recorded encounter with the Ghost Rider took place on a night in 1890. This time, a young boy was hurriedly walking from Tell City along River Road, trying to make it to Cannelton before an impending thunderstorm hit the area. Nearing Mulberry Park, the boy was startled by the deafening retort of a thunderclap, followed by the inevitable burst of lightning. This lit up the road in front of him, and to his horror, the lad saw the dark figures of a cloaked rider and a horse standing by some trees on the side of the road. The rider made no attempt to move, but the boy was so utterly terrified by the phantasm’s presence that he absolutely refused to try to walk past the spirit or to otherwise draw any closer to it. Now panicking, the young fellow turned around and ran like hell all the way home! Understandably, the boy didn’t try to reach Cannelton again until well after sunrise the next day (Marimen, Willis, and Taylor 173).
Sightings of the Ghost Rider and his fiery black steed continued to be reported for another decade afterwards. In 1900, however, sightings of the phantom began to dwindle as more and more roads were built. Finally, the sightings ceased entirely in 1940 when a flood wall was built over that section of River Road, essentially blocking off the ghost’s path (although how mere bricks and mortar can stop a ghost is anyone’s guess). Nowadays, River Road itself has been all but forgotten, hidden behind a wall and overgrown with gnarled trees and creeping plants. That does not mean, however, that people have forgotten about the fiery, cloaked phantasm and his nightmarish black horse that haunt the road. Nobody seems to know who or what the Ghost Rider is, nor is it known why this cloaked specter terrorized people on River Road for close to half a century (Marimen, Willis, and Taylor 173; Willis 65). And as of this writing, no clues can be found as to the Ghost Rider’s true nature or who he might’ve been during his lifetime, although this blogger suspects that he may have been demonic. If this is the case, then it is very odd that he never actually tried to hurt anyone. Then again, maybe inflicting fear and psychological trauma to those who had the misfortune to see the ghost was all that he wanted to begin with. In any case, there are very few people from the older generations in Perry County who doubt the Ghost Rider’s existence. But if somebody were brave (or stupid) enough to climb up over that wall and walk along River Road’s dilapidated surface at night, what would they find? A heap of legal trouble, or the Ghost Rider of River Road?
Marimen, Mark, James A. Willis, and Troy Taylor. Weird Indiana: Your Travel Guide to Indiana’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2008.
Willis, James A. Haunted Indiana: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Hoosier State. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2012.