In either 1972 or 1960, a motorcyclist was riding on Blackwall Lane, heading into Greenwich. It was a dark, wet night, and the motorcycle lost traction, causing it to skid out of control. The cyclist hit the curb, or perhaps it was a road sign, and was killed instantly.
Whether the accident occurred in 1960 or 1972, by 1972 a strange apparition was to be found at Blackwall Tunnel, the vehicle tunnel that provides a subterranean route to connect Greenwich with London north of the Thames River. The apparition, variably reported as a young woman or a young man (and occasionally reported as a child), appears at the entrance to the tunnel, trying to flag down passing motorcyclists for a ride. One cyclist picked the spirit up, and drove through the tunnel, discovering upon emerging at the other side that his passenger had vanished. He drove back through the tunnel searching for the person who he was certain had fallen off into traffic, but found no trace of them.
Confused, the cyclist drive to the address that had been provided, only to discover that the young woman or man who he had picked up had died in a motorcycle accident.
Commentary: Not only a vanishing hitchhiker story, but a vanishing hitchhiker story in an underground tunnel. In your face, Resurrection Mary!
The vanishing hitchhiker is an old an honorable ghost-story urban legend. Depending on who you ask, it may go as far back as 2,000 years (some folks will point to a Bible story in the Book of Acts concerning the Apostle Phillip baptizing a charioteer. Whether you buy that early vintage (or even the origin of the modern vanishing hitchhiker genre in this story), these types of tales have been around for a very long time.
One element of the story that is interesting to me is that the gender and age of the ghostly passenger is variable. Although most of the on-line versions refer to a young woman being the hitchhiker, other versions describe it as a child or teenager of either sex, and there are versions of the story in which it is a man in biker's leathers (cue either Steppenwolf or the Village People Music).
It's interesting to note that this story may have picked up it's "origin tale" in the late 20th century, at least two decades after it was first reported. In a 1994 letter to the ever-so august publication The Fortean Times, a man claimed to have been staying in the area of the tunnel in 1960, when he and his wife heard a motorcycle accident that claimed the life of the cycle's driver. It is this letter that also claims that the phantom sound of the accident was repeated two days later.
As with all ghostly stories, there are those who believe this whole-heartedly, and those who dismiss them entirely, and many more people who don't really believe, but don't really disbelieve either. One website asks the question "..but it is worth asking if there is nothing to the tales why do people keep telling them?" as if it is a question unanswerable by those who don't believe, or are at least on the fence. The simple truth, though, is that we keep telling them because they are great stories, and we all like that little "creeped-out/chills-down-the-spine" feeling that we get when we tell the tales.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, these are great stories and an important part of our folklore, and that alone is reason to pass them on.
Sources: Mysterious Britain & Ireland, the Londonist, Road Ghosts, Internet, Published Book, Wikipedia