Legend has it that a ghostly hitchhiker wanders along the shoulder of the old Highway 12 route between Ski Hi Road and Skillet Creek near Baraboo late at night.
He wears a green jacket, has dark hair and has a penchant for disappearing and reappearing before passing traffic. Drivers who claim to have seen the mysterious figure describe similar experiences.
“What people have reported is they’ll see this guy walking, and they’ll pass him and see that there’s someone on the side of the road,” said Todd Roll, a paranormal researcher and academic librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Richland. “Then they’ll go three or four miles down the road and the guy will be there again.”
Chad Lewis, an author and paranormal investigator from Eau Claire, has been looking into the phantom hitchhiker for more than a decade and has struggled to find information about who the person could be. However, he still receives emails from readers who claim to have seen the man in the green jacket, and their accounts have been “eerily similar.”
“The people that I’ve spoken with that claim to have seen it, they were pretty credible, logical, rational, down-to-Earth people like most paranormal witnesses are,” he said. “They were just convinced that they had seen something out of the ordinary.”
The story of the phantom Highway 12 hitchhiker is one of several legends that make up the spooky folklore of Baraboo. Roll, who has nearly 30 years of experience as a paranormal researcher, will deliver a presentation on the hitchhiker and other local ghost stories at 7 p.m. Thursday in the T.N. Savides Library at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County.
Roll said the haunted hitchhiker is an archetypal ghost story that’s told around the world. There’s even a “Twilight Zone” episode from 1960 that depicts a phantom hitchhiker. Despite its popularity, Roll said little is known about Baraboo’s hitchhiking specter.
“Looking for information about who this person could be, there’s really nothing there,” he said. “I haven’t heard of anybody who has a theory as to who this person was either.”
Roll said his presentations sometimes turn up more leads on unexplained phenomena, as audience members often share stories or experiences that can lead to new information. He said he hopes his talk at UW-Baraboo could lead to new findings on the identity of the hitchhiker.
“That’s one of the reasons I like to do these talks is because I’ll offer time at the end of the talk for people to ask me questions and also share stories if they’re comfortable,” he said.
Roll said his interest in the paranormal began as a child reading stories of the Loch Ness Monster and other myths and unexplained urban legends. In college, his fascination became a hobby as he and his friends began exploring haunted sites across Wisconsin.
When they first started out, Roll said he would use meters, infrared cameras and other equipment seen on reality ghost hunting shows on cable TV. As the years progressed, however, he became more interested in the stories of people who experienced paranormal activity.
“Initially for me it was trying to prove that there was something there, so that there was something that we could actually measure,” he said. “As the years progressed, that became less important to me.”
Roll said he hopes his talk will inspire listeners and teach them more about local history.
“One of the things that I also enjoy about this is you not only hear the ghost stories, but you hear about the history of the location,” he said. “Non-paranormal stuff is interesting, too.”