Travel one of the USA's most haunted roads: Route 66
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The first time I fell in love with America was back in elementary school. I remember reading travel books and looking at the map of the States. My attention was drawn instantly to the Mother Road, or Route 66, connecting Chicago Illinois to Santa Monica, California.
I don’t know why, but back then, as a 11-year-old girl, I made a promise to myself that I would one day drive on the famous Will Rogers Highway, and that it would be the adventure of my lifetime. America? The American Dream? That’s impossible, it’s unrealistic – I heard people say.
But day by day, year by year, I delved deeper into subjects deeply engrained in American history, such as patriotism, freedom, power, social inequality, the ‘melting pot’, as well as the life of the average Joe in America. I knew that one day I would fulfil my wish and that I had to be prepared for it when I do.
So it came to pass that ten years later, I set off on a journey from Chicago to Santa Monica, CA in order to discover what the real United States had to offer, not the country I read about in books. USA is like a glowing hillside town, acting as a homing beacon to those who love and seek freedom.
Will Rogers Highway was opened in 1926 and is approximately 2,500 miles long. Route 66 gained popularity during the Great Depression in the 1930s, when it carried the wave of migrants who sought better living conditions in California.
Droughts in the Great Plains of the American Midwest further added to the migration wave. The road connected the East to the West and became the main transport route between the two regions. Residents of towns along Route 66 started building petrol stations, garages, shops, motels and hotels. In the 50s, they even protested against the formation of the Interstate Highway System. Ultimately, Route 66 was taken off the list of national highways and was granted the status of a ‘historic place’ by Congress. To this day, it is still considered to be a symbol of American freedom.
The longest road of the USA crosses 8 states (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California) and three time zones. It attracts artists, filmmakers, athletes and all other oddballs of the world.
At the beginning of the route in Chicago, on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Jackson Boulevard, you can meet people from all walks of life, just as they’re about to set off on their journey towards freedom. The Route 66 sign, marking the start of the road, is constantly photographed by people from all around the world – French newlyweds, students from Brazil, to Moroccan marathon runners. Many believe it is the road where dreams are made – a road which inspires enthusiasm and helps to fulfil the American Dream.
With every step you take, you feel freedom, openness, and freedom again. Route 66 started to gain fame in 1928, when participants of the International Trans-Continental Footrace, also called the Bunion Derby, raced against each other from Los Angeles via Chicago to reach Madison Square Garden in New York (approx. 3,500 miles). The first prize of $25,000 was won by Andy Payne. 32 years later, an American by the name of Pete McDonald walked on stilts the whole way! He received a prize of $1,500.
The road to freedom was completed in many different ways – on roller skates, hopping, or pushing a wheelbarrow. It’s also worth mentioning the impressive feat of Hobo, a 78-year-old man who walked Route 66 to visit his 101-year-old mother. Completing Route 66 also became popular with the elderly, who wanted to feel reinvigorated again and squeeze the most out of life. They sold their belongings, gave most of their money to charity and armed only with a backpack, they hit the open road. In 1972, John Ball received the title of Hero of the East Coast for running Route 66 from California to Chicago.
Route 66 is not only the road of dreams, freedom, wildness and youth. It has also been named the most haunted road in America. The most haunted place along the Route is thought to be the KiMo Theater in Albuquerque. In 1951, during a showing of Abbott and Costello, a tragedy struck – a water heater in the theatre’s lobby exploded, killing a six-year-old boy, Bobby Darnall Junior. After the incident, strange things started happening inside the theatre – lights started turning off and on by themselves, decorations dropped from the ceiling, even when they were securely tightened and electrical equipment stopped working. It was said that the place was haunted and people gathered toys, food and clothes to appease the spirit of the boy. Even to this day, the theatre staff continue to bring gift packages to the site of the gruesome event.
Another paranormal activity along Route 66 takes place at Fort Richardson, where people have reported hearing screams, the cries of a little girl or seeing a soldier dressed in a Union uniform. Witnesses also talked about spectres following them. The strangest activity along the Route, however, was witnessing the apparitions of two ex-miner brothers, who died in a mining accident in Calico, California. In the same town, people have reported seeing the ghosts of the elderly, who lived in Calico all their lives.
The longest road of the United States is also the paranormal road to freedom.
Read more about Illinois in our Top Destinations 2017 guide here.