The redheaded hitchhiker, who is said to haunt a stretch of Route 44 in Rehoboth, always wears a red flannel shirt. When he vanishes (and he always vanishes), he leaves behind a burning cigarette and the sound of his maniacal laughter.
“Make sure you keep this seat clear,” John Horrigan says, as he and Matt Moniz climb into the front seats of the red Honda Element. “The hitchhiker likes cars with three passengers.”
“And let’s make something very clear,” adds Moniz, a 39-year-old chemist with long black hair who looks like a roadie for a metal band. “If we encounter anything out there, do … exactly … as … I … say.”
November is the cruelest month for paranormal investigators. The Halloween lectures have dried up, and it’s time to go out into the field and find something to talk about when the historical societies come calling again next year. Rehoboth is a good place to start.
A sleepy hamlet just east of Providence, Rehoboth has just over 10,000 living residents, according to the Census Bureau, and a few dozen non-living residents, according to the paranormal community. It’s often said to be the most haunted town in Massachusetts.
It’s just after 11pm on a gorgeous November night, 11.11, but as Horrigan pulls the car into Rehoboth, the road appears to vanish. “This is some seriously creepy fog,” he says, though it’s hardly necessary.
First up is the 18th-century Rehoboth Village Cemetery, where there have been reports of an old man weeping for a woman named Catherine. Horrigan and Moniz ready digital audio recorders to look for EVP, electronic voice phenomena. A black-and-white cat sits motionless on a fencepost across the street from the cemetery, watching silently.
The cemetery has a few dozen headstones and a weird vibe that only gets weirder when Moniz starts talking to the spirits. “What is your name?” he intones, hoping to catch an anomalous voice, inaudible to the human ear, on his audio recorder. “Do you have a message for Catherine?”
There’s no response, but Moniz says that isn’t a problem. In the past, he claims to have recorded everything from complete sentences—“I wish my family were here. I miss them”—to garbled phrases spoken in reverse.
Moniz says he’s “had an interest in the paranormal for as long as it’s had an interest in me.” When he was 5, he lived below the Sagamore Bridge on Cape Cod and says a ghost entered his bedroom and touched him. Since then, he says he’s had several ghost encounters, seen a UFO with four other people, and been thrown 5 feet into a wall after he foolishly tried to challenge a demon he couldn’t see.
The Hornbine School, a nicely preserved one-room schoolhouse built in the 1840s, is the ghost hunters’ next stop. Horrigan said the white clapboard building is a hub of paranormal activity, with reports of everything from glowing orbs and furry creatures to the sounds of a class in session.
The schoolhouse is quiet, but off to the side, a large, million-candlepower flashlight lies in the grass—the kind you might use if you were looking for something in the woods. “It probably just fell off a utility truck,” Horrigan says quickly. He is 45, originally from Dedham, and appears to be quite sane. As he gets back into the car, he says, “I’ve been doing this stuff for 17 years, but to tell you the truth, I don’t want to see anything out there.”
There are no hitchhikers on Route 44 tonight, though Horrigan has red hair and probably gives some locals a thrill when he walks the shoulder to take photos. Horrigan makes two passes up and down Route 44, regularly letting off three blasts from the car horn (this is supposedly how you summon the hitchhiker).
The night ends at Anawan Rock, which is on Route 44 and marks the site where the colonists captured the Wampanoag chief, ending the bloody mess that was King Philip’s War. The rock is large and steep and on the edge of a swamp. Moniz stands at its base and explains that several visitors to the rock have reported hearing a voice say “Lootash, lootash.” It’s an Algonquin term meaning “Stand and fight.”
Moniz begins the EVP process, though this time he does it in Algonquin (he explains that he’s part Native American). As he waits for a response, it’s eerily quiet, as if the white noise of the world has disappeared and all that remains is the heavy breathing of Moniz and Horrigan.
As they walk back to the car, there is a palpable feeling of sadness. The night has produced no ghosts or strange voices; just the strange, unmistakable feeling that we were not alone.
THE CROWDED HOUR, IN WHICH BAKER SPENDS AN HOUR WITH A NOTABLE LOCAL, RUNS MONTHLY IN THE WEEKLY DIG.
Epilogue from John Horrigan: "At one point Billy was so scared I thought that he was going to piss his pants in my car."