A tale of lost love and a tragic death haunts the town of Elmore in northern Ohio as the headless ghost of a motorcycle rider allegedly revisits the scene of his long-ago heartbreak at a bridge here each March.
The story begins with the promise of a young woman that she would wait for her soldier boyfriend and marry him upon his return from fighting overseas during World War I.
The soldier returned to the United States a year later and eagerly sped home to Elmore after purchasing a brand new Indian-brand motorcycle for the last leg of his trip.
He wanted to surprise his girlfriend with his return, so he cut his motorcycle engine as he neared the farm house late in the evening where his girlfriend lived with her parents.
The young man spotted his girlfriend working in the kitchen through an open window as he quietly rolled the bike towards her house. He got off of the bike, snuck into the house and embraced her from behind, expecting a romantic reunion with his true love.
He got a completely different reaction.
The startled woman became even more alarmed as she realized who now stood beside her and screamed.
She thought her youthful love had perished in the war, and the engagement ring on her left hand told the soldier that his love had accepted a proposal to marry someone else.
The heartbroken soldier didn't say a word before fleeing to mount his motorcycle and speed away through the night.
He didn't get far.
He lost control of his motorcycle and locals soon found his body lying alongside a nearby bridge...near his severed head.
Some details get changed and lost through time and repeated retelling of the tale, but that's the basic story I remember hearing before visiting the supposed location of the tragic story.
This spot in northern Ohio farmland looked quiet and serene when we visited last fall, with no sign of the Elmore Rider save a lawn sign at a house near the bridge warning motorists to watch for motorcycles. The bridge itself didn't look particularly treacherous to us, either.
I hear it becomes a different scene on days like Halloween and on March 21, the supposed anniversary of the accident, when crowds of curious folks can gather along the country road hoping for a glimpse or hint of the famous ghost.
Many visitors re-enact some version of a ritual involving honking their horns and flashing the lights on their cars said to bring the ghostly motorcyclist to repeat his death ride before disappearing again into the mists of time.
Reports of blinding lights approaching the bridge and eerie sounds abound as evidence of the ghost's existence, but there is no evidence that I could uncover that this story and accident actually happened.
The story has been around at least 40 or 50 years, but no one has uncovered an obituary, newspaper clipping or contemporary account confirming the details of the story.
Ghost hunters, folklorists and others also occasionally seek out evidence of the story with mixed results.
It's also difficult to find detailed instructions for locating the site because some local residents and officials want to discourage noisy curiosity seekers from gathering in the area or obstructing traffic.
We found the spot fairly quickly as the first part of a two-stage geocache that ultimately led to a cache hidden in a cemetery a few miles away.
The bridge spans Muddy Creek, a branch of the Portage River a few miles southeast of Elmore and about 30 minutes from Toledo.
The road here is in a slight valley, and the bridge isn't particularly high.
What did the site look like in the 1910s? Did large ditches on either side of the road meant to help drain water from The Black Swamp area or lack of guardrails along the bridge create a more deadly situation for the speeding motorcyclist?
Do more modern changes like road resurfacing or replacing the old metal grating bridge deck just a few years ago make the site even more benign now?
We may never really know the answers to these, and other, questions, but I think The Legend of the Elmore Rider will live on for many years to come.
Want to learn more about Elmore, Ohio? Check out Elmore and Genoa by Jennifer Fording.
© Dominique King 2014 All rights reserved