The Vanishing Hitchhiker Tradition

The  young man picks up a young lady walking along a lonely stretch of road and offers to take her home. The strangely silent young lady in a pale dress joins the young man in the vehicle and as they journey down the darkening road....the girl suddenly and silently disappears.
This is a version of this familar 'vanishing hitchhiker' tale made popular in the 1920's in Chicago.  Yet, this truncated version was one collected in the south shortly after the Civil War. Washington Irvings'  1824 The Lady with the Velvet Collar is considered another early literary source of the tale type. Some also see the NT story of Philip disappearing after baptising the Ethiopian as a prototype of the same story form. The more familiar form of the story came to national attention with an academic survey and a version of the story on national radio and entertainment outlets in the early 1940's.

In the 1960's and 70's, as everyone was seeking enlightenment through chemical or spiritual means, a new version of the legend cropped up around the US (and elsewhere).  The silent rider was replaced by one who spoke of dire future events, the need for immediate spiritual life changes, or who predicted some local situation.  Few, if any of these prophecies ever panned out, with perhaps the exception of one who seemed to warn about the eruption of Mt. St. Helen's....but the signs, as they say, were everywhere on that one.

Going back far enough and surveying enough cultures and their tales reveals the motif is present into ancient days. They are often buried under layers of cultural elements, political paint, and religious wrappings but they are there.

(See http://www.snopes.com/horrors/ghosts/vanish.asphttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanishing_hitchhiker;http://www.prairieghosts.com/hwy365.html )


Dust, Depression, and Dispair: 1930's

Shack Home, May Ave Camp, OKC, 1939
"Hoovervilles", Sandtowns, Shantytowns...were all names for mini communities of the homeless, jobless, and sometimes hopeless in the 1930's.  In OKC, there was the May Ave Camp, south of the Canadian River. It is generally located as between Pennsylvanis and Byers and May Ave and SW 15th.  In 1935, most reports stated 2,000 men, women, and children were living atop the old city dump eeking out an existence.

There were other camps along the North Canadian River in Oklahoma City, but the one at May and Pennsylvania, was a larger camp . OKC had been unique in organizing formal mini-towns to deal with the depressions displaced workers. Images captured the heartache and suffering of people of all ages and walks of life.

 Elm Grove was such a community established to address the needs of the homeless in a organized manner, including a school but by end of the decade, the attitude had changed.  Some feared the camps might attracted transients with no desire or intent to work and simply support them to the detrament of the city.  The camps were a haunting reminder of hard times well into the early 1950's.

As the early 1930's progressed, the economic depression due to the stock market crash of 1929 was compounded by years of deadly drought that unbalanced the agriculture in ways the stock market could not.

Until as late as the 1980's, some of that area still went by the monikers designating these Community Camps. Especially the area known as Sandtown, Mulligan's Flats, or more oftrn as simply 'the Flats'.  Later, there was one camp near the current Farmer's Market and one further south near the meat packing/stockyards region.

A dump area was along the river on both banks stretching from Villa/Agne all the way past Portland. A lot of this area was simply wide open empty land. After the camps emptied, some were cleared in the 1970's and street expansion took place.  In other areas a more formal dump was in place in the mid century. A large section of the extension of SW 15th went right over the old camp and dump site.  Workers claim everytime there is blade or dirt work done in the are old metal and broken glass come to the surface (near 1-40 and 1-44 near the river.

Much about the life in these camps was captured by photographer Russell Lee in stark and vivid images of life for people whose only choice was the camp.

Periodically, even OKC was touched by the dust storms as well....

Great images and information can be found here ----

LOC at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8b22000/8b22400/8b22463r.jpg

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