Anyone who grew up in the Hamilton, ON area will be familiar with The Hermitage Ruins in Ancaster. It’s a conservation area located on Sulphur Springs Road, and is home to the locally famous ruins of the Leith family home. Everyone knows that the grounds around the ruins are haunted, that’s not even up for debate. My story is not about the ghosts that everyone already knows about. My story is about the other ones.
When I was 16, one of my best friends was a guy with a car and a great sense of humour. We were part of a tight group of kids that hung out socially every weekend. At 16, the boys were also intent on scaring the girls whenever they could.
One dark October evening, he and the boys decided that it was time to show me around the back roads of Ancaster, a smaller town just west of Hamilton. Ancaster has a lot of history, with old stone buildings still lining the main street today. When we were in high school, it was also where the rich folk lived. There were a few established neighbourhoods, but the biggest houses were located on those back-country roads nestled in trees for privacy.
He picked me up first because I’d earned permanent “shotgun” status, and then we drove around loading the back seat with our friends. I didn’t know where we were going that night until we pulled onto the main street of Ancaster and I finally asked. The guys all laughed, shooting knowing looks at one another.
“Just going for a drive,” my friend said.
I rolled my eyes and suddenly slid across my seat into the door as he cranked the wheel hard and pulled onto a side street. He was famous for applying WD40 to his seats to make us slide while he drove. I reached up and grabbed the handle above the door, our speed increasing the farther into the dark he drove. The boys in the back seat were whooping and laughing, encouraging him to go faster. I tried to be cool, laugh along with them, but I’m sure my face was pale and I was bracing myself against the back of my seat to keep from sliding right out of it.
With one more hard turn, we were on old Sulphur Springs Road. I’d never been there and had no idea what to expect. Clearly though, tonight’s game was “drive like a maniac in dark back roads to scare Kate”.
Sulphur Springs Road is very narrow, winding between forests on either side. Through the trees I could see lights from the beautiful big houses I’d heard about flashing by. There were very few street lights at that time, which meant that all I could see ahead of us was within the span of the headlights. The road was wet from recent rain, littered with dead leaves and lined with a natural ditch on either side. Every now and then the trees broke to reveal a driveway, but we were passing them so quickly I couldn’t see anything else.
I’m sure that if I was a passenger with a driver who was speeding so recklessly on such a dangerous road at this age, I’d have demanded to be let out. When I was 16, though, it was thrilling. I truly did trust my friends.
I turned around to respond to something one of the guys had said as we rounded another corner at breakneck speed and found all 3 of them looking out the back window, puzzled. I frowned and tried to see what they were looking at, but the red tail lights had long past whatever it was that they’d seen. I turned around to look forward and one of the guys yelled “There’s another one!”. He was pointing out the side window and then looking out the back window again. “Did you see it?”, he asked the rest of the group? Everyone in the back seat had.
My friend slowed down, listening to the guys in the back seat talking over one another while they tried to describe what they’d seen. It was me that saw the next one.
“Was that a…cross?”, I asked out loud to anyone listening. I’d seen a small, white cross sticking up out of the ditch on my side of the road. We’d passed it, but my friend finally stopped the car. We all got out and walked back to approximately where I’d seen the cross, but there was nothing there. Thinking that maybe I’d misjudged the distance, we kept walking. After 10 minutes or so, we realized that we had most likely walked back to a point in the road that we’d travelled before the guys in the backseat had seen anything. They described what they’d seen as small white crosses sticking out of the ditch, too.
Deciding that we were just seeing things through our adrenaline rush, we turned back for the car.
“Holy crap!” my friend yelled, pointing at the same cross the guys had seen. It seemed to be illuminated, although there were no street lights in this stretch of the road and we hadn’t seen another car on Sulphur Springs yet.
We all stopped in our tracks. How had we missed it only a moment before? We edged over to the cross, and my friend touched it. It was real, white painted wood. He pulled his hand back like he’d been shocked and shoved it in his pocket. “It’s real.”, he confirmed. We didn’t know what to say to each other. We just continued to walk back toward the car. A couple of minutes later we saw another one, glowing just like the first had. We gave it a wide berth and walked a little faster along the road.
I noticed at that point just how dark it was. With no street lights and a canopy of very old trees connecting over our heads, there wasn’t even moonlight to help us see where we were going. If another car came zipping along right now, they might not see us until it was too late. I broke into a run, giving the third cross no more than a passing glance as I bolted for the car door.
“Wait! Look!” my friend called out. I stood with my fingers on the handle and turned to see what he was talking about. The glowing cross that I’d just passed was gone. I walked back to where they stood, slowly, covered in goosebumps. My stomach suddenly didn’t feel well, and I wanted to go home.
Three of the guys had walked back up the road, away from the car, past where the cross had been, and turned around.
“It’s right there!” one of them yelled, pointing at what they claimed was a glowing white cross. From our vantage point, there was no cross. My friend walked toward the others, slowly approaching the spot that they were pointing at. He could see no cross. He was 5 feet away from them and could see no cross. He turned around and walked backwards to where they stood, and gasped. There it was. He tried to wave me over, but I spun on one heel and ran to the car again where I slid into my seat and locked the door.
The rest of the group finally came back and got into the car talking excitedly over one another again.
“Can we go home?” I quietly asked as my friend started the engine. He said yes, as soon as he found a driveway to turn around in.
We continued down Sulphur Springs Road doing well below the speed limit, searching for a safe spot to turn into. We’d passed at least a dozen more crosses, all of them leaning haphazardly out of the ditch when suddenly a pair of bright headlights glared through the back window and a heavy engine revved. There was no way we could have not noticed a big pick up truck approaching us from behind. Those headlights would have illuminated the interior of our car long before the truck was riding on our bumper. And there was nowhere that it could have suddenly come from; we had been searching both sides of the road for a driveway for at least 2 kilometers at that point.
My friend stomped on the accelerator, trying to put some distance between us and the truck. The truck sped up, as well, and stayed on our bumper. If we hadn’t been scared before, we certainly were now. We were in the middle of nowhere, in the dark, and no one had cell phones in those days.
The truck stayed with us for several more kilometers before my friend spotted a break in the trees on the left and pulled hard on the steering wheel. The truck pulled in behind us. I burst into tears, shaking, feeling like I was going to vomit. The guys were all shaken, eyes wide, trying to figure out what to do. We were trapped in someone’s driveway with a crazy person in a truck behind us!
A few minutes passed, and no one had moved. Not us, not the driver of that truck. My friend finally had enough of whoever it was screwing with us and opened his door to get out of the car. We all told him that we didn’t think it was a good idea, but he just slammed the door and headed for the truck.
We turned around to watch and saw the face of an old man in a brown baseball cap behind a dirty windshield. The truck was an older model, painted light brown and white with hints of rust along the edge of the hood. The man sat perfectly still, facing forward, ignoring our approaching friend. There was something very wrong with the expression on his face, or the lack of expression I should say. It was like he was not there, like his body was vacant. Like he was…dead. I rolled down my window and called out my friend’s name, asking him to wait, to stop. He did pause at the sound of my voice and turned to give me an angry look, but he turned back to continue toward the truck.
The truck that wasn’t there anymore. It was gone. Disappeared. My friend stood stalk still in the driveway bathed in the red glow of his tail lights. The guys in the backseat were gaping; they’d watched the whole thing. The driver had not backed his truck out of the driveway. It had not sprouted wings and flown away. It had just…evaporated. Slowly, my friend turned around and got back into his car. It was a few minutes before he turned the key in the ignition, backed slowly onto Sulphur Springs Road, and began the drive home.
We talked, trying to assemble the pieces of what had transpired over the past half hour, while we kept our eyes on the ditch where the crosses were. Except they weren’t there anymore. Just as when we’d walked past them, they seemed to disappear when approached from this direction. What we did see were driveways, lots of them. Driveways we had all missed while searching for somewhere to turn the car around.
My friend described the truck and the man driving it as being part of the Hamilton Conservation Authority based on the emblem on both the truck’s door and the man’s shirt. He was angry, his mind already suppressing the fact that the truck and driver had evaporated before our eyes. He thought that the man just enjoyed scaring kids in the dark for fun. One of the guys argued that the HCA’s trucks weren’t that colour anymore. That they hadn’t been that brown and white for at least 20 years in 1989. He would know, his father drove one for a living.
We had no explanation for the white crosses or the man in the truck. We went back a week later with a second car full of kids who wanted to see what we had seen. It wasn’t a far stretch considering the ghost stories about the Hermitage Ruins on that same road. But there were no crosses this time, and no old man in an old truck riding our bumpers. They decided that we’d made the story up, and that was the end of the hunt for white crosses on Sulphur Springs Road.
I honestly don’t know if anyone else ever saw those crosses, but I’ve heard that others have been chased out of the Hermitage parking lot in the middle of the night by the old man in the truck. In every case, the truck rode their bumpers and disappeared after a few minutes.
The guys continued to take us out on adventures designed to scare us right through high school, but they were never able to duplicate the terror that I felt that night. While I don’t recommend speeding through those winding roads in old Ancaster, it’s worth a drive along Sulphur Springs Road one night if you like feeling spooked!
I have many more stories about things that have happened to me at the Hermitage and the forest that surrounds it, but I’ll save that for another day. Until then, keep your eyes peeled when you’re driving along old roads at night. You never know what you might see.