To celebrate the release of his new book, Haunted Route 66, author Richard Southall jumped in the car and took a road trip along The Mother Road. Southall kicked-off the tour in Chicago, and after hitting six bookstores in six day, joined six other authors for a “Great American Road Trip” event in California, only miles from the end of Route 66.
While on the road, Southall documented the sights, scenes, and spooky stories.
The trip from Pittsburgh to Chicago was uneventful but a bit overwhelming in a wonderful way. Just after checking into the hotel, we asked the front desk clerk about any Route 66 landmarks close by. We were fortunate to find that less than a quarter mile from the hotel was one of the great landmarks of the Mother Road…. Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket. The restaurant has been in business since 1928 and was one of the greats to be found at the beginning of Route 66. In 2007, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been featured on the television show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
We called and were glad to find that the restaurant was open on Easter. The food was wonderful and the service was splendid. When I told the waitress of the reason that I was going on Route 66, she told me that there is a ghost story associated with the restaurant.
Back in the 1950s, a man by the name of Bob worked at the restaurant; he would often be found in the basement of the restaurant drinking. One Sunday night, Bob had an accident and cut himself with either a beer bottle or glass and bled to death. As there was no windows or exits from the basement, nobody could hear his cries for help in his last moments of life. Since that time, strange things happen occasionally. The waitress said that while working after the restaurant was closed, she heard a man ask for help from the basement area. She was alone with a manager, and there was nobody in the basement at the time. She added that, once, there was a small basket in the center of a table that she saw moving of its own accord for a few seconds. It was not on the edge of the table, there was no wind, and nobody was near the table.
The book signing at Barbara’s Bookstore was very successful, and many people in the audience shared their own stories. One attendee told me some of his own accounts of paranormal events in the area, and reminded me that the bookstore is close to another area that I covered in Haunted Route 66…The Country House. Finally, another attendee talked about many of the other sites in the Chicago area.
I set the alarm for 5:30 am, got my luggage packed, and headed out toward St. Louis.
I left Chicago earlier than scheduled as I realized that Tuesday would be the only day that I could take in any of the sites that had made Route 66 famous. Between Chicago and St. Louis, I took a brief detour to visit the famous Gemini Giant, a twenty-five foot statue that has become an icon along Route 66.
As I have discovered so many times on this book tour, visiting a place in real life is so entirely different that simply seeing it on television or reading about it in the book. To actually be there in person was a mixed blessingâ€”although it is world-renowned as a mecca along Route 66, I noticed that the restaurant associated with the Gemini Giant was abandoned and for sale.
As I pulled up to Left Bank Books, I noticed an authentic Celtic establishment named Llyewlyn’s Pub and Restaurant. Noticing the irony of a restaurant with so close a name as to Llewellyn Publications, I couldn’t resist having dinner there. The waiter introduced me to a manager who told me that there were indeed ghost stories associated with Llyewlyn’s Pub. She said that the building where Llyewlyn’s sits now actually housed a number of apartments in the past, and that on more than one occasion, when she or other employees went to the attic, they could hear the voice of a little girl speaking, often saying “Hello.”
After dining at Llewlyn’s, I crossed the street and entered Left Bank Books. After the signing I spoke with several individuals who told me of their own ghost stories.
Early Wednesday morning, I packed my bags and prepared to go five hours to my next destination…Oklahoma City.
Full Circle Books is an enormous bookstore in central Oklahoma City that caters to all literary tastes. It was a perfect place to spend an evening with the heavy rain that fell outside.
There were several people who decided to drive through the downpour to visit the bookstore that evening. Some were there as part of a discussion group that meets weekly at Full Circle Books, while others were enjoying a coffee in the small cafe or were reading next to one of the several fireplaces placed throughout the store. I was lucky enough to speak with a number of these people throughout the book signing. They were a wealth of information in regards to Oklahoma City history and some of the legends and lore that surrounded the city.
However, the biggest surprise of the evening was when I noticed a small television crew enter the bookstore in search of “the author of Haunted Route 66.” Robert Burch of OETA television introduced himself to me in front of a very warm fireplace near the book signing table. I was informed that he was putting together a story on hauntings and the paranormal for a story that was going to air in late October 2013. As he realized that he would likely not have the opportunity again, Mr. Burch wanted to interview me that evening.
Once the book signing and interview were completed, I bid my farewells to the Full Circle Bookstore and prepared to go to my next destination at Bookworks in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As I left Oklahoma City in the pre-dawn morning, I thought about the people I had met at Full Circle Books and found myself smiling as I drove through a moderate rain on the interstate.
Arriving to Albuquerque ahead of schedule, I took the opportunity to drive by the Kimo Theater, one of the many locations featured in the book.
The people who showed up for the book signing were there for a variety of reasons. Some were there because they had their own paranormal experiences in and around Albuquerque, while others attended the signing because of their love for the Mother Road.
While speaking with the locals, I learned of a ghost story associated with the Church Street Cafe in Old Town Albuquerque. The building that eventually became the Church Street Cafe originally built in 1709 as a private residence and turned into a restaurant in the early 1990s. It is said that the ghost of a woman by the name of Sara Ruiz started to appear when the building was being renovated into a restaurant.
I was seated near the coffee shop in order to have enough space to accommodate the people who had come to peruse the bookstore and wanted to have their copy of Haunted Route 66 signed. Some of the people who had originally entered the coffee shop just for their cup of java came to the table while their order was being prepared. While the aroma of fresh coffee permeated the area, I heard people talk about their own paranormal experiences in the Flagstaff area. When I showed them different places that I had researched for the book, many of them recognized the areas as places that they had visited themselves or had heard about through word of mouth. The bookstore was literally two blocks from the Comfi Cottages, the site of one of the hauntings that I had written about in the book.
As the sun was setting on the city of Flagstaff, I went to my motel satisfied with so many people that I had met at the bookstore and looking forward to my final destination…a 500 mile drive from the Barnes and Noble in Flagstaff, Arizona to Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank, California.
I left Flagstaff before dawn to ensure that I had enough time to get to the book signing in California. The weather turned out to be absolutely beautiful; there is nothing like driving through the desert and watching the sun rise to make you feel alive.
Upon arrival, I met with the manager, who was one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people that anybody could meet. She was very friendly and her knowledge of antique and vintage cars was second to none. After getting a feel for the store, I had an opportunity to browse down the aisles to see what kind of books that Autobooks/Aerobooks sold; it had anything and everything printed about cars. If you wanted the history of a particular make of car, or if you wanted a hard-to-find Chilton manual, this store had it.
As soon as I checked into my hotel room and changed clothes, I drove to Autobooks/Aerobooks. There, I participated in their Great American Roadtrip book signing that featured seven authors (myself included) who had written a total of nine books on The Mother Road.
While some of the customers were quite remarkable in and of themselves, I really was blown away by their knowledge and love of hard to find and impossible to forget masterpieces of machinery. When things were slowing down, I listened to several of the other authors tell of their own personal experiences of the Mother Road. Although Route 66 was constructed of the same asphalt and took the same path, the stories I heard were as unique as the people telling them. After driving Route 66 firsthand, I could now count myself as one of the people who had an opportunity to see what had made the 2,440 mile drive so spectacular. Now that I have driven it (and in six days, no less), I feel it is more important than ever to introduce others to this experience.
As the book signing was winding down, several of the authors encouraged me to drive to the Santa Monica Pier, the official end of Route 66. I contemplated my 4:30 am wake-up call in order to make my flight back home, and decided to head back to the hotel. Although I didn’t get a chance to go there this trip, it will only give me that much more of an incentive to come back one day. Perhaps, I will start at the Santa Monica Pier and work my way back to Chicago….however, that will be another story for another day. Until that time, I will be content with the memories of the people I met and the places I visited while doing the Haunted Highway tour of Main Street, USA.