Note: The name Tanya is not the person’s real first name – it was changed at her request.
I entered Tyrone’s Reservoir Park and immediately saw Tanya sitting at the pavilion waiting for me. I had met Tanya years ago when we worked together at one of my first jobs. It had been years since we last talked face-to-face and it was nice to sit and talk about where life had taken us since we had worked together.
After we caught up with our personal lives, Tanya turned the subject that brought us back together. “What do you know about the Janesville Pike?” Before I could answer, she continued. “Every year, there seems to be a number of UFO reports by those driving on or hunting in the woods along the Janesville Pike. There have been reports of a phantom car that appears and disappears and of course, there have been bigfoot sightings.”
She paused to take a drink of her coffee before she spoke softly. “Are you familiar with Sylvia?”
Sylvia was the ghost that is said to haunt Route 453, also known as the Janesville Pike. Growing up in the region, I was familiar with the legend of Janesville Pike, which always sounded like a modern version of the White Lady of Wopsy Mountain, near Altoona. According to the most popular version of the story, Sylvia and her husband had either 1) just gotten married or 2) were running away to get married. As they traveled at a high rate of speed on the Janesville Pike, their car failed to navigate one of the sharp turns and crashed into the side of the mountain. In the crash Sylvia was killed and in some versions of the legend, she was decapitated in the accident. While her body was recovered her husband’s body was never located. Since then, her restless spirit wanders the Janesville Pike in search of her missing husband.
Exactly when this accident happened is never clear when the legend is told. Most versions state the deadly wreck happened in the 1960s, but no version of the legend gives enough information to track down when the deadly wreck which claimed the lady who would be known as Sylvia.
Over the years, the legend about Sylvia grew and morphed. According to local whispers, drive up Janesville Pike at night, pull to the side of the road and flash the car headlights three times which supposedly causing her to appear. Of course, how to summon Sylvia has changed too – some of the earliest versions claim one should light a cigarette, take three puffs and toss it out onto the roadway and wait for Sylvie to appear.
“Did I ever tell you why I don’t travel the Janesville Pike at night?” she asked in a low voice.
“No,” I replied.
“Because I think I once saw Sylvia.” I listened as she told about the last trip she and her husband took on the Janesville Pike in the dark.
“I met my husband in 1982. At the time we were renting a place in Tyrone. His family was living between Houtzdale and Osceola [Mills], so we traveled the Janesville Pike whenever we went to visit his family. We would stay until late in the evening and would drive back to Tyrone in the dark. If you think the road is creepy in the daylight, try driving it at night.
“Those trips usually only resulted in the two of us scaring each other with the thoughts of UFOs, monsters, and Sylvia’s ghost.
“It was after ten when we left his parent’s house and started the drive home. The first couple miles was just like every other trip home. As we approached the intersection of Routes 253 and 453, we noticed a figure walking along the edge of the road.
“As we approached, we saw it was a girl walking along the edge of the road. The girl stopped walking, stepped back from the edge of the road and turned toward us, putting her hand up as if she was trying to thumb a ride. The two things I can tell you was she had blonde, curly, shoulder-length hair and she wore an older outfit – it was a pink poodle skirt and a white blouse. She looked like she just stepped out of the 1950s.
“After we passed her, my husband laughed and said ‘At least we know that wasn’t Sylvia, because she wasn’t wearing a wedding dress.’ I laughed about it, but something about it seemed strange. In all our trips at night, we had never encountered anybody walking along the Janesville Pike.
“We had driven about a mile when we spotted another figure walking along the edge of the road. As we approached, we could see it also was a girl, who stepped back and turned to face us, putting out her hand as if to thumb a ride as we passed.
“It was the same girl. There was no doubt in my mind, it was the same girl with blonde hair, wearing a pink poodle skirt and white blouse.
“‘Was that the same girl?’ my husband asked. Breaking the silence that filled the vehicle.
“‘I’m not sure so,’ I replied. I was shaking badly because deep inside I knew it was the same girl.
“We went around the sharp turns at the top of the mountain – much faster than we should have – and started down the mountain. And there she is again. Standing at the edge of the road. As soon as our car lights hit her, she steps back from the road and turns to face us, putting out her hand again.
“My husband swears as he slams on the brakes and slid to a stop about twenty yards from her. It was a young lady, probably in her early twenties and this may sound strange, but we both talked about it many, many, times, and neither of us can remember anything about her other than her outfit and she had shoulder-length, curly blonde hair.
“I’m crying at this point. I just want to go home. He’s convinced that somebody is playing a prank on us and goes to get out of the car to yell at the person. As soon as he opens the door, she vanished.
“He’s convinced we were the victims of a prank and gets out to look around. I’m crying harder because I just wanted to go home. He gets back in the vehicle and says he doesn’t know what’s going on, but he wasn’t sure where she had gone – there was a hill on one side of the road and a drop-off on the other.
“The rest of the trip home was quiet. Neither of us could explain what had happened that night. I can’t say we saw Sylvia, but we did experience something and it was enough that it kept us off the Janesville Pike once the sun went down.”
Tanya and I talked for a little longer before we left. I headed up the Janesville Pike. With the sun still shining, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I debated waiting for dark before making my way back down the mountain, but decided not to tempt the spirits that haunt the Janesville Pike and left the area before the shadows covered the land.
But I was left with the question: did Tanya and her husband encounter the spirit of Sylvia, or was it another lost spirit, who died along the Janesville Pike, trying to find its way home?