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Imagine you’re on a hiking trail in the dense forest of Missouri. You turn a corner and see a woman in turn of the century clothing- surely not dressed for a hike- and ask her if she’s okay. She responds that she hasn’t been okay in years, then the ghostly sound of a train long gone from the former railroad portion of the trail. She tells you that she was hit by that train, died, and can’t find her way home. Before you can respond, she disappears in the thick foliage around the trail. Did you just see a ghost? Or a very dedicated period actress? You may have just met the ghost of Della McCullough, a woman who tragically died on the railroad nearly 100 years prior. You might not even know it, but you’ve been hiking on one of the most haunted roads in all of Missouri, colloquially called “Zombie Road.” Today, let’s explore just what makes the trail so rife with spirits. 

Zombie Road was originally known as Lawler Ford Road, built to allow access to the railroad tracks alongside the road for maintenance and to join with the Meramec River. Built in the 1860s, its moniker of Zombie Road began in the 1950s when young couples would use the road to find seclusion. Several stories were told by unfortunate couples who ran into spirits on the road, including a woman who would yell from one of the old cabins, telling the children to leave and disappearing when anyone looked for signs of life in the run-down cabin. 

The road fell into disrepair and was later paved as a hiking and biking trail known as Rock Hollow Trail, but that didn’t stop the rumors of hauntings along the road. Alongside the famous ghost of Della McCullough, dozens of spirits have been reported on the infamous road, including Native Americans, confederate soldiers, and a pack of children giggling in the woods. The trail is not accessible for vehicles anymore, but hikers on the trail still report these ghostly encounters. 

A young boy was said to have fallen from the nearby bluffs to his death in the river below, his body never being found. Meanwhile, hikers have reported being approached by a young boy claiming to be lost. When they turn back to the boy, he’s gone. Did he run into the woods or did you just experience the young boy’s spirit, still trying to make it home after decades? When couples used to use the road for some privacy, a rumor about a serial killer living in the woods spooked them, said to be the “Zombie Killer,” and like Jason from Friday the 13th, he was said to target couples on the road with less than pure intentions. 

Still more spirits are said to haunt the stretch of road because of its proximity to the railroad tracks, now out of service. In their heyday, several derailments happened and caused dozens of deaths, another legend added to the bloody past of Zombie Road. Hikers, especially ones just after sunset, report feeling uneasy and frightened while on the trail, with the hair on the back of their necks telling them that they’re being watched by unseen eyes. 

Today, the trail is a popular biking and hiking trail known as Rock Hollow Trail, open from 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset. While you can’t legally go on night hikes, it’s not unheard of for enterprising and thrill seeking adventurers to hop fences to experience the haunted vibe of Zombie Road. Who knows which of the dozens of spirits you may encounter on your own hike of the trail. Who knows who’s watching you from behind the dense trees. 

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