Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic
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Obsidian Blue's review of Ghostland sparked some personal memories. I did a little research, just to provide some links, and this one caused me a slight chuckle because it named Cuba Road as the #1 Creepiest Road in Illinois.
I was on Cuba Road once, in the summer of 1965. I saw nothing ghostly, but the experience did have some uncanny details that defied logical, rational explanation.
That summer before my senior year in high school, I was "going steady" with Wayne, who had graduated from another school and would be attending the University of Illinois in the fall. One Saturday in either July or August of 1965, Wayne and I had gone to one of the lakes in the Lake Zurich/Barrington area with some friends. After a day at the beach, we all decided to go to a movie at the 53 Drive-In in Palatine with another couple, Rich and Carol.
Several of our friends joined us, both individuals and couples, but the four of us doubled in the white 1960 Ford that belonged to Rich's dad. Rich drove, with Carol in the front passenger seat. Wayne and I were in the back seat.
Normally Wayne and I would have been in a car by ourselves, but Rich was all excited because his dad's car was going to flip over 100,000 miles, so we joined him and his regular girlfriend Carol just so we could watch the odometer flip.
The weather was oppressively hot and humid and threatening to storm. Throughout the movie, huge clouds were billowing to the northeast, illuminated with frequent flashes of eerie pink and purple lightning.
At some point during the movie, a few of the guys got together to talk about the possibility of visiting another friend who had just returned from an extensive stay in California. These were the days, of course, before cell phones or any other quick communications. And whoever this other friend was, no one seemed to have a phone number for him, but several of the guys, including Rich, knew where he lived, and it wasn't too far from the drive-in.
Carol had a particular concern about the time. Her dad insisted that she be home by midnight, and he didn't tolerate excuses. She made it clear in the discussions about going to this friend's house that it not be so far and we not stay so long that she wouldn't get home on time. Rich assured her that she would not be late.
We left the drive-in around 10:00 p.m. Rich explained that it wouldn't take more than ten minutes to reach this friend's house, and he promised we wouldn't stay. Carol's house was only a few miles away in the other direction, so even if we didn't leave until as late as 11:30, she would still be home in plenty of time.
When we left the drive-in, the Ford had about 15 more miles to the flip point.
The house we were heading to was in a new housing development, which proved to be exactly where Rich said it would be. But the streets within the development weren't laid out the way either he or Wayne remembered. Wayne was trying to give additional directions and provide additional information from the back seat, but both of them admitted they hadn't been to this friend's house for quite some time and there had been more houses built and nothing looked the same as they remembered it. Plus it was dark, very dark, and they couldn't find the street or the house they were looking for.
And the lightning was intensifying. More frequent, a deeper and brighter purple against blacker and blacker clouds. We couldn't hear any thunder, but we felt it. The air grew heavier, more electric.
Somehow or other, we had been driving through this subdivision for ten or fifteen minutes and had managed to get somewhat lost. Even though it wasn't yet 10:30, Carol started to panic a little. Both Wayne and I were leaning over the back of the front seat, watching for that odometer to flip.
In the mid 1960s, there were still farm fields in the Palatine/Barrington/Arlington Heights area, and when Rich ran out of paved streets, he drove out of the subdivision onto a narrow tractor track into the surrounding cornfield, with the intention of finding a convenient place to make a U-turn to find our way back to the main highway.
To our consternation, there was no convenient place to make a U-turn. The tall corn closed in upon the tractor track. The hard-packed dirt was pocked with bumps and holes, forcing Rich to slow the Ford to a crawl. Corn stalks scraped the sides of the vehicle. Even the headlights seemed to grow dimmer as the ground and the encroaching crop soaked up every bit of illumination. Backing up wasn't an option, and there was no place to turn around.
After a while, the corn gave way to more open country. but there were no landmarks, and the only light was that creepy pink and purple lightning overhead. No roads. No houses. No buildings. No lights.
The car reached its 100,000 milestone, and we all watched the numerals roll over, but our excitement was tempered by the realization that we were . . . lost.
Rich didn't dare drive more than 10 or 15 miles an hour, because the path -- it wasn't really a road -- was too rough. Carol was on the verge of tears, because we were headed due east after having driven several miles due north -- totally the opposite direction from her house. As the miles began to rack up after 100,000, she got more and more frightened of what her dad would do when she didn't show up on time.
I was the only one with a watch, but there wasn't enough light in the car for me to even see what time it was. The dome light was burned out, and the car's clock didn't work. Our only way to estimate the time was by the number of miles traveled and the speed at which Rich was driving. When the odometer reached 100,025, we knew it had to be at least 11:30. There was no way Carol would be home on time.
Then, finally, we spotted other lights. There was a road up ahead, with cars going in both directions across our path. Not a lot of them, but enough that we knew we were closing in on something approaching civilization.
When we got closer, we discovered there was something blocking our way: A gate.
It was a big wooden farm gate, wide, weathered boards nailed together in a frame and criss-cross pattern, with barbed wire stretched between the boards and the heavy iron posts the gate was fastened to. The gate was much wider than the "road" we were on, wide enough to accommodate a large piece of farm equipment wider than the tractor track. And in the middle of the gate was a black and yellow stop sign.
US stop signs used to be black and yellow like other road signs, but by 1965 they'd all been switched to red and white. The old black and yellow signs had been retired years and years before. Yet here was one, a relic from the past.
Rich stopped the car. We could see that just a few yards on the other side of the gate was a well-traveled main road. So close!
I don't know who first saw the other tire tracks, but what we quickly discovered was that although the "road" we were on went straight through the gate to join the highway, there were faint tracks that veered off to go around the gate. Rich had to back up and swing the car a bit to the right, and in the headlights we saw that the gate wasn't attached to any fence but just to those two big posts. It was just there, blocking the road for apparently no reason at all. Carefully, concerned that there might be a ditch to hang up the car or hidden barbed wire, Rich drove around the gate and back onto the farm track for the last few yards to the highway.
Not knowing exactly where we were, we had to figure out whether to turn right or left on this road, this nice, paved, two-lane country highway, to get us back to Carol's home in Palatine. While we were discussing -- not really arguing but close to it -- our options, one of us noticed that there was an ordinary street sign on the other side of the road from where we were stopped. Rich waited until there was a safe break in traffic, then drove across so the Ford's headlights shone on the sign.
According to the green and white reflective signs, we were at the intersection of Aptakisic Road . . . and Old Cuba Road.
A little ways down the road -- to our right as we had come off the farm road -- was another sign, this one announcing that the town of Long Grove was just a few miles ahead.
We knew now where we were. We now knew how to get back to Palatine. We also knew we had traveled some 30 miles at no more -- and often at much less -- than 15 miles per hour since 10:30 p.m. But there was nothing we could do about it. Rich pulled the car onto the highway and headed back south toward Long Grove and, ultimately, Palatine.
Someone, maybe Rich, suggested we stop at a gas station or someplace that had a pay phone so Carol could call home and at least let her parents know she was late and hope her dad would go easy on her. Her tearful response was that it was already too late. If she weren't home by the midnight deadline, her dad would simply lock the door and not let her in.
But as we drove through the lights of Long Grove or whatever little town we hit, I finally had sufficient light to read my watch.
What I saw wasn't possible.
My watch registered 10:45.
There was no way we had racked up that many miles in fifteen or twenty minutes, or even half an hour. Or even a full hour. No way. Not as slow as Rich was forced to drive. No way.
Old Cuba Road.
The obvious explanation was that my watch had stopped. Except that it hadn't stopped.
The roads on the map above are as of 2017; they were different in 1965, but I remember the route we took. Once through Long Grove, we took IL 83 to Dundee Road, then west into Palatine proper and Carol's house. Carol jumped out of the car and ran up to her front porch, where the light was still on, before 11:30. Her dad opened the door, let her in, and waved to the three of us still in Rich's car.
It hadn't happened. It couldn't have. But it had.
The next day, Sunday, all of us went to the beach again. The first topic of conversation was that no one was ever able to find that friend's house, but no one else got lost looking for it. The second topic of conversation was our sojourn . . . on Old Cuba Road.
But here's the rest of the story.
Wayne had picked me up Sunday morning; he was driving his own car, a blue 1962 Corvair. Heading to the lake, we retraced the route Rich had taken the night before. We never found that intersection of Old Cuba Road and Aptakisic. We even turned around and drove back to search, but there was no street sign, no farm gate, no farm road.
In broad daylight, none of it was there.
Sunday night, coming home from the lake, we drove that route again, and again saw nothing of the signs, the gate, nothing.
Everyone at the beach knew about Cuba Road's reputation for haunting, though no one had any specifics. No one had ever been on it, no one knew anyone who had been on it -- except Rich and Carol and Wayne and I.
Forty years later, my dad would tell me even he knew Cuba Road was haunted, and had known about it when he was a teen, but he had no details. What little I've learned has come by way of the internet. During that bizarre drive in July or August of 1965, we had seen nothing that resembled ghosts or eerie lights, not even a gate or sign identifying a cemetery. I never knew about any of that until 2005, after my dad talked about it.
Wayne and I broke up a few months later, got back together briefly, then broke up for good by the fall of 1966. Seven or eight years later I learned that he had married the girl his mother wanted him to marry. Rich and Carol got married a year or so later, and I heard they had a baby but then divorced. I have no idea what happened to any of the rest of the large group of friends we hung out with. Rich's last name is far too common to conduct any kind of internet search on him; I looked for Carol once via her maiden name, but with no luck.
I've never been on Cuba Road again.
But the sign we saw did not say "Cuba Road." It very clearly read "Old Cuba Road." There's no "Old Cuba Road" on the map. The hauntings allegedly happen on Cuba Road, not on Old Cuba Road. Go figure.
In February 2009, I happened to be back in the area for my mother's 80th birthday. I rented a car and drove out to that area in search of some other remembered places. I hadn't been there in at least 40 years, but I never got lost; my sense of place and direction was intact. I thought briefly of trying to find Old Cuba Road again, but then I remembered the stories I'd read on the internet. I didn't go looking.
I have no explanation. None at all. I just know it happened.