Ghost Dancing Van - Atlas Obscura

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Ghost Dancing Van

The van that carried William Least-Heat Moon through the journey documented in the book 'Blue Highways' sits in the Mizzou archeological museum's storage. 


Housed within the collections of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Missouri’s Museum Support Center is a peculiar artifact, and one of the newest in comparison with the other 2 million artifacts in the museum’s collections. A 1975 Ford Econoline van named Ghost Dancing sits idle, decades after taking the journey recounted in the book Blue Highways: A Journey into America

The van was named after the Ghost Dance, first practiced by the Nevada Northern Paiute tribe as a way to ward off American Western Expansion. Author William Trogden published Blue Highways under the name William Least-Heat Moon, harkening to his father’s indigenous roots that he used as a guiding principle for his journey.

William Least-Heat Moon got divorced, lost his job as a professor at Stephen’s College in Columbia, and in 1978 set off on a three-month journey in a circle around the United States to connect with people in small towns such as Why, Arizona, and Whynot, Mississippi. Decades before the #VanLife trend, Least-Heat Moon lived in Ghost Dancing, following the ‘blue highways’ on his Rand McNally atlas to direct him toward the paths less traveled. 

“When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then,” he wrote. “People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” 

In the Museum Support Center’s collections, you can also visit the Grayson Archery Collection—the world’s most extensive collection of historical bows and arrows. From six continents, the Grayson collection catalogs the history of archery through indigenous history, various types of mechanical advancements through the ages, and world record-holding bows.

Know Before You Go

You need to make an appointment to schedule a tour with the Museum Support Center.

Use this link to contact the Museum Support Center staff to make an appointment.

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