Short Stories for Teachers
When I first began to speak of the Ghost Children of San Antonio in my seminars, the story was largely unfamiliar to people outside of Texas. But it’s more then just a ghost story, it’s a part of American history. In 1949 a school bus filled with children stalled as it tried to climb a small grade on the tracks of a rail road crossing located at the corners of Shane and Villamain Roads, just off of SE Loop 410. These were times when many rural crossings had no signals and were designed to accommodate trains, not vehicles. Wood placed between tracks on the crossing would often warp and create a trap for tires and little thought was given to keeping the grade even on both sides of the crossing.
Although details are sketchy, it seems the bus was able to get it’s front wheels over the tracks, but then stalled while trying to climb a suddenly steep grade on the other side of the crossing. Meanwhile, the back wheels acted like an anchor stuck between pieces of wood and track so that the engine kept stalling as it tried to move the bus. With no warning, a train was seen coming down the track. Panic set in and escape seemed impossible. A few lucky children got out through windows, but the driver and most of the kids died.
Before we get to the supernatural aspect of this event, let’s look at what the practical outcome was. Prior to this incident, little thought was given to school bus safety. Bus windows were difficult to open depending on the heat or cold, there were no rear end emergency exit doors and no pop out emergency escape windows. Riders rode and drivers drove. There were no safety monitors or other adults on board and drivers had little use for what went on in the passenger seating areas, save for when the noise got too loud.
No one can remember how many children died that day, but some did and that was enough to infuriate people from coast to coast. Photos, drawings and descriptions of the gruesome scene haunted parents everywhere. As with most tragic accidents, the regulations came after there were victims. Legislators throughout North America passed laws insisting that school buses stop just prior to going over a railroad crossing to be sure no trains were coming. School districts insisted that bus cabins be made safer, with emergency escape doors and windows. But that wasn’t the only outcome or aftermath of the incident.
Between 1949 and 1951, area residents reported seeing ghostly kids. Several streets nearby the crossing bare the first names of children. It’s been incorrectly assumed that the streets were named for either some of the crash victims or survivors. The names were in place for years before the disaster, but the ghosts came after!
Not wanting to be blamed for adding to what some consider an urban legend, I decided to visit the area and investigate the stories over a period of time as lectures and seminars brought me into San Antonio. While there are lots of haunted places there and many with more colorful and interesting histories, I could not escape my own interest in this odd case.
In the late 1980s I met an elderly man who I will call Blair. He and his family lived in the area near the tracks for years. Blair was fifteen years old when the children were killed, but had sketchy memories of the incident. His father was one of the first people on the scene after the bus was hit by the train, but never spoke much about what he saw. Blair’s connection to the event came in 1951, two years after the crash.
His father had just started to work on the engine of an older vehicle the family used for local errands and some hauling. Blair thinks it might have been a 1935 Dodge pick-up. In what was a very hot summer, the engine kept over-heating near the railroad crossing. Given the change in grade, the rough crossing boards and the age of the truck, no one thought there was anything unusual about that. But before his father could get very far with the repair job, a call came from an uncle who lived about fifteen miles away. His uncle needed his father to make a local delivery of some farm machine parts he had sold. Blair’s father was paid for these runs and the extra money came in handy.
The father and his seventeen year old son headed out in the old dusty pick-up. When they got to the crossing, the pick-up coughed and the gears were grinding, but the old truck made it over the tracks and just beyond before dying. Because they were now on an up grade, Blair’s father put the truck in neutral and told the teen to keep his foot on the brake until he yelled for him to take it off. His father was going to try and push the pick-up just off the road to see what could be done to get it started.
While Blair’s father headed around the back of the pick-up, Blair felt a sudden jolt. He wondered why his dad hadn’t told him to let his foot off the brake? Blair’s father thought the engine was coming to life and headed back to the cab jumping into the driver’s seat. Blair scooted over and both wondered what happened? Over the next few seconds they felt two more jolts and the pick-up started rolling uphill!
As the vehicle arrived at the top of the grade, Blair’s father tried to start the pick-up and the engine groaned to life. They drove off somewhat puzzled, but focused on the errand at hand. After arriving at the uncle’s house, Blair went around the back of the pick-up to make room for the parts they were to deliver and made an unusual discovery. A number of small hand prints appeared on the rear gate and sides of the vehicle. There were no young children in their household. As far as they knew, kids stayed out of their yard because they had a mean watch dog. The last kids to visit their property were relatives who had come there several years before the incident.
It’s impossible to say if this amazing local phenomenon had it’s origin in Blair’s story, but People still line up today to have their vehicles pushed up the grade by small unseen hands that leave prints on dirty cars and trucks. Some people even sprinkle the rear of their vehicles with baby powder to authenticate the tiny handprints. I have experienced this phenomenon myself and others have taken photographs of the area which show odd anomalies.
So called ORBS appear in nighttime photos over and near the tracks. Many believe orbs to be a sign of the presence of ghosts. But more then orbs have been seen by people living near the tracks. In the 1990s an elderly woman came out to one of my San Antonio Seminars. Bringing a few friends with her, they spoke to me before and after the lecture. Nervous and a bit hesitant to tell her story, Mary said she lived in a house on one of the streets with children’s names when first married in 1950. They rented the house from a distant relative who had never mentioned anything about the bus accident or children.
While sweeping out the home on a comfortable spring day, Mary saw a young girl standing at her screen door. She guessed that the girl was about eight or nine years old. She opened the door and heard the child say that something bad had happened over at the railroad crossing. Before she could ask what happened, the child ran away and around the corner. Upset, she asked some neighbors about it? They told her to forget about the whole thing and seemed unconcerned. Perhaps this was some prank that local kids played on newcomers?
Less then a week later, it happened again. Mary was sitting out in front of the house enjoying the fresh spring air when she saw the same little girl round a corner and come towards her. Standing not three feet away, the child said, “I’m Emily. Is my Mommy home?” Mary asked where she lived? The little girl pointed to the home Mary and her husband were renting. Just as she was going to offer a response, the little girl said, “Please, Ma’am, watch out for the railroad crossing.” Then the child vanished before her eyes!
Once again, Mary sought some advice from her neighbors. Most feigned ignorance, but a woman who lived several houses down from her told Mary what she knew. She had also seen Emily, as had most of the neighbors. In each case the child warned them to beware of the railroad crossing and did so in broad daylight. Mary was even more shocked when she found out that her landlord had a daughter named Emily that had been killed in a Bus accident at the crossing!
The people that I spoke to regarding the ghost children seemed sincere and told their stories to me well before the incident gained any sort of national attention. The two stories I have mentioned were collaborated by friends, neighbors and relatives of the witnesses who say they have told the same stories over many years without changing a thing. There are many others with stories to tell, but I found these two to be some of the earliest that could be researched and collaborated. It’s interesting to note that after some repairs were done to make the rail road crossing less treacherous in the mid-1950s, Emily stopped appearing to people. But if you park your car just off the tracks, you will still get a free push courtesy of the unknown.
Rather then offer an opinion or endless speculation on the ghost children of San Antonio, I will just wish them peace. Read more at http://halloween.billknell.com