Our Original Story Published on GhostHauntings.Org in 2006
Just south of San Antonio, Texas, sits an intersection of roadway & railroad track. According to local legend, this was a site of a tragic accident involving a school bus that killed several children. The children`s ghosts are said to still linger at the spot pushing stalled cars off of the railroad tracks, even though the path is uphill. It`s also said that if you sprinkle talcum powder on the back of your car & the bumper, you can see tiny hand & fingerprints on the car.
This theory is questioned greatly, because the oils from a person`s hand can linger for a very long time. It has been claimed that these fingerprints were already there before these experiments are conducted. But we were contacted by Ann Gallegos, a San Antonio resident that says she washed her car before trying the experiment & the fingerprints still appeared. You can read her actual e-mail below.
This photo was taken by the daughter of Andy & Debi Chesney, who was at the site doing her own investigation fueled by all of the many reports of paranormal activity at the site. The transparent image that wasn`t discovered on the photo until the next day appears to be either a little girl holding a teddy bear, or a little girl with a dog sitting at her feet.
A search of records at the San Antonio Police Department & local newspaper archives turned up no evidence of a tragic accident at that location in which any children were killed. Surveyors recently studied the area & found that the uphill incline is actually an optical illusion, claiming that it`s actually a downhill grade. There have been dozens of reports by people over the years claiming to hear the sound of children laughing & playing at the site. We`ve provided enlarged versions of the photograph & zoomed in so you can study the photo for yourself. Are these ghosts we`re seeing here, or is it energy accumulated by thought forms of people visiting the site?
Although there is no explanation for the images on the photos & they may be the real thing, it`s important that I explain some facts about the alleged school bus accident. There is a lot of debate of the actual date of this deadly accident. There are no records of any such accident with the local newspaper archives, nor the San Antonio Police Department. Certainly a story this tragic would be documented somewhere.
Surveyors have confirmed that this up hill grade is actually an optical illusion & you must stop your vehicle at least 80 feet before the tracks in order to get enough momentum to completely cross the tracks. The finger prints on the bumper & back of the vehicle could be months & even years old. Oils from your skin can last for a long time & even survive rain. Rather than using soap to wash your car prior to doing the talcum powder experiment, try using a degreaser & scrub hard.
According to the former director of transportation of the San Antonio Independent School District, Robert Zamora, there were no school buses on that stretch of road until 1967. So there are many holes in the school bus story that may or may not prove it`s truth. But that still has no reflection on the photos of the ghosts taken there.
Girl With A Dog?
This location has drawn quite the attention in the San Antonio area & many people visit the site regularly. Every legitamate person that has contacted us reports that this phenomenon is true. Melissa Woodruff recently visited the site & took many pictures. The picture below is looking down the train tracks & Melissa caught an image of what looks very much like the girl in the above photos.
I lived in San Antonio TX, from 1993-1997. Here we heard of an old story where a school bus was run over by a train. This occurred in the 1920's. It is said that a school bus filled with students was having trouble and the bus came to a stop on the railroad tracks. As the driver tried to start the bus up again the train had whistled announcing the passing in a few minutes. The bus was not able to start and the train came in at full speed killing everyone in the bus.
The story now is that if you are having car trouble and your car stops on the railroad tracks, the children's spirits come from out of the bushes and they will push your vehicle over the railroad tracks. Being curious my ex-husband and I, alike others, went to the railroad tracks and proceeded to turn off our car and place it in neutral. The tracks are uphill. Not even five seconds pass when you begin to feel the car moving forward. Now, this can be confused with some type of scientifical explanation. Here's the catch. The car will go over the tracks at a pretty good speed. If you place any dirt, flour, baby powder on the car, you can see the hand prints all over your car. I have done it, and even though it is a relief to know you will never have any problems at the tracks there is still an erie feeling when you see all those innocent handprints on your car. If you ever go to San Antonio try this I can assure you, it never fails.
i visited your site for the first time yesterday(12-13-06) and it was very interesting. i live in san antonio and i have visited those railroad tracks and have done the baby powder thing.at first they said the prints were our prints from the oils in our hands,so i washed my car and went back. same thing happend with the hand prints.nobody had touched my car. i made sure of that!
I HAPPEN TO HAVE FIRST HAND KNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS REAL...I DID NOT BELIEVE IT MYSELF UNTIL ONE NIGHT ABOUT 25 YRS AGO.
I WAS VISITING WITH SOME FRIENDS FROM OUR HOME TOWN, THEIR GRANDMA LIVED IN SAN ANTONIO. THEY HAD TOLD ME ABOUT THIS PLACE THAT THEY WERE GOING TO TAKE ME, AND SHOW ME SOMETHING SPOOKY...LOL WELL THEY GOT BABY POWDER FROM GRANDMA'S HOUSE, AND OFF WE WENT TO SOME ROAD IN SAN ANTONIO, THE ROAD CURVED TO THE LEFT, WE WENT UP, AND OVER THE RAIL ROAD TRACKS, TO THE OTHER SIDE, TO WHICH *JANET* AND I GOT OUT, AND I WATCHED HER SPRINKLE BABY POWDER ON THE BACK OF THE TRUNK OF THE CAR
. WE GOT BACK IN, SHE PUT THE CAR UP TO THE INCLINE, AND PUT THE CAR IN neutraL, I WATCHED AS ALL OF A SUDDEN THE CAR STARTED MOVING VERY SLOW, THEN IT WENT UP, AND OVER THE RAILROAD TRACKS! WE GOT OUT, AND LOOKED ON THE BACK OF THE TRUNK OF THE CAR, AND ALL ACROSS THE TRUNK WAS LIL' HAND PRINTS IN THE POWDER....TRULY AMAZING, TRULY REAL!!! I PERSONALLY DO NOT BELIEVE IN GHOST, WELL OTHER THAN THE HOLY GHOST THAT IS, WHICH IS THE SPIRIT OF GOD, I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO SEE YOUR EQUIPMENT GO OFF IN ONE OF OUR SERVICES TOO...LOL BUT NO REALLY, IT REALLY DID HAPPEN, I SAW IT WITH MY OWN EYES! HOPE THIS HELPS IN YOUR RESEARCH FOR YOUR SHOW, IT IS A BIG THING AROUND THIS AREA...THERE WILL BE OTHERS WHOM HAVE SEEN THE SAME THING!
Exploring the facts behind an urban legend
By Virginia and Daniel Barnett
San Antonio, which sits on the Salado River some 275 miles south of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, is home to an unusual ghost story that caught our attention a few months ago, especially when a film crew invited representatives of the North Texas Skeptics to participate in a documentary to be broadcast on The Discovery Channel in the not-too-distant future. The North Texas Skeptics are apparently the only active skeptics' organization in Texas today that we're aware of, so it was only fitting that one of us – in this case, Ginny Barnett – lend some skeptical observations to the film project. Thus, Ginny and Danny made the six-hour trip down Interstate 35 to visit the film crew and the site of the alleged haunting.
Unfortunately, as many of you are now aware, Ginny developed a life-threatening illness down in San Antonio just hours before she was scheduled to appear in front of the camera, so Danny received permission from Ginny to take her place, as well as all of her research notes.
And where did Danny travel to find these ghosts on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in San Antonio? Not to the historic Alamo, where many Mexican soldiers and Texan defenders lost their lives in battle - prime real estate for the restless undead.
Not to the nearby Hotel Menger, a lavish landmark believed to be inhabited by its own spectres, including that of the founder of King Ranch. No, Danny instead found himself chasing ghosts at an isolated railroad crossing out in the middle of nowhere with only a 32-oz. cola to help make the 100-degree heat more bearable. And he was far from alone, thanks to the legend of the San Antonio Ghost Children that has drawn historians, paranormal investigators, and the just plain curious from all over to this unassuming locale.
From Legend to Tourist Attraction
According to the legend, sometime in the 1930s or 1940s a San Antonio schoolbus loaded with children stalled on the old Southern Pacific railroad tracks at the bend in the road where Villamain Street turns into Shane Road, not far from the nearby Mission San Francisco de la Espada. A passing train plowed into the bus before anyone had a chance to evacuate; the bus driver and all of the children were killed in the tragic collision. To commemorate the young victims, the city of San Antonio named the streets of a nearby neighborhood after the deceased schoolchildren.
Reports of strange phenomena at the railroad crossing began to surface some time afterwards, with the first such accounts dating back to at least the 1970s. If a car stalls on westbound Shane Road 80-100 feet from the tracks, or if someone just stops their car at that same point and puts the car in neutral, an unseen force will push that car down the road, over the railroad tracks, and safely out of the path of any oncoming train. Dust the car with talcum powder, and mysterious fingerprints show up on the back of the car. Why, this must be the work of those poor schoolchildren killed so many years ago, forever pushing automobiles over the railroad tracks to prevent motorists from sharing their fate!
But wait, there's more. Doubters were told that westbound Shane Road is actually an upward grade, which meant that the cars weren't simply rolling downhill and over the tracks; the ghost children had to be pushing the cars uphill to clear the railroad crossing. Some who have visited the site also claim that the cries of these children can even be heard on occasion.
One of many cars supposedly pushed over the tracks by the San Antonio Ghost Children. The film crew
and some surveyors can be seen to the left. (Photo by Daniel Barnett)
Jonathan Levitt of Actuality Productions (center) with surveyors from San Antonio measuring the grade on a portion of Shane Road.
(Photo by Daniel Barnett)
When Danny drove out to the site to rendezvous with a film crew from Actuality Productions in connection with the Discovery Channel project, he also found a steady stream of people driving up in their automobiles to experience the phenomena themselves. Sports cars, hatchbacks, SUVs, and even the occasional heavy truck attempted the experiment, positioning themselves at an appropriate spot on Shane that someone had marked on the pavement with fluorescent red paint. With only a couple of exceptions, all of them cleared the tracks – traveling uphill, mind you – and rolled onto Villamain. Even Danny's car cleared the tracks in 3 out of 4 attempts.
Many of the drivers came prepared with bottles of baby powder to sprinkle on their trunks and rear bumpers. Unexplained fingerprints started popping up on the car almost as soon as the talcum hit. This understandably caused a lot of excitement with some folks. Various people came up to Danny swearing that this whole ghost thing had to be true; how much more proof did the skeptics need?
Ghost Story or Fish Story?
When Ginny researched the story of the "Haunted Railroad Crossing," as the legend is sometimes known, she found a few problems with the original story. For starters, nobody could pin an exact date on the accident from which the story sprang. To complicate matters, not a single newspaper in Texas has ever documented any such accident taking place in San Antonio, not even The San Antonio Express-News. But Ginny didn't let up; after some diligent research and a few phone calls, she finally got what she was looking for.
The accident occurred on December 1, 1938. At 8:43 a.m., a school bus loaded with students was heading for Jordan High School. Visibility was severely compromised by a snowstorm and heavy fog when the bus crossed the railroad tracks. The Flying Ute, a freight locomotive belonging to the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, plowed into the bus, killing 23 Jordan students as well as the bus driver. It was the worst motor vehicle accident in American history at that time.
There was just one little detail that somehow got overlooked. The accident took place in the small town of Midvale, Utah, which sits just south of Salt Lake City – some 1,100 miles northwest of San Antonio.
So how did this tragic event develop into a San Antonio ghost legend? Owing to its very nature, the story quickly spread across the nation, appearing in newspapers everywhere from The New York Times to The San Antonio Express-News. The latter paper, for whatever reason, ran the story for about 10 days, including gruesome details of the accident. The local media saturation may have resulted in San Antonio residents telling their children that the wreck happened locally, completely forgetting about the Salt Lake City dateline. As for the streets near the railroad tracks allegedly named after the young victims, they were instead named by the subdivision developer after his grandchildren.
Now all we had to do was figure out why those cars were rolling uphill over the railroad tracks. And where were those fingerprints coming from?
Running "Up" That Hill
Jonathan Levitt of Actuality Productions spent a lot of time with some local surveyors who took careful measurements of the grade of Shane Road as it approached the tracks. While Danny didn't record their exact readings, the surveyors did report something fascinating about that uphill grade that the ghost children push cars over – turns out it isn't uphill after all, but rather downhill for most of the stretch. It certainly looks uphill to many people approaching the tracks, but stand on the shoulder of the road next to the tracks and you may detect a slight downward slope. It's all a perfectly natural but nevertheless convincing optical illusion.
Alamo City Paranormal, a local organization that conducts its own paranormal investigations, also had the road surveyed a while back. According to their findings as reported by Katie Phillips of the Lone Star Spirits Web site, if someone starts 80 feet away from the tracks and moves westward toward the tracks, the road slopes downhill about 12 inches in a span of 65 feet. The road levels off for 5-7 feet and then rises 6 inches over the remaining 8-10 feet.1
The point is that if you set your car in neutral gear 80 feet away from the tracks, the car will slowly roll downhill for 65 feet, gaining enough momentum to carry that car over the small uphill slope and the railroad tracks until it's dumped onto northbound Villamain. It's an explanation that doesn't involve poltergeists – only a little basic physics.
As for the fingerprints showing up on people's cars, many people wash their cars to remove dirt and older fingerprints before they drive over the tracks in order to avoid picking up their own prints. Their cars are definitely clean - but only up to a certain point. Just as traces of blood can be discovered with Luminol on floors and carpets despite careful cleaning, fingerprints demonstrate a similar resiliency due to the oils secreted by fingers that cause the prints (ask any criminal investigator). These oils are surprisingly durable and resistant, and can remain on most car surfaces, including chrome, for weeks or even years despite various rainstorms and trips to the car wash. This is yet another reason why museum curators become displeased if anyone touches the exhibits. Your best bet would be to wash the car with a degreaser rather than traditional car washing compounds and then see if any fingerprints show up after the car clears the tracks.
And the occasional screams heard at the site? There's a peacock farm on Shane Road not too far away from the tracks. Suffice it to say that not all birds go "tweet-tweet."
While the story of the San Antonio Ghost Children is indeed fascinating, our investigation seems to cast doubt on any poltergeist activity at the railroad tracks, providing scientific explanations for many of the phenomena observed at the site. Ours is by no means the last word on this subject, as some folks also claim to have captured ghosts on photographs and videotape at the crossing. We'll leave such images for another time, though, especially considering that if any haunting resulted from the bus crash, it seems more reasonable to expect the ghosts to appear in a small Utah town instead of in San Antonio.
Special thanks to Scott Goldie, Jonathan Levitt, and the rest of the crew from Actuality Productions as well as Jim Lindsey of Jim Lindsey Productions. Watch for the North Texas Skeptics on the Actuality Productions program Miracle Hunters, to be broadcast on the Discovery Channel either later this year or in early 2004.