Legend: The protective ghosts of little children killed at a railway crossing push stalled cars off the tracks.
Example: [Collected on Internet, 1998]
My cousin and I had gone to San Antonio, and we had heard rumors of some haunted railroad tracks. The story was, a school bus full of children had stalled on these tracks with a train coming. The train was going too fast for there to be time to get the children off. So they all died. When we finally found the tracks, we stopped the car, parking it right on the railroad tracks. We were both a little nervous, and scared, and waited for something to happen. Just when we were about to leave, the car started rolling. We were both too freaked out to do any more than grab each other and gasp, eyes wide, mouths open. After what seemed like an eternity, (but was actually less than
- Sometimes the handprints appear on the dusty trunk unaided; other times the driver of the stalled vehicle “dusts” for them with baby powder. If the occurrence is said to have happened in the early morning, the handprints will be said to have appeared in the dew on the car.
Origins: This legend dates to at least the early 1970s. The horrific accident that created the protective ghosts is said to have involved an oncoming train and a
schoolbus stalled on the tracks. According to widely believed lore, spirits of the slain youngsters forever after haunted that location, shoving stalled cars out of harm’s way, lest more innocents share their fate. Tiny handprints on the back of the saved vehicles are a motif common to this legend and serve to explain why the stalled vehicles are magically moved. Another version has some form of tame demon assisting the dead kids in their crusade. (Hoofprints, since you asked.)
Although the city of San Antonio has long claimed this folk tale as its own, pointing to the railway crossing where Villamain Road becomes Shane Road where cars seem to behave strangely and close to a set of streets named after children (Bobbie Allen, Cindy Sue, Laura Lee, Nancy Carole, and Richey Otis), the bus accident that sparked the legend took place in a city more than a thousand miles away.
In December 1938, in Salt Lake City, Utah, twenty-six children, aged 12 to 18, lost their lives when the school bus they’d been travelling in stalled on the tracks and was struck by a freight train. No similar accident took place in
San Antonio’s “ghost tracks” are nothing more than an optical illusion. The mysterious movement of vehicles at that crossing is the result of a slight incline at the site, which works to roll vehicles that have been slipped into neutral off the tracks. As for the nearby streets supposedly christened in memoriam to the children who died, they were actually named in honor of a developer’s grandchildren.
The “ghosts of schoolkids push vehicle off tracks” group of tales is a subset of a larger group of stories, Gravity Hill tales. Many Gravity Hill factlets are offered as a “gee whiz” kind of thing with no storyline to them, just that if a car is slipped into neutral at the right place, it’ll move as if by magic.
A further subset of Gravity Hill lore involves legends about dead teens. Though we also have cars stalled on train tracks and the onrushing train killing the occupants (thus creating the helpful ghosts), others involve freeway exit ramps where it is rumored cars stopped on them will roll back uphill. The explanation offered has it that either a carload of teens heading for no particular destination or a girl on her way to the prom die in a horrible accident on that off ramp when their car stalls and is hit from behind or the brakes go and the vehicle is sent flying into the middle of the intersection at the end of the ramp where it collides with a tractor trailer. The mysterious movement of later cars is explained as the ghost(s) of the dead teen(s) attempting to push stalled vehicles out of harm’s way. (For a sighting of this version of the legend, visit the Franklin Lakes Gravity Road page.)
Unlike the kids on the schoolbus tales, handprints are rarely found on these rescued cars. The explanation motif (why did my car just do that?) used in this set of legends is much like that employed in the Vanishing Hitchhiker — something weird happens, the person it happened to remarks upon it in front of locals, prompting one of them to volunteer the story about the long-ago accident and the dead teen ghosts.
Barbara “shove from above” Mikkelson
Last updated: 16 January 2007