The Ghost Children of San Antonio

One of the more famous urban legends in Texas is that of the haunted railroad crossing in San Antonio just South of the San Juan Mission. It is here that the ghosts of children, killed when a North bound train collided with their stalled school bus, push cars across the same tracks to a safety they could not reach themselves. According to the legend, a bumper dusted with talcum powder will reveal tiny hand prints of the ghost children, left when they pushed the car across the tracks.

During the night of the full moon in August, some friends and I decided to try and document the phenomena should it really exist. That's what we do, document ghosts. More often than not, urban legends have a grain of truth in them. In particular, those associated with unexpected, sudden deaths. The tragic deaths of children in what would normally be considered a safe place, their everyday school bus, seems to strike home to many. Perhaps it is an unpleasant reminder of how little control anyone has once their children are out of sight. This might be one reason the crossing has remained fixed in folklore so many years after the accident.

The haunted crossing was not difficult to find. We simply followed the queue of cars waiting their turn to get pushed across the tracks. There was nothing very spooky about the area, maybe because it was a beehive of activity when we went, and maybe because it just seemed sad instead. I wondered how I would feel if my child had been killed here, if the party-like atmosphere would further wound me. All we could bring to the area was respect.

A car in neutral gear rolls toward the tracks at an uphill angle. Off to one side, a group of local teen-agers was sitting on the tracks, running their hands back and forth down the smooth rail, absorbing the atmosphere, and waiting. They knew all about the ghost children. When asked, the kids supplied additional details, mostly concerning track etiquette. For one thing, you don't just sit on the crossing, that will not work. You have to go about 20 feet beyond the track, put your car in neutral, turn off the lights and wait. According to the locals, you will feel a sudden lurch and the car will glide down the street and across the tracks, pushed occasionally as necessary. And most importantly, the car must be headed west, the same direction the bus was going when it was hit by the train. In addition to these new details, they added a version of the "vanishing hitchhiker" and attributed it to the ghost children.

The vanishing hitchhiker is the basis for Lady of the Lake stories among others. Someone picks up a hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere, takes them home, finds out they have left behind an article of clothing, goes back to the house and finds elderly parents who say their child has been dead for how ever many years. In this case, a child from the school bus was taken home. I don't know how recent this addition to the legend is, but it would indicate that the ghost children are not likely to fade from memory any time soon.

Before the area got too crowded, we gave it a try. Not being teen-agers ourselves, the cars were coming and going a little too fast to feel very comfortable in an idling car with no lights. After parking away from the action, we took up positions on both sides of the railroad crossing to take photographs. By using a digital camera, we can ascertain quickly exactly where the "ghosts" are, and just as importantly, where they aren't. We started getting the fairly common phenomena called orbs, or spheres. Although no one can really explain what this is, we have gotten the same thing repeatedly at burial sites, and other areas of high energy.

After a half hour of shooting, we starting getting vapor, or mists, those unshaped forms more associated with the popular, Hollywood, conception of ghosts. The energy seemed to be most noticeable directly behind one of the X-shaped railroad crossing signs, on the north side. For a short time the orbs seemed to be hanging back in the heavy brush behind the sign. After a few minutes of constant camera flashes, they moved toward the center of the tracks. As the energy forms moved, we tried to follow, focusing our attention on the cars and trucks as they crossed over the tracks. Some slowly, some quickly. We ended up with photographs of the orbs behind and in the back of a pick-up as it rolled over the tracks.

Returning to the side of the tracks where we first began getting the orbs, we tried again. There was not a trace of the original energy pattern in the brushy area. The energy had moved to the center of the tracks, much like the legend suggests. Some of the drivers were not new at the track crossing. One gentleman from California swore he had seen the prints on the back of his baby powdered van the last time he came through. Lots of tiny hand prints and two large ones, as if the bus driver was lending a hand.

We didn't get any hand prints, this time. Perhaps on another trip when the dark, quiet street has the night to itself, and the full moon does not fall on a Saturday night we can wait with a little more ease. I do not have any definitive explanation for what appears in the photographs. After many years of documenting ghosts and the paranormal, this type of phenomena is certainly not rare. There is a good reason the unknown is called the unknown. If you need an explanation, you will have to provide one for yourself.

There are a couple of things I can state with certainty. The photographs were taken at the haunted crossing on the night of a full moon, they appear exactly as taken, and there is more going on than we can possibly know. More than that, I will leave up to the reader. Or, you might want to try to photograph the area yourself. All it takes is a camera with a good flash, and the ability to get out of the car and into the dark, dark night.

Story by Janis S. Raley

Janis S. Raley is the founder of Ghost Preservation League, and has been documenting and researching ghostly phenomena for twenty-five years. GPL member Ellen Coffee, heads the Hill Country Division, and lives on a haunted ranch in that area. For additional information, contact the group at