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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.