The Ghost Children Of San
By Bill Knell
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 itís more then just a
ghost story, itís 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 itís 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, letís
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
wasnít 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. Itís 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. Blairís 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.
Blairís father was paid for these runs and the extra money came
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, Blairís 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
While Blairís father headed around the back of the pick-up,
Blair felt a sudden jolt. He wondered why his dad hadnít told
him to let his foot off the brake? Blairís father thought the
engine was coming to life and headed back to the cab jumping
into the driverís 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, Blairís
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 uncleís 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.
Itís impossible to say if this amazing local phenomenon had
itís origin in Blairís 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 childrenís 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, ďIím Emily. Is my
Mommy home?Ē 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, ďPlease, Maíam,
watch out for the railroad crossing.Ē 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. Itís
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
Rather then offer an opinion or endless speculation on the
ghost children of San Antonio, I will just wish them peace.
Author: Bill Knell Author's Email:
Terms To Use Article: Permission is granted to use this article
for free online or in print.