The Ghost Children of San Antonio

Ghost TracksIt’s Halloween! Once again, it’s time for those itchy, flame retardant costumes, snaggle-toothed jack-o-lanterns, and, most important, it’s time for bite size Snickers bars, which I believe are scientifically proven to have no calories because of their miniscule size. That’s why you don’t even have to feel the least bit guilty if you should inadvertently scarf down twenty or thirty of them in the course of the day. It’s also time for ghost stories! Nothing goes better around a campfire than ghost stories, unless of course, it’s s’mores. Hmm… I wonder how a s’more made with a bite size Snicker bar would be. I’m betting it would be delicious. Wait. What was I talking about? Oh, yeah. Ghost stories!

Gather around the campfire because I’m going to tell you about a legendary Western ghost story. No, it doesn’t involve a hitchhiker with a hook for a hand or girl wandering around a cemetery in her prom dress with a hook for a hand. (Sometimes I get my ghost stories confused.) This story is about the ghost children of San Antonio. It has everything you could ever want in a ghost story except possibly a hook for hand: It has frightened children, desolate roads and train tracks. YIKES!

Bus Stop

The Ghost Children of San AntonioThe year was 1938 when, according to legend, a school bus was headed through  a desolate, wooded stretch of road. A nun, who was also a teacher, was driving her young students home from a field trip. It was late and the children, exhausted from their outing, dozed in their seats. The nun admired the sleeping children and noted that they appeared to “dead to the world.” Oh, how prophetic.

The sister approached a railroad track on a steep grade, when the unimaginable happened. One of the bus’s wheels became lodged between pieces of wood in the track. As she gunned the engine in an effort to free the wheel, the bus stalled. It was then that a train came barreling down the track. The nun had no time to evacuate the children. Upon impact, the driver’s seat was thrown clear of the tracks and the nun watched in horror as her twenty-six beloved children perished.

Stop Dead in Your Tracks

The Ghost Children of San AntonioThe nun was overcome by grief. Why hadn’t she tried to wake the children sooner? Why was she the only one saved from the terrible carnage? What if…? What if…? What if…?

It was too much for the sister to bear. Two weeks later, the nun decided to end her life. She parked her car on the same tracks and waited for an approaching train. Chug-a-chug-a…Chug-a-chug-a… The train became louder. But the tortured nun heard something else. No. It couldn’t be. It was impossible. Her mind was playing tricks on her. She could hear the voices of children. She recognized the voices. They were the same voices that had haunted her those past two weeks. They were the voices of the children she had loved so much. Chug-a-chug-a… The train was louder still. It wouldn’t be long.

At that point, the nun felt her car begin to move . . . and an instant before impact, an unseen force pushed her car from the tracks.

The Ghost Children of San AntonioShaking, the nun got out of her car, and what she saw next defied all logic: On her car, she saw dozens of small handprints. Could it possibly be that the children that had died on those tracks had saved her?  From that day forward, legend tells, twenty-six young souls have roamed the area, warning people to stay clear of the track.

The streets in that area of town were named after some of the children who perished on that dreary day in 1938. To this day, the streets bear the names of Cindy Sue, Laura Lee, Richey Otis, Bobbie Allen and Nancy Carole, each of which is a perfectly compelling name for a ghost child, it seems to me.

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

The Ghost Children of San AntonioSince then, the area has drawn the curious and the seekers of paranormal activity. People say that if you stop your car on the tracks and put it in neutral, you can feel your car being pushed up the grade and over the tracks. People regularly report the sounds of children crying in the area.

Some people dust the trunks of their cars with flour or baby powder. Those people report finding children’s handprints—just as the nun did. Gulp.

Hold that Train!

The Ghost Children of San AntonioNow, I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s bad dreams (particularly my own), so I’m going to tell you some things I’ve discovered about the legendary ghost children of San Antonio. For starters, there is no record of a bus accident on that railroad track. There is, however, record of a school bus that was hit by a train in Salt Lake City, Utah, in December of 1938. It was grizzly and the story did appear in San Antonio newspapers. Perhaps some people just skimmed the story and thought it had happened in San Antonio.

What about the cars that roll uphill over the tracks? Are those people exaggerating? Surveyors have gone to the site and discovered that the “steep grade” leading up to the track is actually an optical illusion. Measurements have shown that what appears to be a hill is really two feet lower than the road leading to it. If you put a water bottle on its side, it will seem to roll “uphill.”

Okay, but those streets named for little ghost children, that has to be real, right? Nope. The streets are named for children—specifically, they were named for the grandchildren of the neighborhood developer. I still say those are excellent names for ghost children, however.

And the cries of children that are heard in the vicinity of the tracks? Are those simply the results of overactive imaginations? Surprisingly, the answer is, “No.” You see, there is a nearby resident who happens to raise peacocks. Have you ever heard the cry of peacock? It’s creepy and it does sound very much like a child crying out.

The Ghost Children of San AntonioWhat about the handprints? Is that legit? I have no answer for that one. Perhaps what people see as children’s handprints are really patterns from the wind. I don’t know. I do know that I much prefer the idea of ghost children’s handprints to a hitchhiker with a hook for a hand.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go eat a bunch of bite size Snickers bars and decompress from this frightful tale! True or not—it’s skeery!

Happy Trails,
Anita Lequoia

The Life and Loves of Vera McGinnis

Vera McGinnisOne of life’s hard lessons is that often our dream of a “happily ever after” doesn’t end up quite the way we had envisioned. Wild West cowgirl and rodeo daredevil Vera McGinnis would attest to that, I think. She was a powerful Western woman who had her heart stomped on by love more than once, and had her body crushed by more than a few wild critters . . . yet nothing could demolish her cowgirl spirit and her hope for something better. Today’s post is all about the life and loves of a cowgirl named Vera McGinnis.

Destiny’s Child

Vera McGinnisVera McGinnis was born in November 1892 in Missouri. Unlike just about every other future rodeo star that was born in 1892, Vera McGinnis did not grow up on a ranch. Her childhood wasn’t filled with trick riding and roping. It seemed that she was destined to be just about anything but a rodeo star. But destiny is a funny thing.

Destiny was hard at work when Vera made the acquaintance of a man named Art Acord. Art was a silent movie actor, a stuntman and a rodeo champion, who was friends with the likes of Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson and Bronco Billy. When Vera met him, she was smitten. His childhood had been exactly what you would expect of a man who would hold the World’s Championship Steer Bulldogging title. He grew up on a ranch and rodeo was in his blood.

Vera was working as a stenographer in Salt Lake City and Art was in town to compete in the 4th of July Frontier Day Celebration in 1913. She was the ripe old age of 21 when she first met Art, but, not wanting to scare him off, she told him she was 18. After all, nobody wanted an old maid!

If you’re waiting for me to describe some torrid love affair between Vera and Art, you’re going to be disappointed. Vera may have batted her eyelashes at Art and shaved a few years off her age, but it seems that Art just wasn’t that into her. I don’t know if Art actually gave Vera the ol’, “I love you like a sister,” speech, but the signs were there. Sigh. Vera, we’ve all been there.

Earl’s Girl

Vera McGinnisArt may not have been the love of her life, but he was instrumental in introducing her to the first man to really steal her heart, Earl Simpson. Earl, like Art, was in Salt Lake City to compete in the Frontier Day Celebration. In many ways, Earl and Art were like night and day. Earl had black eyes, black hair and a bit of a shy demeanor. Art was a blue-eyed blond with a big personality. Art was more interested in playing matchmaker than in being matched with Vera. So, Vera began batting her eyelashes at Earl.

Vera may not have been born on a ranch, but she had learned basic riding as a child. She had even won a riding contest at the age of thirteen. So, when Vera heard a rodeo promoter say that he wanted another girl to ride a relay race, she raised her hand. It didn’t matter to her that she had never ridden a relay race before. Vera had her eye on a cowboy and a prize. She got the cowboy and came in third in the relay contest. It was during this time that she learned trick riding in a mere eight days. By the time the rodeo wrapped up in Salt Lake City, Vera was ready to take her show on the road.

Bloomer Where You’re Planted

Vera McGinnisIn 1913, Vera started riding the rodeo while wearing her corset. As you might imagine, that didn’t last long. Following the first relay, she tossed the corset and never looked back! Vera McGinnis was the first woman to wear pants in the rodeo arena. God bless her! In fact, she was one of the first women to wear pants anywhere.

Vera McGinnisVera went on to design practical cowgirl clothing. She was like the original Gloria Vanderbilt! Well, that may be a stretch. But she did help to change women’s rodeo attire from short skirts to bloomers and I for one, wish I could travel back in time to give her a big hug for that!
When relay racing eliminated the requirement for the cowgirls to re-saddle each horse in their string, Vera invented the “flying change”—the action of jumping from one horse to another without hitting the ground. Vera also had the notable distinction of being one of the few people to circle a horse’s belly while riding at a full gallop!

Vera McGinnisVera’s love for rodeo riding outlasted her love for Earl, however. The two married in 1914 and officially called it quits ten years later. But, from the start, it had not been a completely happy union. Earl had been a less than dependable husband and breadwinner. Vera was heart broken.

Blog5Vera loved the West, but even the West wasn’t big enough to contain her rising stardom. She traveled the globe, finding adoring crowds throughout Europe. Vera won trick riding championships on three continents. She attended dinner parties hosted by the Prince of Wales. In Ireland, she was treated like a movie star. She even caught the fancy of one of the world’s richest men—a Malaysian sultan who fell head over heels in love with her. We don’t know the exact nature of their relationship, but he did send Vera letters and gifts for decades. She kept a scrapbook of mementos, which included news of his death in 1959.

The sultan may have had the money and the romantic moves, but he didn’t win Vera’s heart. In 1931 Vera married a man named Homer Farra. The two were married for fifty-two years, until Farra’s death.

The Trampling of a Career

Vera McGinnisVera spent a good deal of time working as a Hollywood stunt double. She performed in Madison Square Garden with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. And, for a time she was the country’s only female jockey. Yet, she swore she wouldn’t trade being a rodeo cowgirl for any other profession. In 1934, she was seriously injured when a horse by the name of China Rose flipped on top of her. She suffered from a collapsed lung, three broken ribs, a broken neck bone, a broken hip and her back was broken in five places. Vera survived, but her career didn’t.

Vera McGinnisForced into an early retirement, Vera sought out a new hobby. What could a former rodeo star do? Vera discovered that she greatly enjoyed turning trophies from her vast trophy collection into lamps! While her lamps have since been restored to their original trophy status, I can’t help but wish that I had one of her creations! If anyone knows the whereabouts of a Vera McGinnis trophy lamp, please let me know!

Vera McGinnisIn 1974, Vera McGinnis’s book, Rodeo Road: My Life As a Pioneer Cowgirl was published. It’s 225 pages of rip-roaring rodeo history! In 1979, she was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and, in 1985 Vera McGinnis was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame of the Rodeo Historical Society. The pioneer cowgirl who survived having both her heart and her body stomped on passed away in 1990—but not without giving us plenty to talk about for years to come.

Happy Trails,
Anita Lequoia

Fair Food: Eat Your Heart Out!

Fair Food: Eat Your Heart OutSome people think of this as autumn. Other folks think of it as fall. To a very vocal majority, it’s football season. But, to me, it’s fair time! Yes, I realize that some state fairs take place in the summer and some are in the winter. For whatever reason, I will forever associate a drop in temperatures and the turning of leaves with state and county fairs and a heap of fried foods.

Now, I generally have a super healthy diet. I get my five servings of fruits and vegetables a day without the benefit of V8 juice. I get my salad dressing on the side. I rarely eat anything fried. But a day at the fair is a time to throw dietary caution to the wind and indulge in things that truly have no place whatsoever in a balanced diet! I hereby dedicate this edition of the Campfire Chronicle to the deliciously decadent and wonderfully weird fair foods we have all come to love.

This is one time when we won’t focus only on the West (although I am mighty partial to Western cuisine). I mean, what is more unifying and American than people from all over the country attending fairs and paying exorbitant amounts of money for foods that bring a moment of happiness and night of indigestion? (Cue the patriotic music! It’s time to eat your heart out!)

Food on a Stick

Food2There was a time when fair food was pretty much limited to caramel apples, cotton candy and corndogs—or, as I like to refer to it, food on a stick. There’s a lot to be said for food on a stick. It’s portable. It’s on a stick. Okay, so that’s about all there is to be said for foods on a stick. Across the country, you can still find the traditional foods on a stick, but these days you can find some wilder choices, as well.

Fair Food: Eat Your Heart OutIt seems that states take pride in the number of foods on a stick their state fair has to offer. While most states have a fine showing in the food on a stick challenge, it appears that the winner is the Minnesota State Fair, with seventy unique foods on a stick. The good people of Minnesota have brought us such foods as deep-fried lobster on a stick, shrimp dogs, alligator sausage on a stick, teriyaki ostrich on a stick and deep fried olives on a stick. I must admit that none of those options sound remotely tempting to me, but they are creative! For this, I give the people of Minnesota props.

Food4Happily, there’s still plenty of room for the classics! Fletcher’s Corny Dogs have been a staple at the Texas State Fair since 1942. Texas Monthly has called the Fletcher’s Corny Dog the “magnum opus of fair food.” If you disagree, you need to check out the lines at the Fletcher’s Corny Dog booth. During a 24-day fair season, approximately 630,000 Fletcher’s Corny Dogs are consumed by people trying to get their annual fix of cornbread battered, deep-fried, wieners on a stick! They go through 21,000 pounds of oil, 1,500 gallons of mustard and 800 gallons of ketchup.

If You Fry It, They Will Come

You know you’re at a great state fair when you can smell the grease, which brings me to the fried foods category. As you’ve probably already gathered, there’s a lot of overlap in the fried food category and the food on the stick category.

Fair Food: Eat Your Heart OutThe Texas State Fair offers fairgoers such treats as fried Sirracha balls (brought to you by the same person who created fried beer), fried butter, and fried bubble gum. This year, you can partake of a deep fried Texas bluebonnet, which isn’t actually a fried wildflower. It’s a battered, deep-fried, blueberry muffin that is stuffed with cream cheese and white chocolate and topped with whipped cream, white chocolate morsels, blueberries and blueberry sauce. Yes, please!

Fair Food: Eat Your Heart OutIt’s no secret that Texans can “chicken-fry” anything. This year, an award winning Texas State Fair food is the chicken-fried loaded baked potato, which exemplifies the true goal of fair food: Take an everyday food and fry it until you can hear your arteries clogging.

Fair Food: Eat Your Heart OutCalifornia offers plenty of healthier choices, like organic salads and fruit stands. They also serve up artisanal breads and locally produced cheeses, which aren’t even fried. Don’t worry, though. For people who aren’t interested in bypassing future bypass surgery, they also have more cholesterol-rich choices, such as deep-fried White Castle Burgers. Yes, the burger is battered, in its entirety and plunged into a vat of grease. Deal me in!

Fair Food: Eat Your Heart OutNote: Iowa and other states also serve up fried butter. Iowa gets special recognition for serving it on a stick.

Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

Some fair foods are all about the shock factor. They’re generally for people who say, “I’ll try anything once!” For those people, the Arizona State Fair is the place to be. In past years, they have served up such oddities as caramel apples rolled in mealworms and chocolate-covered scorpions. Whyyyy?! Whyyyy?!!!!

Food9

Even the promise of chocolate cannot tempt me to consume a scorpion. And, if I want protein added to a caramel apple, I will choose chopped nuts, not mealworms, thankyouverymuch!

Fair Food: Eat Your Heart OutThe California State Fair offers deep-fried Kool-Aid balls, which appear to be psychedelic donut holes. If you’re in Florida, you might wish to try the fried ice cream cheeseburger, which is a bacon cheeseburger with a scoop of cinnamon and cornflake coated flash-fried ice cream. Meat a’ la mode, anyone?

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

I took an unofficial poll among friends from all over the country. I was rather surprised to learn that cotton candy, funnel cake and elephant ears still top the list of “must-have” fair foods. In case you aren’t familiar with elephant ears, since it’s a regional thing, they are essentially flat, fried bread—sort of a non-puffy sopapilla. It just goes to show that you can’t beat a classic.What about you? What’s your favorite fair food? Do you indulge in the wacky selections or head for the old stand-bys? What is the strangest fair food you’ve ever tried? I’d love to hear from you. Fair Food: Eat Your Heart Out

I leave you with a little Rodgers and Hammerstein ditty. Everybody sing along with Pat Boone in this video clip from the 1962 film!

Our State Fair is a great state fair,
Don’t Miss it don’t even be late.
Its dollars to doughnuts at our state fair
It’s the best state fair in our state!

Happy Trails,
Anita Lequoia

Ghost Town: Bodie, California

Bodie, CADo you happen to share my fondness for ghost towns? Well, hold onto your hat because today we’re going to talk about Bodie, California—a ghost town that many people claim is filled with real live ghosts! Live ghosts? Well, you get my drift! It’s a ghost town with ghosts and a good old-fashioned curse and everything!

Bodey Image

Bodie, CABack when there was gold in them thar hills, business was booming in Bodie. It was ten years after the 1849 gold rush at Sutter’s Mill when four prospectors made a lucky strike on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. They agreed that mum would be the word until they could come back the next spring. But keeping quiet is a tough thing to do and W. S. Bodey was not successful in the endeavor. Bodey returned early with a Cherokee man known as Black Taylor. Life is full of consequences and the consequence for W.S. Bodey and his loose lips was that he and Black Taylor were caught in a blizzard and Bodey died. As far as consequences go, you don’t get dirtier than that!

For Bodey, the bad news was that he was dead. The good news was that they named the camp after him. Of course, most people couldn’t spell worth a flip back then, and Bodey became Body, which became Bodie. But it was still the same place. And Bodey was still dead.

Bodie Image

Bodie, CA - Wide ViewThe Bodie camp languished for a few years while people were off striking it rich in other places. It was 1876 when a Bodie mine caved in and revealed a gold mine! Wait a minute. Okay, so it was already a gold mine, but the cave-in revealed a whole heap of gold. In 1878, there was another whopping strike, which netted a million dollars worth of gold bullion in a mere six weeks time. I don’t know how much gold bullion that was, but I’m now wondering how much chicken bouillon it would take to net a million dollars.

Bodie, CATo paraphrase Voltaire: With great fortune comes great responsibility. It soon became apparent that many of the residents of Bodie were not very responsible with their new-found fortunes. There was a reason the expression “Bad Man from Bodie” became popular in the West. How can I say this? Bodie was filled with some really bad men (and more than a few bad women). There were gamblers, prostitutes, stagecoach robbers and desperadoes galore. After all, somebody had to keep all of the opium dens in business! At one time, Bodie had sixty-five saloons and a booming red light district. Bodie had a reputation and it wasn’t good.

Bodie, CADuring the winter of 1878-79, hundreds of residents died of disease and exposure to the cold. The Bodie Chamber of Commerce, if such a thing existed, would have had its work cut out for it. Bodie had image problems. Most people didn’t want to move to a town where the slogan could have been: Bodie, California—If the winters don’t kill you, the residents might!

Bodie, CAThere is a story that still circulates about a little girl whose family was moving to Bodie. Some people claim that she prayed, “Goodbye God! We are going to Bodie.” Other people claim that she said, “Good, by God! We are going to Bodie.” That’s one of those instances where punctuation is everything.

Reputation aside, Bodie did boom between the years of 1879-1882. Following that brief heyday, there was a slow and steady decline in the Bodie economy. In 1892, the decline picked up steam after a fire destroyed several buildings in the town. Several mines closed. In 1917, the Bodie Railway was abandoned. And, in 1932, a second fire, which was started by a 2 ½-yr-old boy playing with matches, did its best to destroy what was left. Approximately one third of the town’s buildings were burned. But, the real nail in Bodie’s coffin was Prohibition.

Bodie, CA

By the 1950s, the town was completely deserted. In 1962, Bodie became a State Historic Park. The park is maintained in a state of “arrested decay,” meaning that the structures are kept from crumbling, but are not restored to former glory.

Come Back to Haunt You

Bodie, CAThere are 168 structures still standing in Bodie. There’s also a cemetery. It is a ghost town, after all! And there are plenty of ghost stories to go around.

Of the last six residents of Bodie, five of them died grisly deaths. A husband murdered his wife. Three men murdered the husband in retaliation. The ghost of the murdered murderer is said to have faced his own murderers. It wasn’t long before the three men dropped dead. I’m not sure what happened to the final resident, but if I had been him (or her?), I would have taken off running and would not looked back!

  • J.S. Cain House
    J.S. Cain House
  • Gregory House
    Gregory House
  • Mendocini House
    Mendocini House

The ghost of a Chinese maid is said to haunt the old J.S. Cain house. Park rangers’ families have reportedly stayed in the house. They learned that the ghost loves children, but has tried to suffocate adults in the middle of the night.

Guests of the Gregory House have reported seeing the ghost of an old woman knitting an afghan in a rocking chair. If I have to encounter a ghost, I hope it’s one of the knitting variety and not the suffocating variety!

Park rangers say that they often smell Italian food cooking in the Mendocini House. They also report hearing the laughter of children. And then there are the run-of-the-mill stories about a ghost gazing through upstairs windows. There have also been some reports of live children interacting with some unseen something or other at the grave of a three-yr-old girl who is known as “The Angel of Bodie.”

Don’t Push Your Luck

Bodie, CASo, what is that bit about the town having its own curse? I’m glad you asked! “The Curse of Bodie” is said to rear its head whenever a visitor takes something from the town. The spirits of the dead residents are believed to be very territorial. A person doesn’t even have to take something very big in order to be on the receiving end of a hex. There are stories of visitors taking something as small as an old nail and being beset by ill fortune. Park rangers have received numerous letters from visitors seeking to return their stolen souvenirs in an effort clean their Karmic slate. Some of the letters are addressed directly to the spirits themselves.

Some people claim the Curse of Bodie is actually a genius attempt by park rangers to stop the pillaging of the village. That may well be true. But, hey, why risk it? Is a rusty nail worth it? I think not!

You’ll enjoy this outstanding documentary about Bodie by historian Howard Berkowitz . . . it’s worth a view!

Happy Trails,
Anita Lequoia