D is a 20 year old college student living in Los Angeles, California who was originally from the Philippines.
This conversation took place in my room as a group of my friends were hanging out and I brought up if they knew any folklore or proverbs that they wanted to share.
D: So like my cousin told me they were like walking on the train tracks and like he said if you step on one of the train tracks one of your loved ones will die or something. So now whenever I go across the train tracks, even in the car, I like put my feet up.
I think this superstition is very interesting because it is from a familial source, therefore seen as reputable, and has affected the informant to the point that he avoids it even in the car. To me, the superstition seems to mirror the one that I learned to not step on a crack in the sidewalk, otherwise, your mom would break her back. It’s possible that this superstition stems from the fact that railroad/trains are a main source of transportation in the Philippines and therefore are bound to have accidents associated with them. It may have also been a superstition told to kids by adults and parents in order to deter them from wandering on train tracks in the hopes that they would not get into an accident.
RG – This place is called “the bloody pit.” It’s the Hoosac train tunnel in North Adams (Massachusetts), and it’s called that because it took the lives of hundreds of construction workers while being built because it was a nightmare of a tunnel to build. It’s really long, and looking in it’s just black. We went to check it out. It was the same summer we did a bunch of other stuff (like visiting graveyards or other supposedly haunted places at night) because we were really attracted to death for some reason. C was just staring into the tunnel as if he were in a trance. I tried getting his attention, snapping, saying his name, getting in front of him and waving, etc. Suddenly he got really angry, pushed me aside and started walking in. He eventually snapped out of it but it was all really uncharacteristic of him.
The tunnel is still an active freight route. It’s 4.75 miles long, and when you go a decent amount in and turn around, it’s just a pinprick of light. And it’s a mess in there. The walls are pretty decrepit and leaking, and it sounds really ominous and wet in there.
We knew the history of the tunnel. It’s called the bloody pit for a reason. But we went in anyway. And C acted all weird when we were heading in. But we weren’t super freaked out until on our way out we all noticed, quite at the same time, a penny lying heads up on the rail. We hadn’t noticed it going in. And it freaked us out because a penny lying heads up is a symbol of good luck. But right before one of us picked it up we all realized, again at the same time: ehhhh don’t touch that. It’s like if you think about an angler fish, there’s something so tempting and shiny in front of a great dark maw. We didn’t want any type of luck that tunnel had to offer, if that makes sense. We didn’t really think about what-ifs, we just knew not to touch it.
The informant enjoys telling the stories of their various adventures each time we speak. This time was about one summer where the informant went to graveyards, haunted construction sites, and The Bloody Pit. It takes a certain kind of person to knowingly go into a place named so threateningly. The informant has had several encounters with ghosts. They are not the most nor the least superstitious out of the group they went with, but all of them agreed there was something not right with the location, in a way that they could not logically explain away. This story combines ideas of haunting, historical events, and the non-localized folk belief of finding a penny lying heads-up being good luck.
Context: My informant (M) grew up in a small town in Texas about an hour outside of San Antonio. This was a local legend she heard growing up about haunted train tracks. She told me every kid in her town knew about the tracks, and it was a common outing for high schoolers to go see the tracks. She told me that if you visit the tracks now, there are police cars and signs telling people not to stop on the tracks because it creates too much traffic. San Antonio plays into the legend and features the train tracks in museums and historical tours.
M: There’s a place in San Antonio where a bus filled with children got stalled out on a railroad track. They weren’t able to move the bus so the train came and it killed all the kids inside. So the legend is that the kids now haunt the train tracks. So if you drive on the train tracks at around midnight-and you can put like baby powder on your bumper or something- but if you stop on the tracks and put your car into neutral, supposedly the kids will push your car just enough for it to get off the tracks. Then, if you get out and look at your bumper, you’ll see little handprints on it from where the ghost kids pushed your car. I guess they do this so you don’t have to experience the tragedy that they did.
Me: Did you ever do it?
M: No I wasn’t allowed to drive to San Antonio at midnight (laughs). But in high school, a lot of kids would do it and then come back to school and say ‘oh you know we did it and it totally worked I saw the handprints and everything.’ And there were all of these “first-hand accounts” that made it really believable at 15, 16 years old.
My thoughts: It seems like a common story around the United States to have a haunted site where kids died and now they push your car. I did some research and I found a similar story from Los Angeles about the ghosts of Gravity Hill, I linked it below. I also included a link to the San Antonio ghost tours website that tells this story with more historical information.
Los Angeles Gravity Hill: https://www.ranker.com/list/gravity-hill-haunting/erin-mccann
San Antonio’s Ghost Tours Site: https://ghostcitytours.com/san-antonio/haunted-places/haunted-railroad-tracks/
The informant–ZG– is an 18 year old male born and raised in San Antonio Texas. The train tracks to which the informant is referring are located near the San Juan Mission and have become a popular tourist destination for self proclaimed ghost hunters.
A story that I heard growing up and I actually did witness was south of San Antonio. There’s these railroad tracks, and supposedly in the eighteen hundreds a train was coming by and it killed all these small children. I don’t know what they were doing playing on train tracks. That was their fault. But if you go at night and you set your car in the middle of the train tracks–the train tracks are no longer in use–the ghost children will push your car across the train tracks. My mom and I went back in 2014 or 2013. We had this huge pickup truck. And we went over and, we parked on top of the train tracks and it’s actually like a line of people. And what do you know we put our car in neutral and… Wow! Our car was pushed across the train tracks from the little children. It was incredible.
Despite the popularity of the San Antonio train tracks said to be haunted by ghosts of children killed in an accident, there is no proof that such an accident ever happened at those specific tracks or in San Antonio. The legend could be a cautionary tale warning children about the dangers of playing around the train tracks or an explanation for the phenomenon that occurs when a car is put in neutral when stopped over the tracks.
Context: The informant and I were driving in the car when we passed over train tracks and she told me the piece. The piece was collected in its natural performance setting.
Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant. She learned the piece as a child from her parents who would say it when passing over train tracks.
“Lift your legs for good luck!”
Analysis: I grew up hearing this piece from my mom every time we drove over train tracks. Neither one of us knows why it is good luck, but I believe it is an exercise in controlling something tangible to control the intangible. Train tracks can be dangerous places. By lifting our legs, perhaps we are attempting to subvert this danger. Some variants of this practice involve lifting one’s legs in order to prevent them from being chopped off by the train tracks while other variants threaten that if one does not lift their legs, they will die young.
For another variant of this practice visit:
Edelen, John. “Lifting Feet Over Train Tracks.” USC Digital Folklore Archives. University of Southern California, May 13, 2019. http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=47643.