Today is Niles Canyon Ghost Day!

by david on 26 February 2010

You might think that a planned suburb like Fremont, California wouldn’t be haunted, but you’d be wrong. Niles, which became part of Fremont in 1956, has its very own ghost:

In 1883 a historian commented that Niles “has nothing much to boast of” but its beautiful location, which justified a promise of a thriving town. In the 1850s it was “Gopher Town”. In the 1860s a mill. In 1877 it was fourteen acres bound by two railroads and a creek. It was then that the railroad bought two hundred acres and laid out the present town. In 1910 it had a population of 1,500. By 1914 Niles had justified its promise, and had three churches, three hotels, a bank and every appearance of a thriving town.

It also has a ghost—perhaps the only one in Washington Township. Many years ago, on the twenty-sixth of February, a young girl was killed in the canyon. Every year, on that day, she appears on the roadside, begging to be taken to her home in San Francisco. Invariably, when her kind deliverers reach the Dumbarton Bridge toll gate, she is gone. Drivers who go on to her San Francisco address are told that the same thing happens each year. Credence ranges from those who openly scoff to those who fear to drive through the canyon on February twenty-sixth.

History of Washington Township, 2nd edition, 1950

Several more versions of the story can be found online: some give her name as Lowerey, some call her the “White Witch”, some say she was killed on her wedding day in a fall from a carriage. I was most amused by a comment proclaiming the Niles Ghost a hoax (well of course the ghost is a hoax… you were expecting a real ghost?).

As it turns out, The Vanishing Hitchhiker is a well-known urban legend, first studied in 1942 by folklorists Richard Beardsley and Rosalie Hankey. There are four main story lines of the Vanishing Hitchhiker; the Niles Canyon Ghost is an example of story “A”, the most common variant. Forty-nine versions of the story “A” were recorded across America! I somehow doubt that the excerpt above is the earliest print record of the Niles Ghost, but I haven’t had time to research it further.

Next post: more about Niles, the canyon, and how Charlie Chaplin filmed his first movies here before moving to Hollywood.

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