February 26, 2007

Imagine how frightening while driving down a dark canyon road on a cold winter night you come across a young woman dressed in a long, white gown standing by the side of the road. She is begging for a ride, her eyes seem to glow. Who is this woman who wanders the highway all alone? You’re immediately concerned yet apprehensive as you slow your car to a rolling stop. She seems harmless as she walks towards your car, “Can you please give me a ride home?” she asks. “Where might that be?” you answer.

As the legend goes there was an automobile accident on February 26, 1938 on Niles Canyon Road near the Palomares Road train trestle and a young woman was killed. Some say it was her wedding night, others say she had been to a dance in Sunol.

But some folks think that she often makes an appearance on the anniversary of her death and stands by the side of the rode near the place on the highway where she lost her life. Several motorists have claimed to pick her up and she gives them a San Francisco address.

The story continues that after picking up the young girl and as the driver approaches the Dumbarton Bridge, she mysteriously vanishes from the car. Surprised and confused, the driver continues on to the address given to him.

When he arrives at the residence an older woman answers the door and states that her daughter had been killed several years prior and that each year on February 26 a motorist arrives on her doorstep with the same story.

Is this just another urban legend? The ghost story seems to have a familiar twist wherever it is told and has been passed down for at least four generations in my family.

Radio personality Mel Ventner first announced the story, which was picked up by
Fremont’s “Township Register” and consequently an article appeared on February 24, 1950 relating the events of that fateful night 12 years earlier.

Two days later on February 26 a teenage prank would make a local boy famous.

Nobody remembers how it was decided which boy would wear the white sheet, but a group of boys from Niles decided to re-create the ghostly apparition to try and scare unsuspecting motorist.

As the group waited on a nearby hillside, one of them donned the white sheet and climbed atop the train trestle, waving at passing cars below. One of the cars turned out to be an Alameda County Sheriff, who hit the brakes and came out shooting. Thankfully the deputies had already been warned of the prankster’s activities and were only firing warning shots to scare the boy into climbing down off the trestle. At that point the rest of the group had scattered but were later apprehended sitting in a car nearby.

Although I had heard the story of the famous “Ghost Girl” prank from my father who knew the boys involved, it was not until I recently received an email from Tony Chivers who made the story seem real.

Tony’s older brother William Clarence Chivers was the boy who wore the white sheet that famous night. Tony wrote, “The arresting deputies were W.R. Rose and E.B. Pavon and the last paragraph of their report was as follows: ‘The entire community of Niles showed quite a good deal of concern over this old adage of a Ghost in Niles Canyon on this date, to the extent that several of the females who lived in Sunol stated that they drove home during this time via either Dublin Road, US 50 or went around through the old Mission Grade Road” Tony added that they concluded their report by stating, in all capital letters, “THE GHOST NO LONGER WALKS”.

“This report was picked up by the Bay Area Newspapers and consequently the wire services. Most were headlined “Shivers Shakes as Sheriff Shoots”. From that time on my brother was famously known as the Ghost Girl of Niles Canyon.” wrote Tony.

Sadly, William Clarence Chivers passed away on January 14 at the age of 75. His funeral services were held on January 18 and Tony was quite sure his friends would still be reminiscing about his brothers Ghost Girl escapade. So on this day I dedicate this column to William Clarence Chivers, who will forever be known as the "Ghost Girl of Niles Canyon".

(Note: Do not attempt to re-create this prank; Niles Canyon is very dark and dangerous and parking or walking on the road is not permitted in most locations.)

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