Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Possible Mystery Solved in Niles Canyon

I am a huge fan of urban legends, and when I first heard of the "White Witch of Niles Canyon" or the "Vanishing Hitchhiker"  tale I was very intrigued about how it all originated. If you have read my first blog on the subject, which I wrote nearly three years ago, you would see I never did find any documentation of a lady dying out in Niles Canyon. The only thing I found were more legends, and one death of a gentleman who worked on the railroads named William Harris who died after falling from a trestle on May 23, 1906.

Although I am sure there have been many car accidents up that winding canyon road, and more than likely many deaths over the years, I still could never find that one story that would tie to the "origins" of this urban legend that has circulated each generation in Niles and the surrounding areas.

One day when I was visiting Sunol, Niles and Pleasanton, a friend of mine told me to look up Lucinda Lowery, and that he had been told by an old caretaker at the cemetery in Pleasanton that she had died many years ago after being run over by cars.  When I got home I started a search, sure enough I found in the Pleasanton Memorial Gardens Cemetery index a "Lucinda Lowery" who purchased deed # 61, in Lot: 178 at the cemetery on September 24, 1895. It also showed that either the date of death or date of burial was September 24, 1895, the same day she purchased the plot. Something else stood out in the index, the wording, "killed by cars." After further research I found that the asterisk near her name on the list meant that cemetery employees added her name to the "deceased" years later. This meant her first name was not in the original book, it only showed Lucinda as the purchaser of the plot, not necessarily the one buried there, meaning that the person buried there may not be Lucinda after all. Still, I wanted to know for sure.

I started doing some online research and found several people literally copying and pasting verbatim the story from a "Halloween" themed article claiming that a lady with the last name "Lowery" had been on her way to a wedding and that the horses pulling her carriage were spooked by two of the first automobiles in town, and that she was thrown off the carriage, and run over by one of the cars.

That sounded interesting enough, right? I mean, it seemed so detailed...but did this actually happen?

For the record, besides the cemetery plot/deed index mentioning Lucinda Lowery's name and a "death by cars" noted under it, I had not found any records that show a lady with the last name Lowery (Lowerey, Lowrie, Lawry, etc) being killed.  Let me add though that just because I haven't found it, doesn't mean it didn't happen, but the likelihood of two people with the same last name having a similar tragedy in the same local area sounds a bit far fetched.

So who was Ms. or Mrs. Lowery? Well, I kept trying to search for her in Alameda County records, to no avail.  Then I found a Mr. John Lowrie (spelled different) who had a huge house and ranch near Niles in the mid 1850s.  He was a prominent man who had a lot of farm land in Niles, Centerville and Newark. He was so rich he paid to have a drawing of his home put in the 1878 Atlas of Alameda County. Interestingly, he and a business partner Samuel Marston, took their ship "Lady Anne" up to Alaska in 1882, where they struck gold while mining. Unfortunately on their way home their ship sank, taking not only their newfound treasure, but also their lives. According to historical write-ups, they were never heard from again.

John Lowrie's House (Atlas of Alameda, 1878)
When I saw the drawing of Mr. Lowrie's home I was instantly pulled into the picture. I imagined perhaps this girl in the urban legends, "Ms. Lowery", could have lived there. Maybe she was his daughter? Maybe she was the girl standing on the porch in this picture? Sorry to disappoint but she wasn't. According to records, John didn't have a daughter named Lucinda.

So I was at square one again.--

I kept digging and in another index of deaths in Alameda, I came across another Lowery who died in September 4, 1895. Could this be a coincidence? I think not! According to records Samuel Lowery (also spelled Lowry) was killed by the 91 train near Pleasanton. He was run over by the rail cars. According to the September 7, 1895, issue of the San Francisco Call, it stated that he was working as a farm hand for John D. Smith. The next issue of the San Francisco Call answered some more questions.

"The Coroner's jury in the case of Samuel Lowery, the man killed by a train near Pleasanton, were unable to determine whether it was a case of suicide or not. Coroner Baldwin has received a dispatch from the wife of the deceased, who is at Ballard, Washington., stating that she has no money and asking that the remains be buried here."--- 9/8/1895- S.F. Call

What I think happened was either (a) the town buried Samuel in a grave at Pleasanton Memorial Gardens and put Lucinda's name as the deed holder, or (b) she had to pay directly or even perhaps travel down to California and purchase the plot herself, thus the gap in time between Samuel's death and his burial.

I had wondered if maybe she had traveled to Pleasanton and purchased the plot, immediately taking her own life in order to be with him. (Trust me, it has been done). Of course the notion is a bit silly, sad, and morbidly romantic....but not the case.  In reality Lucinda didn't meet her demise in Niles Canyon, Pleasanton, Sunol or anywhere else in Alameda.

When Samuel died, Lucinda was pregnant with her first and only child. I believe that Samuel had come to California to work, perhaps in order to save for his pending family. Unfortunately, he was never able to see his son born or be reunited with his wife. Lucinda was now a 28 year old, penniless widow with a baby on the way. I can only imagine the fear, grief and shock she must have felt to be put in that position at such a time in her life, and during that era. As the years went by, city directories show her living at a boarding house on 3rd Avenue (corner of Shilshole) in Ballard, Washington. (1897 & 1899/ Seattle City Directory)

The 1910 Census shows her working as a cook, raising her son Alfred, who by that time is now a young man. By 1920, she is still a cook and Alfred is now working as a logger, helping to contribute to the household. On July 11, 1924, at the age of 57 years, Lucinda Lowry, left this world and passed on. She was buried in Section 6; Lot 38; Grave 7-A, at Bayview Cemetery in Bellingham, Washington.

So in ending, do I think that Lucinda Lowery is the girl everyone has been talking about over the years? Has her story and that of her husbands been seriously mixed up and turned into something completely different than the actual events that took place? More than likely I would say so, but now we know she didn't die in Niles or even in California for that matter.

Just as in my past article about the "Vanishing Hitchhiker," there has been many stories surrounding Niles Canyon and Sunol for many years, even going back into the 1920s, 30s and 40s teenagers have passed this story around over and over for so long. Who knows where the real story stopped and a new urban legend began, there is no way to tell.

Is it possible that another girl with the same last name died out on the road near Sunol and Niles? Anything is possible. However, as I always say, until I see evidence that proves this, I will have to just take this urban legend with a grain of salt and enjoy the fact it is a creepy story to tell your friends when you are driving through Niles Canyon on a dark night.

My biggest question now would be what happened to Samuel? Did he commit suicide, was it an accident, or was he murdered? Also, whereabouts on the train tracks did he die? That is a death you know for certain happened in the canyon on its way to Pleasanton, just like the death of William Harris who fell from the trestle in the canyon.  Next time you go out there, please think of  the real Lucinda Lowery, and the tragedy she experienced losing her husband. Also, don't forget about the real victims of Niles, Samuel Lowery and William Harris, and the tragic end they both faced along that treacherous track in Alameda County.

To learn more about all the urban legends surrounding Niles Canyon, as well as many more mysterious and bizarre tales, please purchase your copy of "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered" today on Amazon! 


(Copyright- J'aime Rubio 2015)

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