No, she hadn’t wandered onto the tracks, and it was no accident.
For 65 years Sophia Mulder had waved to trains passing her residence, and the railmen came to a halt that morning beside her home to show their appreciation and offer well wishes on her 90th birthday.
Years prior to the day, Mulder had become acquainted with Pere Marquette train engineer Frank Dahlman, who was a neighbor of Mulder’s sister, Katherine Van Wessem, on Fourth Street. Van Wessem and Mulder’s neighbors coordinated the surprise railway birthday stop with train conductors Clayton Swizer and Harvey Fletcher, along with C&O station agent Denver Todd.
Crews from three separate passenger trains joined the act of kindness aboard the train. Upon the brief stop and disembarking, train brakeman Imre Bryant presented Mulder with a beautiful potted hydrangea and 18 railroad crewmen kissed her on the cheek, wishing her a happy birthday.
The stop took no more than two minutes, then the train chugged away, headed to Chicago.
Sophia A. Mulder was born in Bradford, Penn., on March 17, 1871, as Sophia Smith. She arrived in Grand Haven with her family when she was 5. She had lived alone in the house at 622 Columbus Ave. since the death of her husband, John G. Mulder, on Dec. 31, 1941.
Sophia greeted the rumbling trains for 65 years as they passed by her home, waving to them from her front porch or kitchen window. At night Mulder turned her porch light on and off as a friendly “hello” gesture. Trains flashed their lights in response.
“Never to feel sorry for herself while living alone,” the Grand Haven Tribune reported, “she has a cheerful disposition and a friendly wave for everyone going by.”
Mulder was pleasantly surprised by all of the attention given to her that day.
“It’s really something when you have a 90th birthday,” Mulder told the Grand Haven Tribune. “Believe me.”
On her birthday the mailman delivered 50 greeting cards to her home. The day before, she had received 20. By the day after her birthday, she had received more than 100 birthday cards in all, and as many visitors wishing her well.
Mulder died of a heart attack four months later on July 25, 1961. She is buried beside her husband in Lake Forest Cemetery.
Her sister, Katherine VanWessem, who helped arrange the momentous train event, died on Oct. 28, 1963, at the age of 88.
The historic train stop remains one of a kind in the city of Grand Haven.