Halloween Hauntings, Part 4: Ghost Lights and Other Frights

The Brown Mountain Lights in North Carolina are among the most famous of the many spook lights.

October 29, 2012  The Thirteen Days of Halloween, Post 11

There are those who would say that ghost lights (also called spook lights) are not supernatural phenomena at all and are perfectly explainable.  The erstwhile debunkers have sometimes gone to great lengths to try to explain away the inexplicable.  Take one of the most famous of the spook lights, the Brown Mountain Lights.   There can be no denying their reality for they have been seen by various and sundry folk by the thousands for generations.  No remote trekking into the backwoods, either: travelers often see them traveling at night along the Blue Ridge Skyway.  They rank as North Carolina’s most fascinating mysteries.  In 1913, the US Geological Survey dismissed the lights as the reflection of train headlights; that excuse worked until a big flood washed away the railroad tracks and the light show continued; then they came up with the “marsh gas” explanation; most recently, the ORION project out of Oak Ridge Labs went to great length to try and prove it was light reflected from car headlights.  The trouble with all these pseudo-scientific explanations is that the light show on Brown Mountain dates to long before the white man came to North Carolina.  The Indians told of a great battle on the slopes of the mountain and claimed the lights are the souls of the dead warriors still fighting.  The first whites to see the lights were in the seventeenth century, long before trains or cars.  Locals have their own legend about the lights and it too involves death and tragedy.  I detail both legends in my chapter of the lights in Dixie Spirits.

In western Missouri is another famous ghost light; called variously the Hornet Light, the Neosho Lights, the Tri-State Lights or simply the Devil’s Promenade.  The so-called experts have tried to dismiss it too as a reflection of lights from the interstate; here again that doesn’t wash as the lights have moved over the years.  Located along the state border with Kansas, the Hornet spook lights have been known to chase bus-loads of children, much to their terror.  These lights too have been around since frontier days and perhaps much longer, and are still active today.

Finally, let us look at the Chapel Hill spook lights.  These seem to concentrate at night along the CSX railroad tracks that run through Chapel Hill, Tennessee.  While one might easily assume these to be train headlights, so many witnesses have seen them and no train follow that this can’t be the case.  Here the legend is that it is the ghost of a local lineman, who lost his head–literally–when he fell afoul of the tracks and a passing freight.  Viewing the spook lights got so popular at Halloween that  the local police started arresting people for trespassing on railroad property.

These three Dixie light shows are but a sampler; there are others, not only in the South, but all across the country.  I recently came across a blog from up in Wisconsin chronicling a famous local one up there.  Tennessee has quite a few that I know of, and doubtless other chroniclers of the weird and wonderful elsewhere could cite many, many more near their locale.  I have corresponded with one gentleman who had one of these things actually pass through him.  He was not physically harmed, but the memory of that night still gives him chills.

no; they are not headlights, nor swamp gas, nor anything within our ken; whether they truly are ghosts, I can’t say.  They truly are spooky though, and for the forseeable future I think we can safely say they will remain an unsolved mystery of Dixie.  For Tennessee’s spook lights you can confer Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and my newest, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee; for the other ghost lights, Dixie Spirits will give you the lowdown on those.  Happy hauntings!

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