Halloween Hauntings, Part 4: Ghost Lights and Other Frights

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

The Thirteen Days of Halloween, Part 4


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.

For one video documentation of the Brown Mountain Lights, go to YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aX3O6EgJ-7U

The trouble with all the 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.

Devil's Promenade old booklet cover
The original pamphlet is long out of print and quite a collector’s item, but the text has been scanned is available online. Or, you can go see it for yourself.

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. This tale too warranted inclusion in Dixie Spirits, due to its great fame.

Artists image of Chapel Hill ghost light
The Headless Trainman of Chapel Hill still roams the rails through town, it is said. Whether it’s a he or an it, the Chapel Hill Light is real.

Finally, we have 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; but so many witnesses have seen them and yet no train follows, that this can’t be the case.  Here the legend is that it is the ghost of a local railroad 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. For more on this well documented phenomenon, see the relevant chapter in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.

These three Dixie lights are but a sample of this strange and unexplained phenomenon; there are other spook lights, not only in the South, but all across the country.  Since I first wrote about them, I have corresponded with one gentleman who actually had one of these things actually pass through him!  While he was not physically harmed, the memory of that night affected him deeply and it still gives him chills when he remembers it.

They are not headlights, nor swamp gas, nor anything within our ken and despite all their pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo, the professional debunkers have failed to explain these phenomena.

Whether they truly are ghosts, I can’t say.  They truly are spooky though, and for the foreseeable 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 more about them in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee; for the other ghost lights, Dixie Spirits will give you the lowdown on those.  Happy hauntings!

One thought on “Halloween Hauntings, Part 4: Ghost Lights and Other Frights

  1. Pingback: The Thirteen Halloween Hauntings, Part 1 | Dixie Spirits blog

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