Morganton, NC

There are, perhaps, no more famous ghost lights in America than the Brown Mountain Lights. These are red, blue, green, and white glowing balls seen flitting across the side of Brown Mountain, near the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, the lights are elusive. They can be seen clearly only when viewed from afar, but disappear when the observer gets too close.

One legend about the Brown Mountain Lights holds that the orbs are the spirits of Native Americans. Seven hundred years ago, Cherokee invaders swept down from the north battled the native Catawbas. From all accounts, it was an extremely bloody battle. But the lights, strangely enough, are not the spirits of slain warriors. Rather, they are said to be the spirits of Indian women sifting through the carnage, looking for dead husbands, sons, and brothers.

Although the Cherokee claim the lights have been around for centuries, they were first officially reported by the German engineer Gerard Will de Brahm in 1771. De Brahm also offered the first scientific explanation for the lights. He said, “The mountains emit nitrous vapors which are borne by the wind and when laden winds meet each other the niter flames, sulphurates and deteriorates.”

Since de Brahm’s day, science has further tried to explain the lights. Strangely enough, many “scientific” explanations fail to take into account certain time elements. For instance, when the U.S. Geological Survey conducted an investigation in 1913, they concluded that the Brown Mountain Lights were the result of locomotive headlights from the Catawba Valley, south of Brown Mountain. Another investigation, by the same agency, declared that the lights were actually reflections from automobile headlights. However, automobile headlights, like locomotive headlights, were unknown in the 1700s.

A third theory argues that the lights may be a mirage — reflections from the electric lights of Hickory, Lenoir, or other nearby towns. The problem with this, of course, is that there was no electricity there until the last part of the nineteenth century. Some scientists even claim that the lights are the result of swamp gas. But there are no swamps on steep mountainsides. In fact, there are not swamps in the area at all.

Since no one can get close enough for a personal encounter with the lights, it stands to reason that the riddle of the Brown Mountain Lights will remain a mystery for a long time to come!


2 Responses

  1. I have a new favorite hang-out!
    What an amazing blog, I can’t wait to see more.

  2. Want to learn more about the mysterious Brown Mountain Lights? Attend the Brown Mountain Lights Festival September 14-16, 2007 in Linville Falls, NC. For festival details, go to and click on the Brown Mountain Lights link. Check the website after Monday, September 10 – new information is being added to the web on Monday.

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