Maco Station Light

On a rainy night in 1867, conductor Joe Baldwin lost his head — literally.

Joe worked for the Wilmington, Manchester and Augusta Railroad, now the Atlantic Coast Line. His train was heading home to Wilmington in a driving rain. It was almost at its destination. At the time Baldwin was in the last coach of the train doing paperwork. He looked at his watch. It was time for him to walk through the passenger cars to announce that the train was nearing its destination.

When opened the front door of the coach he found to his surprise that the rest of the train was far ahead of the coach — nearly out of sight. The last car had somehow uncoupled. He knew that close behind him was another train — an express — bearing down at high speed.

Joe ran to the rear door of the detached coach and swung his lantern wildly, trying to catch the attention of the engineer piloting the train behind, but it was no use. The express careened into the coach, demolishing it and decapitating Joe.

To this day, Joe’s ghost lantern still burns over that stretch of railroad. Old railroaders swear that it is the ghost of Joe Baldwin looking for its head (which, by the way, was never found). The ghost light causes a real problem because other engineers have often mistaken it for a real signal. As a result, the railroad ordered its signalmen at Maco to use two lanterns, one red and one green. That way there would be no mistake as to which lantern was the ghost light and which lantern was real..

THE BROWN MOUNTAIN LIGHTS

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!

THIRD EYE MAN

 

This is an interesting little piece of South Carolina campus folklore. Anyone have anything to add?

The Third Eye Man

The “Third Eye Man” was first spotted on November 12, 1949, on the campus of the University of South Carolina. According to school records, a strange man dressed in bright silver was sighted opening “a manhole cover on the corner of Sumter and Green Streets, directly opposite of the historic Longstreet Theatre.” At 10:43 p.m., two male students watched as this man entered the sewer portal, and diligently pulled the manhole cover into its proper position. One of the students, Christopher Nichols (class of 1953), wrote for the Gamecock and immediately spread the news of this “Sewer man” — as he was called in the article. After a few weeks, any interest in the “sewer man” died down.

Almost six months later, on April 7, 1950, this “sewer man” was spotted again. A university police officer on patrol came across two mutilated chickens behind Longstreet Theatre. Feathers and chicken parts were strewed all over the loading dock of Longstreet. Believing that this mess was left by fraternity students or some other pranksters, the officer walked back to his car to report the scene. After calling into the station, the officer returned to the loading dock only to discover a silver man huddled over the chicken pieces. Immediately, the officer turned his flashlight on this man who looked up at the cop. In the beam of the light, the officer could make out a very disturbing face, grotesque in color and shape, and in the middle of this man’s forehead, a third eye! It wasn’t a large eye, but nevertheless, there was a third eye starring back at the cop! The policeman retreated from the scene and called in back-ups. When other officers arrived on the scene, there was nothing left on the loading dock except a few scattered feathers and bones. Of course, the cop who witnessed this “third eye man” was in hysterics, and was never able to convince the other officers of what he saw.

In the late 1960’s, the “catacombs” or underground tunnels at the University, were a favorite place for students. These tunnels connect most of the University. One night in early October, a group of fraternity guys decided to take three pledges down to the tunnels for a challenge. Entering the tunnels from the basement of Gambrell, the group of guys headed west towards the horseshoe. As they rounded the first corner, they were met by a “crippled looking man dressed all in silver” (according to police reports). This bizarre looking man charged at the students with a lead pipe, and suddenly the frat boys realized that this was no prank. One of the pledges, Matthew Tabor, was knocked to the ground by the creature, and suffered “minor cuts and minor shock.” Two of the older boys immediately went to the police department, and that evening, the first “third eye man-hunt” took place. After hours of searching the tunnels, the police came up with nothing. However, they did take precautions by sealing off most of the entrances to the catacombs, and by declaring the tunnels off-limit to any person, student, or faculty member.

According to one of the maintenance men who still works at the University today, “we don’t use the tunnels unless it is absolutely necessary.” There have been several sightings in the late 80’s and early 90’s, though most were dismissed by the University Police force. Those who are adventurous enough to climb down into the tunnels risk being suspended from school. Students WILL find a way into the catacombs from time to time, but there is always the possibility that they will come face-to-face with the ominous third eye man.

Contributed by:
Marc Minsker
Department of English, Graduate Studies
University of South Carolina
November, 1998