Monday, March 28, 2005

The Brown Mountain Lights

It’s possible more explanations have been proposed for the lights over North Carolina’s Brown Mountain than for any other mystery of either natural science or the supernatural. First studied more than two centuries ago, they’ve drawn countless curious tourists to the Morganton area -- where the U.S. Forest Service has placed an observation marker. Private scientists as well as officials of the U.S. Geological Survey and other institutions have studied the lights for many years.

They appear variedly as orange-red, yellow and blue-white orbs. Sometimes they hover, sometimes “wander,” both above the low mountain crest as well as down the slope, apparently prowling among the tree cover. They’ve reportedly lingered from just a second or two to half a minute before fading. The lights may appear singly or in great numbers. At whatever rate, they appear often -- on most clear, particularly dark nights.

Folk of a supernatural propensity tell stories of a ghostly lantern carried either by a murdered local woman or, according to a ballad, by an ante-bellum slave searching for his master who vanished in the hills. They also suggest homeless spirits of Native American warriors who died in a battle on the mountain.

Science, meanwhile, has suggested most everything but the kitchen sink: train lights (debunked when the lights continued to appear after a bridge washout disrupted rail traffic), aircraft, St. Elmo’s fire, “swamp gas” (there are no swamps on the mountain), forest fires, liquor stills -- those are only a few. Investigators in 1977 asserted they’d proved by experiment that most of the lights visible above the mountain were artificial light reflections. However, they couldn’t account for many of the sightings on the mountainside.

A lengthy article on the Brown Mountain Lights is forthcoming in my new e-book Blithering Antiquity, Volume One (available in April; e-mail for details).


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