Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Maco Light

This ghost story from the 1800s is interesting because the phenomenon connected to it is still reported by eyewitnesses today. 

In the 19th century trains were American’s top choice for travel. Railroading in this century was dangerous. Accidents were a common occurrence. One particular dramatic crash led to a chilling ghost story.

This story is about a headless conductor, who haunts the tracks near where he died, and mysterious lights--some appearing to be a lantern’s glow and others appear to be from a train’s headlight.

Charles (Joe) Baldwin was a conductor on the Atlantic Coast Railroad in 1867. 

One rainy night, according to legend, he was the sole occupant in the rear car—the caboose-- of a train heading to Wilmington. As the train neared Maco, North Carolina, Baldwin realized the car he was in had become detached from the rest of the train and was stopped on the tracks. 

He knew another train was following so he ran to the rear platform and started swinging his lantern wildly trying to warn the oncoming train.

The engineer failed to see the stranded railroad car in time, and Joe Baldwin was supposedly decapitated in the collision. 

His lantern was found floating in a nearby swamp, his head was never found. Afterward, a mysterious light started appearing on the tracks—today it is estimated that thousands of people have witnessed these lights.

People reported seeing a lantern—but not a man—moving along the nearby tracks. 

These witnesses reported seeing this lantern hover above the ground about three feet. They often stated it bobbed as if being held by someone looking for something. Many said it was Joe looking for his head.

Legend says that some people saw two lanterns, which were supposed to be Joe’s head and body, vainly looking for each other for all eternity. 

These spooky sightings have become known as “The Maco Light.” 

Over the years, especially on dark nights, quite a few train engineers spotted these lights. Thinking they belonged to oncoming trains, these engineers brought their trains to a complete stop.

In fact, these mistaken lights distracted so many engineers that the railroad adopted a unique signaling system used only at the Maco station.

President Grove Cleveland is said to have inquired about the reason for Maco’s unique red-and-green signal lights when the presidential train stopped at Maco during a tour of the coastal Carolinas in the 1880s. 

When he returned to Washington, he began regaling people with the tale of Joe Baldwin and his lantern. The story spread and is now firmly embedded in American folklore.

As the years passed, more and more people witnessed and reported these lights. They became so famous Life Magazine featured them in their October 28, 1957 edition.

Hans Holzer, an American pioneering paranormal researcher, in 1965, concluded The Maco Light was linked to Joe Baldwin. Holzer stated that Joe did not realize he was dead and was still warning trains about a disconnected rail car.

It is said these lights became such an issue that the railroad decided to abandon this train route altogether. 

In 1977, the railroad even removed the tracks. Some of the pilings from a trestle bridge that supported the tracks can still be seen in a streambed, the old railroad grade runs parallel to Highway 74/76. 

Today this is all private property and trespassing has become an issue. One of the streets in a nearby subdivision bears the name Joe Baldwin Drive.

Despite, the removal of the track a Wilmington paranormal group, Port City Paranormal, was able to capture a picture of this light anomaly in the spring of 2009. 

NC H.A.G.S., a Raleigh, N.C. based paranormal group, has recently posted two excellent videos about “The Maco Light” on youtube.

Happy Ghost Hunting!

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