Friday, June 21, 2013

Brown Mountain Lights

The Brown Mountains are located in Burke County in North Carolina. For centuries an unexplained light phenomenon has been seen along this Blue Ridge. These lights have been written about in numerous newspaper articles, several television documentaries have focused attention on them and even the Kingston Trio wrote a folk song about them.

This phenomenon appears over the top of the Brown Mountains as well as in the foothills. The lights are seen at irregular intervals bobbing and weaving up and down. Witnesses state they appear red, blue or yellow in color. One account describes them as follows:

 “The lights seem to resemble balls of fire from Roman candles. Sometimes they rise to various heights and fade slowly. Others appear to expand as they rise, then burst high in the air like an explosion without sound. On dark nights they pop up so fast and so thick that it is impossible to count them. They are visible from a distance but as one climbs the mountain they vanish".

The first known sighting was in 1200 when Cherokee Indians stated they were the result of a great battle between their people and the Catawba Indians near Brown Mountain. A Cherokee legend describes the lights as the spirits of Indian maidens who have been searching through the centuries for their husbands and sweethearts who died in this battle. Another prevalent legend is that the lights are “a troop of candle bearing ghosts who are destined to march forever back and forth across the mountain”.

Twice the U.S. Geological Survey has investigated the lights. The first time in 1913 they concluded the lights were the result of “locomotive headlights” from the Catawba Valley south of Brown Mountain. However, just three years after this in 1916 a great flood swept through the Catawba Valley. This flood knocked out the railroad bridges. 

It took weeks before repairs where done and the locomotives could run through the valley once more. This same flood also washed out the roads and the power lines. But the Brown Mountain Lights appeared as usual. It became apparent that railroad or automobile lights were not the cause--but most knew this for the lights were seen before these two forms of transportation even existed.

The second U.S. Geological survey reported the cause for the lights were “due to the spontaneous combustion of Marsh Gases.” But there are no marshy places in or around the Brown Mountains.

In 1919 the Weather Bureau investigated and announced the cause for the lights was similar to the Andes Light in South America. In 1941 a paper written by Dr. Herbert Lyman agreed. The problem with this theory is the Andes Light which is a light seen around the Andes peaks when clouds rush around building up powerful charges does not occur below 15,000 feet. The highest point at Brown Mountain is 2,750 feet.

Also in 1919, the Smithsonian ruled out St. Elmo’s fire being the cause for the lights. They basically stated that St. Elmo’s fire never occurs in midair like the Brown Mountain Lights. Recently, scientists have put forth the possibility the lights might be a mirage. * They state atmospheric conditions might cause reflections from Hickory, Lenoir and other towns in the area. The drawback to this theory is the fact the lights were clearly seen before the Civil War long before electricity was used to produce light.

Today the cause for the Brown Mountain Lights is still a mystery. The only thing known for sure is they do actually exist and are seen on a regular basis.

*  The latest theory put forth by a Physics professor is the lights are caused by ball lightning--but I have not seen any evidence yet to back this up.

The following is a local North Carolina news report that has nice photographs and video footage of the lights.

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