The Maco Railroad Light
Maco, North Carolina

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The mysterious lights of Brown Mountain are not the only anomalous lights in North Carolina. Perhaps just as famous, and strange, is the light that is seen at Maco Station. Over the nearby railroad crossing appears an unexplainable light and while it has many of the same characteristics as other railroad "ghost lights" it has puzzled both witnesses and scientists for many years.

The story of the light dates back to 1867 and involves a railroad man named Joe Baldwin. In that year, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad was rebuilt and now included a small station that had once been called Farmer’s Turnout and was now Maco. Joe Baldwin was a conductor for the Atlantic line and his job involved riding in the last car of the train. One night, as the train was steaming along, he realized that his car seemed to be inexplicably slowing down. With one look, he realized that it had become uncoupled.... and there was another train following behind! He was sure they would crash into the slowly moving car!

Joe ran out onto the rear platform of the car and started wildly waving his signal lantern, trying to get the attention of the engineer of the train behind him. The engineer paid no heed to the lantern and continued on, finally crashing into the car where Joe had remained at his post. The coach was completely demolished and Joe was killed, his head severed from his body.

A witness to the accident reported that Joe stayed where he was, waving the lantern, through the entire wreck. Just seconds before the engine collided with the car, Joe’s lantern was hurled away as if by some unseen, but mighty, force. It hit the ground and rolled over and over again, finally coming to rest in a perfectly upright position.

Shortly after this horrible accident, the Maco light began to appear along the train tracks. It has been appearing there ever since and has become a popular curiosity to seek out on a warm summer night. Cars can be parked along the highway and the curious can walk the hundred or so yards down an old road to the train tracks. Rarely is anyone disappointed wither, because the light is one of the most regular anomalies in the south.

It is said that the light often appears to be very small and then grows to the size of the lantern that Joe Baldwin must have been carrying. It has been reported here since 1873 and has been seen by literally thousands of people since that date. In 1886, an earthquake stopped the light for a short time but when it came back there were 2 lights for a short time. In 1889, the light was even seen by then president, Grover Cleveland.

No one has been able to figure out what causes the light, as just about every explanation has been discussed and tossed aside, from automobile headlights (seen before cars existed) to swamp gas. During one investigation, all traffic was routed away from Maco and no cars were allowed to approach the area.... and yet the unearthly light still appeared.

On one occasion, a machine gun attachment from Fort Bragg encamped at Maco to solve the mystery, or at least shoot it down, but they did neither.

Joe Baldwin, or whatever ghostly source for the Maco light, still continues on.. still swinging the signal lantern and contacting the train that journeys from this world to the next.

Maco is located in Brunswick County, in the far southern part of North Carolina. It is 12 miles northwest of Wilmington on US Highway 74/76. The railroad crossing is located outside of town.

Copyright 1998 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.

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