he Maco Light is one of North Carolina's great ghost stories. For over a century, mysterious lights were observed and even photographed bobbing up and down along the railroad tracks near Maco Station, a few miles west of Wilmington. When anyone approached the lights, they would disappear. It's even said that Grover Cleveland saw the lights while on whistle stop tour in 1889.
The legend of the Maco Light dates bak to a tragic night in 1867. A train was rolling along the tracks and the signalman, Joe Baldwin, was sleeping in the caboose. Joe was shocked awake by a violent jerk, and he immediately knew that the caboose had become detached from the rest of the train. Joe also knew that his wasn't the only train scheduled for those tracks that night.
Grabbing his lantern, Joe Baldwin stood on the back of the caboose as the sound of an oncoming passenger train rumbled closer. Joe frantically waved his warning light, but it was too late. The engineer of the oncoming train had too little time to stop the tons of speeding steel. The locomotive slammed into Joe's caboose, and brave Joe Baldwin was decapitated in the crash.
Joe's head was thrown by the force of the accident into the murky swamps that surrounded the tracks. It was never found. His headless body was buried a week later.
Ever since that night, lights have been seen moving up and down the track around Maco. Sometimes it's only one light, sometimes it's two. People says that it's the ghost of Joe Baldwin, still searching for his missing head.
Regretably, the tracks along the route were pulled up in 1977. The light has not been seen since.
The Maco Light is too well documented and has been too often seen to be dismissed as mere superstition. But I think that what was seen around Maco was a natural, not supernatural, phenomenon.
The intriguing bit about the story of the Maco Light is not just when the light were seen, but when they weren't seen. It was noted that the lights disappeared for a time after an earthquake in 1886, and the lights also haven't been seen since the tracks were pulled in up 1977.
Earthquake Lights are a documented, if poorly understood, phenomenon. Earthquakes release a tremendous electrical charge when they occur, and globular balls of light have been reportedly seen before earthquakes have struck in other places in the world.
North Carolina does have some seismic activity, I've personally felt several small quakes in my own lifetime. What's interesting is that both Maco and North Carolina's other famous phantom flames, The Brown Mountain Lights both occur over fault lines.
Could it be possible that the static electrical charge associated with earthquakes was given a conductor by the miles of steel from the tracks? And when the static had build up a sufficient charge, could it have arced across the tracks and produced the glowing orbs of light? It would explain why the lights weren't seen for a time after the earthquake of 1886 - the charge would have been released in the quake and then taken some time to build up again. It would also explain why the lights have not been seen since the tracks were pulled up.