North Carolina is known for many things: Andy Griffith, Doc Watson and Dean Smith were famous Tar Heels. The first manned aircraft was flown off the coast of Kitty Hawk. Black Beard ran the Queen Anne’s Revenge aground just a stone’s throw away in the Pamlico Sound.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts were born in Winston-Salem and Pepsi Cola in New Bern. And the state motto Esse Quam Videri translates from the Latin, “To be, rather than to seem,” bringing up an interesting philosophical point.
Those traveling on any autumn night between Morganton and Linville, N.C., can determine what is to be, or rather to seem. The Brown Mountain Lights can be seen hovering for fifteen feet or so, then dropping below the horizon. They have mystified scientists, Native Americans, writers and musicians, reporters and photographers, old-timers and greenhorns.
While everyone agrees the best viewing is done from Table Rock or Wiseman’s View, most disagree when citing a reason for the eerie phenomenon.
The closest anyone ever came to determining a cause was in 1922 and was met with a backlash from Mother Nature. It was then a U.S. Geological survey was conducted. The survey concluded the source of any abnormal activity were lights from automobiles, trains or simply fires.
Shortly afterward, a massive flood struck the area eliminating electrical power, making trains inoperative and washing out automotive bridges. The only thing that wasn’t altered were the Brown Mountain Lights. Eyewitnesses reported the lights were brighter and stronger than ever before!
More colorful explanations come from the Cherokee. Folklore tells the lights are the souls of women who lost their husbands battling the Catawba Indians. Another tells of a man and his slave separated while hunting. The man was never found, but the slave returned every night to search with a lantern. The slave continued to do so, even beyond the grave!
This was such a popular story that it was turned into song. Brown Mountain Light was written by Scott Wiseman.
Wiseman and wife Myrtle, both North Carolina natives, performed it live on a Chicago radio program in the 1950s.
Some attribute the mysterious orbs of light to swamp gas. But this theory also has a few holes. One is there are no swamps in the Brown Mountain region!
The Brown Mountain Lights are such a widespread anomaly they were mentioned in a 1999 episode of the paranormal show, The X- Files. The fictional main character associated the lights with UFOs. The lights were also the premise for the 2014 move, Alien Abduction.
Esse Quam Videri, “To be, rather than to seem.” You be the judge. Join the ranks of scientists, Native Americans, writers and musicians, reporters and photographers, old-timers and greenhorns. Slaves and souls, floods and swamps, orbs and lights. Maybe you can prove, or disprove the latest regarding this North Carolina ghost story!
Want to go?: The lights can be somewhat temperamental and don’t appear every night. It is still worth the trip if you can make the time. Take Blue Ridge Parkway exits 301 and/or 310. You can also watch along NC Highway 181, which was recently improved for the sole purpose of spectators.