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The story goes that a train conductor named Joe Baldwin was on the last car of his train, and that car somehow got separated from the engine. Another train was following Joe's train car, which was slowing because of the separation. Joe waved his lantern back and forth in an attempt to head off the other train, but his efforts were in vain. The oncoming train barrelled right into the car in front of it and Joe was decapitated in the accident. The Maco Light was Joe's ghost carrying his lantern and searching for his head.
The Maco Light generally advanced along the railroad tracks near Maco Station in a swinging motion. There are roads in the area, and some have said the light was a reflection of car headlights. However, Joe's beheading took place over 100 years ago, and the light started appearing shortly thereafter. Supposedly the light appeared frequently enough that the train engineers had to use red and green lights instead of the normal white to signal -- otherwise they would mistake the Maco Light for a train.
In 1977, the unused tracks at Maco were torn up, and according to most sources the light hasn't been seen since then. Perhaps encroaching development in recent years has eliminated the source of the light -- or perhaps old Joe Baldwin doesn't see a need to use his warning lantern anymore now that the trains aren't running.
From: "SPR" (email@example.com)
Subject: Maco Light
Date: Mon, 29 Mar 1999 20:05:33 GMT
THE MACO LIGHT
I vividly remember my first trip to Maco Station to see the infamous Maco Light. I was 3 or 4 at the time and generally believed that there were no ghosts. Apparently, my parents had warned my sister about telling me what the Maco Light was, so I never quite figured out that it was a ghost (on this trip). My sister (more on her later), being true to form, spent the trip harassing me about the light, and trying to scare me. She was unsuccessful, as I kept picturing this advertising icon from CP&L (Carolina Power and Light) which was a man with lightening bolt arms and legs with a light bulb for a nose. Let's face it, a cartoon electric guy wasn't that scary to a post toddler. So this was what I expected to see when we arrived, and I didn't expect to be at a railroad track, I expected to go to a power station.
When we arrived, there were at least ten cars lined up at the tracks. I liked trains, so I was not disappointed. Soon the fun began when the light made its appearance. For those of you swamp gas enthusiasts, I can tell you one thing, gases do not behave in specific patterns when unconfined. The light would come up the track dead center at an adult's eye level, at a slow speed, with an apparent swinging motion, then it would go out, or it would "flip" end over end into the wooded area and go out after apparently hitting the ground. Shortly, the light would reappear somewhere else and then complete a completely different pattern. For instance, I have seen it fly at high speed along the tree line along the track, much higher than a signal lantern would normally be seen under normal circumstances. The most repeated pattern was the first one I mentioned, but the manner of the track run would vary in distinct ways. One was that it didn't always flip into the woods. Instead, it would simply go out, then reappear elsewhere. Another variation was the color, I read a story that said the Maco Light was only white, which is not true. The Maco Light changed from White to Green to Red, just like any standard railroad signalman's lantern. Often the variation of the track run would be that while swinging back and forth, it would alternate Red and Green (meaning Danger!). The color also varied as it made its passes over and around the crowd gathered to watch the thing.
On one visit to Maco, a man was standing in the middle of the track as the light made its track run. Instead of hitting the man or stopping, at a distance of about five feet from the man, it went out for about 2 seconds, then reappeared about five feet behind the man . On another visit, there were a couple of guys chasing the light with nets. Two grown men chasing a giant Lightening Bug. The light was obviously having a wonderful time as it would do its routine, but would disappear or fly away when the two guys got close to it. Swamp Gas??
Over the next few years, my family made many visits to the tracks to see this phenomena without being disappointed. We usually made the trip when relatives were visiting from out of town. After what seemed like an eternity without going, I asked my mother if we could go see it. She then informed me that since the state had widened Highway 74/76 that the light was now rarely seen (74/76 ran parallel to the tracks and was widened so that cars were now very close to the tracks). I made a least five trips there between 1975 and 1980 hoping to see it at least one more time, without satisfaction. Finally, on my last visit, I saw that the tracks were gone forever! I don't know if the trestle was gone, but the tracks were long gone. All that could be seen was the empty railroad bed with weeds growing where the once celebrated tracks had been.
Noteworthy Information on the Maco Light
The light according to legend, first appeared shortly following a train wreck in which a signalman, Joe Baldwin, was decapitated after unsuccessfully attempting to stop an overtaking train coming up from behind very quickly. The legend goes on to say that Joe was looking for his head, which was the explanation for the "off track" excursions of the light. Joe's head was supposedly not buried with Joe and was also said to have never been found.
The light rarely (if ever) appeared following the construction on 74/76 in the late 1960's. At one time, it was not a question of whether you were going to see the light, the question was how good was the show going to be.
Hans Holzer came to Wilmington, conducted a public lecture and investigated the tracks. He took a medium with him and his report only partially supported the legend. Yes, it was Joe, but Joe was still signaling the train, not searching for his head.
There were some infrared photographs taken of the light that showed a body holding the light (yes Virginia, he did have a head). I do not know who the photographer was, or who the photos were for (Wilmington College, (now UNCW), or the Star News??). If these photographs still exist, it would be fascinating to see them published again.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Jynxx5309)
Subject: Re: Maco Light
Date: 3 Apr 1999 12:40:21 GMT
My parents also saw the light when they were dating, I've gotten the same story from both of them independantly. It had been the thing to do for young couples. Go down to Maco, just down the highway from Wilmington NC. You would park your car off the little side road towards the station, then proceed to walk down the tracks till you git to the trestle (Bridge) Then you would sit and wait. If the conditions were right the show would begin.My mother tells me that her, my father (Before the fact) and another couple sat out there one night to watch on a summers evening. It than appeared at a distance down the track, flickering as if a match was just struck, then beagan to methodically swing back and forth about 5 feet above the track. It then starts to speed up as it swings wilder and wilder as if you can almost sense the doomed conducter getting more and more frantic, finally after repeating this silent bobbing. weaving dance for a few hundred yard it seemed to be flung violently off to the side. there it sat fickering in the swamp off to the side of the old Atlantic Coaost line till moments later it faded away. If you got to close to it the lantern would dissappear, but if it performed once, it was known to repeat at least a couple of times in one night, it would return. My Mother got close enogh to see the fastenings on the lantern, but also as an extra twist she experienced the cold spot phenomenon. Even though it was a hot muggy night (I was always told the best nights were before or after rain, some form of high humidity) After seeing the show (This would have been the late 60's) they were walking alongside the tracks when my mother came across an icy cold spot about a foot wide. The rest of the are around it was warm, hell it was summer. She stayed quiet a minute then brought it up to my father and the other couple with them. They then proceeded to tell her they had felt it to but had been to scared to mention it. They all then ran back to car, without a further word. Unfortunately the locality around the scene changing so much seems to affect the haunting. The road widening seems to have affected it, the deserting by the railway line (Not because of haunting, trains heyday is over), well that and it's just been a long time. The tracks have been ripped up, but there is a stretch remaining that DuPont rents to ship to their warehouse, the remains of the trestle are a few miles further down. Pretty much all that is left is stumps jutting from the water. But as most people who live next to railways know even after the tracks are gone there is till a visible path where it was and lots of loose gravel to mark it. I went out once with friends. (They stayed in the car) I hacked my way through till I stood among the weeds by the riverside at 3 am with a full moon out. I waited, and felt strange as I challenged him to show himself. No such luck, someday I will go back though. There was a feeling. If there is anybody who has seen it in the more modern times please post a response. I know there has got to be few people in my old hometown Wilmington, or Maco, or Lake Waccamaw that has a computer. If you need more refernce materials look up "Tar Heel Ghosts" by John Harding.
Here's to You Joe Baldwin,
An Uprooted Tarheel in Fl