The Gurdon Light: student’s account of a local haunt

Story by Jade Wolfe, Assistant Editor

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Growing up I had always heard about the Gurdon Light and the story behind it. Legend says a man was decapitated while building the track, and was cursed to walk the railroad every night with a lantern looking for his head.

Unsolved Mysteries even broadcasted an episode about the light fright.

In another variation, the light is a lantern carried by a railway foreman named William McClain, who was killed in the vicinity during a confrontation with one of his workers in 1931.

People who don’t believe in folklore have tried debunking the stories and have said that the light is actually headlights from I-30, which is close by. Skeptics also believe that the light is a combination of swamp gases that give off a glow when looked at just right.

The older I get, the more the paranormal interests me. I loved to hear about ghost stories and would listen intently anytime someone shared one.

I had forgotten all about the Gurdon Light, until one day. While at school, my friends told me that over the weekend they took a small road trip to Gurdon. They told our other friends at the lunch table that they saw the light and it was scary as all the legends make it out to be.

The light started far away and yellow. We figured we would try to get closer so we could see if it swayed back and forth like in the stories. As we got closer, it changed colors from yellow to green and even to a bright blue. Eventually, we started seeing it move back and forth and could swear to see the outline of a man carrying it. All at once it disappeared right before our eyes, so fast that it made us jump. We waited for what felt like hours to see if it would return, frozen in place. After we realized it wasn’t coming back, we turned around to head back to our vehicle and there it was, behind us, about the length of a football field. We stopped dead in our tracks, the light was now red, and we knew we had to walk toward it but couldn’t make our feet move. The air grew cold, and in the middle of a hot August night, we could see our breath in front of us.

Finally, we grew a pair and took off at a dead sprint towards the car. Once we started running towards it, it disappeared, and we made it to our car and didn’t stop to look back.”

After listening to my friend’s story, I knew I wanted to go see it.

That night I was telling my mom the story, which I am now confident that was exaggerated, and that I wanted to witness it for myself. She had just started dating my now stepdad, Tony, and as soon as I stopped pleading for my mom to take me, he told me that he worked for the railroad in Gurdon and took a train through the exact spot almost every day.

I was skeptical at first because I didn’t know the guy but he told me that he would take my mom and me to see it if we wanted to. I was beyond excited.

Later that week I asked my boyfriend, Austin, if he wanted to go. He had recently moved here from Florida and wasn’t familiar with the local urban legend so of course, it was only right to fill him in on the way there so that he couldn’t back out. He agreed, even though I had skipped out on details and told me he was a skeptic when it came to ghosts and spirits so it would take a lot of convincing for him to believe it.

The night came for us to go and it just so happened to be the weekend before Halloween. We loaded everyone up in Tony’s truck and headed out. I had Tony tell Austin the stories since he had also seen the light multiple times and told him to lay it on thick since Austin was a skeptic. That turned out to be a bad idea because it scared me more than it did Austin, and by the time we turned down the dirt road my heart was in my throat, and my stomach was in knots.

It was finally time to see the light for myself, and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to unglue myself from the seat of the truck. Tony knew a shortcut that most people didn’t know about, so instead of parking on the side of the highway and walking a mile or so down the track, we parked right by the tracks and all we had to do was get out and wait.

We hadn’t been there long when Tony tapped me on the shoulder and in a hushed voice said, “Look, there it is.”

I turned my head so fast it made me dizzy, but then I saw it too. At first Austin and I couldn’t believe it, it had to be co-workers of his out to play a prank on us or some other spectators with flashlights coming down the rails.

I remember Austin gripping my hand so tight my fingers started to tingle and lost the feeling in them.

We stared in amazement, and then Tony asked if I wanted to walk closer, hesitantly I agreed and had to almost drag my boyfriend behind me.

Nothing about the atmosphere changed as my friends described, it wasn’t eerie, and all of my nervousness turned into curiosity. The light was definitely swinging back and forth, and was changing colors,. At first it was yellow, then green and finally orange. We finally reached a point in which we could no longer get close to the light, and at that point, it disappeared.

Sure, when we turned around the light was behind us, except this time it wasn’t red it was the brightest white, almost like a star in the middle of the track.

I freaked out and sucked in a deep breath; Tony assured me that this was normal and that if we walked towards it, we would be ok, it would keep its distance.

We walked up and down the track following the light for a while before deciding it was too cold to keep walking and turned to go home, not once did I ever see a shadow of a figure holding the lantern like in my friend’s tale, nor did the light ever turn red or feel threatening.

I looked at Austin, and even though he never once protested or told me he wanted to leave he was as white as a ghost, pun intended, and now fully believed in the supernatural.

After that night the Gurdon Light became like a parlor game to Tony and I. We would take anyone from my friend’s group that wanted to go; eventually we even took my husband.

On the way down there, we would tell made up stories about how scary the light was and build suspense once we arrived all to get a good laugh once the person or people we brought with us saw the light and freaked out.

Now the train tracks have been ripped up. The land is private property, but I like to think that the foreman is still out there every night looking for his decapitated head and swinging the lantern, welcoming everyone who finds their way out there to help him look for his head.

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The Gurdon Light: student’s account of a local haunt