The Maco Light is another example of the paranormal phenomena known as “Earthlights” (see also The Pactolus Light). These are lights that seem to be alive, floating and dancing in the air. They have been seen in every part of the world, by every culture, in every era. The Irish called them “Will O’ the Wisps”. Native Americans believed they were the souls of fallen warriors. In the southern part of the United States, they are sometimes called “spook lights”, and they usually have ghost stories attached to them.
North Carolina is known for three famous spook lights. The Brown Mountain Lights, in the western part of the state, the Pactolus Light, near Greenville, and The Maco Light, fourteen miles west of Wilmington. The Maco Light was first seen in 1867, following a terrible tragedy.
Joe Baldwin was a train conductor for the Atlantic Coast Railroad. One evening, when nearing their final destination of Wilmington, the last car of the train that Joe was on got separated from the engine, just outside of the tiny town of Maco. To make matters worse, another train was following closely behind. Baldwin ran to the back of the car, and frantically waved his lantern to warn off the other train, but to no avail. The second train collided with the car, and Baldwin was decapitated.
In the 100+ years following the accident, thousands of people reported seeing an unearthly, white light swinging back and forth along the railroad tracks near Maco Station. It became such a common sight, that train engineers that made the Wilmington run would mount green and red lights on their trains as signals, so as not to be confused with the Light. In October 1894, President Grover Cleveland himself saw the Light from his pullman. In 1925, two farm boys claimed that the Light “chased them for several miles through the woods”. During World War II, a soldier home on leave also claimed to be chased down the tracks by “ghostly lights”.
Many believe that the Light is the ghost of Joe Baldwin, still trying to warn off the other train. Others prefer a more scientific explanation, such as ball lightning or marsh gases. We will probably never know, as the tracks were pulled up in 1977, and the Maco Light has not been seen since.