NC Urban Legends: The Brown Mountain Lights

NC Urban Legends: The Brown Mountain Lights

Each week as we count down to Halloween, we present a famous North Carolina urban legend or ghost story to get you primed and ready for the spookiest day of the year. This week, we head out to Western North Carolina near the town of Morganton, where mysterious lights appear.

The Brown Mountain Lights

Brown Mountain, a low ridge in the Pisgah National Forest about 20 miles north of Morganton, is host to one of North Carolina’s true mysteries. For hundreds of years, locals have reported seeing ghostly lights float above Brown Mountain. The lights hover about fifteen to twenty feet in the air, wiggle about and disappear.

Accounts of the lights’ color and size vary. Some say the lights appear to be orange or red balls of fire, while others maintain the lights are small and white like a candle’s flame.

Photo by Charles Braswell Jr. at Our State.

The lights themselves are no legend they have been observed and photographed countless times. However, the inability of anyone to explain their origin is what makes the Brown Mountain Lights a true North Carolina urban legend.

Legend and Lore

The first sightings and subsequent legend surrounding the lights comes from the Cherokee people, indigenous to Western North Carolina. There was a great battle between the Cherokee and Catawba on Brown Mountain, resulting in the death of many Cherokee men. According to lore, the lights are the souls of Cherokee women wandering the ridge in search of the warriors that died in battle.

Another legend tells of a young woman who lived on Brown Mountain with her father. Her suitor would come to visit every night, tramping though the thick forest. The young woman hung a lantern near the house to light his way. One evening, when he did not show up, she lit a pine torch and set off to find him in the woods. According to legend, the lights are her spirit eternally searching for her husband-to-be.

Debunking an Urban Legend

Over the year, many have floated theories to explain away the Brown Mountain lights. Some theorize that the lights are swamp gas while others believe them to simply be reflections of car headlights from the valley below. Still others believe the lights to be a sort of electric phenomenon related to a fault line beneath the Blue Ridge Mountains.

None of these theories hold weight under scrutiny, however. There is no swamp on or near Brown Mountain. Sightings of the lights occurred well before the invention of automobiles.

How To See The Lights

Though infrequent in their appearance, viewing the lights is best during the fall months, especially after a rain.

To see the lights, your best bet is the Brown Mountain Overlook off NC 181 about 20 miles north of Morganton. Other popular locations for sightings include Lost Cove Cliffs Overlook at mile marker 310 on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Wiseman’s View Overlook a few miles south of Linville Falls.

Curious about other North Carolina urban legends? Check out our piece on The Devil’s Tramping Ground. For more fall activities in North Carolina, please visit our lifestyle section.