Wednesday, February 13, 2013

BML Cam1 Video Feb 11-12, 2013

The first video from our Brown Mountain Lights Camera # 1 has just been posted on YouTube by Dr. Dan Caton, Professor and Director of Observatories, at Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.

Car lights, airplane lights, commucation tower lights, and city lights are visible!

BML Cam1 Feb 11-12, 2013

Nice video Dan! I saw the same lights in the sequence of stills I put together from the camera last month. The lights moving horizontally below the horizon are vehicle lights on NC Highway 181 along Ripskin Ridge. The moving lights above the horizon are airplanes (yes there are two lighted airports just on the other side of Brown Mountain). Finally, stationary, but repeatedly blinking lights, are communication tower lights in the valleys beyond Brown Mountain. All others are city lights.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mystery Lights, Cars, Railroads & Electricity

Mystery Lights and The Arrival of Cars, Railroads and Electricity

in Catawba Valley, NC

 The remarkable timing between the first documented reports of mystery lights seen over the top of Brown Mountain and the first arrival of cars, railroads and electricity in Catawba Valley to the south and east has been mentioned in several BML publications (Mansfield, 1922; Brown, 1964; Phifer, 1982; Dunning, 2010).  The first documented reports of mystery lights come from Lafayette Wiseman c1854 (Parris, 1971 and 1972), Stokes Pendland c1882 (Babington, 1927), and the numerous sightings from Cold Springs from c1897 until c1917 (Charlotte Daily Observer, 1913; Scott, 1915; Wilson, 1915; Loven, 1916; Elam, 1916).  It is specifically these early sightings from Cold Springs that gave rise to the ‘Legend of the Brown Mountain Lights.’

Compare the timing of these sightings to the fact that the first railroad in western North Carolina was constructed in 1858 along the Catawba River from Salisbury to 4 miles east of Morganton; the first electric lights in the area appeared in 1888 when Hickory Tavern (later Hickory) became one of the first communities in North Carolina to acquire electricity; and the first automobiles arrived in North Carolina about 1898.  Henry Ford's Model T, the first mass produced automobile in the US, was produced from 1908 until 1927, during which time 15 million were sold.  The timing between these two phenomena (first sightings of mystery lights and the first arrival of cars, railroads and electricity) seems more than coincidental and instead strongly suggests the two are directly related.  Note that most mystery lights, specifically those seen from Cold Springs (that started the BML legend in the first place), were reported approximately 10-30 years after the arrival of electric lights in Hickory, which is directly east of Brown Mountain!  Over the next 100 years, as the human population and the use of electric lights expanded explosively, the reports of mystery lights also greatly increased; again strongly suggesting a direct link between the two.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

No Mention of BMLs in 19th Century Travelogues

A review of five significant mid-Nineteenth Century travelogues of the area reveals no mention of the BMLs; adding further support to our earlier conclusions that the BMLs were not seen before about 1900.  Although thinly populated during the 1800s, the mountainous areas west and north of Brown Mountain were visited by some highly observant scientists and nature enthusiasts who left written documents of their travels.  Of particular interest to these adventurers were the rocky summits of Table Rock, Hawksbill, The Chimneys, Gingercake, and Grandfather Mountains----all later to become favored observation spots for viewing the BMLs.  In addition, Linville Gorge and Linville Falls received a lot of attention, as did local legends and unexpalined phenomenon.  The following publications were written by prominent men who traveled and visited these areas in the mid-19th century.

Lanman, C, 1849; Letters from the Allegheny Mountains; Geo. P. Putnam, New York.
Colton, H., 1859; Mountain Scenery: The Scenery of the Mountain of Western North Carolina and
                             Northwestern South Carolina; W.L. Pomeroy,Hayes and Zell, Philadelphia.
Lanman, C., 1865; Adventures in the Wilds of the United States and British American         
                              Provinces; John W. Moore, Philadelphia.
Hall, E.H., 1866; Appleton's hand-book of American Travel.  The southern tour; being a guide
                             through Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and    
                             Kentucky; D. Appleton & Co., New York.
Zeigler, W. and Grosscup, B., 1883; The Heart of the Alleghanies or Western North Carolina; Alfred
                             Williams and Co, Raleigh, NC

Each of these adventurers solicited the help of highly experienced local guides to accompany them, yet not a single one of their very detailed travelogues mentions the BMLs---apparently the local guides weren't aware of BMLs at the time.  The first written reference to the Brown Mountain Lights we've been able to find is the 1913 newspaper article in the Charlotte Observer, which mentioned sightings as early as c1908.

In his 1859 travelogue, H. Colton mentions visiting The Chimneys on the east rim of Linville Gorge and witnessing the late afternoon reflection of the sun off of the glass windows of the houses of Morganton.  Colton writes: 

"The eye has a full, open scope from the Grandfather Mountain entirely around the Roan, and even beyond that.  The valley of the Catawba is open to the view from its origin to its end, the whole of Turkey and North Coves, with their rich fields of waving corn.  In the dim, dark distance, a lone mountain rises to view, which, from its location, we suppose to be the Pilot.  Just as the sun fades beneath the horizon, it casts forth a clear, red light, and you see flashing in its blaze the windows of the houses of Morganton: from the same source, a golden tinge is thrown upon every leaf, and everything is mellowed into soft loveliness in the accomplishment of nature's most splendid creation."

Colton's 1859 report of seeing the sun reflected by the windows of the houses of Morganton while observing at sunset is the earliest published account we have of Catawba Valley civilization being visible from the higher mountains to the northwest.  Colton's guide, David Franklin must have known about this sunset phenomena, and surely would have mentioned to Colton if the lights continued to be visible after darkness----so apparently they were not visible after dark---or if lights in the same spots were visible after dark, both Colton & Franklin understood them to be man-made lights, such as gas lanterns, torches &/or fires, and not mystery spook lights.  Anyone who would interpret Colton's observations as early sightings of the BMLs, would have trouble explaining the lack of mention of nighttime sightings.

First Known Picture of BMLs---1929

E.M. Ball Image N1503, Glass Plate, 1929
Four Hour Exposure with Moon Trail
Brown Mountain Lights from Wiseman's View
From the E.M. Ball Collection (1918-1969), D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections,
University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
This historic image is the first known photograph of the BMLs.  It was taken in 1929 by E.M. Ball, a professional photogagher from Asheville, NC.  It is not known if the image was ever published---it is now housed at the D.H. Ramsey Library at UNC-Asheville.  The title accompaning the photograph identifies it as: 'Brown Mountain light, from Wiseman's View near Linville Falls'---and this is the only photograph of the 9,116 in the Ball Collection that is labled as the BMLs; although image N1347, labeled 'Brown Mountain, from Wiseman's View', appears to be a daytime exposure with no visible lights.
Although not published at the time, photograph N1503 was the subject of a newspaper article by J.S. Coleman, Jr. in the August 25, 1929 issue of The Asheville Times (Asheville, NC).  In his article, entitled "Strange Light Continues To Mystify" Coleman describes the photograph:
"Within the last two weeks, however, the lights have been photographed for the first time in history.  The difficult work was done by E.M. Ball, of the Plateau studio, Asheville, and the result was highly satisfactory, even though the picture failed utterly to explain the phenomenon.
Mr. Ball took his pictures from a point not far distant from Marion.  He exposed a very sensitive color plate one night over a period of four hours.  During that time, the moon, sliding across the sky, left a bright streak on his plate, but the mysterious Brown Mountain lights had been caught in the meantime.
One thing established by the photograph is the fact that the light appears at several parallel points along a line near the summit of Brown Mountain.  Each of the points seems to be a small disk of light, though the impression given an observer is that of a blaze."
The mystery lights described by Coleman and faintly visible in the image above, are highly suggestive of city or town lights such as those seen today from the same observation point.  Compare with my photographs 2104, 2184, & 2188 (1Dec12) in my January 26, 2013 blog post City Lights visible from Wiseman's View.
In Ball's 1929 photograph, only the southern 2/3rds of Brown Mountain is visible as the gently sloping flat-topped ridge in the middle of the image.  The lights appear to be coming from the Catawba Valley to the south and east of Brown Mountain.