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.