Scientist scrutinizes spooky sight

Scientist scrutinizes spooky sight
Astrophysicist out to explain — or disprove — storied Brown Mountain lights
By CATHERINE CLABBY, Staff Writer

PISGAH NATIONAL FOREST — Walking down stone steps to a stunning North Carolina mountain view, astrophysicist Dan Caton let his feelings spill out.

“I’m sure we are going to see them tonight, I can feel it in the air,” he said, before quickly backing off. “I always think that.”

After hearing countless wild stories about unexplained lights flashing near Brown Mountain, Caton, an Appalachian State University scientist, decided to hunt down their source.

The quest is rocky. After about 20 outings, Caton and his companions have witnessed nothing enigmatic near Brown Mountain just distant bobbing car lights, flashlight trails and campfires.

The scientist now wonders whether the lights made famous in books, bluegrass music, TV’s “The X-Files” and countless Internet sites exist at all.

“I’m way beyond cynicism,” Caton said. “I’m beginning to think this is just a joke, a gigantic joke.”

Still, so many others believe.

It’s tough to pinpoint when stories began circulating about the Brown Mountain lights, one of North Carolina’s best-known legends.

In September 1913, the Charlotte Daily Observer detailed two unexplained, “fiery red” lights regularly rising twice a night over the slope, located northwest of Morganton in what’s known as the Blue Ridge Escarpment.

The following month a U.S. Geological Survey worker, dispatched at the urging of a congressman from North Carolina, concluded they were merely train lights. But after a 1916 flood banished trains from the area, reports of the lights persisted. Confidence in the government explanation slipped.

In 1922, another U.S. survey man went out. He identified trains, cars and fires as sources, stressing that dense air and the angled ground near Brown Mountain refracted such lights, making them appear reddish or yellow. Such conclusions have never satisfied many local people, who have talked and gawked over the lights for generations.

“There is no doubt in our mind that there is something, some kind of phenomenon,” said Cathy Miller, postmaster of nearby Linville Falls.

Miller clearly remembers witnessing the lights decades ago while a teenager parked with a friend within view of the mountain. Repeating a description others deliver, Miller said a glowing ball flared up and seemed to float in mid-air right toward them. She could never explain its source.

Tall tales vs. science

Creepy explanations for the Brown Mountain lights abound. One story attributes them to the suffering spirits of native warriors lost in a long-ago battle. Another says they are all that remains of Native American maidens who perished searching for the slain fighters.

One tale credits the ghost of a Revolutionary War soldier who walked himself to death looking for his missing family. Yet another links the glow to the eternal suffering of a wife murdered by her husband.

But supernatural explanations don’t sway Caton, 54. He’s the type who writes letters to newspapers protesting coverage favorable to fortune tellers or astrologists.

Caton favors the scientific. He wants to observe the lights with the same tools — telescopes and spectrographs — he uses to analyze pairs of twinned stars located thousands of light years away.

First, he needs a grip on when the lights are likely to appear. That’s why Caton and Nathan Bergey, an ASU senior, lugged a boat battery, a digital video camera, a laptop computer and binoculars to a Pisgah National Forest overlook above Linville Gorge that offers a clear view of Brown Mountain.

“I want to see something I don’t understand, I want to be wowed, gee-whizzed,” Caton said after setting up at Wiseman’s View.

The plasma theory

One person who claims to have already cracked the mystery of the lights is Joshua P. Warren, an Asheville native and college dropout who considers himself a scientist.

Warren, 28, owns Shawdowbox Enterprises, a multimedia business that investigates hauntings and organizes “paranormal” tours to spooky spots such as the “Bermuda Triangle” and Irish castles where some believe ghosts dwell.

Warren said he first saw mysterious light near Brown Mountain — a red flare that floated up and then side to side — at age 13 while on a family expedition. For the past 15 years, he said, he has returned about 60 times, sometimes camping on Brown Mountain itself.

After studies with all sorts of devices — a meter that picks up weak charges in naturally occurring electrical fields, an electrosmog multidetector, infrared thermometers — Warren concluded that Brown Mountain’s geology generates plasma, a “fourth state of matter,” that produce rare balls of light.

But Warren won’t rule out unnatural possibilities, either.

“We have a place that produces so much energy naturally, it may be that it produces something ghostly sometimes,” he said.

Caton doesn’t put much stock in Warren’s research or conclusions. If Caton can ever detect the lights in a telescope, he wants to split them apart and analyze their wavelengths. That could deliver true clues to their origin, he said.

A last shot

During their last outing, Caton and Bergey had plenty of company. More than 40 high school students attending a nearby church camp showed up at Wiseman’s View.Scientist scrutinizes spooky sight
Astrophysicist out to explain — or disprove — storied Brown Mountain lights
By CATHERINE CLABBY, Staff Writer

PISGAH NATIONAL FOREST — Walking down stone steps to a stunning North Carolina mountain view, astrophysicist Dan Caton let his feelings spill out.

“I’m sure we are going to see them tonight, I can feel it in the air,” he said, before quickly backing off. “I always think that.”

After hearing countless wild stories about unexplained lights flashing near Brown Mountain, Caton, an Appalachian State University scientist, decided to hunt down their source.

The quest is rocky. After about 20 outings, Caton and his companions have witnessed nothing enigmatic near Brown Mountain just distant bobbing car lights, flashlight trails and campfires.

The scientist now wonders whether the lights made famous in books, bluegrass music, TV’s “The X-Files” and countless Internet sites exist at all.

“I’m way beyond cynicism,” Caton said. “I’m beginning to think this is just a joke, a gigantic joke.”

Still, so many others believe.

It’s tough to pinpoint when stories began circulating about the Brown Mountain lights, one of North Carolina’s best-known legends.

In September 1913, the Charlotte Daily Observer detailed two unexplained, “fiery red” lights regularly rising twice a night over the slope, located northwest of Morganton in what’s known as the Blue Ridge Escarpment.

The following month a U.S. Geological Survey worker, dispatched at the urging of a congressman from North Carolina, concluded they were merely train lights. But after a 1916 flood banished trains from the area, reports of the lights persisted. Confidence in the government explanation slipped.

In 1922, another U.S. survey man went out. He identified trains, cars and fires as sources, stressing that dense air and the angled ground near Brown Mountain refracted such lights, making them appear reddish or yellow. Such conclusions have never satisfied many local people, who have talked and gawked over the lights for generations.

“There is no doubt in our mind that there is something, some kind of phenomenon,” said Cathy Miller, postmaster of nearby Linville Falls.

Miller clearly remembers witnessing the lights decades ago while a teenager parked with a friend within view of the mountain. Repeating a description others deliver, Miller said a glowing ball flared up and seemed to float in mid-air right toward them. She could never explain its source.

Tall tales vs. science

Creepy explanations for the Brown Mountain lights abound. One story attributes them to the suffering spirits of native warriors lost in a long-ago battle. Another says they are all that remains of Native American maidens who perished searching for the slain fighters.

One tale credits the ghost of a Revolutionary War soldier who walked himself to death looking for his missing family. Yet another links the glow to the eternal suffering of a wife murdered by her husband.

But supernatural explanations don’t sway Caton, 54. He’s the type who writes letters to newspapers protesting coverage favorable to fortune tellers or astrologists.

Caton favors the scientific. He wants to observe the lights with the same tools — telescopes and spectrographs — he uses to analyze pairs of twinned stars located thousands of light years away.

First, he needs a grip on when the lights are likely to appear. That’s why Caton and Nathan Bergey, an ASU senior, lugged a boat battery, a digital video camera, a laptop computer and binoculars to a Pisgah National Forest overlook above Linville Gorge that offers a clear view of Brown Mountain.

“I want to see something I don’t understand, I want to be wowed, gee-whizzed,” Caton said after setting up at Wiseman’s View.

The plasma theory

One person who claims to have already cracked the mystery of the lights is Joshua P. Warren, an Asheville native and college dropout who considers himself a scientist.

Warren, 28, owns Shawdowbox Enterprises, a multimedia business that investigates hauntings and organizes “paranormal” tours to spooky spots such as the “Bermuda Triangle” and Irish castles where some believe ghosts dwell.

Warren said he first saw mysterious light near Brown Mountain — a red flare that floated up and then side to side — at age 13 while on a family expedition. For the past 15 years, he said, he has returned about 60 times, sometimes camping on Brown Mountain itself.

After studies with all sorts of devices — a meter that picks up weak charges in naturally occurring electrical fields, an electrosmog multidetector, infrared thermometers — Warren concluded that Brown Mountain’s geology generates plasma, a “fourth state of matter,” that produce rare balls of light.

But Warren won’t rule out unnatural possibilities, either.

“We have a place that produces so much energy naturally, it may be that it produces something ghostly sometimes,” he said.

Caton doesn’t put much stock in Warren’s research or conclusions. If Caton can ever detect the lights in a telescope, he wants to split them apart and analyze their wavelengths. That could deliver true clues to their origin, he said.

A last shot

During their last outing, Caton and Bergey had plenty of company. More than 40 high school students attending a nearby church camp showed up at Wiseman’s View.

One of the campers, Heather Crawford from South Carolina, brought two cameras to record lights she’d seen the summer before.

“It’s faint. You seem them one place over here and then they are over there,” she said, moving her hands in the air.

When the campers learned that Caton was growing skeptical that mysterious lights ever flare near Brown Mountain, they were shocked. “All I’ve got to say is that you need to have some faith,” Hannah Edwards, 20, a camp counselor from Tennessee, said before departing.

“I want to see the light,” Caton called after her.

The professor and his student remained until after midnight. They watched a sizable red moon rise from behind nearby Table Rock Mountain. Caton hooted and punched his fist into the air when an ultra-bright meteor flashed into the open sky.

But that was all.

Caton packed up disappointed. Once again, Brown Mountain yielded not one puzzle to pursue.

(Staff photographer Corey Lowenstein contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Catherine Clabby can be reached at 956-2414 or cclabby@newsobserver.com. Staff photographer Corey Lowenstein contributed to this report.

NewsObserver.com

One of the campers, Heather Crawford from South Carolina, brought two cameras to record lights she’d seen the summer before.

“It’s faint. You seem them one place over here and then they are over there,” she said, moving her hands in the air.

When the campers learned that Caton was growing skeptical that mysterious lights ever flare near Brown Mountain, they were shocked. “All I’ve got to say is that you need to have some faith,” Hannah Edwards, 20, a camp counselor from Tennessee, said before departing.

“I want to see the light,” Caton called after her.

The professor and his student remained until after midnight. They watched a sizable red moon rise from behind nearby Table Rock Mountain. Caton hooted and punched his fist into the air when an ultra-bright meteor flashed into the open sky.

But that was all.

Caton packed up disappointed. Once again, Brown Mountain yielded not one puzzle to pursue.

(Staff photographer Corey Lowenstein contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Catherine Clabby can be reached at 956-2414 or cclabby@newsobserver.com. Staff photographer Corey Lowenstein contributed to this report.

NewsObserver.com

About Scientific Anomaly Institute

The Anomaly Archives is the lending library of the Scientific Anomaly Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that seeks: Preservation and dissemination of scientific research into anomalous phenomena Research and analysis of accumulated collections Education of the public regarding scientific investigations into these phenomena Purposes of the Institute: * Managing and developing an archive and library for documents and literature with regards to a multi-disciplinary approach to anomalous phenomena, * Supporting, promoting and pursuing research to obtain increased knowledge about anomalous phenomena, and * Pursuing and stimulating a critical, scientific discussion of anomalous phenomena, and providing a forum for information, support, and sharing among researchers while, Functioning as the archives and library for like-minded organizations, and other groups in the community that have similar interests. Our collection houses over about 5,000 books as well as research materials such as, videos, documents, magazines, and personal correspondence. Along with the S.A.I. collection, we also curate the collections of "Rare UFO & Paranormal Book Collector/Seller" Robert C. Girard, INACS (Institute for Neuroscience And Consciousness Studies), and others. And previously those of Austin MUFON (Mutual UFO Network), Austin IONS (Institute Of Noetic Sciences) and JSA (Jung Society of Austin). We house many great books that discuss a wide range of scientific subjects including: -UFOs and Ufology -Consciousness -Parapsychology -Fortean Phenomena -Cryptozoology -ParaPolitical Science -Human Potential Please come pay us a visit!

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