Origin of the Brown Mountain Light in North Carolina

By George Rogers Mansfield (1)

For many years "mysterious lights"
have been seen near Brown Mountain,
in the northern part of Burke County,
N.C., about 12 miles northwest of
Morganton. Some have thought, that
these lights were of supernatural
origin; others have dreamed that they
might indicate enormous mineral de-
posits; and many who have not had such
visions have looked upon them as a
natural wonder that lent interest to
all vacation trips to the region.

In October 1913 at the urgent re-
quest of Representative E. Y. Webb, of
North Carolina, a member of the U.S.
Geological Survey, D. B. Sterrett, was
sent to Brown Mountain to observe
these lights and to determine their
origin. After a few days investigation
Mr. Sterrett declared that the lights
were nothing but locomotive headlights
seen over the mountain from the neigh-
boring heights. This explanation was
too simple and prosaic to please any-
one who was looking for some super-
natural or unusual cause of the lights,
and when they were seen after the
reat flood of 1916, while no trains
were running in the vicinity, even
some of those who had accepted Mr.
Sterrett's explanation felt compelled
to abandon it.

As time went on, the interest in the
lights became more general, and as one
(1) Issued in 1922 as Press Notice 14328.
after another local investigator
failed to discover their origin, the
mystery seemed to grow deeper. Final-
ly Senators Simmons and Overman pre-
vailed upon the Geological Survey to
make a second and more thorough in-
vestigation of these puzzling lights.
The present writer, to whom the task
of making this investigation was as-
signed, spent 2 weeks near Brown
Mountain in March and April 1922 and
took observations on seven evenjngs,
on four of them until after midnight,
from hillsides that afforded favor-
able views of the lights. The results
of the work are reported here.


The writer gratefully acknowledges
his indebtedness to Messrs. R. T.
Claywell, A. M. and Charles Kistler,
and H. L. Millner, of Morganton, who
gave him much information and assist-
ed him in many ways in his investi-
gation. Joseph Loven, of Cold Spring,
and H. C. Martin, of Lenoir, accom-
panied him on some of the evenings of
observation. G. E. Moore, of Lenoir,
furnished valuable information. F. H.
May, of Lenoir, organized a a party to
accompany him to the summit of Brown
Mountain and generously rendered much
valuable aid. Monroe Coffey and
Theodore Crump, of the U.S. Forest
Service, extended to him the hospi-
tality of their camp on Brown
Mountain and joined in the
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