Ghost Stories and Tall Tales of the American South

True Story of The Maco Light, North Carolina


True story of the famous “Maco Light” railroad hauntings in North Carolina.

According to historical records, a horrible train accident took place in Maco, North Carolina, located about 15 miles west of the historic port town of Wilmington, in 1867. A wood burning freight train and a passenger train collided on the old Wilmington and Manchester Railroad one night, killing a train conductor named Joe Baldwin. Some say that Joe was decapitated in the accident, his head rolling deep into the swampy woods surrounding the tracks.

Shortly after the accident, local residents began sighting what became known as the “Maco Light.” On dark and misty nights, they would spot what appeared to be an electric light moving slowly down the tracks where the accident took place. Sometimes it would weave back and forth like a swinging lantern. The mysterious light would grow brighter as it approached, then would gradually fade away. Some locals claimed that the light came from Joe Baldwin’s lantern as he searched the woods for his head!

Maco Light Ghost Train Lantern North Carolina

Photo by Jon Kownacki

The Maco Light reportedly caused problems for train engineers passing through Maco. Some would spot the Maco Light and mistakenly believe that someone was trying to wave them down. To combat this, trainmen at Maco would use two lanterns, one green and one red, so that the engineers wouldn’t be fooled by the Maco Light.

News of the Maco Light spread throughout the country, and it soon became one of the South’s best known ghost stories. Locals and tourists alike would flock to the bend in the track where the accident took place, hoping to catch a glimpse of the light. Teenage boys especially liked driving down to the tracks at night, hoping to put a fright into their dates.

The 1950s and 1960s brought even more intense interest in the story. Life magazine featured a doctored picture of the track with a mysterious green lantern swinging in ghostly hands. In 1960, the National Guard was stationed at Maco to try and capture the light, but failed. Research teams from the Smithsonian Institute, a group of electronic engineers and university parapsychologists all tried to examine and explain the light, but were also unsuccessful.

In 1964, famed New York parapsychologist Hans Holzer, author of the book Dixie Ghosts, was flown into the area with a great deal of fanfare to investigate the matter. After a lengthy investigation and many interviews with eyewitnesses, he theorized that the light was real, but that Joe wasn’t searching for his head. Instead, according to Holzer, Joe was still living in 1867, trying to warn an approaching train that his uncoupled car was on the tracks.

The Maco Light

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The Maco Light 34.230922, -78.118603 Stories: The Maco LightFormer railroad site of the \"Maco Light\" ghost lantern, one of North Carolina\'s most famous ghost stories and paranormal phenomena. The tracks have been taken up, but a nearby subdivision has a street named \"Joe Baldwin Drive\" - the ghostly conductor who once haunted the tracks.


In the 1970s, the tracks were taken up at Maco. Soon afterwards, the Maco Light disappeared as well, and it hasn’t been seen since, though according to Wikipedia a nearby subdivision has a street named “Joe Baldwin Drive.”

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4 Responses to “True Story of The Maco Light, North Carolina”

Jane C Anderson:

The maco light was photographed in 2008 by Douglas E Anderson. It is still active but the property is now privately owned and the track bed has been bulldosed and is almost unrecognisable.
See our photo and research on our web site


I remember reading this story when I was a little kid! I’m fascinated by tales unexplained lights.

Lloyd Burns:

When I was stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville some of us guys actually saw the lantern waving and even tried catching it. As we got within 30 yards it would go farther down the tracks.


I lived there and I remembered the lantern coming down the path and then there was a shale that looked like a knife on the railroad and when my friend touched it she disappeared and the next day she wasn’t at her house and someone found her body on the railroad so we went back there when it was raining and there were 2 lanterns

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