The Brown Mountain Lights

The Brown Mountain Lights
It’s easy to see why more and more people are leaving the cities to dwell in the mountains.

Posted by Theresa Koch

It’s easy to see why more and more people are leaving the cities to dwell in the mountains. The towering trees, the fresh air, and the increased privacy are just a few of the perks that come with mountain living.

But while some assume that life in the wild is a quiet, solitary escape, there are plenty of tales that suggest otherwise. Stories that say we are far from alone, especially when the sun goes down.

This is one of those stories.

In the western part of North Carolina, not far from Asheville, lies Burke County and the infamous Brown Mountain.

During the day, Brown Mountain looks no different than its neighboring ridges. The land is wild and comprised of steep hills, densely packed with trees and devoid of many drivable roads.

So when people began seeing one, two, and sometimes a series of colorful, glowing orbs dancing in the trees, they rightfully wondered, who or what dwells within Brown Mountain?

It’s important to note that these lights are not a modern occurrence. And like the Bell Witch, Bigfoot, and Mothman (all hauntings that occurred near or within the 480-million-year-old Appalachian Mountain range), there is plenty of local folklore that suggests this phenomenon is supernatural in nature.

Since these lights only appear in the dark of night, they cast a glow upon the mountainside. To many, the orbs look like headlights from a train (despite the railroad track being destroyed in the early 1900s), but others say the lights are not from vehicles but lanterns.

Sometime in the 13th century, a deadly battle took place on Brown Mountain between the Cherokee and Catawba tribes. Stories say that when night fell and the wounded soldiers failed to return home, their wives and families went looking for them. The Brown Mountain lights are believed to be their lanterns, endlessly searching for their loved ones, hoping to guide them home.

Another local legend, this one from the 1700s, tells of a man and his family who lived at the base of Brown Mountain. The man left to serve in the Revolutionary War, and when he returned home, he found his property burnt to the ground. People believe that this man’s spirit still walks up and down Brown Mountain with a lantern, looking for any trace of his family.

As interest in the Brown Mountain lights grew and more people went to see the mysterious orbs for themselves, scientists began investigating this peculiar occurrence. Over the years, investigators have theorized that these lights might be caused by nitrous vapers, swamp gas (despite the lack of swamp-like conditions), visiting UFOs, and the most recent theory—refraction of light caused by a shift from warmer to cooler temperatures.

Witnesses claim that these mysterious balls of light sometimes hover over the trees before disappearing skyward in the blink of an eye. Other times, a series of orbs will follow one right after the other, winding through the trees in what appears to be a road that only they can reach. Without a definitive answer as to what is causing these mystifying spheres, curious spectators are left to develop their own interpretations.

Is there a practical explanation for these lights? Does sensible and familiar mean truthful? Or is the most realistic answer not realistic at all, but unearthly and paranormal in nature?

Today, the question remains—what or who dwells within the tree-lined ridges of Brown Mountain?

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