Debunking the Paulding Light

The Paulding LightNot everything that goes “bump” in the night is a ghost.

My first paranormal investigation was not planned.  I was 24 at the time, and residing in Northern Wisconsin.  One night, a group of my friends decided to introduce me to a local legend across the border in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, near the town of Watersmeet.  The “Paulding Light” was a phenomena observed at the end of a rural road after dark.  At a specific vantage point, a bright ball of light would emerge from the woods; sometimes visible for several minutes before vanishing back into the tree line. 

We waited with others hoping to observe the phenomena.  A good 20 minutes went by, and suddenly, there it was!  Just as advertised – an extremely bright, pulsating ball of white light could be seen poking out of the woods.  It would even change color.  From white to bright red.  

Luckily for me, I had a small field telescope in my truck that I set up to take a closer look.  It looked even more bizarre under magnification!  It would pulsate and change intensity.  Through the telescope, I could see that sometimes it was more than one light!  A string of both white and red lights that seemed to be moving to and from the same points.

I was awe struck!  I was convinced I had seen something paranormal, and I wanted to get a closer look.  However the local legend said that if you attempt to approach the light, it would vanish.

For the next 5 days, the Paulding Light haunted me.  What could it have possibly been?  What had I observed?  Where was the phenomena happening or manifesting, and why can’t anyone seem to get a closer look?  There was only one way to find out – go back and investigate.

The urge to witness it again finally got the better of me the following Thursday morning at around 3 AM.  Without even leaving a note to let my family know where I was, I jumped in my truck and made the 90 minute trek back to Watersmeet.  But this time, I was alone!

Arriving at the vantage point around 4:30 AM on a Thursday morning meant that I was all alone this time.   No one except for me.  I parked my truck and sat in the dark, all alone.  My emotions ran both ends of the spectrum; an amalgamation of both terror and excitement.  I found myself periodically looking over my shoulder to make sure I hadn’t picked up any “hitchhikers.’ 

And then, after only a few minutes of waiting…  there it was again! Appearing in the same place, with the same behavior that I had observed the weekend prior.  As I sat there awestruck, it slowly vanished back into the woods.

What was this anomaly?  The local myths said that the light was the lantern of a conductor who was accidentally decapitated by a freight train that once ran through the area.  He’s still patrolling the tracks with his lantern, looking for his detatched cranium.

Another popular story was that the Air Force had investigated it during the Project Blue Book reports on UFO’s.  Allegedly, the top government scientists could not come up with an explanation for the phenomena.

But as I soon would learn, rumors passed down through folklore are often embellished.  

I was going by what other people had told me, and I had a lot of unanswered questions that went beyond what the cause of this phenomena might be. If the government could not find an explanation, then why weren’t they actively still studying the anomaly?  If it was an unsolved mystery, why had I never heard of this before, outside a group of drunk friends?

I sat alone watching for the next 30 minutes.  It would appear, then disappear.  Then appear red.  Then white again.

I looked at the clock and it read 5:15 AM.  And it was about this time that I noticed two things –

One, I noticed the frequency at which it would appear was starting to increase.  That is, the later the morning got, the more frequently it seemed to be showing itself.  This flew in the face of everything I had ever heard about paranormal phenomena.  I was always told that paranormal activity was at its peak between midnight and 3:00 AM.  But “dead time” had ended some time ago.

Secondly, the approaching dawn was beginning to illuminate the sky; growing brighter by the minute.

It (pardon the pun) dawned on me, that if this trend continued; if the light continued to appear at the same frequency as the sky got brighter, eventually there would be enough ambient daylight to see exactly where the anomaly was occuring, and then I might drive over to get a closer look.

I continued to watch the light through my telescope.  As more daylight lit up the sky, I saw something unusual with the red anomalies.

The red lights were attached to large objects that were moving.  I looked closer, and I could see two of the red lights were attached to the back end of a semi truck trailer!

The white lights appeared to be moving in the opposite direction; approaching me, and going right past the red lights.  Closer observation revealed that the white lights were car headlights!

As the morning sky got brighter, the vehicles became clearer.  The vehicles were on a stretch of highway several miles away.  The powerline easement that had been cut through the forest intersected with and exposed a stretch of highway 51 several miles away. The anomalies that I observed were nothing more than vehicle headlights and tail lights.  The white lights would dim and brighten as motorists dimmed their high beams.  Between the vantage point and highway, there were several miles of bogs and marshes, which produce methane gas.  The rising gas refracts and bends the light, in much the same way gasoline vapors from your cars fuel tank can be observed distorting the light that passes through while you fill your tank.

I believe I stated out loud to no one “Well, there’s the so-called ghost light.”

I guess it was at that moment I realized I had became an investigator of the paranormal.  

The whole drive home, I was disheartened and depressed.  I was convinced that I’d witnessed paranormal phenomena, but quickly debunked it.  All it took was a simple telescope,  and a curious 24 year old who had enough common sense to stick around for the sun to come up.

I reported my findings back to my friends that had shown it to me in the first place.  I told them I had solved the mystery and that it was nothing more than headlights and taillights distorted by marsh gas.

That’s when I discovered that some people do not want the illusion shattered, and can get downright hostile when you threaten what they believe.

“Oh no!  That’s not it!.  My brothers friends uncles nephews daughter saw it, and the light hovered above her car!”

Perhaps she did see that.  That’s not what you showed me, and certainly not what I observed.

“There’s no way!  The Air Force couldn’t solve it, but you could?  Yeah, right Patrick!”

Fair enough.  But can you cite this allegedly inconclusive government study?  (No, they could not.  They had “heard” about the study.

What we have here is not a paranormal event, but an unusual phenomena created by man and nature and good old urban myths.

Over the years, I’ve received negative blowback from others who are unhappy that I have an alternate, non-paranormal explanation.  In particular, from the locals that live in the area.  The Paulding Light is a popular tourist attraction in that neck of the woods, and local business owners benefit from visitors who come to observe the anomaly.

I do believe in the paranormal. When I shattered my belief in the Paulding Light, I thought that with all the reports of unexplained phenomena, some of it must be truly unexplained and not so easily dismissed.

Patrick Lynn Burns