A light on the tracks, where there shouldn’t be one…
Staying local this week with a tale straight from the town of Black Creek, North Carolina.
When I was a child, my dad told me the spooky story of a mysterious light that seemed to haunt the train tracks in the small town of Black Creek, in Wilson County. As the story goes, a man met with an unfortunate end on those tracks. The culprit?
A train, of course.
In the story my dad told me, the owner of the head still wanders the tracks, looking for his lost head, armed with a lantern, the only evidence that observers can see. I’ve never seen the sight myself.
The Maco Light in Wilmington is another tale of a tragic railroad death, and the never-ending unrest of the victim. I first read of the Maco Light in a book by Nancy Roberts, but the location was wrong. The Black Creek version, of course, had to come from somewhere. Recently, an article appeared in the Wilson Times (the Wilson NC newspaper) featuring some residents recounting the legend.
I think that for every ghost light we see, there are many perfectly logical explanations. Of course, logical does not have to mean anything less than extraordinary. There are reasons for things, but those reasons might catch us off guard. How much of the unexplained is just stuff that’s always been there, just without us knowing?
What would happen if we got a full explanation that we weren’t prepared for?
Certainly something to think about.
Deep shadows, sticky water, and the sense you’re never alone will haunt you in the Great Dismal Swamp.
Growing up in the typical American elementary school brought with both study and celebration of the origins of the United States as a nation. When I was a kid, back in the 90s, that meant memorizing the names of Christopher Columbus’ ships and wearing a paper grocery store bag at school on the day before Thanksgiving (or a black construction paper hat if you were supposed to be a Pilgrim.) Columbus didn’t even land on what we now know as the United States, and he certainly didn’t set out to discover a whole other continent. Yet on Monday, October 14, we’ll observe Columbus Day. It’s a wonder more children don’t grow up more interested in this continent and who might have gotten here first. It’s them that all the little kid history books tend to ignore, and you could just grow up tending to assume that the first people on the North American continent just sort of appeared here one day. Of course, it’s much much more interesting than that. What I find funny is the tendency to assume that people living in Europe, Africa, and Asia basically never went anywhere and ignored the rest of the planet, while North America remained serene and mostly unpopulated. We now know that at least the Norse were here, at some point, in Canada.
That brings us back to the Great Dismal Swamp, and its role in a weird story about the possibility that Chinese explorers also set foot here, based on an old sighting of a junk, under the command of Zheng He, that might as well have been a ghost ship, buried in the mud off the coasts of North Carolina, and seen only a tiny handful of times. It’s elusive and the last time anyone recorded seeing it was some time in the 1920s. The Great Dismal Swamp isn’t the easiest waterway to navigate. You could imagine that someone could get lost.
Or leave their boat behind.
And head inland.
Possibly meet early Americans and establish a settlement in Appalachia.
Maybe they met up with the Moon-eyed People?
This isn’t to say that Gavin Menzies is a great historian or even right for that matter. A simple Google search doesn’t turn up much about this story. After all, there are much weirder and more accessible theories and legends about pre-Columbian American history that tend to overshadow the simple curiosity of other people we weren’t expecting to have been here.
And knowing what we do about the history of this continent, like how much of the past has been lost, buried under other old things in our race to build a nation, makes us all to aware of how much we aren’t able to know.
We can only see the shadows left behind, footsteps on the surface. We make up tales and imagine aliens and underground people to fill the quiet void of an empty continent. And without even a nod to all our stories, indifferent to the questions we ask, North America resolutely keeps its secrets buried in rock, clay, and mud.
Hanging out down east as we touch on a very real might-have-been from the Cold War.
The year was 1961. Sixteen years before, the United States had ended World War II and helped start what we call the Atomic Age. While this part of history was full of enthusiastic folks looking to the future, it can also be characterized by a nice dose of paranoia.
So while we dreamed of the possibilities of a nuclear future, we also prepared for war.
The incident I’ll relate in this post didn’t take place during a battle or anything so epic. In fact, what the plane (B-52 Stratofortress) was doing was pretty routine: it was time to refuel on a cold January night.
But there was a leak, big enough to dump a substantial amount of fuel in a very short time. A landing at Seymore Johnson Airforce Base, near Goldsboro, was supposed to occur. The aircraft, and the two nuclear bombs it was carrying, never made it. The plane crashed, and three of the eight crew members were killed. The bombs were thrown from the plane. One was armed, and it’s parachute activated. They were able to recover that one.
If you’ve ever been to Eastern North Carolina, you probably know that it’s a part of the country that’s very wet. Even though Goldsboro is further inland and is far from being a beach resort area, our winters are still damp and the ground can get pretty muddy.
Thus was the fate of the second bomb, buried in pieces, deep in the mud. Now part of it they did get, so it’s still there today. And no, you can’t get to it.
It’s uranium. Why would you want to?
North Carolina came very close to dealing with a serious nuclear incident on that night. I find myself wondering sometimes, what if it had detonated? What would have happened, and what worlds would have changed at that very moment in history?
I’m always ready to look through answers and solve mysteries, but I have to constantly remind myself that I have to be prepared for what I might find on the other sides of all the doors I open.
And maybe, weirdly, you should too.
We’re headed home to Eastern NC this week with the strange tale of a man’s disappearance…
Or was it murder?
James Abney was well known in his Salt’s Creek North Carolina community. Though he was not a native of the area, when he moved there after the Civil War, he quickly assimilated into the town and basically got involved in a big way. He and his wife were known to hold parties at their home quite frequently, enough that Abney started an informal social club in 1879, later called the Doorway Society. You can view their website here. He also contributed to the town’s fledgling library, but refused any attempts to name it after him.
The year was 1881, and like a lot of other towns in North Carolina at the time, Salt’s Creek was without a public school, and the citizens were pushing for somewhere affordable, where their children could be instructed. Other nearby towns, like Goldsboro and Wilson, were already opening public schools. When the town council formed a school board, James Abney was appointed to be on it. Once they had things set and planned for the opening of the school, they called a meeting open to the citizens of Salt’s Creek.
That evening, at the town meeting, while Mr. Abney was speaking to the townspeople about the school, for some reason, there was a verbal altercation between James Abney and a man by the name of Gavin Dupree. Whatever the confrontation was about, it ended quickly, but the two men were well known to be at best cool towards each other, but this was the first time an open conflict had occurred.
Later that night, according to the account of his wife, James Abney left his house to visit the Duprees.
He was never seen again.
Him, or his body.
Mr. Dupree is said to have been covered with blood, by his own admission, but it seems to have come from a rather large gash on his arm.
Despite the lack of a body, or any proof that Mr. Dupree had harmed anyone other than himself, there was a murder trial. Mr. Dupree held fast to the story that he had given chase and that James Abney had disappeared into the woods.
The problem was that there was no body. Dupree was aquitted of the murder and led a quiet life thereafter. Abney’s wife left town and only visited friends a few more times before she too dropped off the map.
Life in Salt’s Creek calmed down again, the newspaper stopped writing about it, and not much has been said since about the matter. I doubt many locals know much about it at all.
But what gets me is that there was no body. And yes, that can happen if extensive measures are taken to destroy it. Problem was, they never found any remains or any evidence that such a thing had occurred. Dupree’s farm didn’t have any nearby bodies of water to put someone, nor did he have time to dig a shallow grave, much less one deep enough to hide a freshly dead individual.
To this day, in the woods around that old property, still privately owned, no one has found the body of James Abney. Not even a hat, or clothes. He simply, and very literally, vanished.
Yet still, as far as I know, Mr. Dupree carried that burden of being an accused murderer, even if not an actual one, for the rest of his life.
It’s a spooky case that, happened a long time ago and will very likely never be solved.
Very incredibly weird.
We’ll trek back east this week to the Coastal Plains.
Recently, Artsee Magazine featured the artwork of Mr. Vollis Simpson. Locals in the Wilson, North Carolina area are familiar with Mr. Simpson’s work, because it is the very subject of some local lore.
The story of Acid Park is rather similar to other tragic tales of teenage recklessness. A popular, told from the cradle up story says that the artist’s daughter was driving one night with a group of friends. LSD, or acid of course, entered the picture and things began to spiral wildly out of control. The evening ended with the car wrapped around the tree, and the passengers dead. A tamer version has the teenagers consuming copious amounts of alcohol.
And neither are true.
But the story stuck around. College students tell out of town friends. I myself visited it a few times in college, and I heard the acid version. In fact, it seems to be a tale shared with everyone and accepted as truth. The main reason?
Now, having seen the car myself, as well as a more close-up picture of it (in Weird Carolinas, a current favorite of mine), the car is wrapped around the tree, in a way. The tree, in fact, grows through the car’s engine. The poor old car has been stripped of nearly everything to make the beautiful, jingling, sparkling art.
Mr. Simpson is said to have built a wind-powered washing machine in the Mariana Islands when he was stationed there in World War II, which to me is brilliant. The Whirligigs are a product of that genius. All of them move in the wind, if you’re lucky enough to get there on a night when the wind is blowing in. The machines have a bit of complexity to them. Other parts of the park are more stationary. One looks like a Ferris wheel, another like a Christmas tree. If I remember correctly, the Christmas tree piece has been moved to downtown Wilson, on Douglas Street, where the new workshop is. It’s nice during the day, but at night, the true grandeur of the place is obvious, as the machines reflect everything through the pitch darkness of a rural landscape.
To my sadness, I’ve recently heard that they’re moving all of the pieces to downtown Wilson, in the midst of a small, wilted city with too many lights and not enough people to see. The park proves to me that sometimes, it takes the heavy darkness to see the beautiful light.
Here’s a link to a post on Southern Fried Thinker, called The Ghostly Carnival. She’s had some pictures up of these for sometime, of the park at night. I think there’s also a link if you’d like to know more.
All the weird legends and ghost stories that turn up about North Carolina always end up being about the Western part of the state, in the Mountains.
I intend to change that.
So welcome to Weirdly Awesome NC, delivering an attempted daily dose of Eastern North Carolina pics, stories, legends, and just plain old stuff. Of course, this isn’t to say I’ll completely exclude Western North Carolina, but when our side has Blackbeard and a hydrogen bomb buried deep underground, things can get pretty odd around here. Feel free to leave some links in the comments to other stuff you’ve come across, even if it’s not in North Carolina! I’d love to know about your weird findings. I also plan to have Twitter, and I’d be ever so delighted if you’d follow me.
Now grab a pint of Eastern NC BBQ and join me back here soon for one of our oddball offerings.