Location: Maco, NC
For over a century, mysterious lights were seen bobbing up and down along the railroad tracks near Maco Station, a few miles west of Wilmington. When anyone approached the lights, they would disappear. The lights were observed many times over many years, and even photographed on occasion. It's even said that President Grover Cleveland saw the lights while on whistle stop tour in 1889. The source of these lights has never been determined, but according to legend the light is the ghost of a railroad worker who died on the tracks one night in 1867.
On that tragic night in 1867, a train was rolling along the tracks and the signalman, Joe Baldwin, was sleeping in the caboose. Joe's slumber was broken by a violent jerk. A veteran railroad worker, Joe Baldwin recognized the motion and immediately knew that the caboose had become detached from the rest of the train.
His heart started racing. He knew that his one car was now stuck on the tracks, and that the main part of the train was rapidly moving away from him and he had no way of contacting it. And he also knew that his wasn't the only train scheduled for those tracks that night. A passenger train was due along soon, and if the oncoming train struck the stalled caboose there would be a horrible accident.
Joe had a choice to make. He knew that he had to signal the oncoming train to stop. He knew that the only way to do this and be sure the engineer in the approaching train would see the signal was to stand on the platform at the back of the caboose. He also knew that it takes a long time to stop a speeding train. Even if the engineer saw the light and stopped, there might be time to slow down enough to prevent a complete disaster, but the chances were good that the caboose was still about to be hit. And Joe Baldwin that if that happened, he didn't stand much of a chance of walking away from that crash.
Baldwin made the heroic choice. Grabbing his lantern, he stood on the back of the caboose as the sound of an oncoming passenger train rumbled closer. He frantically waved his warning light, trying desperately to catch the attention of the engineer.
The plan worked. The engineer of the oncoming train saw the light and pulled hard on his brakes. But the momentum of the tons of speeding steel kept the train moving, and the locomotive slammed into Joe's caboose. Joe's signals had worked. His bravery had prevented a more serious collision. But brave the Mr. Baldwin was decapitated in the crash.
His head was thrown by the force of the accident into the murky swamps that surrounded the tracks. It was never found. His headless body was buried with hero's honors a week later.
Ever since that night, lights have been seen moving up and down the track around Maco. Sometimes it's only one light, sometimes it's two. People says that it's the ghost of Joe Baldwin, still searching for his missing head.
The Maco light was seen for over 100 years, but has not been seen since 1977. This was the year that the railroad tracks at Maco station were pulled up.
Other Ghost Lights