In the small South Arkansas town of Gurdon lives a mystery. The mysterious occurrences of a light along the railroad tracks deep in the woods have fascinated curious souls for generations. What draws these adventurers to make this trek? And what memories do the experiences hold?
Everyone loves a good ghost story. Well, most do. I’m not going to lie, I am a total skeptic when it comes to legends and ghost stories. If I must endure one, I prefer it to be in the light of day with many witnesses and maybe a clear open path for an easy escape. But while I was in college in Arkadelphia there were constant stories of going to see The Gurdon Light.
“Some go their whole lives without ever seeing it. Some claim to have seen it who ain’t. And some say-”
~Master Tibbs (Pirates of the Carribean)
The legend of the light has a couple of different origins. Some say it’s the ghost of an unfortunate railroad worker who was decapitated when he fell into the path of an oncoming train. His head was never found and he spends his nights searching for it with his lantern. Others claim the legend came from a real-life murder that took place along the tracks. The details were a bit gory for me but that tale swears The Light to be from the lantern of railway foreman William McClain.
The Light is never stationary. It is described as bobbing up and down. Some say The Light appears far away and very close in what seems like a split second. The lights from Interstate 30 are too far away to be thought of as a cause (and the story precedes the roadway’s existence). Other explanations are attributed to swamp gas or electricity rising from the compressed quartz deposits Gurdon sits upon.
Most of my friends in college went in search of The Light as inexpensive entertainment. My friend Misty said, “It was just something to do.” Gas was cheap and the 20-minute drive along Hwy 67 from Arkadelphia to Gurdon was not a big investment for a group outing or date night. “The whole thing had a very Blair Witch/Stand By Me feel to it,” recalled Jodi, “I never saw anything!”
At roughly a two-mile walk through the woods, there was plenty of time to laugh and talk and scare each other or even yourself. My husband recalls many stories of friends climbing under the low trestle bridges as trains would run over. The shaking was intense. My friend Andrew remembers getting lost. “We spent the whole time wondering if each light we saw was The Gurdon Light or a coming train.” Sometimes it’s a wonder we survived our young adulthoods.
But these shared experiences make stronger memories. Memories of adventures and bravery (or stupidity – depending on your point of view), of best friends and young love (or infatuation) that make you smile years later when someone asks if you have ever heard of The Gurdon Light.