Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Ghost Lights Still Haunt Gurdon

Mansfield, Arkansas, circa 1903, courtesy of
the Arkansas State Archives

The lights that mysteriously appear near the Gurdon railroad in Clark County are legendary and are now a Halloween attraction.

On some nights the glow appears along the path of the old railroad track about four miles north of Gurdon and about two miles away from Interstate 30. The light sways back and forth, from 1 to 3 feet above the ground, down the old train track, witnesses say. Sometimes the light appears to be a yellow-white, orange-red or blue-white.

Residents first reported seeing the “Gurdon Light” in the 1930s, after the murder of Will McClain, a railroad section foreman who was beaten to death possibly over a labor dispute. A Dec. 10, 1931 article in the Southern Standard reported McClain was killed by Louis McBride, 38, who was working under McClain. No one witnessed the murder, but McBride acted “so suspiciously that he was arrested” and eventually confessed, according to the article. McBride told investigators where the body and a spike maul, the murder weapon, were located.

Investigators found a grisly scene, according to the newspaper. “There was a trail of blood nearly a quarter mile long, indicating that the section foreman was near the railroad when attacked and had run from his assailant. Near the point where McClain is believed to have died were other signs of a struggle. It was also indicated that after he was left for dead, he rallied and tried to leave the woods. The back of his head had been struck four severe blows.”

Throughout the struggle, McClain never let the lantern slip from his grasp.  Legend has it the “Gurdon Light” is the lantern swinging from the hand of McClain’s ghost as he walks through the area. The story drew national attention in 1994, when NBC aired a segment about the light on “Unsolved Mysteries.”

However, another popular story has it that a railroad worker fell into the path of a train and was decapitated. His head was never found. Some locals say the ghostly light is from the lantern of the restless railroad worker who continues to look for his head.

No one has fully explained the “Gurdon Light.” Many people have researched the phenomenon without coming to any conclusions. The light could be from automobile headlights on Interstate 30, but the lights were reported before the Interstate was built. Swamp gas is another possibility, but the light appears in all kinds of weather and retains its shape. So, even now, the mystery remains unsolved.