Brown Mountain lights carry aura of mystery
By Frank ‘Buzz’ Trexler | (email@example.com)
When I was a teenager, stories of paranormal phenomenon were nothing new to me.
As a youngster in Richmond, Va., there was the legend of the West Point "host light,” sometimes called the “ghost train,” and tales abound of hauntings throughout the city, including apparitions at places like Byrd Theater and the Edgar Allan Poe Museum.
In January 1973, my family’s wanderings landed us in Elizabethton, where I met my first East Tennessee girlfriend.
Her name was Norma Jean and she lived down a one-lane road in Cam’buhl Holler -- at least, that’s how the locals pronounced “Campbell Hollow.”
When I asked her how to find Cam’buhl Holler, she gave me directions in the manner of “You go down the road past Joe Black’s beer store ...”
I was immediately confused, and it was my visit to the class of “Your-Not-From-Around-Here 101.” Her daddy raised fightin’ cocks, which as a long-haired, rebel-without-a-cause teenager I found intriguing until actually observing a cockfight.
It was my first and last.
I never knew what to expect when rambling in to Cam’buhl Holler with my jeans bearing painted mushrooms and leather patches.
Generally, I was greeted by her dad, Rondell, who was bellowing the normal redneck taunts he liked to pull out for long-haired city boys who visited his daughter. “Getch’er yellar jackets, grass, El-ess-dee.”
On this particular day, the younger members of the family were piling into the shell-covered bed of a pickup truck while Rondell and LouAnne were in the cab.
“C’mon,” Norma Jean said.
“Where are we going?” I said, hoping it had nothing to do with spur-clad roosters.
“We’re gonna see Brown Mountain lights,” she said gleefully.
“What’s Brown Mountain lights?”
“You’ll see,” she said with as much mystery as a Cam’buhl Holler girl could muster. “C’mon, get in.”
Already hunched under the camper shell were her two younger brothers, the older of whom introduced me to his own personal mixture of Red Man chewing tobacco and Red Top snuff.
We traveled for about two hours in the back of that truck before stopping. It was nearly dark when we climbed out, making our way to a rock outcropping where we sat looking toward a tree-covered mountainside as twilight set in.
About the time that teenage boredom arrived, I saw them in the distance, on and above the mountainside: small, colored blinking lights, with some moving in patterns, while others moving in random.
They were quite simply mesmerizing.
For probably a hundred years or more, the lights have attracted the attention of Burke County, N.C., residents and the curiosity of countless other people, including journalists, scientists, and even musicians. No one knows exactly where the lights come from.
Theories I’ve encountered since that summer night with Norma Jean have ranged from swamp gas, to ball lightning, to the lantern-bearing ghost of a slave searching for his master.
And then there are others who say the lights are mere reflections of planes, trains and automobiles.
There’s always someone trying to take the mystery out of life.
Years later, while attending East Tennessee State University and dating my wife, we made a trip to see the lights, but they remained hidden.
For the skeptic, the answer might be, “Guess there was no traffic that day.”
For the believer, the answer might be, “God leaves room for mystery.”
Buzz Trexler is managing editor of The Daily Times. Email him at (firstname.lastname@example.org)