A man named Joe Baldwin was working on the railroad tracks one night along the Wilmington and Manchester railroad on a rainy and foggy night. As a train approached he realized the car was detached and he knew there was another train coming so he ran to the platform. He waved his lantern to signal the train. The engineer never saw Baldwin and he was decapitated in the collision. Some say the head was never found.
A while later, there were reports of a mysterious light being seen on foggy nights and hearing boots squeak along the track where Baldwin was killed. it has even interfered with trains coming in from other stations. Some say it’s just the swamp fog nearby mixing with light from the highway, but others have a different story. Is Joe Baldwin really looking for his head? I don’t know, but are you brave enough to go find out?
Parker from Whiteville, North Carolina
The tale associated the light with Joe Baldwin, a train conductor who was said to have been decapitated in a collision between a runaway passenger car and a locomotive at Maco, along the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad, in the late 1800s.
According to the most common version of the legend, Joe Baldwin was the sole occupant of the rear car of a Wilmington-bound train on a rainy night in 1867. As the train neared Maco, Baldwin realized the car had become detached from the rest of the train. He knew another train was following, so he ran to the rear platform and frantically waved a lantern to signal the oncoming train. The engineer failed to see the stranded railroad car in time, and Baldwin was decapitated in the collision. Some variants of the story added that Baldwin’s head was never found.
Shortly after the accident, residents of Maco and railroad employees reported sightings of a white light along a section of railroad track through swamps west of Maco station, and word spread that Joe Baldwin had returned to search for his missing head. The light was said to appear in the distance, before approaching along the tracks facing East, bobbing at a height of about 5 feet, and either flying to the side of the track in an arc or receding from the viewer. Other reports spoke of green or red lights, or other patterns of movement. The earliest stories supposedly dated from the 1870s, and until the 1886 Charleston earthquake, two lights were often reported: railroad employees said that trains had occasionally been stopped or delayed due to the activities of the light, which had even been seen from locomotive cabs. The journal Railroad Telegrapher, for example, reported in 1946 that the light had been seen on March 3rd that year, and suggested it had been appearing for some seventy years previously. Another early account of the Joe Baldwin legend was given by Robert Scott, editor of the Atlantic Coast Line News, to the journal Railway Age in 1932. Similar “headless brakeman” stories have been found associated with other “ghost lights” in the United States, such as the Bragg Road ghost light and Gurdon light: from a folklore perspective the story connected with the Maco light, being substantially the oldest and best-known and having received some national coverage, may have served as the point of origin for the others.