The Gurdon Light in Arkansas

A mysterious light about the size of a basketball hovers above the railroad tracks just north of Gurdon, Arkansas. Appearing along a four-mile stretch of track that runs through a swamp and a cemetery, constantly changing color, the light has been the object of speculation for decades.

Could it be reflected car headlights?

Dr. Charles Leming, professor of physics at Henderson State University and an acknowledged authority on the Gurdon light, thinks it might be. “All sorces of light have their own characteristics of the spectrum,” says Leming.

Using a spectrograph, Dr. Leming had photographs made of both the light and car headlights. When the Gurdon light photos were compared with those of the headlights, they were the same.

Mike Clingan, a graduate of the University of South Carolina and a former Henderson student who worked with Dr. Leming, has a different opinion.

“The nearest interstate to the tracks is about four miles away, and a large hill stands in between the tracks and the interstate,” says Clingan. “If the light was caused by passing headlights, it would have to be refracted up and over the hill to be visible on the other side.

Additionally, states a 1980 Arkansas Gazette article, “Clingan has attempted to guage the length of time it would take a car to cross the horizon point at a 45 degree angle (the angle of the interstate to the tracks) at 55 miles an hour. Moving at 80 feet per second, he explained, ‘the lights would be visible much longer than the second it takes for the Gurdon light to appear and disappear.’ He also has walked close enough to the highway to hear the sounds of specific specific trucks – and insists the sounds never coordinated with the appearances of the light.”

Observes the Arkadelphia Daily Siftings Herald” “…the Gurdon light has been seen all the way back to the ’30s, long before the interstate was even built.”

“There’s no documented proof that the light first began appearing in the ’30s,” says Dr. Leming. “But highway headlights don’t necessarily explain the phenomenon.” He admits he’s stumped.

“Viewed through filters, the lights never polarized, which any mirage would do. No electromagnetic current could be traced on a galvanometer. And the light appears consistently, regardless of atmospheric conditions. I never heard of anyone going out there who didn’t see it,” Leming adds.

Perhaps it is the “peizoelectrical effect.” This theory states that a group of crystals – especially quartz, since it is common in these areas – is put under intense pressure from fault lines, such as the New Madrid Fault which runs through the area. These crystals, when squeezed together, develop an electrical charge, giving off sparks. This usually happens during earthquake activity.

However, local residents remain steadfast in their belief that the light comes from a lantern carried up and down the tracks by a railroad foreman brutally murdered in 1931.

The town librarian, a lifelong Gurdon resident, claims that as a teenager she went down to the tracks one night to see the light. When she couldn’t see it, she turned to leave and it was right behind her.

“I have lived here in Gurdon my entire life and seen the light many times,” Mayor Pete Randolph said in a 1985 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “What causes the light? It is the ghost out there with a lantern…has to be! People have been trying to figure it out for years.”

I see a light, all right,” says Dr. Leming, “but I don’t think it has anything to do with murder. The Gurdon light is a purely natural phenomenon that we just haven’t figured out yet.”

Gaining access to the light is part of the problem in solving the puzzle. The track crosses a creek nine times. Insects infest the area, and the sound of creatures slipping in and out of the swamp at night is unnerving. Most dangerous of all are the snakes who, having absorbed the sun all day like to lie on the cool tracks.

In a recent telephone interview with Dr. Leming, he was asked to explain the light using as few words as possible. “Spurious,” he answered.

He further indicated that he wouldn’t be averse to leading a group of aspiring scientists on a mission to solve the Gurdon light once and for all.

Any takers?

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