A GHOST LIGHT DEBUNKED
By Dale Kaczmarek
I entitled this article "A Ghost Light Debunked" because here we were able to find a natural explanation to a ghostlight which has mystified people for nearly 20 years. I would like to begin by quoting from the Watersmeet Business Directory, "While in Watersmeet you should see 'The Mystery Light'. The 'light' has defied explanation since it was first sighted about a dozen years ago, although theories abound.
"To observe the phenomenon, one must drive north from Watersmeet on US 45 for 4 miles toward the neighboring village of Paulding, and take Robbins Lake Road for a short distance west - an umimproved rural lane once part of a military road authorized by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War in anticipation of a British attack through Canada.
"By tramping through dense woods to the summit of nearby hills, the mysterious light can be observed almost every night once darkness has descended on the northern wilderness.
"It appears to rise slowly out of the forest and then hovers low in the sky for varying intervals - ranging from a couple of minutes to over a quarter of an hour. Often described as looking like a 'bright star' it first seems to be a campfire ember, reaching an intense reddish glow, then becoming a haze and finally receding to a mere spark before disappearing into the night.
"Explanations vary from fanciful to factual. Some say it's the spirit of a long dead mail carrier ambushed by Indians over a century ago; others insist it is the ghost of an engineer killed in a nearby railroad accident in years gone by. One woman thinks it's a mystical sign of religious significance. In the meantime, 'The Mystery Light' continues to baffle, intrigue and mystify the visitor."
I first learned about the Watersmeet ghost light several years ago at lecture in Chicago. The speaker said that this light was visible every night with very few exceptions and was a valid phenomenon.
The next time the light was brought up to me was from a member of the GRS, (Ghost Research Society, PO Box 205, Oaklawn, Il. 60454-0205, (312)425-5163), Bill Kingsley, who wrote an article about his encounters with the light and included photographs, (see Vol. 4, No. 4 - Oct. 1985, Ghost Trackers Newsletter).
He was quoted as saying, "My impression was that these lights were alive... I feel that these lights are definately not reflections from auto headlights or reflected light off of power line insulators. I feel that there is a natural explanation to these lights; but what?"
Along with his article and photographs, he supplied with two newspaper articles about the light. One from the Detroit News dated 1-26-82 and the other from the Milwaukee Journal dated 11-30-80.
James L. Kerwin, who writes for the Detroit News, said in his article, "Some suspect the mystery lights have something to do with UFOs. A New Jersey UFO club checked it out but failed to confirm its suspicions."
Chris Roberts, a former Hazel Park resident who operates a small general store at nearby Paulding, was quoted as saying, "People have made tests by having a friend blink their lights, on and off, going up the highway. But the mystery lights appear above the blinking headlights."
Bob Zelinski, who operates a canoe rental livery in neighboring Watersmeet, says, "Some say it's a ghost conductor killed in a train wreck many years ago, searching the tracks. Others think it may be a lost miner, looking for his claim. Then, the site near old Military Road, to Fort Wilkins, where robbers killed a man delivering mail in 1870. They say the victim is looking for his dead sled dogs."
Harry Pease of the Milwaukee Journal writes, "The snow was thinning. Zelinski got out a topographic map and pointed out the lay of the land. Sure enough, the mysterious lights in the woods are auto headlights and taillights on Highway 45. You pick them up on the long hill at Maple Grove Cemetery, 11 miles from Dingman's Rock. The cemetery lies about 1,315 feet above sea level. Paulding is down in a hole between there and the lookout points. The village puts a little glow in the sky - just enough to give the onlooker a false horizon."
With all this conflicting information and testimony, we decided to check out the reports ourselves. Two other members of the GRS, Richard Locke and Richard Kerscher, of Evanston and Glenview, Illinois respectively, volunteered to act as our guides and help with our investigations since they had both been to Watersmeet several times before and had seen the lights. Their conclusions were that the lights were simply auto headlights and taillights seen from a distance and nothing supernatural in nature.
I still had to see for myself and be open-minded since I have observed many different ghost lights around the country and no two lights looked the same and no two areas were topographically similiar. The only item that is usually nearby is railroad tracks and, given that, there is always the legend concerning an engineer losing his head! The light that is seen is supposed to be his lantern carried by his headless ghost and he is looking for his disembodied head! Historically and legendarily interesting, but seldom true.
We traveled to Watersmeet the week of September 13 - 21st of 1986. We stayed in Ironwood, Michigan which is about an hours drive west of Watersmeet. Our two other helpers were stationed in Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin about a half-hour south. Our first full day was spent trying to collect newspaper articles, interview witnesses and talk to various media personell who might know something about the light. Most of our efforts were fruitless. Even larger towns like Bessemer, Wakefield, Paulding and Bruce Crossing did not have any information about the light or it's possible origins.
Our first nights viewing was somewhat obscurred by drizzle and haze but the light did make an appearance several times! We saw both the white and red lights as reported by Mr. Kingsley and many other reliable witnesses, but could not really determine what the cause of the lights were that particular evening.
The next day was spent collecting topographic maps of the area and interviewing forest rangers who knew the area well. We were trying to locate Dingman's Rock, which was supposed to be the ideal vantage point. We did not find this area until the day before our departure. The name "Dingman's Rock" is apparently local in origin and not on any of the geographic survey maps of the area. That evening, we, again saw the light and were able to capture it through high-power binoculars. It diffused quite nicely into a pair of automobile headlights with an occasional taillight also coming into view. This wasn't positive proof yet, to me.
The next morning we traveled north beyond the viewing points along US 45, toward Paulding and Bruce Crossing. We found the small cemetery mentioned in the Journal article and carefully plotted mileage from that point back to the observation points at Dingman's Rock and Robbins Pond Road. We found out that the mileage is close to 11 miles as reported but perhaps less because the point where the lights are first picked up are at the top of a large hill, elevation over 1,500 feet above sea level and nearly 200 feet higher than the elevation at Maple Grove Cemetery. From that point, it's exactly 8.3 miles to Robbins Pond Road which is old highway 45 and also points almost due north. What you are actually seeing is carlights topping the hill, occasionally dimming their bright lights for oncoming cars, taillights of those oncoming cars passing the first cars, their bright lights coming on again and then the cars disappearing into a deep slope in the road. If you could time when the car lights vanished from sight and then wait until those same cars pass behind you on US 45 at an average speed of 55 mph, it would be approximately 7 minutes!
We conducted stopwatch tests to calculate the average amount of time the lights were in view at an average speed of 55 mph and found this to be 90.2 seconds. These tests were performed on the evening of September 17th between the hours of 9-10 pm. The next morning we arrived at the crest of the large hill, (already traveling at 55 mph), and drove for 90 seconds. We were relatively sure of the exact point on US 45 where the mysterious lights vanished from view. It was nearly three-quarters of the way down the large hill. You could no longer see the observation point from this area!
The last evening was the final test or coup de grace, as I like to call it. We set up a video camera and pointed it in the direction of the lights, with generous help from Mr. Locke and Mr. Kerscher! My brother, Wayne, (a research director for the GRS), then drove my car to the top of the large hill with the four-way flashers going; which we quite easily picked up through binoculars. His instructions were to start back down at precisely 8:30 pm and to blink the bright lights every 5 seconds. The results were conclusive! We captured the oncoming car on video tape with the lights blinking every 5 seconds on cue. The view through binoculars was even more convincing because you could nearly see the outline of the car! This was proof enough for me!
This is the only ghost light to date that has been debunked by myself and my assistants; others are and have been more difficult, if not impossible, to disprove. The standard "headlight theory" seems to fit this light but none of the others that we have investigated. There are some readers that will read this article and still shake their heads, not wanting to believe, but the proof is in the pudding and all you have to do is to duplicate these very simple experiments yourselves if you are ever in the area and see for yourself. The mystique of this light is over but many others still lie waiting for future experimenters to puzzle over!
From crest of large hill to: Dingman' Rock is 6.1 miles and to Robbins Pond Road is 8.3 miles.
Average amount of time that lights were in view was 90.2 seconds.
Distance lights traveled in 90.2 seconds at an average speed of 55 mph is 7,275.32 feet or 1.377941666 miles.
A car traveling at 55 mph travels approximately 80.66 feet per second.
We can therefore conclude that the lights disappear approximately 4.73 miles from Dingman's Rock and 6.93 miles from Robbins Pond Road. This would be the closet approach that an observer could get to the lights. This would effectively put the disappearance of the lights very close to the town of Paulding which lies in a slope between two large hills.
Dale Kaczmarek, President, Ghost Research Society, PO Box 205, Oaklawn, Il. 60454-0205, (312)425-5163.
Wayne Kaczmarek, Research Director, GRS.
Richard Locke, Member, GRS, Evanston, Illinois.
Richard Kerscher, Member, GRS, Glenview, Illinois.
Stephanie Willis, Trained Observer, GRS.