The Paulding Light shows how some folks just want to believe.

If you’re ever in the region of Paulding Michigan during the evening hours you can catch a glimpse at a supposedly supernatural local phenomenon known as the Paulding Light. At the end of the abandoned segment of US Highway 45 in a tiny speck of a town near the border with Wisconsin in the Upper Peninsula is where the mystery takes place.

The official legend says it’s the ghost of a railroad brakeman who is forever waving his lantern in an attempt to stave off the train accident that killed him, but other folks think it’s the ghost of a grandparent looking for a lost grandchild with a lantern that keeps going out. Still others think it’s UFOs. Swamp gas or maybe something to do with the northern lights.

Oddly enough the first reports of the light are from 1966 when local teenagers told the sheriff about it. Which is right around the time they finished rerouting U.S. Highway 45 in that area. You don’t suppose it could be the headlights of cars travelling along the highway, do you?

In 2010 electrical engineering grad student Jeremy Bos decided to find out. He got some of his buddies from the Society of Photo Optical Instrumentation Engineers club and made the trek up there with some equipment to put it to the test:

“When you tell them about how it’s a spooky ghost story, it got people really wanting to get involved,” said the 39-year-old, now an engineering professor at the school.

They brought a spectrograph and a telescope to the dead-end road, sent each other driving down the new highway while blinking their lights in a prearranged pattern, and recorded the results.

Every time the light appeared, one look through the telescope showed what sure looked like the headlights of oncoming cars, which could be seen clearly through the lens, sometimes with the distinct outline of the car coming down the road, which is about 8 miles away. The group even shot a video through the telescope so others could see, and posted it online. The flickering, they said, was caused when cars went over a hill.

Mystery solved, they announced.

via Mysterious light draws thrill seekers to a U.P. forest.

Science wins again, right? Here’s where it gets interesting. You see, one of the odd things about human beings is we like our mysteries and we want desperately to believe in the supernatural. There are a lot of folks up there who just don’t accept the findings of Jeremy Bos and his colleagues.

Bos still gets flak from people who refuse to give up their belief in the supernatural origin of the light. Some people say the light they’ve seen in the woods is too bright to be headlights. Some say it moves in ways no car can. And some, he’s found, don’t have a particular objection — they just want to keep believing.

“It’s the same with anything,” he said. “There is scientific evidence to disprove all sorts of things, and people still choose to believe the more fantastical, maybe because they view science as taking away the mystery of things and they want to hold onto some of that mystery.”

The human eye can see the light of a single candle up to 30 miles away if the observer is high enough to overcome the curvature of the horizon, but just because you can see the light doesn’t mean you have the ability to determine its source. Headlights 8 miles away are certainly bright enough to be seen, but it’d be difficult to judge their movement or the fact that they’re headlights at that distance.

Here’s a daytime pic of the spot you stand in to see the light:

pauldinglight

You can clearly see how this used to be part of the highway system and is now used as a run for powerlines. The light appears way down at the end of this line-of-sight. You know, where the U.S. Highway 45 currently runs by. So what does it look like? Here’s a YouTube video uploaded by Robert Wiegert in 2006:

If you watch it’ll look pretty impressive at first with a bright flare and then it changes colors and breaks into multiple lights and then you realize it’s cars. At least one person can be heard pointing out that it’s cars in the distance, but that does little to dampen the oohs and ahs of the folks who think it’s something spooky.

Here’s the video of the investigation by Jeremy Bos’ team:

It’s pretty clear those are lights from cars on the highway and that shouldn’t be a big surprise because just about any place in the country where you have a similar situation you’ll find a legend about a mystery light. A Google search for “ghost light” will turn up dozens of examples.

That won’t stop the True Believers™:

Even before the experiment was done, people from the area heard what the students were aiming to do. Some locals came by and angrily told the group this was a waste of government money — though, in reality, it was self-funded by the optics club. One woman kept bringing her photo albums featuring pictures she’d taken of the light over the years to show them her proof that it’s real. Others acknowledged that, yes, those were headlights in the lens of the telescope, but insisted that it wasn’t the actual Paulding Light.

{…} “People want to debunk this mystery and say it’s headlights,” Schulz said. “You might be able to see them from a distance. But when the real mystery light shows up, it’s a light of its own.”

There are a lot of people in this world who want to believe in fantasy rather than reality. Maybe reality is just too tough for them to deal with so imagining supernatural explanations for mundane things is a way to admit they have no real control over things. Maybe they just like the idea of the supernatural.

Regardless, there’s no arguing with folks who insist on clinging to their beliefs regardless of what the evidence shows. This is part of why religion is so tenacious. If you can’t convince folks about something everyone can actually see then convincing them about something no one has ever seen is not gonna happen.

As an aside, the Detroit Free Press — from which I took some of these quotes — made a trip up to see the light for themselves. Here’s what they captured on video:

I think my favorite part of this video is the two old guys talking about how there’s no way it could be headlights because it has a red color to it. Yeah, that’d be the taillights dumbass.

5 thoughts on “The Paulding Light shows how some folks just want to believe.

  1. Killjoy:=). . .This is kind of a starting point for folks. Then work up to stuff under the bed.

  2. Oh c’mom Les, you must know by now that the real world is the work of Satan. Only certain Republicans have a direct connection to what is real.

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