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The town of Maco, N.C., (outside Wilmington) would probably garner little attention outside of its neighboring communities in North and South Carolina were it not for “Joe Baldwin’s light.”


Joe Baldwin’s light began to appear along the railroad tracks that run through Maco shortly after a train accident in the Mid-1800s in which Baldwin was decapitated.  According to legend, Baldwin was riding alone in the last car of a passenger train going through Maco when the car became uncoupled from the rest of the train.  Baldwin knew that another train was coming up the tracks immediately behind his train, so he ran to the back of the car and began swinging his lantern to signal the engineer of the other train.  It was a futile gesture, for the locomotive plowed into the car, separating Baldwin’s head from the rest of his body and sending the lantern into the marsh, paralleling the track.  Bystanders who witnessed the accident said the lantern appeared to make an arc as it left Baldwin’s hand and fell beside the tracks.


Shortly after the accident, people began noticing a signal light along that stretch of track.  The light, which resembled that emitted by a trainman’s lantern, was suspended at about the level a man’s hand would carry a lantern, although no one could be seen carrying the light.  Word soon spread that Joe Baldwin had come back to search for his head.


The “ghost light” even threatened to disrupt the signaling system of the railroad (a line that later became part of the Atlantic Coast Line, now CSX), so that the railroad was forced to implement a unique type of signal light for the Maco station so that the crews would not confuse an earthly signal with one from another realm.  One version of the story had President Grover Cleveland’s train making a stop in Maco and the president inquiring as to why the signaling system was different from that used on the rest of the railroad.


During the 1950s and 1960s, the section of track at Maco became a popular place for people to park at night and wait for the light to appear.  Some witnesses said they saw the light hover by the tracks and then make an arc through the air, as if it was being thrown from someone’s hand.  Those who were present when a train passed by said the light would rise above the cars and hover, illuminating the top of the train.  And one woman who remained “safely” seated in the automobile while her husband walked down the tracks to get a better view of the light said she saw a flash of light in front of the car, then the headless form of a man passed by in front of the vehicle.


And thus, this is the Maco Legend!