Illuminate me.
July 5, 2006 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Anyone have firsthand experience of the Paulding Light?

I have a thing for spooks and mysteries. I'm also a bit of a skeptic -- help me debunk this ghost story.

In deepest darkest Michigan, there's a thing called the "Paulding Light" . Some say it's a ghost train, others say it's an "earthlight"; the more mundane thinkers blame atmospheric refraction, headlights... the usual hokum.

Here's a video


Here's some more info.

Now because this thing makes a regular showing (every night, I'm led to believe), I was hoping one of you folks might have seen it for yourself. What do you know about the light? I have my suspicions. Notice the pylons?

Are the lights as mysterious as they seem?
posted by popcassady to Science & Nature (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Not much of a skeptic, are you? A moment's googling turned up a plausible explanation (from Haunted Heritage by Michael Norman and Beth Scott, p. 283): they're the lights of cars on U.S. Highway 45.

For future reference: there are no ghosts, and aliens are not skulking around playing tricks on us.
posted by languagehat at 11:39 AM on July 5, 2006


Was that strictly necessary?
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:41 AM on July 5, 2006


languagehat, I have no doubt that there's a mundane explanation behind the lights; but I was asking about the experience.

I was hoping to hear from mefites who'd seen the lights for themselves. And -- knowing that people here are, on the most, of the rational hatted type -- I'd like to know how they interpreted the experience.

Are the lights as mysterious as they seem? Or: "Yeah, it looked kind of weird, but it was obviously a car."
posted by popcassady at 12:20 PM on July 5, 2006


I just saw the video, thus I've experienced it. It a friggin highway! Or are you looking for the ramblings of some stoned Michigan teenagers like in the video?
posted by skallas at 12:48 PM on July 5, 2006


This is the first time I have heard of it, but I will probably be up near there in mid-August. I'll poke around for a night and let you know what I find.
posted by 517 at 1:26 PM on July 5, 2006


Sorry popcassady, those were horrible answers. I have never heard of the "Paulding Lights", but it seems really interesting, if only the video was clearer.
posted by lain at 1:34 PM on July 5, 2006


Cheers 517.
posted by popcassady at 2:38 PM on July 5, 2006


Sorry popcassady, those were horrible answers.

Excuse me? He wants to know what the lights are; I told him they were car lights. Asked and answered. (Q: Are the lights as mysterious as they seem? A: No.) I made a mild snark about his skepticism because he said "I'm also a bit of a skeptic" but seems unsatisfied with "the usual hokum" (i.e., actual real-world answers). He now says "I was hoping to hear from mefites who'd seen the lights for themselves. And ... how they interpreted the experience," but that's not what he asked. I'm still baffled by the idea that he thinks this is in any way mysterious, or what he hopes 517 will find out. If 517 comes back and says "It's headlights, dude," is that also going to be a horrible answer?
posted by languagehat at 2:48 PM on July 5, 2006


Check the name on that petard, lh. I think it might be yours.
posted by yerfatma at 4:53 PM on July 5, 2006


Still waiting for an explanation. Question was asked and answered. Can't help it if he, or you, doesn't, or don't, like the answer.
posted by languagehat at 5:09 PM on July 5, 2006


I think the objection was probably in response to your answer to a question that was not asked, e.g., "For future reference: there are no ghosts, and aliens are not skulking around playing tricks on us." While I appreciate the sentiment, it seems to violate the sanctity of AskMe you are always on about. Sorry for ending that with acouple of prepositions.
posted by yerfatma at 6:20 PM on July 5, 2006


googled paulding lights debunked and found this, which also claims it's just headlights.
posted by Señor Pantalones at 6:45 PM on July 5, 2006


languagehat:

I read his question as to whether or not any MeFites had seen the lights firsthand, and if they had, whether or not they appeared to be as mysterious as various internet site claimed. The answer seems to be, "No, no one has."

Even if the lights are just car lights (which seems to be the most likely explanation), it's still a reasonable question to ask if they really look all that mysterious.
posted by justkevin at 7:49 PM on July 5, 2006


So I was just giving this a look over and found something interesting already. From this topo map you can see that there is something weird with the elevations if you were going to be able to see HWY 45 from the observing point.

The map is the location of this photo, which I also assume is the place where the video was shot. The road running straight north-south, just slightly left of center, is the road in the photo and the barricade in the photo is approximately where the red marker icon is.

If you follow the road straight north (scroll up 2 or 3 times) you'll see that it is almost exactly in line with Hwy 45 and you will also see that Hwy 45 may be observable from the position where the picture and video were shot because it is actually about 30 lower in elevation that the observation point. However, when you look at the photo and the video the light is seen at the top of the hill. This is probably just because the photo and video are deceiving and instead of looking up to the top of the hill, they are actually looking down and observing Hwy 45.

If you can see Hwy 45 from the observation point then what you are going to see is light that has traveled within inches of the ground several hundred yards away from the observation point. The temperature differences that are usually present right above the ground at twilight are great enough that they will distort the light traveling through them. This distortion wouldn't be so great but for the fact that it is occurring several hundred yards away from the observer. Just like when you hold a magnifying glass too far away from you, the distance between the lens and the observer increases appearance of the distortion created by the lens. I am guessing that the light from Hwy 45 is being observed through the service area cut through the forest for those powerlines and probably comes closest to the ground somewhere around the area here where there is a little service road to what is the probably location of the powerlines here.

Of course, this is all just a blind guess. Topomaps are wrong all the time and the picture may be deceiving. None the less, it is a very interesting situation.
posted by 517 at 9:24 PM on July 5, 2006


I think the objection was probably in response to your answer to a question that was not asked, e.g., "For future reference: there are no ghosts, and aliens are not skulking around playing tricks on us." While I appreciate the sentiment, it seems to violate the sanctity of AskMe you are always on about. Sorry for ending that with acouple of prepositions.

Oh, for heaven's sake. I thought small type was the universally acknowledged symbol for "I'm making a little joke here"; I don't think "the sanctity of AskMe" precludes including jokes or off-topic remarks as long as you're making a good-faith effort to answer the question. But if it wasn't clear: that was a joke, not an insult.

And I note that the poster has given Best Answer to one "which also claims it's just headlights." Interesting.
posted by languagehat at 5:56 AM on July 6, 2006


"I also will add that I don't think people who "believe" in the light are idiots, they are just hanging on to something that they enjoy, and have fun believeing in. That's fine with me! I almost wish I didn't know the truth myself so I could still enjoy the mystery. Almost... :)"
-Brian

[From the link posted by Senor Pantalones]
posted by zhivota at 10:49 PM on July 6, 2006


languagehat, I think you missed the point of my question by a wide, wide mark. Though to be fair, I should have left the irony out.

But here's what's interesting: You found a lot more in that question than was actually there. It's like you saw something and mistook it for something else! Pretty spooky, eh?

For future reference: Never assume, it makes... well, you know.
posted by popcassady at 6:31 AM on July 7, 2006


languagehat, I think you missed the point of my question by a wide, wide mark. Though to be fair, I should have left the irony out.

I'm perfectly willing to assume I missed the point of your question, but I have to say I still have not the faintest idea what it was, if it was not an attempt to find something "mysterious" in lights caused by cars. I may well have been excessively snarky in my response (a kindly correspondent wrote to say I've been unusually bad-tempered lately), and for that I apologize, but I still don't know what you were getting at or what you hoped to achieve by this post. I don't know why Señor Pantalones's answer is a Best whereas mine was apparently an annoying distraction, since he and I were basically saying the same thing. But there are many things I don't know, so one more doesn't matter. Anyway, sorry for causing offense, and I hope you find whatever it is you're after.
posted by languagehat at 2:43 PM on July 7, 2006


To set the record straight, I'll explain the reasoning behind my question.

Question: Anyone have firsthand experience of the Paulding Light?

On reading about the Paulding light, I was interested in hearing of people's firsthand experiences. While I had my own explanation for the lights, I wanted to hear how actual eye witnesses interpreted the light for themselves. I would have gone to see the lights for myself but there's an ocean in the way.

There is no doubt that people all over the world believe they've witnessed 'other worldly' occurrences. Many maintain that what they've witnessed could have no rational explanation whatsoever; but usually these things can be put down to a trick of the light, a trick of the mind, etc...

The cause behind our 'other worldly' occurrence was beside the point of my question.

Here was a seemingly paranormal showpiece that kept a regular schedule. No doubt it has had its fair share of witnesses. From what I have read, people have seen these lights and have believed them to have paranormal origins.

I have seen magic tricks performed that have left me totally amazed. I can think of one trick in particular which left me completely dumbfounded. Later, I was shown how the trick was done and I was surprised to find how simple the method was, compared to my elaborate explanations. Yet -- despite the magician using only the simplest of props -- when said trick was performed, my senses -- against my rational judgement -- lead me to believe I was witnessing something super-natural. I knew it couldn't be, but that's what it looked like.

The trick could have be done in any number of ways. That the effect was achieved through the simplest of means is beside the point; my mind was tricked, I witnessed something that looked unreal.

To cause me to expect the supernatural, the magician also employed the use of banter. He led me to beleive that I was going to see more than I actually would. Follow?

Sometimes a specific location has associations with certain myths and legends.

Paulding has a myth associated with it.

The Paulding Light could be said to be like a magic trick. There's a performance with banter and an effect that leaves people perplexed, confused, and sometimes scared.

Like the magic trick, there is also a 'cause' and 'effect'.

It was the effect that I was interested in.

Are the lights as mysterious as they seem?

Accounts vary. The most elaborate accounts tell of the light approaching as close to a few feet away from the observer. Some say the light has motion in all directions. Some say the light is fixed.

I simply wanted to hear of any mefite's personal account of the light. As I said, I couldn't get there myself. I didn't ask what the lights were, I asked what they looked like.

The Indian Rope Trick.
posted by popcassady at 7:11 AM on July 8, 2006


Hmm. OK, I guess I see what you were going for. Me, I probably would have phrased the question more like this:

Anyone have firsthand experience of the Paulding Light? I know it's just car lights, but I'm curious about what it's actually like to be there and see it.

Short and intelligible, and avoids misplaced snarks. Anyway, thanks for the explanation!
posted by languagehat at 5:41 PM on July 9, 2006


Just read this review of a book by Roberto Bolaño; based on this quote, it sounds like something you might want to investigate:
The narrator of "Gómez Palacio," which appears in a new collection called "Last Evenings on Earth," is an unhappy young writer hired to teach poetry in the bleak Mexican backwater that lends the story its "hideous name." During the term, the director of the program — plump, middle-aged, married and a fellow poet — takes him for a drive through the desert in her sky-blue car and plays a tape of rancheras sung by a woman who is, she declares passionately, her best friend and whose tragic voice moves her to "silent, dignified, unstoppable tears." Soon after, she shows him a spot where the terrain makes passing headlights seem like miraculous green apparitions.
(Emphasis added.)
posted by languagehat at 10:18 AM on July 10, 2006


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