The Crossett Light

Andy Shaw

Editor’s note: this account of the “Crossett Light” was written by Andy Shaw, a Little Rock attorney who was born in Warren, raised in Crossett, and educated in Monticello (at the University of Arkansas at Monticello).

Skeptics have any number of ways to explain it; pranksters, automobile headlights, atmospheric conditions, swamp gas; but, for a century the Crossett Light has mystified observers looking into the gloom down a train railway outside the city of Crossett, Arkansas. For many residents of Crossett there is a more otherwordly explanation for the phenomena; a doomed headless brakesman tasked with the quest of searching for his head with the use of a ghostly train lantern. For others, instead of a brakesman, it was the lost soul of a black man who unfortunately fell asleep on the rail as a train ran down upon him.

If you grew up in Crossett at some point you would find yourself at one of a number of rural road crossings intersecting the railway, regardless of your belief. Some would take their dates out there to take advantage of its reputation of a lovers’ lane; others would remain ensconced in their vehicles to defend them and offer a means of retreat. Still others, brave or foolhardy would walk down the rail lines to dare the Light to come forth. And if you were lucky (or unlucky) an orb of light would appear down the track. Sometimes intermittent, sometimes a constant glow. Sometimes a white light, sometimes changing hues of pink, orange and blue. Sometimes a transfixed point, sometimes bouncing and shifting around. Some would report it remained a constant distance away, like a rainbow. Some would report it would appear behind them, or even inside their car. Whatever the experience, you would share with others and compare notes. And the lore of the Crossett Light would grow with each shared tale.

As the lore grew, so did the notoriety. People began driving to Crossett to experience it for themselves. It wasn’t unusual to be stopped by a carload of strangers asking directions. Some would come back disappointed that they did not see the light. It wasn’t like Old Faithful at Yellowstone performing on a set schedule. Others would come back, claiming it was a hoax. Indeed, sometimes people did go out there to scare their friends with a flashlight, but, still there were too many times viewing it at so many crossings at different hours that could be explained away as pranksters. Then it must be automobile headlights from the people driving to and from the mills every night, the skeptics said. But that would mean it should have appeared on a regular basis at predetermined times and it did not. Nor did the mill traffic follow each individual crossing that stretched from the city limits to just beyond the airport, which was a number of miles away, too far for the explanation of automobiles’ headlights being the culprit. Detractors would claim you could only see it in the winter, when the foliage was gone which made it easier for the car headlights. Other detractors would claim it was easier to see on a summer night when swamp gas would naturally rise. So, the question became how many times has anyone seen luminous methane? Could it not be reproduced in a laboratory? Imagine a city lit by a perpetual energy source. So is there a definitive answer to what the Crossett Light is? That would depend on the individual.

Perhaps, it is a Southern thing. After all, we as a subculture are titillated by the unnatural. Whether it is the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, the novels of Anne Rice, haunted graveyards, or, ghostly antebellum mansions, Southerners are drawn like moths to these types of inexplicable things. It is also a shared thing with other Southern towns like Gurdon, Arkansas and Marfa, Texas that have similar ghost lights like the Crossett Light, with similar explanations of headless ghosts on an eternal quest.

For myself, the mystique began as a sophomore in high school. With a group of friends I went out to what was known as “First Light”, the initial intersection of the county gravel road intersecting with the train tracks. It was the closest to the city limits. We got out and with the collective courage of the group began walking about 200 yards down the track. Dark autumn night offset with just enough ambient light from the city that you could follow the tracks and see the parallel tree lines of seventy foot pine trees on both sides of the railroad’s right of way. We waited and talked among ourselves and suddenly it appeared. I admit my pulse sped up as we all began using the expletives that teenagers are wont to use. But the light just remained in sight, about 100 yards from us, not moving. I began to suspect that we had been set up, that a friend had waited there for us to appear and then began to shine a flashlight down our way. I looked at our group to see who was relishing our reaction, our fear, to see who had set us up. But everyone was transfixed on the Light. We continued to watch and it began to move from side to side of the railroad’s right of way. I thought to myself it could still be someone down there, but, then it began to move, not side to side, not closer, not farther, but, up. It rose up the tree line until it was amongst the top of the seventy foot pines treetops, changing colors, swaying across the right of way clearing. Any reasonable explanation was out the window, and I had come across something I couldn’t explain away. At some point, the bravest of the group began to walk toward it and the rest of us followed. After a few yards we all mutually turned away and walked back to our car. The Light had not come closer, it did not appear behind us, and it certainly did not appear in our car; otherwise I would’ve run home.

Eventually, I got my own car and was lucky enough to see it a number of times at different crossings. My favorite was out by the airport. Sometimes I would get up in the still of the night, drive out there and watch. Sometimes it wouldn’t appear, but, other times it would and I would stare at it with the same sense of awe as when I first saw it. Time passed and for the Crossett Light it was evident it would be a victim to progress, Ashley Memorial Hospital was built over “First Light” and the remainder of the railroad was razed. Now, the only place it is reported to be seen is at the airport crossing. You have to know where the railbed was unless you are lucky to go out when other cars are out there.

The last time I was in Crossett I drove out there, like I had countless times before and I waited and eventually it appeared long enough to blink at me a couple of times. As though to tell me it was still there, that it would always be there. That was enough for me. I drove off thinking somewhere the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe was smiling.

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15 Responses to “The Crossett Light”

  1. Deb Akin

    Do we have a new Faulkner in the South?

    Great article! More…More…More….

    Reply
  2. Mark Ray

    Great article Andy, I remember many nights on the tracks looking for “The Light!”

    Reply
  3. Dixie "sissy" Ray Dodd

    I loved reading this ,Andy. I could almost taste the anticipation of waiting for it to appear as I read this.

    Reply
  4. GAIL BURCHFIELD

    Really enjoyed reading the article. I’m from McGehee and as a teenager I heard about the Crossett light. When I moved to Crossett never got the nerve to go and try to see it! Love reading the stories about it.

    Reply
  5. Susie Bolin

    Great article Andy, I have seen the Crossett light many times myself. I can remember a group of us kids from my church in N. Crossett went to look for it one night. Not only did we see it, it chased us down the track, hoovering above our heads until we reached our cars. I never heard of the light actually hurting anybody. But I do know it can make you hurt yourself running down those tracks with uneven ties and raised spikes. OUCH!!!,but so much fun and good memories.

    Reply
  6. Scott Richards

    Enjoyed this article…my friends and I used to “road trip” over from Hermitage to see the light all the time when we were in High School…it showed up every time we went.

    Reply
  7. Jim Hoover

    Good Article Andy, I have seen the light many times myself….

    Reply
  8. Donna Noble

    I remember hearing the “story” of The Crossett Light when I was just a small child. The story remained a constant in my life…even unto present day. I don’t scare easy and “chalked it up” to being an old story from long ago. It was only after my grown children told me that they had been and that it was very real, and upon their insisting, that I decided to go. My husband, my son and his girlfriend accompanied me on the most unbelievable adventure of my lifetime.
    The sky was clear and star-filled with a touch of briskness in the air. The road was empty except for our two vehicles…my son lead the way. He had been a regular visitor and thus was our guide. I felt at ease knowing that we were all together…like nothing out of the ordinary would happen….WRONG!!!!!
    It appeared as soon as we exited the vehicles. My son said..”there it is” and I said “no it’s not”. He asked me “well, what is it then?” and I replied “a street lamp”. He asked, “Mom, do you remember seeing any street lights on the way out here?”. I quickly realized that he was right and began to get nervous…not knowing what to expect and knowing the stories related to “THE LIGHT”.
    It began moving toward us immediately, swaying from side to side. It looked like a lone dim headlight on a car. It started out on the left side of the road..swaying..several footsteps passed before moving to the center and then to the right side of the road and into the ditch. It didn’t stay there long. It was a constant movement of left to right, back to front and with an addition of an over the head and into the tree tops. At first, it was a constant dim white light that was at a distance of approximately 100 yards…it soon changed as my son began to “taunt” it. He wanted me to get a real “taste” of this thing….BOY,DID I??!!!
    Immediately, I saw a change in the colors and intensity. At one point, I thought that there was a white Q-beam light shining on my shirt and truck. This is where I became terrified. In the same instance, the light changed from white to yellow, then to orange and into red with a violent shaking movement. It began to move with a quickness and agitation that set off a fear in me that I had never known.
    The guys decided that they would set off on a foot journey in pursuit of a closeness with this “unknown”. They left us “girls” with the vehicles. They had been gone about 30 minutes when we noticed lights coming up, QUICKLY, behind us. It turned out to be a truck with 2 people and it sped by without regard to us. We watched them speed down the gravel road and then we saw it…THE LIGHT..first, on top of the cab, then it got in the bed of the truck and then, in an instant, it was inside the cab, between the 2 people. I was terrified and decided to get in my truck and lock the doors. I felt somewhat safer until I called my daughter to tell the story and she told me that IT can get inside with me. I felt as though I was about to have a heart attack. I have never been so scared in my life!!!!!
    The guys came back after a 1 1/2 hr journey. They said that they had seen it ahead of them but could not get closer than 100 yards to it..it kept moving..so they decided to come on back and we could go. It returned to our sight immediately and began the change of colors and movement again. I felt as though my heart was going to explode!!!
    We stayed for another 30 minutes before deciding to leave. A sense of relief came over me as we were leaving but I could not get the pictures out of my head nor the fear from my gut.
    That night will be forever etched into my mind. I can’t explain it nor will I try but I can tell you that there is definitely something down there…and only God knows what it is.

    Reply
  9. Rebecca Cockrell

    Thanks so much. Great writing. Makes me feel like I was there. Grew up in north Louisiana (Bonita). Never got to visit the lights but heard from so many that did that I felt like I saw them.

    Reply
  10. David Ray

    Good story, Andy. I spent many hours on those tracks but the light never had the guts to show up when I was there….but I looked for it.

    Reply
  11. Lisa Polk

    Great story, Andy! You summed up the thrill and truth that a few of us have witnessed. The Light will always be our claim to fame. Thanks for capturing the tale and sharing with the readers!

    Reply
  12. Kenny Knapp

    Great story! Great writing! Great history that I fear may be disappearing.

    Reply
  13. Shiela Dunemn-Childers

    We had a car load of kids out to see the light one night at the Crossett . As we set there on the track crossing we couldn’t believe how big that light was and it kept getting bigger. Thank God one of the guys was standing outside the vehicle, it was a train. Everyone panicked and got back inside the car … you guessed it … it would not start.

    Then we bailed out and pushed it off the track. We all went from being amazed to terrified to laughing at each other. I was around 15 at the time and nobody was old enough to realize the danger we had averted. At that age you are bullet proof, now at 65 I look back and thank God for taking care of us all.

    Reply
  14. Kay Worbington

    As a teen of the 60s, I went a couple of times from Monticello to see the light but did not see it. I wish I had. Great article!

    Reply
  15. Ruby Streeter

    It won’t ever leave.. They may built around it or over it but it won’t leave. Been there this long it ain’t going no where. Seen it 2 years ago.. It still there..

    Reply

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