MOOREFIELD, W.Va. — Tales of supernatural lights are not uncommon in the Appalachian Mountains. While science has dispelled some of these phenomena, the lore remains, and one example in West Virginia has yet to be studied and solved.
In the case of the Brown Mountain Lights of western North Carolina, scientist George R. Mansfield in 1922 used a map and telescope to prove that "ghost lights" seen on the mountaintop were lights from distant familiar sources.
However, not all witnesses to the lights were satisfied with his explanations, nor does his solution seem to explain the Cole Mountain Light, said to appear on the flanks of its namesake mountain near Moorefield, West Virginia, overlooking the South Branch Valley.
For more than 100 years, residents around the mountain have reported seeing a light that appears to move slowly in a swinging or bobbing motion, according to several sources.
In a 2004 post on the website West Virginia Ghosts, Troy Taylor reported that many witnesses had seen the light since before the U.S. Civil War. "It is here that a strange light has been appearing since the middle of the 1800s," he wrote.
"The light has been reported by hundreds of people over the years, and it is said to bob up and down the mountainside. No one has ever been able to get close to the light, and it is best seen from a road at the base of the mountain."
In a 2018 post at Mountainlore, Steve Gilly echoed Taylor, adding that legend holds that the light goes out when it's approached.
"Since the middle of the 19th century, folks in the area have reported seeing a strange light bobbing up and down the side of the mountain. Nobody has ever been able to get close enough to the light to see its source, though, since it goes out whenever anyone ventures too near."
In 2011, in the blog Theresa's Haunted History of the Tri-State, which covers Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, the author published a version of the backstory.
"In the early to mid-1800s, a wealthy landowner named Charles Jones lived in the Cole Mountain region of Moorefield, in Hardy County. Jones was an avid raccoon hunter and often took his favorite and most loyal slave hunting with him. One night, the two men were out on Cole Mountain when the hunting dogs bayed as if they had treed a 'coon. Jones told the much younger slave to run ahead with the lantern and find the dogs.
"As the young slave reached the dogs, he noticed his master was no longer behind him. He searched desperately until dawn, when he decided to go home and seek additional help. He organized a search party of local citizens and officials, and together, they searched for over a week.
"Jones's body was never found, but the slave, who was very fond of the master who always treated him with dignity and kindness, refused to give up hope. He continued searching long after the rest of the town had given up. Upon the one-year anniversary of his master's death, the young slave took up his lantern one last time and headed toward Cole Mountain to search for any sign of his master. The slave was never seen nor heard from again.
"Shortly after the slave's disappearance, locals began reporting a ball of light hovering up and down the side of the mountain at night. At first, the light was reported as yellow, then orange, and finally, red."
Whereas the better-known lights on Brown Mountain in North Carolina were most often attributed to some natural phenomena, the light at Cole Mountain is attributed to a ghost.
"Hundreds have witnessed this ghost or spook light, but the light seems to display characteristics unlike any other spook light," she wrote. "It seems to seek out raccoon hunters and has been known to follow and even lunge at hunters. Most peculiarly, the light is said to admit a loud screaming sound occasionally."
Sign up to receive a FREE copy of West Virginia Explorer Magazine in your email weekly. Sign me up!