Last substantial update was November 2003.
When I first wanted to see the Gurdon Light I checked the Web and there was very little information. I didn't feel I knew where to go looking for it. With the help of some current and former Gurdon residents I found the information I needed and more. I've tried to put together enough of it here for a person who wants to try to see the light to know where to go and to have an idea of what he will encounter.
The stretch of railroad involved is between highway 53 (Exit 63 from Interstate 30)
and the Sticky Road, where both Sticky Road and the track pass under Interstate 30.
My son, Schuyler (Dutch name, Dutch spelling, pronounced Skyler), standing on the second trestle from Highway 53. The white sign is the 429.8 miles marker.
The Gurdon Light is a "spook light" seen on the railroad tracks near the town of Gurdon, Arkansas. Gurdon is located south of Interstate Highway 30 in the south western part of Arkansas, near Arkadelphia, south of Hot Springs. The Gurdon Light has been seen frequently on the tracks since the 1930s, and some say it was seen earlier than that.
Nobody knows what the Gurdon Light is. The idea is often mentioned that it is the ghost of Will McClain, a railroad foreman who was killed Dec. 4th, 1931 by a member of his crew, Louis McBride. In a December 10th, 1931 article in the Arkadelphia newspaper the "Southern Standard" it is stated that there was a rumor that McClain suspected McBride of causing a derailment of a freight train near Beirne Dec. 2nd, two days before. But McBride's anger may have instead been caused by the matter of how many days McBride was allowed to work per week. Though it arrarently is not true, legend now has it that McClain's head was severed and that the Gurdon Light is McClain's spirit swinging his railroad lantern, out looking for his head. I spoke to an elderly gentleman who, as a boy, knew Will McClain. He said that Will always had a lantern swinging at his side as he went to, and came home from, work. He took the lantern to work because he never knew how late he would be coming home.
Another explanation of the light is that it is caused by electricity generated by geological pressure along the New Madrid fault on underground quartz crystals that are common in the area. One of the few earthquakes to center in southwestern Arkansas occurred in June 1939. It cracked plaster in buildings at Arkadelphia, and was felt throughout the southern portion of Arkansas.
Few if any think the light is swamp gas, and I've been told that the light has been observed on windy nights. Though the area near Highway 53 is somewhat swampy, the light is often seen a mile or two to the west where the land is mostly dry.
The idea has been put forth that the light is reflections of automobile lights on Interstate 30. I have personally spoken to people who saw the Gurdon Light before the Interstate was built. Also, the light has been checked for polarizaton and it is not polarized. That rules out mirage-like reflections which are always horizontally polarized.
I was recently told of a person who went out to see the light one night, only to find the Gurdon Light in the cab of his truck when he returned. At least four other people I have talked to at different times have said that they have been very close to the light. That makes me feel that none of the explanations I've heard are very likely to be correct.
My own observations cause me to believe that there are two different phenomena, or more, that are called "The Gurdon Light" One of these is direct line-of-sight observation of vehicle headlights and taillights on Interstate 30 at the west end and on Highway 53 at the east end. These are seen in between branches and leaves of trees causing them to appear to move in odd ways. The dark, the tracks, and the gap in the trees over the tracks in the distance combine to make the lights seem much closer than they really are. The other phenomenon is a true mystery, a sphere of light the size of a basketball that many claim to have seen close up. Unlike the lights of traffic on the highways, the real spook light is not necessarily going to be there on any given night you walk out on the tracks.
|If you are looking to the west and see the light in the distance, it will look something like the picture to the left. It will change in intensity and go on and off. It is reported to be of various colors at different times. The light when I've seen it has been mostly white with a green tint. It is sometimes red and people who have claimed to have been close to it have usually described it as orange. (This is not a real picture of the Gurdon Light)|
People who have been close to the light describe it as a sphere about 6 to 10 inches across. Several people have commented on how it appears and disappears, being in one position one moment and another the next. It may be infront of you one moment and behind you the next. It has been described as making a swinging motion, like Mr. McClain's lantern. A lady in Arkadelphia told me that when she and her husband and friends saw it, it bounced along over one of the rails. Then it would rise and hover a few moments and then lower itself and repeat this pattern of activity.
The Track Map is a result of my pacing off most of the length of the track from the Sticky Road to Highway 53. Run the mouse along the tick marks for links to pictures taken from the location to which you are pointing. Below the picture is a list of what you'll see walking in from Highway 53, which is the end at which you'll want to start.
Three national television programs have had stories on the Gurdon Light. These are "Unsolved Mysteries", "Sightings", and "Real Scary Stories". I have read that Chuck Dovish of KTHV's "Travelin' Arkansas" has also covered the light.
I was given copies of two articles on the Gurdon Light from the Grudon Times in March of 2001 when I visited the Gurdon Public Library. One is dated Aug. 16th, 1995 and the other has no date. A more recent article about the coverage by "Real Scary Stories" in the Gurdon Times can be found here. Early coverage of the Gurdn Light in the Gurdon Times is unavailable from the paper because of a fire at their offices.
I was given an article dated June 22, 1980 from the Arkansas Gazette, now the Arkansas Democrat and Gazette, when I visited the Clark County Public Library in Arkadelphia in March of 2001. It is quite informative. The paper will not give me permission to reprint the article here. Perhaps you can order it from them. I've asked them for information on that.
I have a collection of articles on the Gurdon Light but do not have permission to post them here. I'll be glad to provide copies of what I have on request. Email me at the address at the bottom of this page if you are interested.
I'm sorry to say that Buckelew's Bed and Breakfast is no longer in business. That was a really nice place to stay. In late 2001 the Captain Herderson House Bed and Breakfast will be opening. It is located in Arkadelphia and is currently (March, 2001) being remodeled and landscaped. It is located on Highway 67 between Henderson State University and Ouchita Baptist University at the north edge of Arkadelphia, south of "motel row".
If you are going to see the Gurdon Light you will probably want to stay in Arkadelphia. ALL the motels are located near the overpss where Interstate 30 crosses Highway 67 (same as Highway 7 there). My son and I stayed in one. There was a fair amount of freeway noise there. More recently (March, 2001) Linda and I stayed in a new Comfort Inn there. That was nice and quiet and there was a microwave and refrig. in the room. You can get more information at Hotel Search
On our Nov. 2003 trip we stayed in the Twin Oaks Bed and Breakfast in Arkadelphia. That was very nice and we will probably stay there again on our next trip.
I was told at the Clark County Public Library that the Hoo Hoo Museum in Gurdon has some documentation on the Gurdon Light. It turns out they do NOT. Still, it's an interesting place to visit if you're there on a week day. The address is 207 Main Street. Phone (870) 353-4997.
On July 26th, 1999 we went to Marfa, Texas and drove to the lights viewing area just over nine miles east of Marfa on the highway. We saw the lights of cars on Highway 67 near the two red lights of an antenna to our right (west). We saw two blue-green lights south of us, in a direction perpendicular to the highway. We were told by two locals that these were not the Marfa lights. After a while we saw a yellow-white light like a street light come on. It stayed put at least till 11:30 p.m. when we left. We also saw a light that appeared to this lights left and then moved to the right and disappeared. One local resident said as we watched that these were "Marfa Lights". Another resident said the next day after hearing my description that they might have been "Marfa Lights". We didn't see anything terribly unusual looking in any event.
The next night we were occupied at the nearby McDonald Observatory and the next morning we left. I hope to go back there within the next year, bring my video camera, and try several nights to see the lights. I'll put pictures up here if I get any.
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