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The Gurdon Light is a mysterious floating light above the railroad tracks near Gurdon (Clark County), which was first sighted during the 1930s. Many theories and stories exist to explain the light, including one which connects it the 1931 murder of William McClain, a railroad worker. The popular local legend drew national attention in December 1994, when NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries television show documented the phenomenon.
Gurdon is located approximately eighty-five miles south of Little Rock (Pulaski County) on Interstate 30, just east of the Interstate on Highway 67. The light appears along a stretch of railroad tracks outside of the town. Some people believe the light originates from the reflection of headlights of cars off of Interstate 30. However, the site is more than two miles from the highway, and people began seeing the light several decades before Interstate 30 was built in the 1970s. Others believe that swamp gas creates the light, though the light appears in all kinds of weather. A somewhat popular story is that a railroad worker was working outside of town one night when he accidentally fell into the path of the train and was killed. Since his head was severed from his body, many locals say that the light is the lantern his ghost uses while looking for his head. Still others believe that pressure on the quartz crystal underneath Gurdon causes them to let off electricity and produce the light.
Many trace the Gurdon Light legend to a murder that took place near the railroad tracks in December 1931. William McClain, a foreman with the Missouri-Pacific railroad, was involved in an argument with one of his employees, Louis McBride, regarding how many days McBride was being allowed to work. During the Depression, the company did not have the option of giving McBride more hours on the job. McBride became very angry, hit McClain on the head with a shovel, and beat him to death with a railroad spike maul or a spike hammer. The Gurdon Light was first sighted shortly after this murder, and many have come to believe that the light is actually McClain’s ghostly lantern glowing.
This local legend made the area near Gurdon a very popular place, especially around Halloween. The story became so well known that, in October 1994, NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries television show traveled to the Gurdon area to film a recreation of the 1931 murder. The program aired on December 16, 1994, documenting the phenomenon of the Gurdon Light and describing the legend behind it.
For additional information:May, Joe. “Gurdon Light Still a Mystery in County.” Daily Siftings Herald, October 29, 1991, p. 4.
Pentecost, Tom. “Halloween, Ghosts, Goblins and the Gurdon Light.” Southern Standard, October 31, 1985, p. 1.
Richter, Wendy. “Clark County’s ‘Unsolved Mystery’: The Gurdon Light.” Clark County Historical Journal (2001): 127–166.
Staci Nicole MorrowOuachita Baptist University
Last Updated 2/9/2012
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