The Brown Mountain Lights

History, Science and Human Nature Explain an Appalachian Mystery


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About the Book

Mysterious nighttime lights near Brown Mountain in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest have intrigued locals and visitors for more than a century. The result of a three year investigation, this book identifies both manmade and natural light sources—including some unexpected ones—behind North Carolina’s most famous ghost story. History, science and human nature are each found to play a role in the understanding and interpretation of the lights people see.

About the Author(s)

Geologist Wade Edward Speer retired as a field expert in evaluating copper, gold, silver, diamond and emerald deposits. The founder of the only science-based Brown Mountain Lights blog,, he has participated in more than 93 expeditions during three years of researching the lights and has extensively photographed the area. He lives in Marion, North Carolina.

Bibliographic Details

Wade Edward Speer
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 264
Bibliographic Info: 101 photos, appendices, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2017
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6676-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2620-8
Imprint: McFarland
Series: Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Preface 1
Introduction 3
1. The Research Team, Methods Used and Data Collected 17
2. Historical Overview of the BML Phenomenon 21
3. Lack of Sightings Before Electricity 25
4. Legends, Myths and Folklore 32
5. First Sightings and Birth of the Legend 36
6. The Events of 1916 43
7. Government Investigations: 1913, 1919 and 1922 48
8. Early Photographers of the Lights 57
9. Paul Rose’s 1962 Tower on Brown Mountain 63
10. Ralph Lael’s 1962 Alleged Alien Encounters 69
11. Other Scientific Investigations, 1915–2011 74
12. Lack of BML Sightings from the South and East 79
13. Ghosts, Aliens, Spirits and UFOs 81
14. Pseudoscientific Explanations 83
15. Possibly Misidentified Natural Lights 96
16. Possibly Misidentified ­Man-Made Lights 120
17. Staged Light Tests 153
18. Appalachian State University Nightly Cameras 167
19. Morphing of the Legend 171
20. Unclassified Lights 174
21. Reality or Delusion 176
Concluding Remarks 179
Appendix A. BML Research by the Author 183
Appendix B. Light Sighting Report Form and Annotated Panoramas 197
Appendix C. Annotated Chronological List of Selected References 201
Bibliography and List of References 237
Index 245

Book Reviews & Awards

“Speer reports the findings of a three-year study of mysterious nighttime lights in the Brown Mountain area of North Carolina”—ProtoView.