As mountains go, low-lying Brown Mountain in Burke County is not impressive. Yet it is one of the most famous mountains in North Carolina. On certain evenings soon after dark, when observed from the eminence of Linville or Wiseman’s Gap, small but brilliant lights can be seen on it, bobbing up and down for a minute or so, then disappearing, then reappearing in another place until finally they are gone. They were first seen about 1850 long before the day of trains and electricity and automobiles.
One legend tells of a girl who lived on the mountain with her father. Every night her sweetheart came from the village to see her, tramping through a forest of snakes and vicious animals. On the evening when he was to take her away to be married, she lighted a pine torch and went out to welcome him. He never came. But from then on, at sunset, she raised her flaming torch and darted from here to there on the mountain, hoping to come upon him. After her death the light of her torch still could be seen on stormy nights.
Another legend concerns a wicked man named Jim, whose sweet-tempered young wife Belinda was to have a child. Jim was courting Susie and began to speak harsh words and be cruel to Belinda. One day neighbors noticed that they had not seen Belinda for some while. Jim said she had gone to visit her kinfolk, but the neighbors were suspicious when they discovered bloodstains on the floor of the mountain cabin. Their suspicions were further heightened when an indigent stranger drove away with Jim’s horse and wagon. They believed the stranger had helped Jim kill and bury Belinda, and Jim was paying him off in this way. Soon afterward the lights appeared, bobbing up and down, seemingly to guide searchers looking for Belinda. Finally, under a pile of stones in a deep ravine they found the skulls of a woman and a baby. Jim left the county and was never heard of again, but the lights stayed on, reminding evildoers that their crimes will be revealed.
Apart from the legends, scientists have provided many explanations for the mysterious Brown Mountain Lights, none of them satisfactory.