The Stokes Light
By Cecil Cherry
The Stokes Light, or sometimes referred to as The Pactolus Light, is in Pitt County between Greenville and Washington, North Carolina, in a crossroads town named Stokes, North Carolina. The way I first heard the story is that over a hundred years ago along a train track a railway worker was walking with his lantern on or beside the train track. One night the fellow fell over the tracks and was decapitated by the on-coming train. Ever since then he has been walking the tracks and swinging his railway lantern in search of his head.
Fast forward to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when one of my best friends, Bryan “The Boo” Buckman and I began talking about the rumors of a ghost light so close to home. We decided to drive over to Stokes late one Saturday night and see for ourselves.
We arrived in Stokes and pulled up to the now abandoned train track. We sat beside an AME Zion Church at the head of the track. At the other end of the nearly mile or so long abandoned tracks, which was then just a dirt road, was a large wind row of pushed up debris and logs. We waited for over a half hour when a light appeared at the end of the tracks. It alternated between orange and white light that appeared to be waist high. The light went out as fast as it appeared. Success!
We went back several times over the next two or three years and were not disappointed. One night the light was a pure white orb that fell out of the pine trees on the right side of the tracks and fell towards the ground appearing to vaporize before landing. Another time it appeared at the end of the track and seemed to be vibrating and getting closer. We scrammed away as rapidly as we could that night. The light was always different. Sometimes it looked as though it was only the size of baseball. Sometimes it looked as though it was the size of a basketball. Sometimes the light was a pure, incandescent white sphere. Other times it was red, and other times it was orange and white.
One Saturday afternoon we went back to the scene of the crime after having observed the light on a Friday night and walked the tracks. The ground was too hard and packed to see any tracks and saw no evidence of anyone having been there. The Boo picked up an old railroad spike, a lone relic of the old tracks. We carried the spike to his house and by the next weekend we decided maybe we should return that old spike to the tracks less we conjure up some bad juju and bring the headless railway man out seeking us along with his missing head and railroad spike.
The last time The Boo and I saw the Stokes Light was in the early 1990’s. We drove The Boo’s 1980 Toyota Four Wheel Drive pick-up truck with roll bar mounted fog lights back to the old tracks. Sure as rain, we saw the light again. We watched it for approximately 15 to 30 minutes. The light seemed to become smaller and smaller until it disappeared. I casually asked The Boo if anyone had ever seen the light twice in one night. The Boo said not that he ever heard tell of. Well, friend, let me tell you, right then and there, as we were backing out onto the hard surface road, the light appeared at the end of the hood of the Toyota. It looked as though it was a vibrating circle, rotating orange and white, not four feet away. Needless to say, we hauled out of Stokes, North Carolina.
To this day I do not know what the lights were. Maybe swamp gas, reflections of moon light or maybe it was a “spook, specter, or ghost” to quote Dr. Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters. I like to think it is a “spook, specter or ghost” still searching with his railway lantern for his missing head.