Location: Chapel Hill, Tennessee
Appearance: A disc-shaped light along the train tracks.
- A man who fell onto the tracks and got knocked out was decapitated and now wanders, searching for his missing head.
- The light is a signalman who lost his head while swinging his lantern in a failed attempt to warn an oncoming train of a split in the tracks.
Other explanations: None.
Additional notes: None.
The Chapel Hill ghost light is located in Chapel Hill, Tennessee along the railroad tracks that pass through the town. Although the various legends attached to the light are very well-known among local residents, firsthand accounts of it are surprisingly difficult to find online. Most descriptions are quite vague, only mentioning a “light” somewhere along the train tracks. One describes the light as disc-shaped, another as “faint.” None of the sparse reports talk about color, so it’s safe to assume that the light is white.
I received several reader submissions about the Chapel Hill light focused on the urban folklore associated with it. Two of them called out popular variations on the legend. In one, a man falls off the train (or sometimes from the station) onto the tracks and knocks himself out. When the train comes by again in the morning, it decapitates him. The man now wanders the track, searching for his missing head.
In the second story, a signalman loses his head while trying to swinging his lantern in an attempt to warn oncoming trains of a split in the tracks. Another close version of this tale involves a brake man failing to apply the brakes in time before the split, being thrown from the train, and run over. All popular versions of the Chapel Hill light seem to involve a headless person searching for his head, carrying a lantern. As stated in the introduction, this is a very common theme in ghost light folklore.
(1) Date received: Thu, 1 Apr 1999
Hi! We are from Belfast, Tennessee and we thought since you didn’t have a story up about the Chapel Hill Light in Chapel Hill, Tennessee we would let you know.
There was a guy that rode the trains into town and got off when the train would stop for him. One afternoon there was a new engineer and he didn’t stop by the guy’s house in Chapel Hill. It was late so he had his lantern with him. Well, the new engineer didn’t stop so he jumped off anyway. The train somehow knocked him out and he fell onto the tracks.
The next morning the train didn’t see him and ran him over. It smeared his head down the tracks. So now he walks down the tracks on some nights caring his lantern looking for his head he will never find.
(2) Date received: Thu, 30 Sep 1999
I read a story about ghost lights here from Chapel Hill, Tennessee. I have also visited the train tracks where this man supposedly roams the night. This place not only houses his ghost, but many others. I have never seen the lantern light myself, but have been harassed by other unearthly (and earthly) things there.
I am a member of the Census of the Dead, ghost hunters of middle Tennessee, and this spot is where we began our investigations. The crossing at the tracks is the only safe zone in the area. If you venture to the left or right down the tracks, things become either hostile or protective. The left side is decidedly more hostile. There is a section, about 200 yards down from the crossing, where the land slopes up around the tracks, blocking one in. I would never enter this area unless you are of strong mind.
I have seen UFO-like lights, huge manlike beasts covered in fur, and reflections of light on the metal tracks. I have been clawed by things in this section of track. This place must be a vortex of spiritual activity.
If you ever visit, be wary of the local police, although most of them are very nice, and hope that the locals aren’t out. They enjoy getting drunk and harassing people with train wreck horror stories and their versions of what they have seen. Just don’t expect to see the ghostly lantern.
(3) Date received: Mon, 15 Sep 2003
This is a citizen from Chapel Hill. What really happened that night was a terrible accident had happened on a split in the tracks. A signal man had his lantern, swinging it to warn oncoming trains. A train came and did not see the man, and hit him. When he went to check out the man, his head was gone. So every night one the railroad tracks, the man swings his lantern, looking for his head.