The Paulding Light

The lake that we stay at every summer is just south of Watersmeet, Michigan. A simple little crossroads town in the middle of the woods. As activities go, there isn’t a whole lot to do in Watersmeet that doesn’t involve woods or water, which might explain my fondness for the place. The only things of significance are the local high school sports teams (The Nimrods), the nearby Indian casino, and the Paulding Mystery light.

What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of the Paulding Mystery Light? Well pull up a rocking chair, and let me tell you a story…

I first heard of the Paulding Mystery light as a kid, watching the old Ripley’s Believe it or Not TV show with Jack Palance. In the woods north of Watersmeet, Michigan along a stretch of Old highway 45, a ghostly light appears in the early evenings. This strange sphere of light hovers on the edge of the horizon, near a powerline right of way, and sometimes appears to move closer and change colors.

The Paulding Light

The Paulding Light

The lights have been captured on film many times, and many have tried to hike to the spot where the light appears. But each time when they get close they can no longer see the light, despite others claiming that the light is still very visible from a distance.

Many theories have been offered to the cause of the light. Some claim it is a reflection of highway lights from the nearby road, however the lights have allegedly been appearing since before the automobile was invented. Others have dismissed them as swamp gas, but the lights appear in the middle of winter when the woods are buried deep in snow.

Over the years various legends have developed concerning the lights. One myth explains the lights as the ghost of a railroad brakeman, while other say it is the ghost of an Indian dancing on the power lines, or the ghost of a miner trying to find his way home. Some claim that the lights start over Lake Superior and make their way inland.

USFS interpretive signs tend to take the scare out of mysteries...

USFS interpretive signs tend to take the scare out of mysteries...

The light itself does not do much, but shine. It has no unearthly connection to tragic events of great portent. It doesn’t make sound, or interact with anyway. As mysteries go it is somewhat dull. Despite all the theories the light remains what it is advertised as being. A mystery. Ultimately, it’s enigmatic nature is the thing that keeps people coming back to the end of this old dirt road.



This was our 4th year of coming to the U.P., and we pledged to finally get out and see the light for ourselves. So on Thursday evening we drove the 15 miles to the turnoff on Hwy 45, and down the dirt road through the tall dark tunnel of pines. There at the end of the road were 10 cars, and a group of about 30 or so people, standing in the dark, staring at the far horizon. And on the horizon? The ghostly glow of a mysterious light!

The kids were a little freaked out, but they’d have been scared even if there wasn’t a light. The northwoods are something out of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale to a 10 and 11 year old. We hung out for about 20 minutes, and watched the light come and go, and change from white to red. We chatted with some very earnest ghost hunter types from Milwaukee.

So I finally saw the light, and sadly I can now offer an opinion on it. They are car headlights and tail lights from the highway cresting a distant hill. Honestly, that was the first, and simplest explanation that sprang to mind when I saw them. If I hadn’t known they were a mystery before seeing them, I wouldn’t have even thought twice about it.

I was a bit bummed out, having hoped for more. Next year maybe we can go in search of the Michigan Dogman.

4 thoughts on “The Paulding Light

  1. No, no, no!!!!!
    This started out as a Nancy Drew Hardy Boys spectacular and then it fizzled out with a limp whimper.
    Look here myth buster, that Spectral light is the restless spirit of a murdered woodsman doomed to wander this earth until someone solves the mystery and brings the killer to justice!!!!

    • I know! Positively cryptic and bone chilling! Is this the sight of a gruesome car wreck and the “PLEASE” is the last request of the victims frightened ghosts!?!?!?
      Do they need help finding a way to pass on?!?!? Are they trying to help us find the guilty driver?!?? Do they just want the guard rail fixed ?!?!

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