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Mysterious Light Still Attracts Tourists, Despite Scientific Explanation


Since the 1960s, a bright, white light has appeared outside a tiny town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. A paranormal occurrence? Maybe. But researchers have another theory. Here's Mackenzie Martin of member station WXPR.

MACKENZIE MARTIN, BYLINE: It's a dark, clear night just outside of Paulding, Mich., and 12 cars are lining up on both sides of a dead-end road. They're here to see the Paulding Light, an intensely bright, white light that appears at the top of a distant hill multiple times every night.


M MARTIN: Paul is a small, unincorporated community that's part of a town of just more than 200 residents. Needless to say, most nights there's not a lot going on. Some here tonight have seen the light before; others, like Rich Henrion from Norway, Mich., drove 80 miles to try to see the light for the first time.

RICH HENRION: I have three grandkids - 6, 8 and 10 - who are quite intrigued by this. So I got to check it out myself and make sure it's not too scary.

M MARTIN: Aaron Halvorson is here for the second time from Presque Isle, Wis. He first came as a child 30 years ago.

AARON HALVORSON: I remember my grandpa just - he saw it coming at us, and he just threw the car in reverse and got out of here (laughter).

M MARTIN: A local legend goes that it's a lantern held by the ghost of a fallen railroad brakeman. But in 2010, a group of student researchers from nearby Michigan Tech University investigated the light with a telescope. After cross-referencing it with traffic on a highway nearly five miles away, they concluded that the basis of the spectacle was actually car headlights. One of the researchers, Jeremy Bos, is now an assistant professor at Michigan Tech. He says the research wasn't exactly embraced by everyone.

JEREMY BOS: It's ranged from stories coming back to me of folks in Paulding wanting to run me out of town and not being welcome there to people saying, do I want to tell their kids there's no Easter Bunny? But at the same time, there's a lot of other people who even said thank you. You know, I've always told people when I go there that it's obviously car headlights, and they don't believe me.

M MARTIN: The Paulding Light has drawn thousands of tourists to Paulding, especially in recent years. Paulding General Store owner Michelle Strong says she directs tourists to the light on a daily basis and dedicates a third of her store to Paulding Light merchandise, claiming the mystery is still unsolved. She says some people don't want to know what's causing it.

MICHELLE STRONG: There are people who don't want to have an answer to it and want to enjoy the fun part of it; there are other folks who are uncomfortable with not knowing so they have to give it an answer.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah, look at that thing now. It's all...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Can we go up to it?

M MARTIN: For an hour and 15 minutes, we watch the light appear and then go away. Aaron Halvorson isn't very impressed.

Wait, wait, wait - why is it moving...

Then, suddenly, the light appears to move up and down, and red lights appear. It's over in an instant, but it changes Halvorson's entire perception.

HALVORSON: That wasn't car lights. Yeah, I have no idea what I saw. That was pretty freaky.

M MARTIN: Others aren't so sure.

HENRION: It almost looked like police pulling somebody over, didn't it?

M MARTIN: Michigan Tech's Jeremy Bos says it basically comes down to confirmation bias. He thinks people see what they're already looking for. To form your own opinion, you'll have to drive up to Paulding, Mich.

For NPR News, I'm Mackenzie Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.