“There’s this light, it’s in this town like thirty minutes north of us, it’s in the middle of nowhere on a field. The story is that there was a conductor on a train and this railroad goes along the side of this road, and apparently a conductor fell off and his head got cut off and he looks for his head every night, and that’s why you see a light on the railroad. If you drive out there you’ll see a light floating above the road, and apparently if it touches your car then your car will turn off. So all of our parents have stories about it, like how they’ve gone and seen the light. I don’t know if they’re actually true. But my friends went one time, I didn’t go cause it was during Covid, but they went and I was on facetime with them when it happened. And my friend N, they were on the road and she just started crying like sobbing, and she like never cries. Cause she swore that she saw it, and then they all started screaming because apparently it was coming towards the car, and that’s when they pulled out and left. I’ve been before and nothing happened.”
GR is a 19-year-old college student from a small town in northern Arkansas. He was in high school when this story was told, and he’d been hearing the stories about the railroad since he was a little kid. His parents and adults in his town would tell him their experiences of seeing the light, and he doesn’t know if they were making it up to scare him or not. Research shows that this legend is a popular one that can be found online, called the Gurdon Lights in Gurdon Arkansas. He says that his town and a lot of northern Akansas have a lot of hauntings and ghost stories, supposedly because the granite rocks in the ground are a conductor for spirits according to legend.
This story is an example of legend questing, where a group of people go out to look for a legend and try to insert themselves into it. It’s also an example of a memorate, where someone’s existing experience fits into the pre established legend. Legend questing is especially popular amongst young people. There might be a multitude of reasons for that. Young people are still figuring themselves out, figuring out what the story of their life is going to be, so it can be compelling to insert themselves into a legendary story that already exists. Since they’re young, they’re supposedly further away from death, so seeking out ghosts and graphic stories about death can both be them putting to use the immortality they feel they have, and also interacting with the concept of death that is both scary and unfamiliar. In certain cultures and in older people, ghost stories are often comforting and warm, such as a visit from a family member. The ghost stories young people tell though, at least in America, are often graphic and tragic and scary, because that’s how they view death to be. They’re both interested in this concept that is so far away, and terrified of this concept that is actually so near, and this fear and interest manifests into young people seeking out ghosts. I also believe that young people seek out legend quests more often because children are raised on fairy tales and magical figures like the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Santa. They are raised being told that magic is, in some ways, real. As teenagers and young adults they’re expected to separate themselves from the childish idea that magic is real, but there’s a small part of everyone that still wishes that the mystical might be real.
I also think that Arkansas might be a large hub for supernatural stories because it’s still quite a rural area, there aren’t as many large and prominent cities as there are in other states. While Christianity began spreading around cities, rural areas continued worshiping their own pagan gods. Christianity then decided to paint rural areas as places where the Devil lives, and declare the people who live there as Devil worshipers. This idea has made us see nature and the wild as areas prone to the influence of the devil, so these wide spans of nature secluded from everyone else are seen to be areas more likely to have hauntings and ghosts. Rural town populations in Arkansas have a largely Christian population now, so they might be more inclined to look at the isolated, wild areas near them (such as abandoned train tracks) as scary places of the Devil.