Paranormal Story Behind the Song. The Maco Light.
By Stevie Tombstone.
Religion and the Supernatural went hand in hand. Stories of haints, little people, and spooklights were all part of the everyday conversation. We said our prayers, but not after listening to a good ghost story. We were too scared to get out of bed usually after that. The Maco light provided a back drop for one tale in particular.
My grandmother told me the story of the Maco light when I was a child. The light was a ghost light seen between the end of the 19th century and the late 1970s. As the story goes, train conductor old Joe Baldwin walks the tracks at night searching for his decapitated head or signaling the oncoming disaster of the train wreck that cost him his life. Joe Baldwin left this mortal coil when his train bound for Wilmington collided with an oncoming locomotive heading the opposite direction. Joe's head was never found at the scene. Since then, folks have reported seeing a floating light bobbing down the tracks of the old Wilmington and Manchester Railroad lines. The story of the headless brakeman/conductor was born.
My grandmother told me the story and finished it with a little melody and the words, “I ain't got no body, no body seems to care for me.” The legend of the conductor searching for his missing head left quite an impression on my young brain and was one of the things that opened my mind to the possibilities of the unknown. It also kept us in bed and out of trouble after dark.
Although a forensic search of newspaper accounts doesn't mention Baldwin, he is still blamed for not signaling the oncoming train, and causing the deaths of many. The end of the Maco light sightings came when the railroad removed the tracks and the bridge to make way for a subdivision. A street nearby bears the name of Joe Baldwin Drive.
Fast forward to the 1980s in Atlanta, Georgia. After growing up in the deep South and rebelling against my Southern Baptist roots, I formed a musical group called The Tombstones. Much like the issues of FATE magazine, our songs were mostly inspired by stories of the unknown we sourced from local lore, and the pages of various newspapers and historical books that made their way into our hands. We were loud, fast and bluesy.One day at rehearsal I remembered the melody and story about the headless brakeman and the Maco Lights. We recorded the song No-Body in the mid 80s and it did well on the college charts as well as in Europe on several different releases. Almost a decade later rock singer, Stiv Bator, recorded a version, further propagating the tale into the fabric of pop culture. The Maco Lights story had made its way into another century and medium, and my grandmother's story will live on as long as these recordings are heard strange as they are.
As far as the Maco light is concerned, it will not be soon forgotten either . In the mid 1970s a reporter managed to see the light after many attempts. He described it as, “...resembling the light thrown from a kerosene lamp. It tended to travel down the center of the track swinging to and fro.” In my opinion, some thing are better left unknown.
Stevie Tombstone Feb. 2020
For more songs about the Maco Lights https://medium.com/murder-mystery-and-mayhem-in-the-old-north-state/ballads-of-the-legendary-maco-light-bc9f368824f9