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Here Are 6 North Carolina Mysteries - Just In Time For Halloween

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Daniel Caton and Lee Hawkins
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Appalachian State University
The unexplained ball of light hovering above Brown Mountain stands apart from the lights of Lenoir.

North Carolina has plenty of mysteries. Some date back centuries, and a few of them have connections to Charlotte. In the spirit of Halloween, here's a quick rundown of a few of unexplained occurrences.

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Credit KEN LUND / FLICKR/CC BY-SA 2.0
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FLICKR/CC BY-SA 2.0
A monument to the Roanoke colonies stands in Dare County.

The Lost Colony

The first English settlement in North America was in North Carolina. British voyagers attempted to establish a permanent colony on Roanoke Island in 1587, two years after a temporary one had been started. They were led by John White, whose granddaughter, Virginia Dare, became the first English child born in what would become the United States. 

White sailed back to England a few months later – and what happened next may be North Carolina's greatest unsolved mystery. The colonists – all roughly 150 of them – disappeared.

When White returned in 1590, he found the settlement abandoned. Houses had been dismantled, and he found the word "CROATOAN" carved into a nearby tree. No one has ever figured out what happened to the colonists. Theories for their disappearance include natural disaster and assimilation or conflict with natives.

As for a Halloween connection, the Lost Colony mystery was featured on the sixth season of the popular anthology series "American Horror Story."  

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Credit PUBLIC DOMAIN / STIMSON STUDIO OF STATESVILLE
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STIMSON STUDIO OF STATESVILLE
The aftermath of a train wreck on the Bostian Bridge in Iredell County.

'Ghost Train' In Iredell County

Twenty-two people died Aug. 27, 1891, when a train headed from Salisbury to Asheville derailed on the Bostian Bridge near Statesville, plunging into a creek below. According to a writeup from the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, there have been sightings of a "ghostly specter" of the train on the anniversary of the crash.

There's even an urban legend about a woman who, in 1941, claimed to have seen and heard a bad train crash only to find no wreckage, according to NCPedia.

Be warned: There have been deadly consequences for ghost hunters. In 2010, a Charlotte man was killed by a real train as he and others were trying to catch a glimpse of the "ghost train."

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Credit THOMSON200 / CREATIVE COMMONS
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CREATIVE COMMONS
People have reported seeing strange lights atop Brown Mountain since the early 1800s.

Brown Mountain Lights

There have been sightings of strange lights near Brown Mountain – just northwest of Morganton – since the early 1800s. The lights have been variously described as white or having red, yellow or blue hues. Theories range from ghostly lights to mistaken sightings of flashlights or flames.

Appalachian State University physicist Daniel Caton, who has studied the phenomenon, talked to WFAE in 2016 after a camera he and other academics were using to monitor the mountain captured images of an unexplained ball of light above the peak.

"It appears four times within several minutes during that evening," he said. "It didn’t move during the exposure, which is the odd thing. So, if it were a star or an airplane or something during a 30-second exposure, it would streak. You often see that in the videos — you see airplanes and meteors occasionally and stars rising."

People have also reported seeing the lights up close. Caton has looked into the possibility of the lights being caused by ball lightning, which he described as "a sports ball sized glob of glowing whatever that suddenly appears."

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Credit PIXABAY
Every now and then, someone claims to have seen the legendary Bigfoot in North Carolina.

Bigfoot

Speaking of the mountains, North Carolina has its fair share of Bigfoot sightings. A man claimed to have seen one as recently as August in McDowell County.

Doug Teague told the Hickory Daily Record he'd encountered Bigfoot creatures four times and claims to have made castings of at least one of their big footprints.

“People don’t believe in 'em, but they’re there,” Teague told the paper.  

There's even a Bigfoot Festival in Marion, about 35 miles east of Asheville, that's in its second year. It includes a Bigfoot calling contest, in which participants let out their best sasquatch squeal.

Charlotte's got a connection to one of the most well-known "sightings" of Bigfoot, a 1967 video known as the Patterson-Gimlin film that was shot in California. Philip Morris, founder of Charlotte's Morris Costumes, claimed to have made a costume used in the widely seen video – recognizing his work when he saw it on television.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=18&v=Us6jo8bl2lk

"I'm sitting in my living room, watching television and I recognize the suit," Morris told WFAE in 2008. "My wife's in the kitchen and I say 'Amy, come here look, look, we're on television!' She comes in and she says 'Look! There's our gorilla suit!' There it was!" 

Morris, who died in 2017, said one of the men involved with the video purchased the costume from him — something he kept under wraps for decades.

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Credit JASON HORNE / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Devil's Tramping Ground was named one of the most haunted sites in America by Conde Nast Traveler.

Devil's Tramping Ground

There's a barren circle in the middle of the woods in Chatham County (about 50 miles west of Raleigh) that's steeped in lore. It's about 40 feet wide, and there's very little growing inside – despite being surrounded by trees and other vegetation. There's a local legend that the devil paces the area at night, leaving some pretty wicked vibes behind.

There are also claims that objects people have left in the circle overnight get moved before the morning comes.

Conde Nast Traveler named it one of the most haunted places in America. One possible explanation for the lack of growth in the circle is high salt content in the ground.

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Credit NICK DE LA CANAL / WFAE
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WFAE
Adelaide Davis works in Burwell Hall at Queens University which is said to be haunted by the ghost of Margaret Anna Burwell, the wife of the school's first president.

Queens University

Back in Charlotte, there have long been rumors that some buildings at Queens University in Myers Park are haunted.

One legend includes the ghost of Margaret Anna Burwell, the wife of the university's first president, wandering the halls at one building.  

The university itself claims it's "one of the most haunted places in North Carolina," and there's a yearly ghost tour on the campus. Students have reported unexplained sounds and doors that open by themselves.

WFAE's Nick de la Canal looked into those tales last year for the "FAQ City" podcast — and captured something strange on audio during during the process.