Deep in the Ottawa National Forest on the Upper Peninsula’s west end is the small town of Paulding. The old forestry village holds one of the U.P.’s most endearing mysteries: the Paulding Light. A short trip south on US-45 leads you to Robins Pond Campground Road — a remnant of the old highway — where, just up the hill, you’re offered a glimpse of the fabled light as it appears.
“If you wait long enough, you’ll see some lights appear, and they can be either white, green, or red. Some people report blue, you know, different colors, and the lights seem to move, kind of dance around, possibly come up to you, go away,” said Christopher Middlebrook, an associate professor at Michigan Technological University’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.
“We get people in here, and they’re kind of sheepish about asking about it, but they want to know where to go to find the light and what time to be out there. That’s a daily occurrence,” Paulding General Store co-owner Jill Lannet said.
One popular legend says that the light is produced by the wayward spirit of a train conductor killed when his locomotive derailed. Others postulate that the shining apparitions are simply lights from cars traveling down the adjacent US-45. In 2010, a group of students from Michigan Tech’s Society of Optical Engineering set out to test this idea.
“We came up with the idea of, lets put a car light out there, and somebody with a car, with radios, that’s in the correct spot that we think they should be, have an observation,” said Middlebrook, who serves as the group’s advisor. “We had a telescope out there that received the optical signal, and then we had a spectrum analyzer to look at the spectrum of the light coming off of that. We knew what a car headlight spectrum looks like, because we could measure that in the lab, and then we go out there and somebody else is at the car, turning the lights on and off, and somebody else is recording the data, and correlating that to know when it turns on and off, and they were in fact the light.”
The story doesn’t end there for everyone. Lannet says a team of paranormal investigators from the SyFy show “Fact or Faked: Paranomal Files,” quietly rolled into town and shut down US-45 in an attempt to come to the same conclusion, but the ominous light remained.
“Perhaps Michigan Tech did see car lights, but what did “Fact or Faked” people see when they were here? To me, it’s still a mystery,” Lannet said.
“It’s certainly neat to see, regardless of whatever effects are causing that. You know, it’s an interesting thing,” added Middlebrook.