The St. Louis Ghost Train
(But not here. Sorry...)
Okay, okay...I should know better than to deflate a legend. Maybe I'm bitter, because during the five years of my youth spent in the village of St. Louis, Saskatchewan, I never once heard about the St. Louis Ghost Train light. The light had by this time already been there for generations. Moreover, I was the kind of kid who made it his business to hear about this sort of thing--anything to do with ghosts, Halloween, or the supernatural, and I was on it like hair on a werewolf. But did I hear a single word uttered about this light, the whole half-decade I spent there? No-o-o-o...
Or maybe it's just that special inside look I had at the issue back then, all those years ago, without even knowing it at the time. But let's jump back to the recent past for the moment.
The light has been described variously, by a varying selection of witnesses. The common thread of the reports is that this light, not unlike the headlamp of a train, follows the Canadian National train tracks north of St. Louis. Those tracks were ripped out some years back, along with the tiny train station the cool kids lounged against, both the town's grain elevators, and part of a way of life. The spirit of the town has persisted, I'm happy to report, and the village has grown somewhat. The light has persisted, too, hovering over the raised bed where cool steel lines once glistened under a prairie moon. Some say this light is white, others see a red light beneath it, or at least note a reddish glow. Some say it sways like the lantern of a train man from times gone by. That light was, and is, a magnet for adventure-seeking teens. Even 39-year-old teens like myself.
I was on one of my "Zen" writer's trips that day, from my home in Saskatoon to Prince Albert and back, promoting my second book and generally goofing off. Though my wife was waiting back home, I just had to pull over and try to find the spot I'd heard described. A co-worker had told me he'd found it, and spotted the mystery glow for himself. Now it was the turn of the prodigal son.
I found the place. I saw the light. I kind of wish I hadn't.
The place was wild in this light, kind of forlorn. It was April, and though the snow was gone, the trees were still winter bare. In short, it looked like a filming location for The Blair Witch Project. The sound of coyotes howling didn't exactly lighten the mood.
I pulled up to the barrier, and shut off the car. There seemed to be no one around at first, at least till I rolled down my window. Immediately, I heard the sound of yelling and swearing, someone having a rowdy argument. There seemed to be three of them, and there seemed to be some discussion of being lost in the woods. This didn't exactly disperse the Blair Witch aura of the place.
They must have noticed my lights, because one of them emerged from the woods, arms waving. He started toward me, and I could see others fast behind. This concerned me somewhat; was I intruding on private land? Were these hunters of some sort, and did my old grey Ford in the twilight resemble a deer? Deciding it best not to find out, I started the car and backed out onto the gravel road I'd come in from. My pursuers seemed to start after me, but couldn't catch up. What was I doing, I wondered? I was only out here to relax and maybe snap some pictures, not to go chasing ghosts.
"No!" one of three teens in the truck yelled back. "We were STUCK IN THE MUD IN THE WOODS! Waiting for a gentleman like yourself to come help us out!" (He perhaps phrased this differently.) This explained, they informed me that they were from nearby Prince Albert, that had indeed come to look for the light, and that I was indeed in the right spot. And no, they hadn't seen the light themselves, they were too busy WAVING THEIR ARMS TO GET MY ATTENTION AND A LITTLE HELP. Sorry about that, guys...
I was now alone in the woods, and it was getting dark. I stared down the narrow railroad bed. The lights I'd just seen were gone, all but one that is: a fuzzy, reddish one that seemed to grow and fade, approach but never get closer. I checked the LCD screen on my camera for the photo I'd just taken. The lights of the pickup were there, all right, but so was the mystery light. (It shows up as a small double dot at the back. Actually, it was a single dot, but my hands may have been shaking a bit. From the cold, you know.)
I realized I was looking at the St. Louis Ghost Train Light!
I stared for several long minutes, and was amazed. Amazed both by the surreal look of it--it really kind of does look like an approaching train (sans track)--and by the fact that I knew the explanation right off the top. No wonder it sometimes seemed to have a red light at the bottom, I thought...and in the heat of summer, it would seem to bob and weave. My mind flashed back to the summer of '70, and the first time I hopped on my high-rise one-speed banana-saddle sissy-bar neon-green bicycle and peddled with a buddy of mine all the way to Hoey, six klics south of St. Louis, to see another mutual friend.
See, I have this theory, one that has been considered before by others and rejected--but rejected, perhaps, by people who would not have my particular kid-on-the-highway familiarity with the ghost light's point of origin. I believe the explanation for the St. Louis ghost light lies somewhere between the two towns--south of St. Louis, not north where the ghost light appears. And I'm not gonna tell you what it is.
I'm not telling you for two reasons: 1.) It's not my intention to reduce the legend of the St. Louis Ghost Train to a mere optical curiosity. For many people, it's a whole lot more. 2.) It's a long shot, but there's always the chance, however slight, that I could actually be, like, wrong. Seriously. It's been known to happen on rare occasions. Like, what about all the people who say the light sometimes appears behind them, or even moves down the trail and passes through them? My theory falls apart with these reports.
On the other hand, if I'm right, it should be possible to manipulate the "ghost"--for example, to turn that sucker green, or maybe blue. The person doing this would have to have a cell phone with him to communicate with watchers on the tracks--he wouldn't be anywhere near there himself. Maybe, one of these nights, I'll head up there and give it a go...
Update: See video with commentary on Page 2!
Of course, if you're really curious, mail me --I'll let you know my theory, such as it is. Meantime, everyone should just enjoy the fact that something deliciously creepy is happening in the woods near St. Louis, Saskatchewan...
The Ghost Light, after dark. Really, that's it in the middle...
Same digital photograph, brightened to extreme on computer to show position of light over railroad bed.
Does sort of look like an approaching train, doesn't it?
Update: See video with commentary on Page 2!
Photos taken 15 April, 2000, near St. Louis, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photos & text copyright © 2000 Phil Campagna
Do not copy without permission.
When not tramping about in the woods,
Phil Campagna is a writer of fiction for teenaged readers,
including two novels, The Freedom Run and The Liberty Circle.
Visit www.philcampagna.com for details and excerpts.