Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Illinois Central Light -- Beauregard, Mississippi

Booger Lights: The Flagstop Mystery
Warning: Trains fly through Beauregard (c)2015 Thornton Austen

Positioned astride a long sweeping curve in the Illinois-Central Gulf Railroad, the town of Beauregard in Copiah County, Mississippi is no stranger to terror and tragedy.  On March 3, 1966 a tornado ripped through the area and killed fifty-eight people.  Even earlier in the town’s history, on the afternoon of Sunday April 22, 1883, an F-3 tornado swept along a 55-mile track through the town and almost wiped Beauregard clean.  
More than a hundred people were injured in that twister.  The storm destroyed more than forty homes and businesses.  Only three houses escaped major damage.  Fortunately, one house that survived was a three-story home on the edge of town belonging to Dr. Elias A. Rowan.  Like most country doctor’s homes in those days, Dr. Rowan’s house also served as the hospital for the community.  He took in the bulk of the injured.  Despite Dr. Rowan’s tireless efforts to lessen the victims suffering, eleven still died from the Beauregard tornado of 1883.
The town’s residents never forgot Dr. Rowan’s efforts.  He remained respected as a member of the community, not only as town doctor, but for his work with the church and charity.  Dr. Rowan lived an active life and continued his practice long after most would have retired.
One night in 1912, an elderly Dr. Rowan ventured across the Illinois-Central tracks toward the Beauregard Station to meet a patient returning from a procedure done at a large city hospital.  The doctor didn’t notice the approaching train until it was too late.  The engineer saw the frantically waving lantern, but could do little to stop in time.  Beauregard lost its best-loved citizen to dismemberment below the oncoming train’s screeching wheels.  Dr. Rowan’s death became just one more tragedy to befall a seemingly cursed town.
Though respected and loved for all his days, it appears Dr. Rowan failed to find rest in the afterlife.  The old house beside the tracks soon gained a reputation for paranormal activity.  Reports of strange sounds, unexplained lights, and ghostly apparitions centered on Dr. Rowan’s house kept the townspeople away.  For many years, the house remained much as its owner left it and no one went inside to plunder Dr. Rowan’s belongings or investigate the baffling occurrences.  Thus, it was no surprise to locals when train crews first reported the mysterious light on the tracks.

(c)2015 Thornton Austen
It was in 1926 that a train first braked to a stop for someone frantically waving a lantern in Beauregard and upon investigation found no one there.  When the train reached McComb, the crew reported the incident to the yard boss, who laughed it off.  The same thing happened the next night.  The light soon became a regular occurrence and the town of Beauregard became known as “Flag Stop” among local railroaders.
The yard boss kept careful records of the stoppages at Beauregard, but feared the ridicule of his superiors.  It was some time before he reported the incidents.  When he finally took his logbooks in there was no laughter.  The railroad assumed the light was an act of sabotage perpetrated by union agitators.  They immediately called in railroad detectives to investigate.
The detectives did a thorough investigation and questioned everyone who had witnessed the light.  Before long, the investigators had an exact location pinpointed and began a stakeout.  Their target was a stretch of tracks where the light always appeared.  It happened to be adjacent to Dr. Rowan’s abandoned house.  Finding no other possible source for the light, they concluded Dr. Rowan’s ghost was responsible for the incidents.  The case was closed.
Trains continued to stop for the phantom lantern of Beauregard for many years afterward.  The railroad lived with the nuisance.  Eventually, light activity dwindled after new landowners demolished Dr. Rowan’s house in the late 1940’s.  However, there are still reports of an occasional sighting of Dr. Rowan’s lantern near the site of his old home on the south edge of town.
Today, little remains of the town of Beauregard.  Economics has accomplished what Mother Nature failed to destroy.  To get there off I-55 north of Brookhaven take Wesson exit 51.  The remains of Beauregard lie on US Highway 51.  Freight and passenger trains still use the tracks and travel at high speeds around the blind curve in town.  I strongly urge light hunters to stay off the tracks as a train can come on them unexpectedly just as it surprised Dr. Rowan.  No one wants you to add your ghost to the Illinois-Central legend.

(c)2015 Thornton Austen


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