Previously: The Haunted Okiku Doll.
Type: GL (Ghost Light), although also elements of PV (Phantom Vehicle) and CC (Corporeally Challenged) may also be at play.
Period/location of origin: Unknown, St. Louis, Saskatchewan, Canada. The most prominent story connected with subject, known as the St. Louis Ghost Train or St. Louis Ghost Light, is said to have taken place in or around 1920, although this date has not been substantiated. Some sources further note that reports of subject pre-date widespread use of automobiles, although by precisely how much is not specified. For more on the dating of subject, see: Additional notes.
Appearance: Subject typically appears as a strange light floating on or near what used to be a set of a train tracks running by the small town of St. Louis in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. (The railway to which the “light” purportedly belongs is no longer in operation.) The light may be white or red, depending on the account; it also may be large or small, again depending on the account. Some reports note that both a large and small light may sometimes be seen simultaneously, this is not always the case. Regardless to what the light’s behavior may suggest, it does not appear to have an identifiable source.
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Modus operandi: Subject’s modus operandi varies. According to some reports, subject simply… appears, visible to targets if they are in the right place at the right time. If it takes the form of a train headlight, it will appear to be traveling down a now-nonexistent set of train tracks. If it takes the form of a lantern, it may simply bob about, as if being carried by an unknown person. If both appear, the headlight-style light will seem to bear down on targets as the lantern-style light drifts next to it.
Should targets drive an automobile or other vehicle to the site at which subject typically appears, the vehicle may experience any or all of the following occurrences: The windshield wipers suddenly turning on; the headlights beginning to blink on and off; engine troubles (e.g. shutting off on its own, failing to start up again, etc.); and so on. According to one report, a small fire began in target’s vehicle’s alternator while in the presence of subject, although it is unknown whether the fire and subject’s presence are connected, or whether it was simply a coincidence.
These occurrences appear to be rare, however. Subject’s appearances are typically limited to simply that of the headlight traveling down the phantom track, the lantern, or both.
Subject does not appear to have a particular method for selecting targets; nor do there appear to be any necessary conditions that must be met for subject to appear, other than it being nighttime. Subject also does not appear to be hostile, generally speaking, despite the unusual activity that may occur should you bring a vehicle to its site.
In fact, subject is quite passive. It simply is there, and then it is not.
Containment: None required. Subject may be safely visited and viewed.
Additional notes: St. Louis is a small town in Saskatchewan with a population of 415, according to the 2016 census. Originally a Métis community, it was incorporated as a village in 1959. The nearest large city is Prince Albert, located approximately 35 km to the north.
Numerous stories exist explaining subject’s potential genesis. However, they all typically have roughly the same shape: Circa 1920, the stories claim, an engineer, conductor, or other employee of the Canadian National Railway was allegedly struck by a train while investigating the track, resulting in the employee’s decapitation and subsequent death. His spirit now spends his evenings searching futilely for his missing appendage along where the train tracks — now long since pulled up — used to be. According to these stories, the phantom headlight is that of the train that struck him, while the bobbing lantern is held by the headless soul to light his way as he searches. (Exactly what good a light might do for a headless individual is not addressed in most versions of the story.)
The veracity of these stories has not been determined. According to the CBC, the CNR’s records do not date back far enough to confirm whether or not they are true.
It is likely the stories are not true; near-identical origin stories also exist for numerous other reported “ghost light” phenomena scattered far and wide, suggesting that all are at best embellished and at worst fully false. See also: The Hookerman Lights of New Jersey (missing appendage is an arm, rather than a head); the Chapel Hill Ghost Light of Tennessee (no missing appendages; collision simply results in death); the Mt. Olive Cohoke Road Ghost Light in Virginia (decapitation present, as with the St. Louis Ghost Train); the Maco Light of North Carolina (decapitation again present); etc.
With regards to subject’s date of origin: Anecdotally, subject is said to have been part of St. Louis’ cultural landscape for many generations. According to one report published in the Humboldt Journal in 2013, one witness, then in her 70s, noted that her grandmother had grown up in the town knowing the stories and had passed them along to her children, including the witness’ father. “She grew up before cars were invented and even back then, the tale was still a popular one,” the witness told the paper. “Everyone in St. Louis knew about the light and a lot had claimed to have seen it.”
This account does line up with the claim that subject pre-dates widespread use of automobiles. Based on the witness’ age, it can be estimated that her grandmother was likely born in the late 19th or early 20th century. Automobiles, meanwhile, were first invented around this time, but did not achieve widespread use until sometime later. (For reference, the Model T Ford, widely acknowledged as the first automobile to be produced on a wide scale, did not enter mass production until 1913.)
However, this account does not line up with the claim that subject’s genesis dates back to the 1920s. If subject’s existence was well-known to child residents of St. Louis born in the late 19th or early 20th century, a year of origin dating to the 1920s would be too late for that to be the case.
As such, both subject’s year of origin and origin story remain hazy at best. Regardless, however, it has become a staple of Canadian folklore; it was even immortalized on a stamp released by Canada Post in 2014, as part of a set of five stamps commemorating five notable Canadian ghost stories.
Subject is but one example of the aforementioned “ghost light” phenomena: Strange lights without an identifiable source that may appear in various locations — train tracks; marshes; etc. — of their own accord. Several scientific explanations have been proposed to explain these “ghost lights”: They may be headlights or reflections of headlights from automobiles and other vehicles passing on nearby roads; they may be burning marsh gases; etc. These explanations, while plausible, are not one-size-fits-all and must be examined on a case-by-case basis.
It has been demonstrated that subject itself — the specific ghost light identified as the St. Louis Ghost Train — may plausibly be explained by the automobile headlight theory. In 2002, two high school students recreated the effect seen during subject’s appearances using car headlights for a school science project. Several other residents are also of the opinion that subject is nothing more than the headlights of vehicles driving by on the nearby highway.
But many remain convinced that subject is not the headlights of passing cars.
Some things, they say, simply can’t be explained.
Further research is required before a determination, one way or the other, may be made.
Recommendation: The St. Louis Ghost Train may be safely witnessed, should you wish to see it, although it may be wiser to visit it on foot than in a vehicle. If you must venture out at night, exercise common sense safety precautions.
But above all, don’t go alone.
Don’t lose your head.
You’ve been warned.
Ghost Train Story Haunts Small Saskatchewan Community at the Western Producer.
Haunted Humboldt Series: The Phantom Lights Of St. Louis at the Humboldt Journal.
7 Spooky Saskatchewan Stories at the CBC.
Ghost Train Spotted In Saskatchewan at the CBC.
Rolling Through The Night: The Saint Louis Ghost Train at Global News.
The Saint Louis Ghost Train at Virtual Saskatchewan.
Mystery Solved? at Virtual Saskatchewan.
Follow The Ghost In My Machine on Twitter @GhostMachine13 and on Facebook @TheGhostInMyMachine. And for more games, don’t forget to check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available now from Chronicle Books!
[Photo via Schäferle/Pixabay]