HOLMBERG: The legend of the ghost light of Cohoke, West Point

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WEST POINT, Va. -- For 100 years, folks have come to this rural railroad crossing on state Route 632 to look down the rifle-straight railroad tracks for the “ghost light,” or, more simply, “the light.”

Forty, fifty years ago, so many people were coming to see the strange phenomenon, the local sheriff had to shoo them away.

“I’ve seen vehicles there from every state in the United States,” said retired sheriff Jim Wolford. “There were so many people there, they burned the store down (by the tracks) and a house.”

Way before cable TV and social media, searching for the ghost light was the thing to do in rural King William.

Bring your friends, your girl or beau, some refreshments, and wait for the distant light to appear above the tracks like a white, glowing jack-o-lantern.

Shots were fired by partiers. It got so bad, they started ticketing those trespassing on railroad property. (According to one who was in the thick of it, the deputies would ticket the young men, but not the young women.)


Angela Quick, who grew up there and saw the light many times – including one time practically within spitting distance – said it would appear and disappear.

It was a just a distant white light completely different from the train headlight that would approach and pass.

Her close encounter revealed an “odd-shaped” glowing light that was difficult to describe but plenty eerie.

“Being typical teen-agers, we were freaking out and screaming and we just wanted to get out of there,” she recalled, laughing.

This was before cell phone cameras that everyone has now. There are a couple of videos and photos of the ghost light on the internet, but nothing really worth seeking out.
“I’ve never seen anything spooky there in my life,” scoffed former sheriff Wolford.


But plenty of other people have seen the light and felt fear. Linda Moore from the nearby Pamunkey Indian reservation recalls relatives being thoroughly frightened by the light, which in one case rushed up as a fast as a train – except there was no train.

Of course, paranormal investigators, scientists and armchair detectives and investigated the lights, with the usual guesses: swamp gas or distant lights reflecting off the atmosphere.

According to legend, Angela Quick said, the light is being held by a conductor who was decapitated in a railway accident and he’s out there holding a lamp, looking for his head.

There’s also a story about a train full of Confederate soldiers that disappeared.
The frenzy over the lights faded long ago.

No longer are there big crowds, although nearby resident Stacy Johnson said “people will park their cars and sit in lawn chairs, looking for the light.”

Locals still stop and look, but sightings appeared to have stopped. “We’ve stopped and looked by we’ve never seen it,” Stacy said.

“I don’t know where it went,” Angela Quick said. “But I wish it would come back, because I kind of miss them.

Angela Quick

Angela Quick

Please share your stories about the ghost light, and what it was like back when it was drawing folks to this beautiful corner of Virginia.


  • Ginny Wright

    I saw the light several times in the 70’s, most notably on an October evening after the local homecoming dance. We were naiive enough to park the car on the tracks and the eerie light appeared after a while. It came towards us and disappeared when it got within 20 yards- or so we thought. It came back on above the car which shook back and forth causing us to scream and clutch one another in fear. Then suddenly it went out, the car stopped shaking, and we were quiet as mice, afraid it would shake the car again if we spoke. A few minutes later it came back on 20 yards or so away and continued it’s journey down the track. Evidently, we were in it’s way.

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  • Sally Matchet

    I grew up hearing about the “light” from my parents! They went to high school in Richmond (1954-1957) and would go to see the light! My dad says that he actually shot at it with his shotgun!! What an interesting story!!

  • Don W

    Some friends and I went there and walked the tracks about 30 years ago, We indeed saw a light!

    Unfortunately, the light was saw was that of a local State Trooper asking us to move on.

    He was very nice about it all and did say he had been living there all his life and had never seen any lights there, but had indeed heard the stories.

  • jay

    I have seen this light many times in a couple different spots. We used to go lots of Friday nights in the 90’s during high school. It was an hour drive but always worth it. I still tell stories about the light at west point. It would light up, go away then come back on then just float down the tracks. It would swing back and forth. The tree’s on the side of the tracks would light up and the tracks would gleam when the light was over it. We were always respectful while visiting the light. My friends thought I was joking when I took them there. Then it would come out. Great and scary memories! !

  • Mary

    Went on a double date around 1969… We parked on the railroad tracks…. The light came down the tracks and went out about 20 yards from the car.. We left pretty quickly after everyone quit screaming….

  • Eric Owen

    I’ve seen the light a number of times and also have video of it as well. While I can’t say it’s a ghost per se, I can tell you it is an interesting phenomenon. We’ve visited 2 or 3 times and saw it each time. It’s not faint at all, it’s as bright as if someone was down on the tracks welding. We saw it change colors numerous times between red, green, orange and white.

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