On a night in 1867, at the small Brunswick County station of Maco fifteen miles west of Wilmington, a slow freight train was puffing down the track. In the caboose was Joe Baldwin, the flagman. A jerking noise startled him, and he was aware that his caboose had become uncoupled from the rest of the train, which went heedlessly on its way. As the caboose slackened speed, Joe looked up and saw the beaming light of a fast passenger train bearing down upon him. Grabbing his lantern, he waved it frantically to warn the oncoming engineer of the imminent danger. It was too late. At a trestle over the swamp, the passenger train plowed into the caboose. Joe was decapitated: his head flew into the swamp on one side of the track, his lantern on the other. It was days before the destruction caused by the wreck was cleared away. And when Joe’s head could not be found, his body was buried without it.
Thereafter on misty nights, Joe’s headless ghost appeared at Maco, a lantern in its hand. Anyone standing at the trestle first saw an indistinct flicker moving up and down, back and forth. Then the beam swiftly moved forward, growing brighter and brighter as it neared the trestle. About fifty feet away it burst into a brilliant, burning radiance. After that, it dimmed, backed away down the track, and disappeared.
It was Joe with his lantern, of course. But what was he doing? Was he looking for his head? Or was he trying to signal an approaching train?
In 1889 President Grover Cleveland, on a political campaign, saw the mysterious light, as have hundreds of people throughout the years. But in 1977 when the railroad tracks were removed and the swamp reclaimed his haunting grounds, Joe seems to have lost interest in Maco. At least, he has not been seen there lately.