Deep in the Big Thicket of East Texas, a former railroad spur affords visitors a glimpse of the bobbing, shimmering Light of Saratoga, which seems to approach, bounce, and change color before disappearing. It’s one of several “ghost lights” or “spooklights,” lights that appear without an obvious source or explanation, often surrounded by a unique regional mythology involving ghosts, extraterrestrials, or Native American folklore.
According to local legend, the light on Bragg Road is the ghostly lantern of an unfortunate railroad employee. Decapitated in a wreck, his spirit now walks the road nightly, eternally searching for his head. According to skeptics, it’s the headlights and taillights passing on an adjacent highway that meets the road at just the right angle to produce a strangely-shifting light through the trees.
Finished in 1904, the road was cut to connect by rail the now-abandoned boomtown of Bragg to the still-surviving community of Saratoga. The rails are long gone, and the road is now a well-kept eight-mile dirt drive maintained as a park by Hardin County. Weatherbeaten signs at each end of the road give a history of the road and its surrounds, describing the booming oilfields and sawmills that once brought railroads sprawling through this wild place. The road is ruler-straight and lined with tall pines and cypress, and the overhanging canopy creates a leafy tunnel that is cool and shady during the day and oppressively dark at night. Peeping frogs and fireflies charm the air after sundown.
Whatever explanation one prefers—a lost soul eternally searching, swinging his ancient carbide lamp through the swamp, or a big rig’s halogen lights refracting down a country road—a drive down Bragg Road is an eerie thrill. If one peers into the vast Big Thicket darkness and imagines the bustle and promise of this once-busy industrial corridor, the spring peepers duetting with the whistles of trains, the bobbing lanterns of signalmen walking the old tracks… Bragg Road can certainly put the “spook” in “spooklight.”
Know Before You Go
For the best chance of seeing ghost lights, drive slowly or park one or two miles from the intersection with FM 783, facing the intersection. Lights are more active in the early evening. The road is wide enough to admit two cars and has several small turnouts. Traffic is sparse but be vigilant for passing cars, especially in the dark. The road is dirt and can be muddy after heavy rain.