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Haunted Humboldt series: The phantom lights of St. Louis

A blip on the map. One of those little "blink and you miss it" towns, St. Louis, south of Prince Albert, doesn't seem like a place with dozens of tales to tell.

A blip on the map.

One of those little "blink and you miss it" towns, St. Louis, south of Prince Albert, doesn't seem like a place with dozens of tales to tell.

Ironically, it has one of the most well-known, and mysterious legends of any community in Canada.

And that's why it's worthy of being in our Haunted Humboldt series.

Even if the folklore surrounding a haunting is still strong, usually the actual sightings have since subsided.

Not in this case.

The ghost light of St. Louis is still spotted to this day and is just as baffling as it was years ago, when it was first spotted before cars were even invented.

It's often thought of to be a ghost train, since the lights are seen over an abandoned railway bed, the tracks removed decades ago.

Some say the origins involve the tragic demise of an engineer or conductor; one story goes that a worker was doing a routine check of the tracks when the train, not able to stop in time, struck and decapitated him. Locals for years have been saying that the light is a sign that the man is still searching for his head.

Another tale goes that a railway worker would wave a lantern at nighttime, signaling to the trains when they needed to switch tracks. Like the other story, the train wasn't able to stop and ran over the worker. Some speculate the light is the man's lantern, as he walks up and down the railway bed, warning others of the disaster.

As dramatic and bizarre as some of these tales are, there are many, many visitors to the area who claim to have witnessed phenomena correlating with the aforementioned tales.

One man claims that in the summer of 1997, he and a group of friends decided to check out the phantom light, like so many people do. Parking their car on the dirt path that was once a railway track, they decided to leave it running since legend says the car won't restart if it's turned off. He claims after being there for about half an hour, they finally saw the oncoming lights of a train, and a smaller, lantern light beside it. Scared to death, they hightailed it out of there, hearing the sound of a train whistle in the distance.

"There was no way it was just headlights from cars on the highway," the man says, shooting down the most common theory that aims to debunk the ghost light legend.

"The cars are too far away to be that. It was a light directly on the old tracks."

Echoing this story is a man named Chris McLeod. His experience with the light of St. Louis is recounted in Jo-Anne Christensen's book Ghost Stories of Saskatchewan.

In Christensen's book, Chris recalled a winter night in 1987 where he and a friend left Prince Albert and drove out to the abandoned railway bed to try and figure out what this ghost light really was.

Also hearing the myth about car troubles the ghost light causes, the two boys left the car running as they sat in it, waiting to see the approaching lights.

"We didn't have to wait long," Chris says. The ghost lights appeared and began getting bigger and bigger as it got closer to their car.

The teens sat fixated on the eerie spectacle until something else quickly diverted their attention. Steam began billowing out from under the hood of their car. Thinking they had left the car running for too long and the radiator had boiled over, they quickly lept out of the car to peak under the hood.

It wasn't steam.

It was smoke coming from a small fire in the alternator.

With no way to extinguish the flames, they got back in the car and drove as fast as they could on the highway back to Prince Albert, hoping the flames would burn out on the trip.

Strangely enough, the flames suddenly disappeared, the car giving them no trouble whatsoever for their trek back up the highway.

When a mechanic checked out the car the next day, he said he couldn't find a problem with the car, saying it looked to be in completely normal condition.

Stories about the ghost light of St. Louis are by the hundreds; some say as the light approaches, their car's windshield wipers will suddenly turn on or their headlights will begin blinking on and off. Others say their engine will shut off out of nowhere, or won't start back up, forcing them to call a towing company to come get them.

Some say the light resembles more of a swinging lantern, and others say it's a bright, white light like the headlights of a train, before turning into a red light.

While the stories vary in detail, they're all the same in that it's an unexplained light that leaves more questions than answers.

Two twelfth-graders from LaRonge won a gold medal at a science fair for their attempt to debunk the famous St. Louis legend, claiming the mysterious ghost lights are really just the diffraction of distant vehicle lights on the highway.

Many locals scoff at this theory, saying the lights simply don't resemble car headlights but more importantly, the sightings have existed since before cars were even invented.

"My grandmother grew up in St. Louis and used to tell my dad and his siblings all about the ghost light," says a woman now in her 70s. We'll call her Suzanne.

"She grew up before cars were invented and even back then, the tale was still a popular one," Suzanne says. "Everyone in St. Louis knew about the light and a lot had claimed to have seen it."

A phantom light spanning decades of sightings and tales, passed down at campfires and family gatherings from generation to generation.

Will the mystery of the St. Louis lights ever be solved?

Or is it really what people have been saying all these years; that the train lights are real and that a former railway worker shuffles up and down the long-gone railway tracks, in a field cloaked in darkness just outside St. Louis, Saskatchewan.

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