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Northern mysteries: white deer and the Paulding Light

The deep northern woods of Wisconsin and Michigan are shrouded in mystery. Since Dillinger and Capone stole away within the darkness of the forest to hide from the men of the law, locals and visitors alike have looked into the woods and wondered, "What's really out there?"

Sign at the sight of the Paulding Light
Courtesy of Backwoods Wisconsin

There is more in those woods than meets the eye, and the villages of Boulder Junction, Wisconsin and Watersmeet, Michigan have myths and legends still unsolved after hundreds of years.

When the timbers of Boulder Junction, Manitowish and Land O' Lakes are covered with a white blanket of snow, our first of two mysteries can be extremely difficult to spot. In the summer however, these covert and beautiful creatures stick out like a sore thumb. Within the deep brush of the woods hides a band of albino deer, appearing and disappearing like ghosts of the forest. They are also known as "white deer" or "ghost deer."

These deer carry a recessive gene causing albinism that is extremely rare. Only one in 20,000 deer carry this gene, so spotting one or more of these deer is the chance of a lifetime.

Because they are so rare, they have been the subject of study for many naturalists and nature photographers. Those who have studied the deer have discovered they've been in the northern woods for ages; they have been the subject of Native American legends and were mentioned in the journals of European explorers.

Because of their white coloring, the deer are extremely susceptible to natural predators during the summer. However, they are well hidden during the winter months, are protected from hunters by state law and coveted by the residents of Boulder Junction and its surrounding areas. As long as they continue to be revered and respected, their populations should continue to thrive for years to come.

Another mysterious phenomenon taking place deep in the north woods is the strange tourist attraction known as the Paulding Light.

The Paulding Light is a light on the horizon that can be seen nightly from a specific point in the Paulding woods. The light is impossible to miss or mistake as "something else". It appears as a dim point on the horizon and then grows, moving forward like the light on the front of a train car headed right toward you. Then, it continues to dim and become brighter, sometimes moving from side-to-side in an eerie tango and occasionally changing colors from white to red to green. It's mesmerizing, unexplained and very creepy.

The Paulding Light, also referred to as the Dog Meadow Lights, can be spotted from a dead end road called Robbins Pond Road off Highway 45 just north of Watersmeet, Michigan in the tiny village of Paulding. As you approach the road in the dark of night, you will see a sign which explains the legend of the Paulding Light.

According to legend, a railroad switchman carrying a lantern was crushed by two train cars while trying to signal the train's engineer. The sign explains that the man is destined to remain at the spot of his tragic and untimely death, and the light comes from the man's lantern as he constantly waves it to warn all that come to visit.

This is just one of many theories. Other explanations include the ghost of an Indian dancing on the power lines, the ghost of an engineer who was murdered along the old railroad grade and the story of a mail carrier and his sled dogs who were mysteriously slain 100 years ago at Dog Meadow. Hence the name: Dog Meadow Lights.

Skeptics claim the lights in the sky are caused by luminous gases, car lights in the distance or an elaborate prank, but there is no significant proof for any of these theories. There is no concrete explanation for the phenomenon, but it has attracted major attention. Ripley's Believe it or Not offered over $100,000 to the person who could provide an explanation, and the lights have been captured by Michigan Magazine and the Channel Six news of Marquette. It is also the subject of dozens of Internet chat boards, Web sites and even a film created with the Paulding Light at the center of its premise!

So, next time you're traveling through the dark and dense north woods, be on the lookout. You just never know what you might see.


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