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Online program looks at Brown Mountain Lights

Online program looks at Brown Mountain Lights

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The Foothills Carolina Club has more programs of local interest for people to enjoy from the comfort of their own homes.

The club, made up of alumni of the University of North Carolina living in the Unifour area, which includes Burke, Caldwell, Catawba and Alexander counties, is arranging for speakers to give online presentations once a month in its “Hidden Gems of the Unifour” series. The series came about because the university has restricted any in-person events for any of its alumni groups during the coronavirus pandemic.

The group will welcome Wade Edward Speer, who will give a presentation on the Brown Mountain Lights at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30 via Zoom, according to Em Williams, communications representative for the group.

Speer is a retired geologist specializing in the exploration of precious metals and jewels, according to his biography. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri and a master’s degree from the University of Arizona. He wrote a book called, “The Brown Mountain Lights: History, Science and Human Nature Explain an Appalachian Mystery.”

The Brown Mountain Lights are unexplained atmospheric phenomena called “ghost lights” that have been witnessed near Brown Mountain since the 19th century, according to historical records.

“The lights can be seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway at mileposts 310 and 301, and from the Brown Mountain Overlook along NC 181, near Jonas Ridge,” an online post about the lights said. “Additionally, good sightings of the lights have been reported from the top of Table Rock and Wiseman's View, both located in the Linville Gorge Wilderness.”

The next program will feature David Moore, lead archaeologist for the Berry archaeological site in Morganton, who will give a presentation about the history of the site and the Exploring Joara Foundation at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20, via Zoom. He is a professor of archaeology and anthropology at Warren Wilson College.

Archaeologists have unearthed evidence at the Berry site of a 16th century Spanish settlement called Fort San Juan, believed to be the first inland European settlement in the U.S., dating back to 1567. The site also is the location of the ancient Native American town of Joara.

The presentations are free and open to anyone who would like to tune in, not just UNC alumni.

“There are all of these great things -– great stories, great places or histories -- and they’re just like little hidden gems,” Williams said in a previous interview. “Some people that have lived here their whole lives might not know a lot about them.”

Previous presentations included local author DLeslie McKesson, who spoke about her ancestors’ role in the formation of the Dulatown area of Caldwell County, which she wrote about in her book, “Black and White: The Story of Harriet Harshaw and Squire James Alfred Dula.” The group also learned about the heritage of the Waldensian people who founded the town of Valdese in 1893 and about the history of the women’s suffrage movement that culminated in the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave women the right to vote.

To register to attend any of the webinars, contact the group at or through its Facebook page, “Foothills Carolina Club.” The presentations are recorded, and links to the recordings of previous presentations can be requested from the club at the above email address.

Staff writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at

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