Return to Spook Lights


 A matter of definition. One of the main problems that I encounter is a matter of definition. Typical, uncritical, accounts lump any light seen in a particular area as a 'spook light' and so it becomes a very slippery matter to separate many possible optical phenomena. A case in point is the Marfa Lights. Novices to the area oggle the distant headlights from cars and walk away thinking they have seen the Marfa Lights. The so-called 'old timers' say, yes they know about these lights but the REAL Marfa Lights are seen elsewhere and look different. Also, no one ever gives a specific date and time at which they report anything so its impossible to pin down newspaper accounts of astronomical sightings of planets close to the horizon, or what not. The Silver Cliff Cemetary lights seem to be reflections of stars and city lights off of tombstones, but have been described in nearly the same way as other ghost lights.

 Anomalous Brightness. The second, and biggest, problem I have is that car lights are often explored as an explanation but no one has ever bothered to describe how bright the lights apprear from the viewing areas. My impression is that you cannot see car lights as bright as a first magnitude star ( a lower limit to how bright these Lights' have appeared) from distances of a mile or more. In the case of the Marfa Lights, in particular, the car lights easily seen are at 10 and perhaps even 50 miles distance, and this is IMPOSSIBLE to see under normal atmospheric conditions...and this is for the kinds of lights that are definitely identified with cars via telescopes! I think the mystery is really, what atmospheric conditions are needed to amplify car lights over 5-10 miles so that they look far brighter than they should. The atmosphere would have to work like a long focal length converging lens ( double convex ), not as a system with an ordinary vertical temperature gradient. In the case of the Hebron Light, it is said that the lights dissappeared after a particular stretch of roadway had been upgraded to a regular tarmak surface from a dirt road. Clearly, these are areas in which the conditions are 'sometimes' favorable for extreme episodes of atmospheric light amplification. I want to explore, theoretically, what the atmospheric conditions have to be to produce various levels of optical gain, which by some accounts could be as extreme as factors of 10 or 100! For more about this under-represented effect, see by archive at Atmospheric Light Amplification. Here is a comment that Edson Hendricks made to me in an email about the Marfa Lights:

I can tell you right now that the car headlights along Route 67 south of Marfa, 25 miles away from the MLVS, regularly appear far brighter than the brightest Venus I've ever seen, and I've seen some real bright Venuses! Headlights are often not so bright, and can vary the whole way up from barely visible. This is also true for the genuine Marfa Lights, except that the brightest MLs I've seen are even brighter than the brightest auto headlights. They can be unbelievably powerful at times, showing remarkable forms, and sometimes casting shadows that are very sharp and high contrast, many times brighter than the brightest moonlight, for example. I've only occasionally seen Venus cast shadows, and when I have, it was in very dark, special conditions. I've never seen automobile headlights at Marfa cast shadows, except close ones, of course. I hope this helps. Please let me know any further requests for photo activity at Marfa, I'll be there in about three months. Best regards, Ed.H 5/3/02 20:39 PDT ++++++++++


 Comparisions. Here is a short summary of the properties that seem to be shared by sub-groups of the 'Lights' collected so far. There are a number of similarities among the different sightings that are rather striking:

1....They are often associated with an unimproved road bed lacking asphalt, or a railroad track that parallels the viewing area.

Hornet, Gurdon, Paulding, St. Louis, Bragg/Harden, Maco, Paulding, Cohoke, Surrency, Bingham, Cogdell, Scugog, Senath, Grosse Tete

2....They are seen at the apex of a 'V' of trees that line either side of the road:

Hornet, Gurdon, Paulding, St. Louis, Bragg/Harden, Paulding, Maco, Scugog

3....They are seen in open areas:

Marfa, Brown Mountain, Maple Lake, Dover, McDermott, Silver Cliff, Oviedo, Lake Wanaque

4...They are roundish and change shape and color usually red or yellow but sometimes white.


5...They are historically associated with 'often unsubstantiated' railroad accidents and headless train workers or a violent death on or near the roadway.

Gurdon, Paulding, Bragg/Harden, Maco, Paulding, Cohoke, Cogdell, Scugog, Senath, Maple Lake, Grosse Tete

6...Some don't seem to have a confirmable history in the print media prior to about 1925 or so:

Bragg/Harden, Gurdon, Maple Lake, St. Louis, Hebron, Cogdell, Scugog, McDermott, Illinois Central, Maple Lake(man-made?)

7...Some have a history, usually from oral anecdotes, into the early 1900s, late 1800's and even earlier:

Marfa, Hornet, Brown Mountain, Maco, Cohoke, Hornet, Surrency, Silver Cliff

8...Only a few have been looked at critically:

Marfa, Brown Mountain, Paulding, Cohoke, Hornet, Scugog. Silver Cliff

9...There are highways or railroads crossing the field of view towards the lights, or aligned with the viewers location:

Marfa, Hornet, Gurdon, St. Louis, Bragg/Harden, Hebron, Cohoke,Gonzales, Grosse Tete

10. Some have definitely gone away after road repaving or modification:

Maco (ca 1977), Hebron (ca 1965)

11. They are a major tourist attraction well advertised:

Marfa, Brown Mountain. Silver Cliff, Hornet

12. They are rare and not always seen or reported:

McDermott, Cal's, Elsey's, Lake Wanaque

13. Have many characterists of purported 'swamp gas'


14. The nearby town associated with the light has a population less than about 5000. (check this with 1990 census at

0-500: Illinois Central (Beauregard, MS 206), Grosse Tete LA (541), Silver Cliff CO (322), Hebron MD (665), Surrency GA (253), McDermitt Nevada (373),

1000 - 5000: Paulding (Watersmeet MI 1048), Dog Meadow (Eagle River WI 1374),Senath MO (1622), Bragg (Kountze, TX 2056), Marfa TX (3155), Old Brewery (Le Sueur MN 3714), Cohoke (West Point VA 4550), Elsey's (Crisfield MD 2880), Maple Lake (Willow Springs IL 4509), Gurdon AK (2707),

6000- 11,000: Bingham (Dillon SC 6829), Gonzales LA (7003), Wanaque NJ (9711), Oviedo (Oviedo FL 11114)

15,000 - 60,000: Brown Mountain (Morganton NC 15085), Oxford (Oxford, OH 18937), Maco (Wilmington NC 55530), Hornet (Joplin MO, 40961)

???? Haldeman (Haldeman, KY), Cal's (Andrews MD), Dover (Dover Ozarks), Cogdell GA, Scugog Ontario,



Here is a comparison of what I have found for some of the famous lights.








Web Pages keyword 'Google search'

1230 hits, but some may be for singing band.








On major Highway 90


On country back road

High: Convenient

Major highway 181

Low: Intimidating

Extensive hiking


Back Road


Highway 45 to Back road

Typical number of simultaneous viewers

Several dozen cars at Viewing Area.

Perhaps a few cars at pull-out on 181.

Several cars


Solitary viewer


Solitary viewer

Several cars

Population of nearest town.

Marfa, Texas

(1883) ca 300

(2001) ca 2500

Joplin, Missouri

( 1930) 100,800

(1990 ) 134,910

Morganton, NC

(1990) 15,085

( 2001) 16,129

Gurdon, Arkansas

(1990) 2199

(1999) 2351


(1930) 58,800

(1990) 171,000

Watersmeet, MI

 Location geography

 High Planes; dry; elevation 4800 feet; Arid. Very flat plane, sloped downwards from Viewing Area to lower elevations near 4600 feet near distant Chinati mountains . Scattered gravel pits, ranches, windmills and oil wells, old airport, radio telescope and ranch buildings in direction of viewing area.(Facts)

Forested; lush; elevation 900 feet. Roadway E50 sloped downwards to the west Route 66, but slightly hilly terrain. A few mines, disturbed earth, river/creek cuts across line of sight. No homes or other buildings along line of sight. (Facts)

Forested; lush; mountaneous. You are looking across a valley to the mountains on the other side about 2-3 miles East of lookout point on Route 181.

Forested. Similar LOS as for Hornet light. Looking down a narrow corridor along railroad track.

The view is westward along a grade that slopes to higher elevation...100 foot rise over 6.4 kilometers.

 Forested .Similar LOS to Gurdon and Hornet. Narrow railway bed.

Forested: Single unimproved road parallel to power lines. Lights appear between notch in trees over gravel roadbed


Various locations within several hundred square miles. Most of the sightings are now made at the 'Viewing Area' on Highway 90 west of Marfa. Many dirt roads crisscross the viewing direction to the Chinati mountains. (Fact)

Only at a few locations near Senica and Joplin, on a gravely backroad E50/Devils Promenade. Activity principaly confined to a single line-of-sight (road way) where most of the viewing is done. (Fact)

 There seem to be several viewing areas. The most popular one is at the Highway 181 turnoff across from Brown Mountain. There is a Park Service road marker there. Distance to Brown Mountain from 181 is 3.5 miles.

Only one viewing region along seldome used railroad track. Similar to Joplin Lights.

 Not seen since ca 1977 when roadbed work completed.

Several viewing areas along the dirt road.

Highways nearby or along line of sight.

Highway 67 generates many sightings that are frequently confused with the Lights by casual visitors who stay only a short while and are not attentive. Located 15 miles from VA towards Mt. Chinati. Even the 'old timers' say that these are not the real Lights. (Fact)

Route 66 located along line of sight of E50 and produces many reports of false sightings, but true believers claim these are NOT the real lights. (Fact)


 Highway 30 is to the west end of the railroad tracks along viewing LOS. Route 53 is on east end of tracks. The lights from cars on both roads can be seen at different locations along railroad tracks.


Highway 45 is behind the observers. No obvious roadways in use along LOS

Are the 'Real Lights' common?

No. Seasoned observers say that car lights can easily be recognized and that the True Lights are infrequent and seen elsewhere on the Mitchell Flats and Twin Peaks. Inexperienced observers may lump all lights together and say they are very common. (Fact)

Older, seasoned, observers in area say the true lights are not really seen that often. One resident of 30+ years has seen them only 2-3 times. (Fact)

No. They are claimed to be very rare.

 They seem to be not very common based on reports by Garr Lystad's repeated visits. He saw what he thought were unidentifiable lights once in two trips.

 Common during early history, but rare/absent since ca 1977


Most common reason for saying they are headlights

Some of the lights follow the northward flow of traffic on Highway 67. With binoculars and telescopes, observers have stated they can clearly see these as headlight beams. However, this explanation would not cover the sightings not in the directions of Highway 67. (Fact)

They appear on E50 looking west and appear above the roadway at exactly the shifted (southward) spot that lights from the distant Highway 66 would appear. With binoculars, no one seems to want to report that they look like headlights.






Most common reasons for saying they are not headlights

They have been seen since 1883 by white people and indian legends say they are older still. No automobiles prior to about 1920's. They do not move like car headlights in smooth patterns but jiggle and dance erratically.


They have been seen by settlers since at least 1860's and by indians since before then. No automobiles prior to about 1900. They do not move like cars.


They have been seen since 1771. There are written accounts ca 1927 in National Geographic, which predates the highway system.

 Garr Lystad says that the light he saw looking west was probably not Highway 30 because during daytime he revisited the same spot with a telescope and could not see the highway.



Close encounters?

Yes. People approach them but never arrive. People approach them within a few hundred feet or less and see balls of light or fire.


Yes. People approach them but never arrive where they are. They always recede faster than you can approach. Some bounce down the road and land on cars or pass through open car windows.


 Yes, but the lights always seem to evade, although some observers claim to have gotten within a few dozen yards of them.

 Yes but they always evade close inspection. In one instance someone came within 10 feet of the light.

 Yes, but they evade close approach by less than a few dozen yards.


Ideas that have been looked at:

Swamp Gas

Earthquake lights

Ghosts and Spirits


Swamp Gas

Earthquake Lights

Ghosts and Spirits


  Swamp Gas

St. Elmos Fire

Earthquake Lights

Ghosts and Spirits

 Static electricity

Swamp gas

Car lights


 Swamp Gas.


Swamp Gas

Attitude towards investigations:

"We don't want to know what they are"

Scientists have tried every explanation but none make sense.

Generally rueful dismissal of any attempt at logically understanding them.


"We don't want to know what they are"

Scientists have tried every explanation but none make sense.

Generally rueful dismissal of any attempt at logically understanding them.


 "We don't want to know what they are"

Scientists have studied them since 1913 and none of their answers make any sense.

Generally disrespectful.

 Pretty sketchy discussions because they tend to copy standard boilerplate. Local townsfolk really seem to like the McClain beheading legend ca 1932.



'Scientific Studies'

Japanese Scientists ca 1980s (Anecdote)

Sul Ross Physics Students ca 1985 (Fact)

Robert Backer ca 1989 (Fact)

Ca 1945. WWII Army Engineers from Camp Chowder. Failed to conclude.


John W. Northrip (deceased ca 1999), a professor of physics and astronomy at Southwest Missouri State University Over three years in the early 1970s with physics students.


 ca 1913 by U.S. Weather Service


1919 by U.S. Geological Service.

 None reported.



Scientific Conclusions:

Auto headlights and atmospheric refraction.

Geochemical (gases, piezoelectricity)

Auto headlights and atmospheric refraction.

 Locomotive headlights. Atmospheric refraction of distant town lights on other side of ridge. St Almos Fire and Will-o-the-wisps.

 Not a single 'scientific' theory is ever presented. " because of its remote location cannot be a reflection from passing headlights or anything else that is easily explainable."

Garr Lystad says this; " Some think that the light is caused by electricity generated by geological pressure along the New Madrid fault on underground quartz crystals that are common in the area. Few if any think it's swamp gas. Though the area is somewhat swampy, the light has been observed on windy nights."



 Number of lights reported

 Many separate lights in different geographic areas and lines of sights. Some are stationary for a time then move. Others move and split into pairs etc. (Anecdotes)

 One main light that sometimes splits into multiple parts. Always seen in same the west.


 Many single lights. There have been no reported binocular or telescopic studies.

A single light that travels along rail. Some confusion over which direction to look; east or west. Garr Lystad saw one looking west towards Highway 30.

" It's a very crisp, clear light that you can see moving around."

 A single light at a time.

A single white light splits into two. Red blinking lights also seen at times.

 Timescales for change

 Seconds to minutes. No lights remain distinct for more than 20 minutes.


 Seconds to minutes.


 Seconds to minutes.




 Media Interest

  'Unsolved Mysteries' October 1989. (Fact)

 'Real People'; ca 1981 (Anecdote)

Popular Mechanics ca 1965 (Fact)

William Corliss book. 1983(Fact)

 National Geographic ca 1927


William Corliss 1983.

 It has been seen on local television stations and has been photographed by students at nearby Henderson State University.

The TV show "Unsolved Mysteries" did a story on it. Date unknown.


Has been reported on local TV stations

 Earliest written accounts

 ca 1985. (Fact)

 1968 Dell paperback book, Mysterious Fires and Lights, (Fact)

 1927 National Geographic magazine.

Ca 1932 when legend has it that a railroad worker was murdered. Lights first noticed soon afterwards. No tradition of 'ancient' observations in the 1800's.

 ca 1867


 Tourist Resources

 Viewing Area built ca 1988 (fact)

Marfa Lights Festival ca 1986 (Fact)

Major Grant $840,000 by Texas DOT to create Visitor Area (Fact)

 Spooklight Museum on Stateline Road near E50 ca 1970's? No longer open. Probably burned down. (Anecdote)

 None except that park service Visitor center hands out maps.

None. Very primitive, but state travelogues mention this as part of their 'Haunted Arkansas' story.


None, except US Forest Service plaque that gives some information.

 Named oldest observer via oral history.

 Robert Ellison ca 1883 is widely cited over and over again as the oldest white man to take note of the Marfa Lights. His name figures prominently in the history of this region. This story, however, was not written down by him in his memoirs ca 1937 at age 70, but passed on by family oral history and retold to historian Thompson ca 1980's. .(Fact)

 Ralph Bilke says his grandfather, Lloyd "Dutch" Bilke, told him of encountering the Spooklight around 1910. Oral tradition says the light was seen as early as the mid-1880s.


There are no 'legendary' first observers as heavily acclaimed as Robert Ellison is for the Marfa Lights.

 Margaret Jordan of the Davenport Weekly Record of Lenoir, North Carolina, wrote in April of 1922 that "the mysterious light on Brown Mountain . . . has again been seen by the Burke County people." She went on to recount one of the first attempts to explain the lights, noting that on June 8, 1908,

 There is no tradition of accounts earlier than ca 1930.

 Grover Cleveland during a ca TBD train stop at the Maco Station.


 General level of seriousness.

 Web sites seem less inclined to be UFO and Ghost-related topic areas. Comments about what the Lights are seem balanced and genuinely puzzled, but not as inclined to offer 'ghosts' etc as a serious 'scientific' explanation. The web sites seem more factually sophisticated. (Fact)

 Web sites are more inclined to be UFO or ghost-related. No serious articles by sceptics encountered on the web. Most are openly hostile or dismissive towards 'scientific' explanations. More folklore and legend-oriented explanations. (Fact)

Web sites show NO pictures of the lights. The most common story is the retelling of the 1850 ghost story as a 'serious explanation' Most of the web sites discuss explanations but rarely describe the phenomenon.

People mostly offer a popular ghost story as an explanation. Not taken very seriously, and no known professional studies.

Natural explanations seldom mentioned. Ghost legend is almost universally offered as 'plausible'

 Most popular Sceptic frequently mentioned by name or web page:

 Scott LaRouche! Reporter for the Oregonian. He says they are all car headlights and challenges anyone to send him undoctored pictures that show otherwise, and to provide a printed citation to any report older than highway system ca 1930s. No comments about aleged close encounters.



He says they are all headlights and it's obvious they are from Route 66 in the far distance. No comments about aledged close encounters.



 None that I have encountered.



 Overall impression.

 More varied phenomena. No sightings above the ridge line.

Simple geographic area with no obstructions.

No sign that the geometric circumstances will change any time in the near future.


 Not much variety in phenomena. No sightings in the sky.

Country road is more overgrown with trees today than it must have been 50 years ago. As trees continue to encroach, some aspect of the Lights may cease to be an issue such as distant road lights, which will no longer shine through the limbs and tree canopies in the distance. The phenomenon should be more easily visible in the Fall-Winter, than in the Spring-Summer due to leaves on trees, assuming trees are desiduous.


 Its a complicated geographic region. The LOS seems unobstructed as you look across a valley. There have been some claims to seeing it in the sky above the ridgeline. Easy access to viewing the site from a pull-out on Highway 181.

 Hasn't been studied except by informal tourists. Garr Lystad is the only amateur observer who has bothered to be careful about studying it. This light is remote and not very convenient to observers, so you have to be especially motivated to want to hike to get to the best spot to see it. Area is heavily overgrown and canopied by trees very similar to Hornet Light.



 Best time of year to view:

 Best viewing just after sunset and extending to midnight before significant tapering off. Not clear if this includes both Highway 67 car lights and other lights. Limited information on seasonal patterns, but it is often said that they can be seen 'anytime'. Again, whether this means car lights or 'true' lights is not well defined. (Anecdotal)

 Fall Winter and Spring, under just about any weather condition including drizzel or hot summer. Best viewing just after sunset. Not known if this includes the moving lights or the stationary one. (Anecdotal)


 The light is frequently seen on the darkest nights and best seen when it is cloudy and overcast. Garr Lystad says that it is also aledgedly seen during windy nights.



 Viewing direction/s

 Mainly South and Southwest of the Viewing Area. Very broad cone angle of nearly 15 degrees. (Fact)

 Due West along E50 from its junction near Stateline Road or from its western terminus. No reports of seeing it in any other direction from this viewing area. Very limited cone angle spanning less than a few degrees.

Some mentions of viewings on nearby E40. Also, there are mentions that the light has moved over the region from Oklahoma... (Fact)

 Towards Brown Mountain. Wide range of LOS.

 Only along railroad track. Garr Lystad says that he saw what could have been the lights looking back west towards Highway 30. Daytime telescopic study implied he could not see the cars on Highway 30.

". It's a two and half mile hike to the place where you can view the mysterious lantern. You will pass by two trestles before it is seen. The spot is marked by a slight incline in the tracks and then a long hill."

 Only along railroad track bed.

Only along roadbed in the distance as it passes over local hill.

 Elevation of line-of-sight to Lights above local viewing area surface.

 Clustered near the horizon. Never exceeds elevation of mountain ridge, but most common in Mitchell Flats. Highway 67 Roadway LOS angle to Viewing Area less than 2 degrees. LOS mostly unobtructed except by distant bushes and hillocks. (Fact)

 Light located at relatively fixed spot when photographed. Estimated elevation angle above local roadway is less than a few degrees. LOS obscurred by trees and branches in the foreground - backgroud. (Fact)

 Daniel Caton's email to me says that the sighting locations are very confusing from the reports he's heard. Its not clear if they are seen only below mountain ridge or only above it, or a mixture.

 If you look west along the tracks from Route 53 on its eastern end, you are looking up hill, although over the 6.4 km to Highway 30, the grade only increases by 100 feet in elevation. There is a small hill about 2.5 km from Route 53.



 Typical brightness

  From photos, about +3 magnitude when on mountain ridges near Chinatis, to perhaps 0 or -1 (Venus) (Fact)

 Generally much brighter than Venus based on limited photos (Fact)

Bright enough to cast local shadows. (anecdote)


 It appears to be brighter than Venus, but no reliable photos available, nor observer comparisons.



 Active Researchers?

 Currently, Edison Hendricks is pretty active ca 2001 and has 2 other partners who make frequent annual trips there to do experiments. He is very anti-skeptic.

Scott LaRoche is a very staunch skeptic. I dont know if he is currently working on the Lights or not.


 ORION and Enigma programs ca 1977, plus

Daniel Caton Appalacian State University, 1998 research proposal:

 Garr Lystad, has done a very careful job ca 1999 of pacing out the track during the daytime, and doing a few observations at night. Most of my information about maps and locations are from his 'Curiosity Shop' pages.



An article about the phenomenon in general. There are many of these amateur publications to be found on the web with no references or scholarship. This seems to be rather thorough.

Ghost Lights of the World by C. McBride (

Throughout remote areas of the United States, the United Kingdoms, Japan, and various other countries, ghost lights have appeared regularly for many years at certain sites, though others appear randomly for no apparent reason. Ghost lights usually appear in the shape of balls or irregular patches of multicolored light of various size. Most lights are yellow or white, though they have appeared in red, orange, and blue. They have even been known to change color.

Though of various shapes and colors, they do have many characteristics in common. Appearing in remote areas, they can only be seen from certain angles and distances. They react to noises and light by receding or disappearing, and people have often reported hearing noises when the lights are seen such as humming, buzzing, or the hiss of gas.

Such lights were often associated with local folklore involving terribly tragedies and death. Other sites that manifest ghost lights include ancient stone circles. Called earth lights by some researchers, it has been theorized that they are caused by natural earth energies, perhaps ionized gas escaping from faults, or some type of electromagnetic energy. Other theories point to extraterrestrial activities as the source of the lights. Also called ignis faatus or "foolish fire", corposant, elf-fire, friars-lathorn, jenny-burnt-tail (Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire), Jenny-wi'-t'-lantern (Northumberland and North Yorkshire), kit-in-the-candlestick (Hampshire), kitty-candlestick (Wiltshire), Kitty-wi'-the-wisp (Northumberland), Lantern-man (East Anglia), peg-a-lantern (Lancashire), pinket (Worcestershire), fetch candles, walking fire, fox fire, corp-candle, and fetch lights, corpse lights would hug the ground or hover over the roof of the one destined for death. They might even appear over the chests of the doomed. In Germany the light was called irrlicht and was either a forest spirit or a wandering soul accompanying an invisible funeral procession. They could also be the spirits of those who had stolen land. In Swedish lore, the light represented an unbaptized child who would try to lead travelers to water in the hopes of receiving a baptism.

Other lights, such as the Will-o-the-wisp, Will-o-the-Wykes (Norfolk), spunky, the Hebridian teine sith, the feux follets of Quebec, or the ellylldan in Wales were evil spirits said to lead travelers to their deaths. Gyl Burnt-tayl was a flirty female will-o-the-wisp. Hinky-punk of Somerset and Devonshire was very much like a direach but carried a light and led travelers into bogs. He was Billy-wi'-t'-wisp in West Yorkshire, Hobbledy's-lantern in Warwickshire, Worcester, and Gloucestershire, and Hobby-lantern in Worcester, Hertfordshire, East Anglia, Hampshire, Wiltshire, and west Wales. The Welsh pwca might also act as a will-o-the-wisp, leading people up to the edge of a ravine and jumping over. Joan- (in-) the-wad (Somerset and Cornwall) and Jacky Lantern were sometimes thought to lead travelers right instead of astray.

In Wales and throughout the British Isles, a light called the canwll corfe or "corpse candles" haunted the land. Mysterious lights that bobbed over the ground to houses and other sites where a death would soon occur, they were similar to the fetch candles or fetch lights of Ireland and Northern England. Unlike phosphorescent corpse lights, they had the distinct appearance of an actual candle flame. In Welsh lore, the death of an infant was ordained by a small, pale or bluish corpse candle. A larger light would appear for an adult. Corpse candles could be either red, white, or blue and might be seen indoors or outside.

The ignis faatus or will-o-the-wisp of the Finns was called liekkio, "the flaming one" or omlatt. Comparable to the jack-o-lantern and the utburd, it was the spirit of a child buried in the forest and presided over plants, roots, and trees.

Children could return from the grave if they were murdered or did not received a baptism. If a child were left outside to be exposed to the elements, its spirit might return as an utburd to seek vengeance on the living. Normally invisible, their cries would trail from their tiny graves. Glimpsed in the form of an owl, a shaggy, black dog, or even the infant itself, it could swell to the size of a cowshed or dwindle to the size of a breath of smoke. Initially returning to have its revenge on its mother, it could continue its rampage long after her death, attacking lone travelers passing its grave. Hearing thunderous footsteps behind keeping pace no matter how fast they ran, travelers were cautioned not to turn to look. If the utburd were visible, the traveler would be paralyzed and at its mercy. Only water and iron were effective in assisting lonely travelers escape the deadly embrace of their hunters. Splashing through a stream or drawing a blade would cause the ghost to flee the scene.

Many explanations have been put forth in an attempt to give a natural reason for the existence of such lights. Often attributed to atmospheric conditions or methane from rotting organic matter, many fungi which consume such matter also give off phosphorescent glow, notably Armillaria mellea and Panus stipicus. Other explanations have included lights from towns or automobiles reflected back through various densities of air. But following that theory, highways have been shut down far from towns. The lights still appeared. Another suggested source of the ghost lights were deposits of quartz crystal vibrated by oncoming traffic. Vibrating quartz crystals cause an electric field capable of ionizing the air above the deposits, creating balls of plasma. The escape of naturally occurring gasses has also been suggested, but such explanations fail to take into account the activity of such lights as they wander aimlessly or speed away from human encounters.