Theories about the Lights

 

Theories about the light abound.

1...Folklore attributes the light to the spirit(s) of Indians from various local tribes such as the Quapaw,

2...or as an ethereal miner searching for his wife and/or children who were kidnapped by Indians.

3...Another old tale relates the light directly to the Devil himself. Legend had it that if a bridge in the area was crossed a certain number of times, the Devil would appear. The road the ghost light appears on became known as "The Devil's Promenade" after this old story.

4...Several scientific theories have been put forward to try to explain the lights. Swamp gas

5...and car lights have of course been mentioned.

6...Other ideas include minerals in the air set to light,

7...electrical or sub-atomic disturbances caused by the New Madrid fault,

8...and heat rising from the ground at the end of each day. The trouble with these theories is that none of them can fully explain the bizarre behavior of the light.

In 1946 the Army Corps of Engineers supposedly studied the Hornet Light and could not find a cause for it. They called it a "mysterious light of unknown origin." Physically, the light is described as a yellow or orange colored ball that travels eastward down the road, sometimes at great speed. The light emits sparks and a few witnesses have reportedly felt heat as it came close to them. The light does some interesting acrobatics as well. It has been variously described as hopping, swaying, spinning, or moving in arcs. Some have even reported that the light "landed" on the hood of their car or even inside the car. However, the light will avoid anyone who approaches it. It has been known to disappear in front of a person and then reappear behind them. One thing is for sure -- the light exists and thousands of people have seen it. (http://www.ghosts.org/ghostlights/hornet.html)

 

The Hornet Spook Light, captured in motion by Dale Kaczmarek, president of the Ghost Research Society. Twelve miles southwest of Joplin, Missouri, a roughly paved road runs through a narrow canyon. This nearly forgotten track runs across the Oklahoma border but is only about four miles long. Nearby is the former border village of Hornet, and close to that is the ruins of an abandoned spook light museum. The place is so remote and so far from civilization.... so why do so many people come here? They are searching for an unexplained enigma, a puzzle that most of them find. It has been seen along this road since 1866 and has created such a mystery that even the Army Corps of Engineers officially concluded that it was a "mysterious light of unknown origin". It has gone by many names as it has made it's appearances here in a place called the "Devil's Promenade", but it's most commonly known as the Hornet Spook Light. This light has appeared seemingly as a ball of fire for more than 130 years, varying in size from a basketball to larger. It spins down the center of this gravel road at great speed, rises up high, bobs and weaves to the right and left. It appears to be a large lantern, but there is never anyone carrying it. The light has appeared inside of vehicles, seems to retreat when it is pursued and never allows anyone to get to close to it. Does the light have some sort of intelligence? That remains just one of the many mysteries connected to this light... No one has ever been injured by the light but many claim to have been frightened by it while walking down this road at night. Sometimes it just seems to come from nowhere and a few witnesses claim they have felt the heat from it as it passed close by them. There have been many theories that have attempted to explain why this mysterious light appears here.

Originally, a number of legends sprung up around the place.

One of them claimed the light was connected to the spirit of two young Quapaw Indians who died in the area many years ago.

Another claimed the light was the spirit of an Osage Indian chief who had been beheaded on the Devil's Promenade and the light was said to be his torch as he searched for his missing head.

Another legend tells of a miner whose children were kidnapped by Indians and he set off looking for them with only a lantern to light his way. The light is said to be his lantern as continues looking for the children that he will never find. Over the years, the light has been studied, researched, chased, photographed and even shot at... but what is it? While legends have their own ideas of the origin of the light, science has others.

Could it be the ever-popular "marsh gas"? This is unlikely since even strong winds don't seem to disturb the light.

Glowing minerals from mines in the area? Doubtful, since the light doesn't always appear in the same place.

What about electrical fields that form in areas where earthquakes and ground shifts take place? This is a possibility since the great Madrid fault lies just north of the Joplin area. Four earthquakes took place here in the early 1800's that had a devastating effect on this part of the state. It is possible that the lights starting appearing around the time of the earthquakes in 1811-12 and didn't get reported until the population in the area grew around the time of the Civil War.

Other "experts" claim they have the mystery solved however. They claim the light is caused by automobiles driving on the highway about five miles east of the Promenade. They say the highway is on a direct line with the gravel road but at a slightly lower elevation. When it is pointed out that a high ridge separates the Promenade from the highway the "experts" explain how refraction causes light to bend and creates the eerie effect. Let's take this theory and just think of the basics of the story one more time.... If the light started to be reported in 1866, wouldn't that sort of rule out the idea that it could be caused by automobiles? Sometimes the arguments of the skeptics become so incredible that it is easier to believe in a supernatural answer to the mystery they are attempting to solve than in the ridiculous answers they are proposing!

The Hornet Spook Light is one of America's greatest mysteries. No one has an answer as to why this light appears here.... only that it does and it will probably continue to do so for many years to come. For more information on the Hornet Spook Light, contact Ghost Research Society founder Dale Kaczmarek. His website is accessible via the "Haunted Links" section of "Ghosts of the Prairie". Dale has conducted extensive investigations of the area and is probably the foremost authority on the subject. New Information: I was recently contacted by a web page visitor named Steve Hale who writes: "I grew up in Miami, Oklahoma, graduating from high school there in 1971. I have visited the spook light many times in my life and most recently in July of this year (1998), when I saw the light plainly and for an extended period of time." Many people consider the spook light to actually be in Oklahoma, but Steve raised an interesting point. " The spook light is really in Oklahoma," he writes, "but can only be seen from the east. Why this is, no one knows. Another mystery to ponder.

I should also point out that the museum is no longer there, so knowing where to turn onto Spooklight Road can be tricky, unless you know what one it is. "Also, before going out there last summer, I was told about patrols in the area by the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office and how we would not be able to park. However, we spent an hour on the road and did not see any law enforcement personnel." Steve also provided some updated directions to the site, which appear at the end of the text. New Information: I was also contacted by a website visitor named Jason Patterson of Oklahoma, who has visited the location of the spooklight several times. He had some new information to pass along about visiting the site. Jason writes: "Although only a couple of people mentioned it, we were also given a possible reason for the name Devil's Promenade, which was actually a separate location that the Spooklight proper, as it is further down the road.

According to a few local enthusiasts of the area, Devil's Promenade was originally a rickety wooden bridge which connected Spooklight Road to the road back to the highway (If I remember correctly). It was said that anyone who walked back and forth across the bridge five times (or seven or three depending on who you ask) very slowly and asking for the Devil to appear, he would either answer three questions, grant three wishes or of course, kill you. Again this depends on the version you hear. The original bridge was torn down and replaced with a modern concrete one and no other phenomenon has been associated with that area, thus the story behind the name itself has fallen into obscurity."

The Devil's Promenade is located in southwest Missouri, near the former village of Hornet and about twelve miles southwest of Joplin. The area can be reached by taking interstate 44 west from Joplin. Just before the Oklahoma border, take the next to last Missouri exit onto Star Route 43, south away from I-44. The Devil's Promenade Road crosses this road after about four miles.

There was once an abandoned spook light museum at the site. The badly paved road is the location of the light sightings and parking along this road in the late night hours can almost always result in a good view of the Spook Light. If you drive west on Spooklight Road, it turns south about a mile from the end. It ends at an intersection with the paved road leading to the Devil's Promenade. If you turn right on this road, it leads you to the town of Quapaw, Oklahoma and across the new concrete bridge at Devil's Promenade. Just below the bridge is now a picnic area and park. Just up the hill, and on the left from the bridge is the Quapaw Indian Pow-wow grounds, where legend has it that the spook light was first seen by Indians at an annual gathering. Thanks to Dale Kaczmarek, Steve Hale and Jason Patterson for their information. Copyright 1999 by Troy Taylor (http://www.prairieghosts.com/devprom.html)

MENSAN DOUBLE-TALK According to Max McCoy's article in the Joplin Globe, the mensa's were outwitted by the ghost light. They moved into Joplin to shed light on the legend solve the mystery once and for all.

I read the article about how they thought it could be a light refraction and how they discussed, over several maps, how close highway 44 was in relationship to the light. The night they went to see the light, it did not appear. What was that line Shakespeare used about the world being a stage and ending the line with "signifying nothing?" After their one night out, one of the Mensa's said, "This is a challenge. This is something I don't understand, and I'd like to figure it out...But maybe not right away."

FACTS: The first documented sighting of the light is often given as 1886, when it supposedly drove homesteaders from their cabins just west of the tiny community of Hornet. (There were no electric lights or automobile lights to creation a refraction of same.) All one has to do to see it is drive along the road slowly or stop. At times the light appears to stand still at a distance of about a quarter of a mile. Then it will creep slowly toward the onlookers until it gets up as close as what seems to be 100 yards. Alternately, it turns three or four different shades of red, yellow, green and white.

In 1942, a group of students from the University of Michigan reportedly spent two weeks camping in the area and studying the light. They even shot at it with high powered rifles as part of their experiment. (They left baffled.) In 1946, the US Army Corps of Engineers from Crap Crowder surveyed the area and tested caves, mineral deposits, highway routes, and every possible explanation. (They left baffled.) In the 1950's, amateur sleuth and retired Army captain Bob Loftin tackled the mystery. He attributed it to the refraction of car lights as the light passed through layers of air of differing density or temperature. (Not refraction again.) The light appeared for decades before the invention of the automobile. In 1986 a new theory was developed. Using the original refraction theory Partain, of Tulsa, said the sitings are inversely proportional to the sunspot cycle. When the cycle is low radiation is allowed to enter the atmosphere and energize gases to form balls of lightning. Other theories include swamp gas, subatomic particles, an unknown but luminous property of the tripoli mined in the area, gas or electromagnetic energy from underground lead and zinc deposits, and more recently, tectonic strain theory. (Leon Martin, of Global Book Mart, told me that a rift was 300 miles East of the area and could not possibly be the cause of the light.) None of the theories would have been consistent enough to last in one place for centuries. All the reasoning thus far would only prove that there should be several lights and not just one. My friend thinks it's a portal into another dimension. After studying the string theory, she might be closer to the truth than anyone so far. The string theory suggests that we would be able to interact with more senses within a black hole. Move over Albert, I think we're on to something. The End (http://www.rmaonline.net/cat/newsletter/joplin2.html)

ignis fatuus: The Foolish Fire ignis fatuus - A wide variety of spectral lights, whose alleged purpose is either to herald death or to play tricks on travelers at night. "Ignis fatuus" literally means "the foolish fire" and is so named because anyone who follows such a light is foolish. (The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits by Rosemary Ellen Guiley)

Spook Lights You may recall that a few months ago I did a feature on Amber Gamblers, the lights that appear in the night at places such as Marfa, Texas; near Joplin, Missouri; and at Brown Mountain, North Carolina. These eerie lights are variously called "spook lights", "ghost lights", and "earthlights". The lights are highly localized, reappearing over and over again in basically the same locations. There are many areas in this country where people see these odd lights close to the ground at night. There are legends about such lights. Some spooklights are seen near railroad tracks and and are said to be the ghostly lanterns of railroad workers who were killed there. Some of the lights are said to be the spirits of long-dead Indians who once inhabited the area in which they are seen.

Many researchers theorize that the spook lights are caused by the same mechanism that generates earthquake lights. The theory goes that there are seismic (or tectonic) stresses in the locations where the lights appear that are not strong enough to cause an actual earthquake, but are enough to trigger the formation of the lights. The most often named mechanism for generating the lights by tectonic stress is the "piezo-electric effect". This well-known effect is the generation of an electric charge by quartz when the mineral is put under pressure.

The graphic above shows, marked by a number showing their location on the map, many of the well-known spooklight sites in the U.S. Also marked are locations that have a highly localized frequency of luminous anomaly reports such as Sedona, Arizona; the Uinta Basin in Utah; the San Luis Valley in Colorado; the Yakima Indian Reservation in Washington; and Pine Bush, New York. Let's compare these locations to the areas of high seismic activity shown on this map based on U.S. Geological Survey Data and see how the Tectonic Stress Theory scores. Click on the link for more information about that spooklight. 1.Marfa, Texas - This is definitely a "hit." Most of Texas is low in seismological activity, but the Marfa spooklights are in or near a high activity location. 2.Yakima Indian Reservation, Washington - Another "hit". This is a high activity area, both seismically and in reported luminosities. 3.Uinta Basin, Utah - Yet another hit. The Uinta Basin lies on the edge of a high activity area. 4.The three-state spooklight near Joplin, Missouri - This one must be called a "miss". The "Hornet Light", as it is called, is in a low activity area. The New Madrid fault lies to the east, but it would appear to be too far away to be directly responsible for the Missouri - Oklahoma - Kansas spooklight. 5.Brown Mountain, North Carolina - This spook light is near Morgantown, North Carolina, and it lies in an area of high activity. Note that this spooklight is not far from the Charlotte area epicenter of the earthquake that was mentioned in last week's feature. 6.Sedona, Arizona - A hit. Sedona is on the edge of an area of high activity in Arizona. 7.Pine Bush, New York - Pine Bush is a miss. It is in a low activity area. 8.Webster County, Missouri - Webster County is a little closer to the New Madrid fault than Joplin, but not much. It is possible that an as yet undiscovered fault runs through these two locations. 9.San Luis Valley, Colorado - This is the famous "Mysterious Valley" in southern Colorado. While it lies fairly close to a high activity area in Colorado, the Valley itself is in a low activity area. 10.Silver Cliff, Colorado - This area is just northeast of the San Luis Valley, and it also lies in a low activity area. Again, it is possible that an as yet undiscovered fault runs through these two areas. 11.Newcastle, Wyoming - Another miss. Newcastle is near "Devil's Tower", which was made famous by the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This is a low seismic activity area. 12.Lake Wanaque, New Jersey - Another miss that is in a low seismic activity area. 13.Paulding, Michigan -The Paulding light is in a very low seismic activity area. 14.Saratoga, Texas - The Saratoga light or "Big Thicket" light is in a very low activity area. 15.Maco, North Carolina - The Maco Station light is in a low seismic activity area. Your guide thinks that the "tectonic stress theory" or "seismic activity theory" is one possible explanation for spooklights. However, it must be regarded as an incomplete theory.

There are lingering questions that are not explained by the theory: 1.The exact mechanism by which tectonic stress generates the lights is still not explained. 2.Why do some spooklights appear regularly in areas where seismic activity is low(Maco, NC) or nil(Saratoga, TX)? 3.Why aren't spooklights widespread and frequent in areas such as California where seismic activity is high? 4.If the quartz piezo-electric effect is the key, then why aren't spooklights widespread and frequent in California - which has both high tectonic stress and plentiful quartz deposits - or in northeast Arkansas - which has moderate tectonic stress (New Madrid fault) and plentiful quartz deposits? 5.If tectonic stress far underground generates electricity that causes the lights, how does this energy travel through rock to get to the surface? Next week: Proponents of the "Tectonic Strain Theory" propose that most UFO sightings and even alien abduction phenomena and religious experiences are explainable by that theory. Is that possible? Read your guide's analysis. (http://www.ufos.about.com/science/ufos/library/weekly/aa032999.htm)

By CATHY KARLIN ZAHNER The Kansas City Star KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Keith L. Partain, a Tulsa researcher, would like to put an end to speculation over the Tri-State Spook Light, but it won't be easy. In the century since it was first sighted, the spook light has offered enough mystery to spin a perfect Halloween tale. Several, in fact. According to local lore, the light that floats along a lonely backwoods road southwest of Joplin is the tragic spirit of two Quapaw Indian lovers who committed suicide nearby. Another story describes the light as the glow of a lantern used by a miner still searching for his children, kidnapped by Indians in the 1870s. One Carthage resident wrote a book this year speculating that the light is a guiding system for interplanetary travel. More down-to-earth observers believe the spook light is merely reflected headlights from cars on a nearby highway, or perhaps stems from luminous swamp gases or blinking government survey signals. Partain, 34, a laboratory technician, has developed a new theory.

Comparisons of sightings and photographs led him to project that two types of lights actually appear on Spook Light Road, about three miles southwest of the Missouri-Oklahoma-Kansas border. Most of the time, spook light watchers are seeing nothing more than car headlights refracted up from Interstate 44 by water vapors from the nearby Spring River, Partain said. The highway is seven to 10 miles from the road. But about every 10 years, the real spook light appears in the form of ball lightning, he said. Ball lightning is a self-contained sphere of electrical energy in which lightning appears in the shape of a sphere rather than vertical bolts. It is a rare, natural phenomenon that is unpredictable and, therefore, difficult to study, scientists say. "The real spook light exists, but it is extremely rare," said Partain, whon has degrees in entomology and zoology. "When all you see is a little wriggle at the end of the road, it's one car following another on a distant road." He said he became intrigued with the spook light seven years ago after reading about it in a magazine.

His conclusion that ball lightning accounted for some of the sightings stems from a March 1977 photograph by Joplin Globe reporter Marta Churchwell along with published reports of several sightings. The photograph showed a ball of light with a connected filament shooting off from the parent body, he said. Because the ball was in front of the treeline, its appearance was not distorted by tree branches, so such a filament would indicate the presence of ball lightning, he said. One of the sightings that also underlies his theory occurred in 1955. During the sighting, the spook light was seen by an observer whose back was to the general direction of the highway which is now Interstate 44, ruling out headlight refraction as a cause, Partain said. Comparisons of the sightings and photographs revealed that they occurred when there were no or few sunspots, Partain said. Thus, he speculates that the appearance of ball lightning is linked to low sunspot activity, nighttime and periods surrounding the fall and spring equinoxes. The three factors combine, he believes, to weaken the earth's ionosphere to allow radiation from outside the solar system to fall on the Joplin area and create ball lightning. "There is a bump, or anomaly, in the earth's magnetic field in that area which could attract cosmic radiation," Partain said. Ideal conditions for ball lightning occur throughout an 18-month period every 10 or 11 years, he believes.

Harry Shipman, a professor of physics at the University of Delaware and former education officer for the American Astronomical Society, said Partain's belief that the light was caused by either headlights or ball lightning appears to be logical. "Ball lightning may be behind a lot of UFO reports and things like that," Shipman said. "He's also got a point that when you look into UFO reports, a lot of them can be headlights coming from unexpected areas." Shipman said, however, that he would be surprised if the sunspot cycle could be correlated with ball lightning in any one place.

Despite the scientific explanations, some spook light watchers believe it is a mystery. Some, such as Jack Winter of Afton, Okla., say the land has too many hills and trees to enable headlights to shine through. "It's still an open question with most people here," said Harlan Stark, a farm editor and reporter for the Neosho Daily News. "Many residents take out-of-town guests to see the spook light and enjoy its aura of mystery. I imagine most of them wouldn't like to see it explained too well," he said. Suzanne Gilpin, assistant manager of the Joplin Chamber of Commerce, said people from as far away as Texas and California have inquired about the spook light since it was featured on the television show "Real People" several years ago. "On a nice evening, especially at this time of year, it can be bumper-to-bumper down there," Mrs. Gilpin said. (http://holysmoke.org/wb/wb0292.htm)

 

Twelve miles southwest of Joplin, Missouri, a roughly paved road runs through a narrow canyon. This nearly forgotten track runs across the Oklahoma border but is only about four miles long. Nearby is the former border village of Hornet, and close to that is the ruins of an abandoned spook light museum. The place is so remote and so far from civilization.... so why do so many people come here? They are searching for an unexplained enigma, a puzzle that most of them find. It has been seen along this road since 1866 and has created such a mystery that even the Army Corps of Engineers officially concluded that it was a "mysterious light of unknown origin". It has gone by many names as it has made it's appearances here in a place called the "Devil's Promenade", but it's most commonly known as the Hornet Spook Light. This light has appeared seemingly as a ball of fire for more than 130 years, varying in size from a basketball to larger. It spins down the center of this gravel road at great speed, rises up high, bobs and weaves to the right and left. It appears to be a large lantern, but there is never anyone carrying it. The light has appeared inside of vehicles, seems to retreat when it is pursued and never allows anyone to get to close to it. Does the light have some sort of intelligence? That remains just one of the many mysteries connected to this light... No one has ever been injured by the light but many claim to have been frightened by it while walking down this road at night. Sometimes it just seems to come from nowhere and a few witnesses claim they have felt the heat from it as it passed close by them. There have been many theories that have attempted to explain why this mysterious light appears here. Originally, a number of legends sprung up around the place. One of them claimed the light was connected to the spirit of two young Quapaw Indians who died in the area many years ago. Another claimed the light was the spirit of an Osage Indian chief who had been beheaded on the Devil's Promenade and the light was said to be his torch as he searched for his missing head. Another legend tells of a miner whose children were kidnapped by Indians and he set off looking for them with only a lantern to light his way. The light is said to be his lantern as continues looking for the children that he will never find. (http://home.tampabay.rr.com/tech/spooklht.htm)

 

The Spook Light By John Rogers / Associated Press HORNET, Mo. -- On those moonless Missouri nights when it gets darker than dark -- darker, some would say, than the inside of a cow -- things can get pretty spooky along a rugged stretch of road. That's when the Spooklight is likely to make its appearance. On some nights it might rise slowly out of nowhere to illuminate a broad swatch of farmland. On others it might simply waltz up East Highway 50 from Oklahoma, dancing across the gravel road that doubles as the state line. Or it could just run straight at you, vanishing at the last second, then reappearing a heartbeat later, as it sneaks up from behind to levitate around your shoulders. Whatever it is, just about everyone along this stretch of rolling hills and farms has a Spooklight story to tell. "It's kind of a legend around here, and it's been forever that people have gone out to look for it," says Suzanne J. Wilson, a local writer. "I've only seen it in the distance ... but I've seen it.' Noel Grisham, who lives a mile or so off Spooklight Road, thinks maybe he's seen it, too. But he's more skeptical. "It could be a flashlight for all I know," he says. "But when the weather's nice and you're sitting out in the yard at night, you'll get five or 10 people a week pulling up hollering at you," Grisham says, "They'll holler, 'Is this where Spooklight is? We want to see Spooklight.' " So it doesn't really matter whether the folks around here believe. Whatever it is, it's their Spooklight, the one that entranced their grandparents, long before the tourists. And they're proud of it.

"I don't really know what it is and I hope they never find out. It would spoil the mystery," says Joe Smith, a gregarious man who is president of the Bank of Quapaw, just across the state line in Oklahoma. Having spent all of his 74 years here, Smith is a Spooklight authority of sorts. So he knows that each fall, when the Halloween jack-o-lanterns start adorning doorsteps, the Spooklight calls will roll in. "One year we had a TV station come down, had one of those big trucks with lights and makeup in it," he recalls laughing.

"I felt like we really hit the big time." June Smith is the senior reference librarian at the Joplin Public Library, 20 miles to the northwest. Like so many others, she has her own Spooklight theory. "I've always figured it was an accumulation of gases, and you saw it when the time was right," she said. "Nobody has ever really figured out the reason for it. ...

During World War II, the Army Corps of Engineers even had people down here looking." John W. Northrip, a professor of physics and astronomy at Southwest Missouri State University, doesn't believe it -- not at all. Over three years in the early 1970s, Northrip and some of his students employed lasers, walkie-talkies and other gadgets to unravel the mystery. It was not long after the Apollo moon landing, Northrip recalls, and everyone's head seemed to be tilted toward the heavens in those days, looking for strange stuff. Where 50 people might show up on a given night to see Spooklight now, 400 would show up then. Northrip was among them. He says his investigators proved that rising heat from surrounding hills was carrying light from a nearby highway and giving it its Spooklight appearance, making it dance and hover. He simply discounts stories that Spooklight existed 100 years ago, "I come from the Ozarks," Northrip says, "so I'm used to the idea that where there is a phenomenon like this, that stories have a tendency to grow like this." Maybe it's the Ozark romantic in him, but Northrip doesn't denounce all of the Spooklight legend. "For those who have had it come up and had it sit right on the fender of their car," he says, chuckling, "I don't know. There is no scientific explanation for that kind of thing."" (http://www.senecamo.com/the_spook_light.htm)

Copyright (C) 2001 Dr. Sten Odenwald