Outside the small town of Joplin, Missouri there is a phenomenon that has fascinated locals for over a century: A strange ball of light with that comes out of nowhere and disappears just as fast as it appeared. The Joplin Spook Lights have been studied by many paranormal and scientific investigators, including the Army Corps of Engineers, however, no one has been able to provide a conclusive answer as to the origin of the light.
Bobbing and bouncing along a dirt road in northeast Oklahoma is the Hornet Spook Light, a paranormal mystery for more than a century. Described most often as an orange ball of light, the orb travels from east to west along a four-mile gravel road, long called the Devil’s Promenade by area locals.
The Spook Light, often referred to as the Joplin Spook Lights or the Tri-State Spook Light, is actually in Oklahoma near the small town of Quapaw. However, it is most often seen from the east, which is why it has been “attached” to the tiny hamlet of Hornet, Missouri, and the larger, better-known town of Joplin.
According to the legend, the spook light was first seen by Indians along the infamous Trail of Tears in 1836; however, the first “official” report occurred in 1881 in a publication called the Ozark Spook Light.
The ball of fire, described as varying from the size of a baseball to a basketball, dances and spins down the center of the road at high speeds, rising and hovering above the treetops, before it retreats and disappears. Others have said it sways from side to side, like a lantern being carried by some invisible force. In any event, the orange fire-like ball has reportedly been appearing nightly for well over 100 years. According to locals, the best time to view the spook light is between the hours of 10:00 pm and midnight and tends to shy away from large groups and loud sounds.
Many explanations have been presented over the years, including escaping natural gas, reflecting car lights and billboards, and will-o’-the-wisps, a luminescence created by rotting organic matter. However, all of these explanations fall short of being conclusive.
As to the theory of escaping natural gas, which is common in marshy areas, the Hornet Light is seemingly not affected by wind or by rain, and how would it self-ignite? The idea that it might be a will-o’-the-wisp is discounted, as this biological phenomena does not display the intensity of the ball of light seen along the Devil’s Promenade. Explanations of headlights or billboards are easily discarded, as the light was seen years before automobiles or billboards were made, and before a road even existed in the area.
One possible explanation that is not as easily discounted, but not yet proven conclusive, is that the lights are electrical atmospheric charges. In areas where rocks, deep below the earth’s surface, are shifting and grinding, an electrical charge can be created. This area, lying on a fault line running east from New Madrid, Missouri, westward to Oklahoma was the site of four earthquakes during the eighteenth century. These types of electrical fields are most commonly associated with earthquakes.
Legend and Lore
The oldest legend is the story of a Quapaw Indian maiden who fell in love with a young brave. However, her father would not allow her to marry the man as he did not have a large enough dowry. The pair eloped but were soon pursued by a party of warriors. According to the legend, when the couple was close to being apprehended, they joined hands above the Spring River and leaped to their deaths. It was shortly after this event that the light began to appear and was attributed to the spirits of the young lovers.
Another legend tells of a miner whose cabin was attacked by Indians while he was away. Upon his return, he found his wife and children missing and is said to continue looking for them along the old road, searching with his lantern.
Others say the Spook Light is the ghost of an Osage Indian chief who was decapitated in the area and continues to search for his lost head, with a lantern held high in his hand.
Sightings of the Spook Light are common, sometimes even reported to be seen inside vehicles. A few people who have been walking along the road at night have even claimed to have felt the heat of the ball as it passed near them.
How to Experience the Joplin Spook Lights for Yourself
Do you think your brave enough to search for the Joplin Spook Lights? If your up to the challenge, we have provided directions to the site where the lights are seen the most.
From I-44, take exit 4 – HWY 86 South. Follow approximately six miles to junction Route BB. Turn right on BB Highway and follow the road until it ends. Turn right again, go one mile, turn left on E50 Road (also known as Spooklight Road). Approximately 1 1/2 – 2 miles is the darkest and best place to wait.