A reader of this blog recently emailed me suggesting ghosts or other mysteries of the Ozarks as a possible topic for me to write about. I replied that I'm not a big believer in ghosts and that the supernatural is not something I'm especially interested in writing about. I added that I had, however, written several magazine articles in the past about the spook light or ghost light that sometimes appears on a country road about ten miles southwest of Joplin, variously called the Hornet Spook Light, the Seneca Spook Light, the Joplin Spook Light, or the Quapaw Spook Light, and that I might write something about it on this blog as well. So, here goes.
According to oral legend, the Spook Light was first spotted in the late 1800s near the small community of Hornet, and it supposedly frightened some of the residents in the area so much that a few of them moved away. Over the years, many supernatural theories purporting to explain the light have arisen. For example, one such theory holds that a Civil War sergeant was decapitated by enemy gunfire in the area but was too tough to die and that every night he sets out with lantern in hand in search of his head. The other supernatural theories are just as irrational as this one.
More rational theories have also been offered, such as the idea that the light is an emanation given off by swamp gas or mineral deposits in the area. Perhaps the simplest explanation for the light is the mundane notion that it is merely the refraction of headlights from a distant stretch of highway in Oklahoma on old Route 66.
Scientific teams have studied the light over the years to try to determine its origin. One team even reportedly fired high-powered rifles at it back in the 1940s. Several but not all of the scientific studies have concluded that the light is, in fact, merely headlights.
Proponents of the paranormal, who, of course, have a vested interest in the outcome of their studies have also investigated the light. These psuedo-scientists almost always come away with the conclusion that the light is unexplainable.
As I said, I'm not a big believer in ghosts; so I tend to side with those who say the light is just the reflection of headlights. When the idea that the light might be only headlights was first put forth around 1940, it was reportedly discounted by old-timers in the area who claimed to have seen the light long before automobiles were prevalent in the region. However, I think this claim may well be merely part of the mythology of the spook light that was advanced by Arthur "Spooky" Meadows in order to promote his so-called Spook Light Museum, which he ran as a tourist destination during the 1940s and 1950s. Although the oral legend holds that the light was first seen in the late 1800s, the first written mention of the Spook Light did not occur until the late 1930s, several years after Route 66 was built through the region. So, I'm skeptical of the oral legend.
The only thing that bothers me about the headlight theory is the fact that spottings of the Spook Light seem to have diminished in recent years, while the number of vehicles in the area has held steady or increased. Not sure how to explain that, but I'm sure there is a logical explanation. Maybe the growth of trees, for example, has simply blocked the view of observers.
The photo below is from a postcard advertising the Spook Light, probably during the 1950s.