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The Mystery Behind the Ozark Spooklight

Even an Army Corps study couldn’t determine its source.

Spooklight Road - East 50 Road, Oklahoma - west of the Missouri state line and home to the mysterious Ozark Spooklight. (Photo: Jennifer Wetzel)

On the border of Oklahoma and Missouri, just west of a town called Hornet, on a small stretch of backwoods known to locals as the Devil’s Promenade, a mysterious, otherworldly light has been haunting travelers since at least as far back as the late 19th century.

Those hunting for the Ozark Spooklight–sometimes also known as the Hornet Spooklight or the Hollis Light–should drive out on Spooklight Road, past the now-abandoned Spooklight Museum, and find a westward facing spot to set up a lookout.

Sit quietly and patiently enough and you’ll see it: a glowing ball of seemingly-supernatural energy, variously described over the years in hues ranging from orange to greenish to blue, that appears to float down the road. Sometimes it’s said to be a single glowing ball; other eyewitnesses mention a tight cluster of several lights all moving in unison, almost always off in the distance. In at least one account, it seems to “pulsate and change colors.”  

Local myths offer several related stories to explain the light’s presence, many of them tied to the area’s native Osage and Quapaw Indian tribes. There are those who say that the Spooklight is the flaming torch of a beheaded Qupaw or Osage Indian (or, in another version, a Confederate soldier) wandering in search of his lost head; others claim that the lights are the trapped spirits of a young Qupaw couple who committed suicide in the nearby Spring River after being forbidden to marry. 

An image of the Spooklight from the early 1900s. (Photo: Public Domain)

Less superstitious types ascribe more ordinary origins to the Spooklight: a recent investigation by Allen Rice, an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, claimed to conclusively prove that the Spooklight was an optical illusion created by headlights from distant cars refracting across the terrain. This theory is discounted by those who remember that the first mention of the Spooklight was in a pamphlet called Ozark Spook Light. The pamphlet was published in 1881–long before the invention of the automobile.

A more esoteric theory speculates that the lights could be the visual byproduct of electrical shifts in the atmosphere, created by large underground metal deposits in the area. Others wonder if it’s simply gas being released into the air from the surrounding swampland.

Or maybe it’s none of the above: a 1946 study conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was unable to determine the Spooklight’s origin.

Wherever the light is coming from, it’s definitely not an alien portal. Right?    

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