Bobbing and bouncing along a dirt road in northeast Oklahoma is the Hornet Spook Light, a paranormal enigma 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 Light 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 a one hundred years. According to locals, the best time to view the spook light is between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and midnight and tends to shy away from large groups and loud sounds.
Though many paranormal and scientific investigators have studied the light, including the Army Corps of Engineers, no one has been able to provide a conclusive answer as to the origin of the light.
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 all 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.
Other interesting legends also abound about the light that provide a more ghostly explanation. The oldest 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.
Reportedly, the moving anomaly, growing brighter and dimmer, larger and smaller, can be seen approximately twelve miles southwest of Joplin, Missouri. To get to Devil’s Promenade Road, take Interstate 44 west from Joplin but before you reach the Oklahoma border, take the next to the last Missouri exit onto Star Route 43. Traveling south for about four miles, you will reach a crossroads which is Devil’s Promenade Road.
Readers Stories about the Spooklight:
Reader’s Story from Hornet, Missouri
I was doing some walking down memory lane this evening and came across your website about the old Hornet Spook Light. Your site seems to be one of the few that is updated, and I thought I would share my story of the Spook Light.
My dad was born in Seneca, near Hornet and Joplin. In fact, our family cemetery is in Hornet – generations of folks who lived and died on the prairie. It is a really amazing place. My dad is something of an adventurer, and I think he got that from his mom. She would tell us amazing and hilarious stories of cows jumping through the barn window, the wagon turning over and dumping everyone out on their way to church, and of surviving countless tornadoes in “tornado alley.”
I remember my grandmother telling her story of the Spook Light. It seems that when she was in high school, it was common for buses to take tourists – and locals – to see the light.
The night she went they had a truly close encounter. It seems the light not only appeared, but actually came down the road toward their bus, rested on the hood, and then burst into a bright, blinding light and vanished. I don’t know if she ever went again. I heard the story many times and she never changed or embellished it. She was in her 80’s when she died about 15 years ago, so it was a very long time ago when she had her encounter.
My dad, as I said, is also an adventurer, and until I married, we would all vacation every year in that section of Missouri, visiting the family and exploring every little road and interesting spot on the map. I’ve explored countless deserted cabins and been through just about every little museum in the area. So, of course, one night we had to see the Spook Light.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I know I was in high school, so that would have been the late 70’s, early 80’s. It was late when we got there, and I only saw a few cars in the area. Dad parked and we waited. Yes, it showed up. I’ve read the explanations of the light…and some very reputable and determined people claim it’s cars on the highway. What I saw was certainly NOT headlights. We watched a car drive down the road toward the light. The light was above the car as it passed under it – and the light was brighter and larger than the tail lights receding in the distance – so I don’t see that headlights even farther away could appear that large, even if you could logically assume that the light was above the car, because the highway was higher than the road…I understand all of that.