For years, people have seen a mysterious light appear and disappear on a road in far northeastern Oklahoma. KGOU listener Lora Nall asked How Curious: What is this light? And where's it coming from?
Claire Donnelly: In a video, a group of guys is sitting in a car on the side of a road known as the Devil's Promenade. They're in the far northeastern corner of Oklahoma, right on the Missouri border. They're looking at something low in the sky.
There are dozens of videos like this on YouTube. People looking for and recording a mysterious light called the Spooklight. This is How Curious from KGOU, exploring your questions about the state we call home. I'm Claire Donnelly.
The best way to see the Spooklight is on E50 Road in Quapaw, Oklahoma, also known as Spooklight Road or The Devil's Promenade. Lora Nall grew up near that area, in Miami, and brought the topic to How Curious. She saw it for the first time when she was in her early twenties.
Lora Nall: You're told to park your car on the side of the road and turn it off and turn out all your lights and stay quiet. It starts to just sort of float. Sometimes it looks like it's floating towards you, just this ball of light.
Donnelly: There are lots of theories about what causes the Spooklight. In one, it's the spirits of two young Quapaw lovers. According to the story, two tribal members fell in love but were forbidden from getting married so they ran away together. But then a pack of warriors chased them. So to avoid getting caught, the couple held hands and jumped into the Spring River, killing themselves. Another story says the Spooklight is the ghost of a miner carrying a lantern.
Nall: So there are quite a few different stories out there but I have never heard anything definitive.
Donnelly: Some say the phenomenon has been around since the late 1800s, but the first reported documentation of the light is in a 1935 newspaper. The Army Corps of Engineers supposedly investigated the Spooklight in 1946 and couldn't find an explanation.
A local TV station broadcast footage of the light in 2012.
Donnelly: For a long time, there was a Spooklight museum on Spooklight Road where visitors could look at the light through a telescope. Reports say it was run by a guy named Arthur "Spooky" Meadows and then by Garland "Spooky" Middleton. The museum walls were reportedly covered in articles about Spooklight sightings and theories. Lora Nall says she's always wondered about the light.
Nall: There has to be an explanation. I just don't know what it is.
Allen Rice: I thought that it might be swamp gas.
Donnelly: Allen Rice is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma. He and a group of his family members and friends try to solve unusual mysteries. They call themselves "The Boomers."
Rice: Our last, three exp--four expeditions were looking for Forrest Fenn's hidden treasure in the Rocky Mountains. We've gone three times looking for the Loch Ness monster, we've been to Roswell...
Donnelly: A few years ago, they went to the Devil's Promenade. Rice says they weren't really expecting to see anything. But they did.
Rice: You're looking straight down a road to the west and it looks like at the top of the road is this sort of glowing basketball. And we're like, "what the monkey?!" And we were shocked and we were, you know, we're really seeing this. Is this happening? We kept saying, "What is happening? What is happening?"
Donnelly: They wanted to figure out where it was coming from. So they tried to get as close to it as they could.
Rice: We get in the car and we drive forward and we slam into this giant forest. So the Spooklight Road, if you go west, it dead ends into a forest.
Donnelly: Rice says on the other side of the forest is another road that also dead ends into the trees. And the two roads line up.
Rice: So I said, "I think what's happening is cars are coming down--if you keep going that way, it's a highway--I think they're coming down the long highway and we're seeing headlights five miles away. Or tail lights."
Donnelly: The Boomers tested this theory with an unscientific experiment which they documented in a YouTube video.
Rice and one group took a car to Spooklight Road and parked in the best possible viewing place. Another group drove to the road on the other side of the forest. That group flashed their headlights. Rice says he soon started seeing the Spook Light. They'd ask for it to be brighter, the guy in the other car would turn on his brights and the Spook Light would get brighter. They'd ask for it to be red, the guy in the other car would put red filters over his headlights.
Rice: Everyone on YouTube hates our guts.
Donnelly: Here are a few of the video comments-- and I'm quoting: "You, sir, aren't very smart." "This is the absolute worst explanation ever!" "What a load of total bull."
Rice says the experiment wasn't perfect but the results make sense. And in 1965 the magazine "Popular Mechanics" looked into the Spooklight and came up with basically the same explanation.
Rice: You could literally go to where we want you to go, take your binoculars. During the day, you can see the cars where the Spooklight is supposed to be emanating from.
Donnelly: But what about people who claim to have seen the light before cars existed? Rice says he's not sure it did exist before cars because it's not well documented. But if it did he says it could have been created by campfires or torches causing a similar effect.
So yes, the internet can be a terrible and mean place. But Rice says he thinks there's another reason people were so upset with the Boomers' mundane explanation.
Rice: We all want awesome. I mean, we all want to see a dimension to another world. You know, I mean when you go to Loch Ness, you're looking in the water because you want Nessie to be there.
Donnelly: Maybe some mysteries are meant to be left unsolved.
How Curious is a production of KGOU Radio. It's produced by Claire Donnelly and edited by Jacob McCleland. David Graey composed the theme music. Email your questions about Oklahoma to firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to the How Curious podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.
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