KGOU

How Curious: What Is The “Spooklight?”

Oct 8, 2019

A mysterious ball of light seems to appear and disappear on a road in far northeast Oklahoma. One listener who witnessed the so-called “spooklight” asked: Where is it coming from?

Editor’s Note: A version of this story aired in October 2018.

Lora Nall saw the spooklight for the first time in her early twenties along E 50 Road, also known as Spooklight Road or the Devil’s Promenade, in Quapaw, Oklahoma.

“You’re told to park your car on the side of the road, turn out all of your lights and stay quiet. [Then this ball of light] starts to just sort of float. Sometimes it looks like it’s floating toward you,” Nall said. 

She asked How Curious: What causes this phenomenon?

 

Is It...Ghosts?

One urban legend suggests the light is the wandering spirits of two Quapaw lovers who killed themselves after they were forbidden to marry. Another claims it’s the ghost of a miner carrying a lantern.  

Though some argue the light has been around since the late nineteenth century, it was reportedly first documented in 1935 by a newspaper. In 1946, the Army Corps of Engineers supposedly investigated the site and could not find an explanation. 

At one time, a Spooklight Museum, reportedly run by Arthur “Spooky” Meadows and then Garland “Spooky” Middleton, allowed visitors to view the light through a telescope. The museum’s  walls were said to be papered with articles about Spooklight sightings.

An Unscientific Experiment

Like Nall, University of Central Oklahoma English professor Allen Rice was also curious about the spooklight.

“I thought it might be swamp gas,” Rice said.

Tri-State Spook Light booklet from 1955.
Credit Sean B. Palmer

Gases like methane are often cited as the cause of otherworldly glows and mysterious flickers--sometimes called will-o’-the-wisps--in swamps and marshes.

Rice leads a group called “The Boomers,” in which he and several friends and family members try to solve unusual mysteries. They have searched for buried treasure in the Rocky Mountains, looked for the Loch Ness Monster and traveled to Roswell, New Mexico, the site of an alleged 1947 UFO crash. 

A few years ago, The Boomers took a trip to the Devil’s Promenade, expecting to be underwhelmed by Oklahoma’s Spooklight.

“At the top of the road, [there was] this sort of glowing basketball. And we were shocked. We kept saying, ‘What is happening?’” Rice said.

 

After taking some observations, the Boomers conducted an unscientific experiment, which they documented in a YouTube video

Rice and several Boomers drove to Spooklight Road and parked in the best possible viewing place, facing a forest at the end of the road. Another group drove to the opposite side of the forest and flickered the car’s headlights. According to Rice, his group could see the Spooklight phenomenon through the trees. 

“I think what’s happening is cars...are coming down the long highway, and we’re seeing headlights or tail lights five miles away,” Rice said. 

Credit Christopher Shaneyfelt

Rice’s theory has not been well-received online.

“This is the absolute worst explanation ever,” wrote one YouTube commenter. 

But a 1965 investigation by the magazine Popular Mechanics backs up Rice’s results. Using binoculars in daylight, Rice and his team were able to see cars near where the Spooklight supposedly originates. 

Though some claim the light was visible before cars existed, Rice said sightings that old are not well-documented. The phenomenon could also have been created by distant campfires or torches.

 

Rice said he’s not surprised by the backlash to The Boomers’ mundane explanation.

 

“We all want awesome. When you go to Loch Ness, you’re looking in the water because you want Nessie to be there,” he said.

 

How Curious is a production of KGOU Radio. It's produced by Claire Donnelly. This episode was edited by Jacob McCleland and Caroline Halter. David Graey composed the theme music. Email your questions about Oklahoma to curious@kgou.org. Subscribe to the How Curious podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

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