|A monthly coffee klatch at the Joplin Public Library hit record numbers recently when Rance Burger of Springfield, a journalism graduate from the University of Missouri, spoke about the Hornet Spooklight. A documentary for the 2006 Moxie film festival in Springfield, This Is the Spooklight, that he said was made "with ambition and Mom and Dad financing," accompanied his remarks.
The audience of mostly senior citizens with personal memories of the ghostly phenomenon heard Burger recount its history. He labeled it an "unexplained source" that often would "appear in a remote area."
In a Quapaw Indian document of 1866 Burger noted that the Spooklight was described as a mysterious light at first, then it became part of the lore of two young lovers; a light that was seen split in half was said to represent the spirit of the lovers' souls after they had leaped to their deaths. It also was described in the 1940s as the effect of a little man carrying a lantern.
Popular Mechanix sent researchers to Hornet in 1965 to find a scientific explanation for the light. Was it refracted car lights from a nearby highway? Was it the product of methane gas? But they came up dry. "The conclusion was that there was no conclusion," Burger said.
In the 1970s a local named Arthur P. Meadows, referred to as "Spooky," took advantage of the interest in the Spooklight when he opened a museum and viewing platform on Stateline Road and East 50th Street. He also sold refreshments and had a pinball machine for added amusement.
During a question and answer period several audience members gave first hand accounts of their encounters with the light. Two descriptions called it a "white light." Other comments were that it looked like a "bunch of tumbleweeds on fire," that it caused static electricity to raise the hair on one's arms and that it "never made noises" and "sometimes would show up, sometimes not." Many agreed that humidity seemed to have a lot to do with sightings. Others raised the possibility of ball lightning as the cause.
A cynic in the audience, who never saw the light, suggested that alcohol might have contributed to others' successes, but one gentleman countered by saying that he "saw it several times and he was sober."
The consensus was that it was seen on the roads, never in the woods or around properties that were lit by electric lights. After the nearby turnpike was built someone said that she saw it on two roads. An argument was made that it "wasn't car lights because it preceded cars." Interestingly, no one openly suggested that what was attributed as the "cause" might have changed through the years.
When asked about sightings in 2008 Burger admitted that he doesn't live around this area. Consequently, he said he has lost touch with the day in, day out conversation surrounding the light. Burger did say that a friend of his had claimed to see it last February 2008, but the friend wasn't in the audience to verify the suggestion.
According to a dapper silver-haired gentleman, the Spooklight was an excuse for "guys to make out." What "scared the girls," he said was when the light "got brighter, then dimmer" and presumably brighter again.
Corky Herrin, another proponent of Spooklight lore, spoke of the dangers associated with too many visitors to the area. In the past Spooklighters have been accused of shooting out lights, dropping garbage and becoming inebriated, he said.
Regarding the whys and ifs of sightings and having almost the final word, a woman said, "Am I one of the people who doesn't care what caused it? I just enjoy the mystery." She said she last saw the light in the 1950s.
The Spooklight is often referred to as the Joplin Spooklight or the Tri-State Spooklight, although it is actually in Oklahoma near the small town of Quapaw. Since it most often had been seen from the east, it became associated with the tiny hamlet of Hornet, MO and the better known town of Joplin.
To reach the area take Highway 43 south from Joplin, turn west on Iris Road to BB, then head north on Stateline Road to East 50th Street.
More information may be found here.