Joplin, Missouri is located in the southwestern corner of the state. Joplin is the largest city in Jasper County, serving as home to over 50,000 people. Some people are familiar with Joplin due to the EF5 tornado that touched down in May of 2011. It destroyed over eight thousand houses, eighteen thousand cars, and over four hundred businesses. Nearly two hundred people died from tornado related injuries. The area was even declared a federal disaster area.
Others are familiar with Joplin, Missouri for another reason. A paranormal enigma called Spook Lights, or to others Hornet Spook Light, Hollis Light, or the Joplin Spook Light is found on the border of southwest Missouri or northeast Oklahoma. While no one can agree on the name of the phenomenon, one thing everyone can agree on is that there is no explanation for the odd occurrence.
Visible from the inside of the Oklahoma border looking west toward East 50 road, people have noted a single ball of light or an odd grouping of lights. The reports have been continuous since the 19th century. The first encounters were as early as the 1830s and the Trail of Tears. The first documented sighting was in 1881, although stories circulated as early as 1866. The first published report did not come until 1936.
The balls of light are described as bobbing, dancing, and occasionally splitting off. Often times they have gotten close enough to witnesses that they felt the heat as the ball passes over them. Others describe them as moving along the ground as if from a lantern, often growing brighter and dimmer. Some have said the lights had a greenish glow, although other reports have described them as orange, red, yellow or even blue. They vary in size from baseballs to basketballs in witness descriptions.
One theory that has been passed along through the years is that the lights are actually an Osage Indian Chief who was decapitated. They claim the lights are actually the Indian Chief, continuing to spend his eternity searching for his head. Many have said the light comes from a lantern he holds over his head to guide his way.
Another story is that the lights are from Native American lovers, in the days old Romeo and Juliet tale. There once was a Quapow Indian maiden who fell in love with a brave warrior. They approached her family is an effort to marry, but he refused their union as the warrior did not have a dowry. Refusing to be separated, the pair eloped. The father was enraged and sent his tribe after them. Nearly apprehended, the two joined hands and leapt to their deaths in the Spring River. The lights appeared in the area shortly after.
Another story is that a miner and his family lived in a small cabin. While he was gone hunting, the cabin was attacked by a local tribe. When he returned, he found his wife and kids missing. Stories say that it is not the Osage Indian Chief carrying the lantern, but the ghost of the enraged miner, still searching for his family.
Others say the lights are just vehicle headlights that are seen from over the hills, possibly cast from reflections. Older residents of the area cast doubt on that explanation as the lights were visible even before the time of automobiles or billboards. In 1946, the US Army Corps of Engineers researched and couldn’t find a cause for the mysterious lights of unknown origin. The many resident reports were the reason for their research as families described seeing the lights in the forest, over their land, and appearing over their yards.
Other scientific explanations suggest that the lights are from atmospheric gases being affected by electrical fields. The area was common for earthquakes, suggesting strong electrical charges. A professor studied this theory in the 1960s and suggested the lights might be from a fixed object, however they did not seem to be affected by wind or rain.
Eventually, the locals embraced the lights and even created museums, including the Spook Light Museum which was popular in the 60s and 70s. Roads were packed back then as vehicles crowded the area in the hopes of spotting the infamous lights. No matter the cause, visitors still appear from all around the country trying to catch a glimpse and offering their own theories about the origin of the paranormal enigmas creating a stir in the Devil’s Promenade.