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Published on: Jan. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

of the Bilkes' house contradict the idea that you must stare westward down a road to view the Spooklight. And as a child, when Ralph visited his grandfather just north of E 40, they'd sit on the front porch and watch the Spooklight in the pasture across the road. They were looking east.

All the accounts I've heard leave me longing to see the Spooklight moving toward me, dancing in the woods or zipping over my head. And I wonder: are the far-away Spooklights and the close-up personal ones completely different phenomena? What did I see that November night? Something explainable, such as car headlights miles away, or a hesitant Spooklight that kept its distance?

Not that I want the Hornet Spooklight explained. It's better to have that capricious glow remain everyone's mystery, promising delight, amusement and a few chills to generations to come.


Spellbinding Spooklore

Mysterious lights have appeared around the world throughout history. Humans have proposed explanations: ball lightning, fox fire (bioluminescence of decayed vegetation), marsh gas (burning methane), peizo electricity created by pressures on crystalline substances in the earth. Observers in Norfolk, England in 1907 were convinced they saw "luminous owls" which had contracted a fungal disease or had come in contact with phosphorescent wood.

Descriptions from many countries will sound familiar to Hornet Spooklighters: fiery colored, amber, yellow or white globes of light; shifts in color and shape; swinging motions; no rays. Some lights appear to interact with people, approaching them, retreating when approached, reappearing behind observers as if playing a game.

Legends are similar too, often based on the theme of lantern-carrying ghosts. Hornet "Spooklore" includes stories about a cruel Confederate sergeant, executed by cannon fire, searching for his head, and a miner seeking his kidnapped children. Another tale tells of a Quapaw Indian couple, forbidden to marry and pursued by warriors. When they leaped from a cliff into Spring River, their spirits merged in a wandering light.

Missouri has been host to other strange lights. During the New Madrid earthquake of 1811, bright flashes burst from the earth. Lights in the sky in the Piedmont area sparked "UFO fever" in 1973; sightings dwindled by 1980. Dr. Harley D. Rutledge, then a physics professor at Southeast Missouri State University, wrote about his study of the phenomenon in Project Identification.

Paul Devereux, an English researcher, included the Hornet Spooklight in Earth Lights Revelation along with nine other persistent light phenomena in his chapter "American Spooklights." He suggests the cause of what he calls earth lights may be a complex matrix of conditions, not necessarily identical for all light phenomena. "We are looking at an end product that is challenging and must ultimately extend branches of our understanding beyond their current reach," Devereux writes.

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