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The Spooklight, also called the Hornet Spooklight, Hollis Light and Joplin Spook Light, is a mysterious visual phenomenon allegedly experienced by witnesses in a small area known locally as the "Devil's Promenade" on the border between southwestern Missouri and northeastern Oklahoma west of the small town of Hornet, Missouri.
Despite the fact that it is named after a small, unincorporated community in Missouri from which it is most commonly accessed, the light is most commonly described as being visible from inside the Oklahoma border looking to the west. The Spooklight is commonly described as a single ball of light or a tight grouping of lights that is said to appear in the area regularly, usually at night. Although the description of the light is similar to that of other visual phenomena witnessed throughout the world, the term "Spooklight" when standing alone generally refers to this specific case. Numerous legends exist that attempt to describe the origin of the Spooklight, one of which involves the ghosts of two young Native American lovers looking for each other.
According to most accounts, it has appeared continually since the late 19th century, although it was generally not well known to anyone but locals until after World War II. Some date the first encounters with the light back to the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. However, the first documented sighting is generally accepted to have occurred in 1881, although some report sightings as far back as 1866. The earliest published report dates back to 1936 in the Kansas City Star.
In 1946 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supposedly studied the "Hornet Light", but could not find a cause for it. In their words, it was a "mysterious light of unknown origin". Early residents of the area reported seeing lights in the forest, over their land, or even in their yards.
During the 1960s, there was a general store in Hornet that gave out information about the light to sightseers. It included a "Spooklight museum". There have also been various establishments along the Missouri-Oklahoma state line that served a similar function, but they have since closed. During the 1960s and 1970s the roads where the Spooklight usually appears were often packed with parked vehicles and people hoping to get a glimpse of the mysterious light.
Aficionados say the best chances for spotting the light occur after dark when parked on Oklahoma East 50 Road, four miles south of the three state junction of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma in Ottawa County, Oklahoma and looking to the west. You must sit very silently. The light has been seen in backyards of the area and has been spotted both near to and far away from sightseers. Its color is also not consistent: some eyewitnesses report a greenish glow while others describe it as orange, red, yellow, or even blue. It is almost always said to be in the shape of a ball, although some say it more resembles a camping lantern travelling a couple of feet off the ground.
Explanations for the light's appearance vary widely from the extraordinary to the mundane. The area of Oklahoma in which the light is seen is very hilly and forested and out to the west of where the light is seen lies Interstate 44. It has been suggested that the headlights of cars seen over the hills explain the light's appearance, which is sometimes said to bob up and down, dance, or even split into multiple globules of light. In William Least Heat-Moon's 2008 book Roads to Quoz, the author suggests that the lights seen at the end of E 50 are explained perfectly by the fact that the road aligns directly with Route 66 across the interstate and the river valley, some ten miles distant. He also claims that earlier sightings of the light from E 40 Road, one block to the north, are explained by an earlier alignment of Route 66 to the north of the town of Quapaw, Oklahoma, and also aligned with E 40 Road. The author suggests that there are no reliable sightings of the light in any location but directly west along the road and therefore explainable by the Route 66 connection. Robert Gannon writing for Popular Mechanics Magazine also claims that the Spooklights are headlights from Route 66. A test was done where the author flashed his headlights on Route 66 at a certain time. The Spooklights also flashed at the same time.
One legend details an old, lost miner and the spooklight is actually his lantern. This explanation results from the Spooklight being situated in an area with a past of intense lead and zinc mining in Southwest Missouri and Northeast Oklahoma.
However, most people prefer to state that they cannot explain the almost nightly appearance of mysterious lights in the area, and descriptions of the lights date back to an era prior to the highway's construction. Other explanations for the light's appearance includes atmospheric gases being affected by electrical fields. A University of Arkansas professor studied the light in the 1960s and suggested that it was from a fixed object.
- Mater and the Ghostlight, a short included with Cars (2006 animated film), which references this legend