Top 10 Midwestern Spook Lights

Spook Lights, also called ghost lights, Will-o’-the-wisp, orbs, mystery lights, earth lights, fireballs, and countless other names, have been seen for centuries all over the globe. Ghosts, fairies, UFOs, swamp gas, car lights, and even over active imaginations have all been blamed for the phenomenon, but in truth, no single explanation will suffice. At Mysterious Heartland, we have found that spook lights have been spotted all over the American heartland. They range from local legends to world-famous events. Which one will prove to be the most compelling of them all?

10. Jacob’s Lantern

Papineau, Illinois

According to a local Iroquois County legend, in the autumn of 1859 a man named Jacob and his female companion murdered a cattle drover on the road north from Danville. Whether their crime was intentional or an accident is never made clear, but the two decided to hide the evidence by burying the man’s body in a field near an old barn. To light their way, they carried a soft lantern and hung it from a tree as they dug his shallow grave. Since then, autumn nights bring a soft yellow glow in the distance. According to Dale Kaczmarek, author of the book Illuminating the Darkness, a man named Lee Ponton used to see the light from his kitchen window. His parents would sprinkle holy water around their house whenever it appeared.

9. St. Mary’s Light

St. Mary’s, Iowa

In the late 1870s, a woman named Mrs. Wallace burned to death in her home on a 160-acre farm just south of the tiny Catholic community of St. Mary’s. Since that time, a glowing red and orange fireball 15-20 inches in diameter has been seen skirting the perimeter of the farm, which came to be owned by a family named Storz. One local farmer, Orval Berning, spotted the light as he was walking home from a card game in the wee hours of the morning. Floating along the fence line, its bright glow perfectly contrasted with the newly fallen snow. He sometimes saw the light from the window of his farmhouse, nearly a mile away. Stranger still, in 1947 an Indianapolis man named Roy Whitehead claimed to hear a voice emanating from the St. Mary’s light as it hovered above the road.

8. The Black Jack Lights

El Dorado Springs, Missouri

In 1960, strange lights began to appear near the tiny community of Blackjack on the west side of the old Sac River Bridge in a field owned by a man named Charlie Vilhauer. The lights were variously described as either red, green, or white. Former resident Dwain Witt told the El Dorado Springs Sun, “I remember them. It was just something I couldn’t understand. It’s been so long. I saw them, whatever it was. I think the first time I saw them they were red and green like a traffic light. One time we started towards it and it just went over the tops of the trees. All you could see was a light. It got to the point people were driving from town just to see if they could see it. Sometimes it would be there and sometimes not.” The lights created quite a sensation and cars would line up along the road for a half mile or more to try and catch a glimpse of the ethereal performance. Some local residents tried to chase after the lights, but without successes. Explanations ranged from swamp gas to UFOs. One thing was clear: it was one of the most exciting things to happen in that area for a long time.

7. Old Brewery Hill Spook Light

Le Seur, Minnesota

A set of railroad tracks run along the Minnesota River south of Le Seur. It is here that local residents say they have seen strange lights in an area known as Old Brewery Hill. The hill acquired its name from a man named George Kienzli, who built a brewery on the hill in 1875. For a while, the brewery was quite successful. Unfortunately, it was forced to close and eventually burnt down. The brewery left behind two cellars, dug deep into the hill. According to local legend, a transient took up residence in one of the cellars and the red light from his lantern could be seen from the town at night. After many years, the man died, but his light remained. Local residents continued to see his red light bobbing and weaving along the railroad tracks south of town. In one incident, a brakeman stopped his train because it looked like he was headed straight towards a man holding a lantern in the darkness. When he and the conductor got out to look around, nothing was there.

6. Elmore Rider

Elmore, Ohio

For many years, motorists travelling down Woodville Road about 15 miles southeast of Toledo encountered a strange glowing light near a bridge over the Portage River. There are two stories for the appearance of this light, both equally tragic. According to one tale, a soldier returned from the First World War to discover his fiancé was cheating on him with another man. The two had a heated argument and he took off on his motorcycle. The road was dark and he spun out, dying near the Portage River Bridge. It is the headlight from his motorcycle that pierces the darkness to this day. An alternative tale tells of a young boy who was struck and killed by a drunk driver. The driver stopped and flashed his lights three times to try to determine whether the boy was still alive. Meanwhile, the boy’s father ran onto the road carrying a lantern, but he was too late. To this day, if you stop your car on this stretch of Woodville Road and flash your headlights three times, a bright light will emerge from the woods and chase you.

5. The Moody Light

Francisville, Indiana

Sitting along a narrow stretch of rural road just outside the town of Francisville, observers are occasionally treated to the sight of a red, yellow, or white ball of light that appears in the distance. According to legend, if you were to flash your car headlights three times, the light will appear and move slowly towards you. There are two explanations locals have for the light. Both involve a farmer named Moody and a tragedy that befell his daughter. In one version of the tale, the farmer’s daughter was kidnapped and killed. When the farmer pursued her captors, he was killed as well. The light is his ghost continuing the search from the afterlife. In the other version, the light belongs to a lantern the farmer held while searching for his daughter. Paranormal researcher Dale Kaczmarek has an alternative explanation. He staked out the road and believes the Moody Light comes from car headlights on a parallel road. At a certain point, the road dips down and turns off at an angle, so the oncoming headlights appear to vanish into the darkness.

4. The Oxford Light

Oxford, Ohio

Milford Road runs straight through a rural area filled with farms and forests just east of Oxford and north of Trenton Road. For years, local residents and students at neighboring Miami University have told a tragic story about two young lovers whose ghosts appear along the road as bright burning balls of light. According to legend, a young woman once lived on Milford Road and was forbidden from seeing her boyfriend. When her father was asleep, she would drive his car down the driveway to the edge of the road, where she would flash her break lights three times. That was the signal for her boyfriend, who was hiding up the street on his motorcycle, to come over. Unfortunately, one evening a boy was peddling down the road on his bicycle and didn’t see the young man. They collided and were both killed. The young woman was so distraught that she hanged herself in the barn. Today, if you travel down this road and flash your headlights three times, bright red lights will materialize. One person describes his encounter: “Sure enough, and much to my disbelief, there it was! A single, bluish-white light seemed to actually make its way down the road. I mistook it for a car and cried out ‘Tony! Car coming! Turn your car back on, we don’t want an accident!’ Well, luckily, he knew better. This light just faded in and out from ontop of a hill, perhaps a yard away from our car, never actually coming down at us.”

3. Maple Lake Lights

Willow Springs, Illinois

Maple Lake is a man-made body of water roughly half a mile in width. With its wide, curving shores and tranquil waters, it is a deceptively peaceful place. Over the years, Maple Lake has acquired a reputation for the unusual. Visitors have reported seeing strange lights hovering over the lake, and there have been at least two homicides and four drownings there. Stories of strange lights have circulated for decades. “An inexplicable red glow has been seen oozing around the shoreline, between the trees and above the sand,” ChicagoTribune reporter Howard Reich wrote in a feature story on Halloween 1980. This “oozing” glow was later described as small and was said to hover in the one particular location in the middle of the lake. According to most contemporary accounts, the spook light is most often visible from the Maple Lake Overlook along 95th Street between 10:30pm and 12am. Onlookers report that the red light shines brightly for a few precious moments before it disappears.

2. Paulding Lights

Watersmeet, Michigan

Since at least the 1960s, visitors to the forest around Watersmeet and Paulding in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have reported encountering a strange red light. It is said to rise up like an ember, grow in size and intensity, and then disburse in a haze. This phenomenon is repeated almost nightly, week after week. The Paulding Light became so well known that Ripley’s Believe it or Not offered a cash reward to anyone who could determine its origins. Unlike other spook lights, this one has been recorded on film by the local media. Its first reported sighting was by a group of teenagers in 1966. They claimed the light shone so brightly that it lit up the interior of their car. Ten years later, Elmer Lent and Harold Nowak had a more dramatic encounter. They saw not one, but two lights that alternated colors between red and green. The smaller light appeared to move around the other. Some researchers concluded the Paulding Light is nothing more than car headlights reflecting off the unique terrain, but most locals strongly disagree.

1. Hornet Spook Light

Near Joplin, Missouri

Since the 1860s, an old road near the Oklahoma border has been the scene of one of America’s most famous spook lights. The Hornet Spook Light, as it is known, appears in an area called the Devil’s Promenade. The light, which rushes, bobs, and weaves down the road, is described as being bright, hot, and about the size of a basketball. In the 1950s, a reporter who witnessed the light described it as a diffused, orange glow. Hundreds of people have seen the light. It has been photographed and investigated by scientists, but so far no one has been able to explain what it is. According to legend, however, the light belongs to the ghost of an old miner whose children were kidnapped by Indians in the early 1800s. He set off into the Devil’s Promenade with a lantern to search for them and never returned. Others say the light is the spirit of an Osage Indian chief. The Hornet Spook Light became so famous that a small museum was once dedicated to it.


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