Joplin Spooklight Investigation

Perhaps one of the most famous ghost lights ever reported, it’s been called by many names including The Tri-State Spooklight and many neighboring communities claim the light as their own such as Neosha, Joplin, Hornet, Quapaw and Seneca. Allegedly first encountered during the infamous Trail Of Tears in 1836 the light was officially first reported in 1881, according to a publication published by Foster Young entitled Ozark Spooklight. However, in 1896 the small hamlet of Hornet was rocked by numerous sightings a large ball of light seen moving through the fields.

The Spooklight is actually seen and encountered in Oklahoma near the town of Quapaw because the best viewing point is on the Missouri-Oklahoma border and the light, which is encountered, is truly in the state of Oklahoma and hasn’t made many treks into the state of Missouri.

Legends are many for the possible cause including one of the oldest handed down by the Quapaw Indians who live nearby. They tell of two young Indian lovers who wished to marry but the chief demanded an unusually large amount for his daughters hand. Unable to meet his demand, they decided to elope against the chief’s wishes. A war party was soon dispatched once. When the two lovers discovered they were to be captured, they committed suicide by jumping from the highest peak in the area.






In the 1870 era another legend is told of a miner whose cabin was raided by Indians while he was away. His wife and children were taken captive and he never saw them again. He is allegedly still searching for them with his lantern.

And, of course, there is a legend concerning a farmer who was captured by Indians and beheaded. His lantern light is still seen along the road looking for his disembodied head!

The local expert at the time we began our research into the Spooklight was Garland “Spooky” Middleton, now deceased, who once owned a small building at the edge of the Missouri-Oklahoma border. This building was converted into a Spooklight Museum where Spooky would entertain both locals and out-of-state visitors to the area with ice-cold soda and tales of the Spooklight through the years. The museum housed the best collection of pictures and newspaper articles concerning the light to date.

In the early years of this establishment, Spooky used to have binoculars and telescopes set up, facing the road, and for ten cents a peek, you could look for the light. Unfortunately, after the death of Spooky, the building the area was bought up by new residents who did not share the same enthusiasm for the light as ol’ Spooky. They closed down the museum and actually tried to deter visitors to the site for a time.



I do remember interviewing Spooky at great length about the more impressive encounters with the Spooklight. He pointed to a nearby field within a hundred yards or so and recalled an eerie encounter one evening. He remembered that the Spooklight appeared on the road just after sunset and began to roll like a basketball giving off sparks as it tumbled down the gravel road. It then entered into a grassy field where several cows were quietly grazing away. It appeared to move silently among the cattle without disturbing them one bit! In fact, the animals paid no attention to there illuminated visitor at all! The very first recorded investigation of the Spooklight was in 1942 by a group of students from the University of Michigan. They set up campsites in the area for about two weeks and began testing and experimenting to determine it’s origin and causes. Allegedly they even shot at the light with high-powered rifles. They recalled that the light only blinked out for a second or two and then reappeared at the same location. They came away completely mystified and without any answers.

Next, the United States Army Corp of Engineers from nearby Camp Crowder began their research and studies of the phenomena in 1946. They used every type of experiment known, including the use of signal lights on a road thirteen miles away, trying to prove that car lights were the source of the ghost light. They made no definitive conclusion. However, our Captain R.L. Loftin later believed the engineers had used the wrong road.

In January of 1983, I wrote to the Tulsa District Corps of Engineers in a hope to gain more insight into the investigation. This is the response that I received, “The Tulsa District of the Corps of Engineers has never made any investigation of the Spooklight near Joplin, Missouri. The Joplin area was, at one time, part of the area included in the Tulsa District’s boundary but no study or investigation of the light was ever made,” said John O. Thistler, Chief, Public Affairs Office. Hmmmm!

In the Fall of 1955, a group of students from Shawnee Mission, Kansas High School, including; Albert Yeomen, Phil Hennessey, Simpson Yeomen, Bob Keeley, John DuBois, Mike O’Keefe, Bill Calvin and Larry Scamon, looked into the light. The group was assisted in experiments by Loftin. They came equipped with cameras, electronic measuring devices and communication equipment. They tested mines in the area for strange gases, atmospheric electricity and car lights. No concrete answers were found.

Robert Gannon of Popular Mechanics conducted a similar test in 1965 accompanied by Dr. Henry H. Hicks and Jean Prideaux. Henry H. Hicks, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Arkansas, also observed the light and said, “I rather doubt that atmospheric refractions could cause the effect (because) refractions are subdued at night...” and, he adds, that in his opinion, the light is “some kind of fixed light, perhaps a billboard light, (but) some of the mechanisms are not clear.”

A billboard light? Seen since 1881? A light miles away but clear enough to be fixed on top of a gravel pile? Headlights? Refractions? Numerous explanations abound.

During Labor Day weekend in 1982, the Ghost Research Society and members traveled to Joplin to conduct our own investigations and first-hand observations of the Spooklight. We, quite literally, chased this elusive light up and down the road from dusk to dawn never able to get close to identify it. We were able to get several excellent photographs and saw the image through 10x50 binoculars. We observed it the best after three in the morning when the traffic on the actual road ceased to be a problem. Myself and two other GRS members were stalking the light as quietly as possible when suddenly I was able to see the light a few feet above the ground and near a distant barn. At first glance, I thought the barn was on fire or perhaps someone had a bonfire raging nearby, because it was so extremely bright! It was at this point of time that I entered into what I would later call “a zone of fear” taken from a John Keel book. It was like a sudden, uncontrollable panic attack! Sometime I didn’t experience there since.

All I wanted to do was run for the car and drive away but my curiosity got the best of me and I plunged forward, finally exiting this mysterious zone. At that point I was approximately seventy-five to a hundred yards away and was in for the shock of my life, at least to that point. The light did not appear to be a simple ball but a diamond-shaped object with a hollow center and a golden hue. We could actually see the trees and bushes right through the empty center of this object. My other researchers later verified the sighting upon my return to the car.

It stayed in that relative position for about thirty seconds and then disappeared slowly behind a hill. What was truly remarkable was the space that was just occupied a moment ago by this light, now twinkled and glowed with some form of luminosity or phosphorescence. It quite literally sparkled with energy!

It then reappeared in that same location twice more, bobbing up and down like a fisherman’s cork on the water, before disappearing altogether. We crept silently up the hill in the car hoping to see where it had gone. But before we got to the crest of the hill, it suddenly reappeared right in the middle of the road ahead of us less than seventy yards away! The light then proceeded to perform the now famous ‘bobbing action’ before disappearing after the third appearance. We attempted to crest the hill as quickly as possible but as we reached the summit, the light was already an estimated mile and a half away in the distance treetops. Total elapsed time to arrive at the summit was no more than sixty seconds!

The GRS returned again in May of 1983 with more personnel and lots of new equipment. We brought along infrared film and a four and a half inch reflector telescope with a camera-mount. However inclement weather hampered our chances of deploying the telescope and getting a much better picture of the orb. However using the 35mm cameras and time exposures lasting from thirty to ninety seconds we did capture what appeared to be an extremely bright star and several shots show distinct movement and separation into many sections. Some pictures show the light splitting into two or three parts. Others show side to side motion. We were able to capture the light on video tape and the footage is quite remarkable! The tape is clear enough to show the background which is useful for gauging distance and size as well as other stationary street lights in the distance. The spooklight is clearly visible in the film and appears to move about, glows brighter and dimmer from time to time and disappears in a most unusual fashion. Instead of simply extinguishing itself altogether quickly, the light begins to dim considerably and slowly fades out like a campfire that is beginning to drown out. In fact the light is reminiscent of a candle flame seen from several miles away!


We have since returned numerous times to view, investigate and record the light. It’s always there for all to see and inspire. On NBC’s The Other Side I was asked to investigate the light for television along with Sheri Sanders, the local NBC affiliate anchor. Of all the times I visited the site, this was the only time it failed to make an appearance.

One of the most thorough investigations of the light was conducted by members of the Ghost Research Society in June of 2002 using the latest in high technology. Topographical and hand-drawn maps of the area were employed along with high-powered binoculars, 35mm cameras with telephoto lens, Sony Nightshot cameras, Magnetometers, Geiger counters, Negative Ion Detectors and CB radios.

Upon our arrival, we gathered additional information from various sources throughout the Joplin area and even appeared on NBC affiliate station KSN on our first night of observation. The team included GRS members Donna Boonstra, Jim Graczyk, Stan Suho, Howard and Virginia Hight and I and my wife, Ruth.

A stationary command post was setup near the intersection of Stateline Road and the Spooklight road, while two other outposts were stationed further down the road at various intervals. Each command post was equipped with cameras, binoculars, maps, and CB radios for reporting their individual observations back to the Command Post.




Partly due to the television coverage our first night there, traffic along the road was increased as locals came out to see what our team was up to and to relate their personal experiences of the light. Many had some interesting tales to tell including an uncle of one person who described his encounter with the light in 1930. He claimed to have seen the light float across the road and into an adjacent field, slam into the ground and break up into a thousand pieces of small individually lit lights!








The first two nights went by without a single report from any of our outposts or the Command Post of any such activity even though others coming from further down the road claimed to have seen it. Constantly hampered by a bright full moon, we decided on our last night of observation to go completely mobile and abandon the Command Post idea. This is where our idea hit pay dirt.

Further down the road, in what I call “The Hollow” or “Zone of Fear”, we began to make observations of a single light well above the elevation of t he road and inconsistent of headlight color or proximity to the ground. These sightings continued throughout the evening and early morning hours, even though traffic was now at a bare minimum. Obviously what we were seeing was not other car headlights and, at one point, we were so close to the interstate that you could even hear the large trucks rolling by, but could not see any reflections or direct images of car headlights on the interstate. We could hear them, but could not see them or even the interstate road, for that matter.

We were unable to photograph the light, but believe we did videotape several seconds of a most unusual light formation which was definitely not a headlight of an approaching car.

We do plan on yet another investigation of the light, perhaps as early as 2003 and we have learned that we need to be more mobile and perhaps even incognito when it comes to the media, at least until we are almost ready to head back home! Also included in the future planning of this investigation would be the lunar implications and attempting to view the light with no moon at all. This would be the ideal conditions.

I would like to leave you with this thought concerning the Spooklight. I showed some photographs to Pat Shenberg, former president of the Illinois Society for Psychic Research and a highly-gifted clairvoyant, with whom I work with a lot. After she examined the pictures and I explained our sighting of the diamond-shaped object with a hollow center she said, “The light isn’t a light but a doorway to another dimension.” She insisted that I was in great danger while I was there. Who knows......perhaps everyone might be?

Rare footage of the old Spooklight Museum.

Actual footage of the Spooklight shot in 1983!

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