Excitement grew steadily, not rapidly but steadily, as I spotted the orange dot of light ahead of me.
"That's it," said one my guides.
It was the Spook Light.
Resembling a distant security light, if security lights moved and changed colors, and really no bigger to my eye, the mysterious local phenomenon might be somewhat disappointing to people seeing it for the first time. I wasn't disappointed. I had waited a long time for this.
It was last Friday night.
I waited outside of WiseStop convenience store on the west edge of Neosho for my guides to arrive and pick me up. Right on time, they pulled up and I climbed into the front passenger seat. Driving was Genevieve Williams, an admitted "Spook Light geek." In the back was her mother, Rebecca Williams, and "Mary," an old college friend of Rebecca's.
I had set up the outing about a week after a Facebook conversation with Rebecca in which I complained I had been out on "Spook Light Road" perhaps 15 times over the years and had never seen the light that has puzzled people since at least the 1800s (and probably the original native inhabitants long before that). Rebecca told me they see the light nearly every time they go, and offered to take me out there, a hair over the state line into Oklahoma, on East 50 Road. I'll skip ahead a bit and note that I have since concluded that I had probably, in fact, seen the Spook Light in the past, only I didn't know what I was looking at. It does seem to disappear as one draws closer, after all. Not until Friday did I realize that the light isn't as I had previously imagined it.
Allow me to interrupt this tale a moment and note that I am fully aware that there are about as many opinions and descriptions of the Spook Light as the number of people who have seen it. Call me cynical, but I expect to receive calls, emails and letters contradicting in some form or fashion what I have to relate here. That's fine. Just please bear in mind that all of this is just one person's perspective. And, according to different folks I've spoken with over the years, the light doesn't quite, well, "act" the way it used to, or at least as they remember.
On the way there, we chat a bit about the Spook Light, of course. Rebecca first took Genevieve to see the light on her 15th birthday. They didn't spot it that first time. But shortly after Genevieve turned 16, she began driving out there frequently by herself — something she doesn't recommend — and stay for hours, watching the Spook Light.
Page 2 of 5 - Though she still finds it intriguing, and even peaceful, Genevieve admits that early on she became "obsessed" with the Spook Light and was for many years. She read and researched everything she could on it, and even bought topographic maps to examine the "car headlights theory," which she later tested out with friends. Of course, the biggest flaw in that explanation is that the Spook Light was first officially written about in 1881, and oral tradition has it being sighted for many years before then.
About eight years ago, Genevieve created a website called "Real Spook Light" which can still be found at google.com/site/realspooklight. There is also a Facebook page. It includes photos, maps, directions, stories, what-to-bring lists and even a section called "Spook Light etiquette."
"I totally geeked out on it," she laughs. "I was obsessed. It was unhealthy for a while."
Over time, her opinions about just what the Spook Light is exactly have changed. Today, she simply isn't sure. Rebecca, however, still firmly believes it's paranormal, an "inter-dimensional being."
Genevieve isn't so certain about that, though she doesn't necessarily deny it either.
"I think there is a scientific explanation even if it is 'supernatural,' because what is supernatural but something outside of normal, or beyond the tools you currently have to comprehend something?" Genevieve notes. "I don't think it's a ghost. I just think it's something we don't understand."
We get to talking about the different legends associated with the Spook Light, such as it being the ghosts of two young Indian lovers who jumped off a nearby peak in a suicide pact, rather than be split apart. Another story is that it the lantern of a miner still searching for his wife and children after they were allegedly captured by Indians. There are other legends as well. And theories.
"It's been talked about it being some kind of portal, but that's kind of out there," Genevieve says.
We discuss the headlight theory, the gas theory, the refracted light theory and other possible explanations that have been put forward over the decades, none of which have been positively proven. Rebecca tells about the time she brought a Baptist minister and his wife to see the Spook Light. They were convinced it was an angel.
"So it's different things for different people," Genevieve says. "It seems to depend on your personal creed what you think it is. And if you're really scientific and you think of everything as being black and white, then you're going to see it that way."
We are almost to "Spook Light Road." I want to know a little bit of what to expect, or at least what to look for.
Rebecca tells me that if it's visible we should be able to see it as soon as we turn onto "Spook Light Road" (E. 50 Road) off of "State Line Road." It appears down the road and usually slightly to the left, she says. Also, if you zoom in on certain digital photos, you can tell it's not one light, but two or three different colored lights that are together, Rebecca says. Sometimes they split.
Page 3 of 5 - Oh, and it travels, she says. But if you get too close, it disappears. Then you see it again.
"It is where it isn't and it isn't where it is," Rebecca explains.
I later ask if the fall is the best time to see the Spook Light, as I have heard, and Genevieve says she has seen it at all times of the year, including in the middle of winter. She also says some of her best sightings have been right at dusk and dawn.
Of all of us in the vehicle, Rebecca has seen the Spook Light the most times. She has been going out there since she was a little girl. Her dad, who is almost 80 years old, also began visiting the Spook Light when he was a child, and, like Rebecca, grew up with it and passed on the tradition. Genevieve points out that every longtime local family seems to have their own stories going back generations about visiting the Spook Light. Mary, in the back seat with Rebecca, notes that her great-grandmother used to go see the light as well.
I remember hearing about "Spook Light Road," or East 50 Road, being paved, but I had never been out there when it was still dirt (my younger sister had, however). Rebecca, though, also recalls when the road was lined with trees on both sides and for most of its length.
"It's much, much different now," she says.
Rebecca also has memories of going to the Spook Light museum, "Spooky's" (she remembers it as "Spooky Bill's"), that was once at the eastern head of Spook Light Road, just across State Line Road. It was ran by a local character named Garland "Spooky" Middleton. She remembers pinball machines and Spook Light memorabilia on the walls. And pickled eggs.
"My dad could tell you all about going to Spooky Bill's," she says.
We turn onto Spook Light Road. And, just like Rebecca had said, immediately there it is. An orange flicker in the distance. They tell me that's the Spook Light.
"That light there? That's it?" I ask, as my heart starts to beat a little faster.
Then it's gone. Then it reappears as we continue driving west. We go exactly two miles and park. Luckily, in my mind anyway, it's a cold night and there aren't a lot of other people out. I was concerned about that, being a Friday night and this close to Halloween. We do see a hay ride full of youngsters, however, as it passes by.
We get out of the vehicle. The light — the Spook Light, they tell me — is clearly visible. The perception is that it is about a mile or two down the road and just to the right (not the left, this time). As I have mentioned, to me it looks like an orange security light, such as those seen mounted on wooden poles on the edge of people's yards. To my eye, it looks a bit smaller than an eraser on the end of a pencil, if one were held out at arm's length. Much of the time, it's pretty small – or distant, whichever it may be. As I mentioned, though, I am not disappointed. This is what I came to see and, after about 15 trips over the last five years, finally have. It's then that I realize I have probably seen it before, but I just didn't know.
Page 4 of 5 - I begin taking photos, using the manual focus and the zoom lens. The pictures all turned out rather grainy (I should have adjusted the settings better) but that's OK. I am getting a total kick out of viewing the light through the zoom lens. It's even better when I am handed a pair of binoculars.
The Spook Light, and I am convinced that's what it was (whatever the Spook Light may actually be), begins to clearly blink. It's more than just a flicker. In fact, it is actually disappearing split seconds at a time. Then it stops blinking. Then it begins to move side to side a little. Then it turns blue, before going back to orange. Then it begins to split into two separate lights before quickly coming back together (I caught the two distinct lights on camera).
And then it does what I was hoping for. It gets closer. Or is it simply growing bigger? It is really impossible to tell. It looks a little bigger than that aforementioned pencil eraser before it "backs up," or grows smaller, whichever it may be. It repeats the process a few more times.
"I know a lot of people believe the Spook Light does not exist, but it is real," Rebecca tells me as we watch the phenomenon in front of us. "And now you can say you have seen it."
Over the years, I have heard first, second and third hand accounts of the Spook Light coming right up to people's vehicles, about it "playing" with folks or, in a couple of stories, even getting inside their cars. Some folks swear it really happened. I couldn't say. I wasn't there.
I will say that among just the stories that I have personally heard, these incidents all occurred decades ago. I personally — and I emphasize "personally" — haven't heard a recent story of the Spook Light getting that up close and personal to anyone I know. I'm not saying it hasn't happened to anyone in the last few years. It just hasn't happened to anyone who has told me about it. I'll probably get calls on that one.
On this night at least, the Spook Light keeps its distance. Or, again, that is the perception. I know a guy who says he stationed people at various points along Spook Light Road one night. Sure enough, each of the watchers saw the Spook Light. But it appeared as the exact same size to all of them. They were at different distances from each other. How could the Spook Light appear as the same size to all? And has anyone ever seen the Spook Light while looking east along that road? Or in any other direction? Rebecca and Genevieve say they haven't. It has always been to the west. Also, why does it disappear if you get too close?
Page 5 of 5 - As Rebecca says, "It is where it isn't and it isn't where it is."
On the way back, Genevieve asks me to advise people about some of the strange behavior some people exhibit on Spook Light Road. Some people act creepy on purpose and others do it without knowing it, she warns. I myself have seen that first hand. The last time I had been there, someone parked in an old model jeep kept erratically flashing his headlights. I still don't know why and I honestly don't care. I didn't stop to ask. Genevieve tells me that sort of stuff, and more, happens all the time.
We near my drop off at WiseStop. I ask Genevieve for her final take on the Spook Light. She again says she isn't sure what it is.
"And I don't want to know," she adds. "I don't care what it is. It's the Spook Light. It's been a pretty big part of my upbringing. It was a big player in my youth. It's a place to go sit in the dark and stare off into space. It's part of our Ozark folklore. And that's enough for me. I really don't need to know what it is."
The easiest way I can tell you to get to the Spook Light from Neosho is take U.S. Highway 71 to the Iris Road exit (just north of Neosho). Turn west. Continue on Iris Road. You will eventually cross Missouri Highway 86, at which point Iris also becomes Route BB. Continue west. Cross Missouri Highway 43. Continue west to the "T." Turn right onto State Line Road (also called S. 700 Road and County Road 1). Take second left onto E. 50 Road. The next four miles or so before the 90-degree turn is the mysterious "Spook Light Road."