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Spooklights are most visible during winter months, when foliage is sparse.
Illustration by JJ RITCHEY
A group of intrepid Oklahomans solves a decades-long ghost mystery in the hills of northeastern Oklahoma.
By Kory Oswald
Published September/October 2016
Night after night, along the E-50 Road that dead-ends near Quapaw, unexplained illuminations have blazed brilliantly for more than a century. These glowing orbs often appear to be the size of basketballs from 100 to 200 yards away.
The visual phenomena seem to dance toward the viewer as they change in intensity and shift from yellowish-white to hues of blue, pink, and red. Many believed the spooklights were specters or ghosts of some kind—possibly the souls of Native Americans wandering the land on which they had perished. In the early twentieth century, scientists, novice adventurers, university students, and even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers traveled to this corner of Oklahoma to study the illuminations and determine their origins.
Locals embraced the lights and even used them as a tourist attraction: There once was a Spook Light Free Museum near Quapaw, for example. But no one could explain what they really were until 2014, when a group of Oklahomans investigated using modern tools, including cell phones and video cameras.
That group—known as the Boomers and made up of college professors, friends, family members, and former University of Central Oklahoma students—has investigated the Loch Ness Monster and aliens near Roswell, New Mexico, in addition to searching for lost treasures. However, debunking the spooklights marks their most successful investigation to date.
“There had been two dozen groups of scientists that had been out there, and all of them said, ‘It’s a mystery,’” says Allen Rice, a UCO professor of English. “It turned out to be sort of painfully obvious.”
By charting the lights’ movements and communicating in real time with one another, the researchers discovered that the spooklights were not supernatural; they were headlights from nearby roads. But that still does not explain the reports of similar sightings from the same area as early as 1866.
“We have this wild theory that people could see light on the nearby hills before there were modern light bulbs,” says Rice. “There was fire, for instance.”
The Boomers filmed their investigation and posted it on YouTube. Though the mystery of the spooklights has been solved, many refuse to believe that it is something as simple as light pollution.
“I understand that people have had these very powerful and emotional experiences,” Rice says. “I encourage believers to investigate further.”
Although the mystery may be diminished, the beauty of the spooklights continues to lure travelers as it has for more than a century—and likely will for many to come.