Ancestors, Legends & Time

Spook Light search provided the opportunity to demonstrate bravery … or not

Jeanne Newby

I received a request from a reader, James “Jim” Smith, to do a story on the Hornet Spook Light. Since Halloween is just around the corner, I decided it sounded like a good idea. Jim Smith is the son of Wilfred Smith, who has contributed to my column quite often with his childhood memories.

Well anyone who has lived in this area very long is familiar with the topic of the Hornet Spook Light. They usually can’t explain it but they have heard about it. The Spook Light has been a topic of international interest. Many scientists have come up with some explanations that are usually discounted by those who have lived in the area.

There has never been any life threatening situations involving the Spook Light, but some of the sightseers have caused complications and rowdiness. No-parking signs have been posted, and the paving of the road doesn’t allow a car to pull over to the side anymore. There have been fines issued for parking in the no-parking areas.

Let’s get back to the Spook Light and its history. When I was a kid, they used to say it was an Indian princess looking for her young prince. Or the story of the Indian chief looking for his daughter, the princess who was looking for her prince. A story about an old lady searching for her husband was often told. These stories have been around since the 1860s and 1880s. There have been explanations of gases from cattails that light up, or car headlights from the various roads in the area. Well, those headlights were not around when the Spook Light was first reported in the late 1860s.

More interesting are the stories shared by those who have witnessed the Spook Light first hand …including me. Back in 1966, my boyfriend, Stan Newby, and I went on a double date and our adventure for the evening was to check out the Spook Light, which we all agreed was not real. We stopped off at the little museum where they had pictures and stories from back at the turn of the century. We scoffed at the stories but enjoyed the laughter shared among friends as we joked about our adventure into the unknown down Spook Light Road.

When we had our car parked in what we felt was a good spot for watching, we began to talk about things happening at the high school and, of course, football. We were so caught up in our conversation, we were totally shocked when a big round ball of light appeared on the hood of the car. Startled, Doris, my friend in the front seat, screamed and reached over to hit the horn. Much to our relief, the light disappeared. Well, the guys were so cruel to Doris, teasing her and saying they really wanted to see what that light would do before she scared it off.

Once again, we were so caught up in our conversations, we were surprised that the ball of light had returned. I could hear my friend whimper in the front seat. I whispered for her to honk the horn again, but she wouldn’t do it. The guys were real quiet and the suspense was overwhelming, so before I knew what I was doing, I reached over the seat and honked the horn. It was my turn for the teasing about being a baby, but I noticed that those two guys had been really quite while the light was on the car, but as soon as it disappeared, they were real talkative. I think they were glad that we had honked the horn both times!

Silly me, I even let Stan take me back to the Spook Light, years later with his family. We even took our kids. Stan’s younger brother loaded his red, white and blue Mustang with nieces and nephews and headed down the road to seek out the Spook Light with his headlights off. As we watched his taillights flash occasionally, we suddenly noticed a ball of light above Davie’s car. It traveled down the road with him. Inside the car, the passengers were looking ahead to see who could spot the Spook Light first. Unbeknownst to them it was above them. Davie got tired of looking, so he turned the car around and headed back up the road. Since he was heading away from the Spook Light he turned on his headlights. We could see his two headlights and the Spook Light still on the top of his car. As Davie got closer to the noisy group that was trying to tell him that the light was on top of his car … it disappeared.

We have had other experiences where a group of our daughters, nieces and their aunts, with arms linked for support, walked down the road toward the Spook Light. They saw the round ball of light coming toward them. Just as suddenly, the light disappeared and the girls were laughing about what was there to be scared off, they had chased off the Spook Light. As a group, they turned to head back to the cars and each let out a squeal, as they were facing the Spook Light. They don’t know how it managed to get behind them. The squeals were enough to make the Spook Light disappear again and the brave girls headed back to the cars…very quickly I might add!

A cousin, John Newby Jr., recalled that when he was a young lad, this young lady kept teasing him about when he was going to take her on a date. So, John said, “Okay, I’ll take you to the Spook Light.” So that night, John went on a double date with this young lady and her friend. They were all excited about the prospect of going to see the Spook Light. John said they were talking when this ominous ball of light appeared on the hood of their car. John said he didn’t have time to worry about the Spook Light because both girls fainted and he had his hands full.

The Spook Light has become an Ozark Legend. Not everyone who ventures out to Spook Light Road has a story to tell, but those of us who do, wouldn’t trade our memories for anything. But as I am older now, I have more fun sitting with the grandchildren sharing our Spook Light stories than sitting out in the dark, waiting. But I bet I could still find that car horn if needed.

Thanks, Jim, for requesting this story, It brought back some great memories!

Jeanne’s new book, “The Zinc City, Webb City, Missouri” is now available at Webb City Chamber Office.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.