On a four-mile country road oddly nicknamed Devil’s Drive off old Route 66 in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, a paranormal mystery has baffled ghost seekers for more than 100 years. The Hornet Spook Light – a mysterious glowing orb the size of a basketball named after the ancient city of Hornet – has appeared in the night sky here since 1881. No one knows what this peculiar burning ball of light means, where it comes from. or what it is composed of. Even the Army Corps of Engineers has concluded that it is a “mysterious light of unknown origin.”
It moves, spinning and bobbing up and down like a lantern held by a dancing ghost, and is often seen from within the Oklahoma border looking west.
As Route 66 historian Cheryl Eichar Jett, author of Route 66 in Kansas and founder of the annual Miles of Possibility Route 66 Conference, explained, “The historic path of The Mother Road through Joplin, Galena, Baxter Springs and then south to Quapaw, it overlaps the Hornet. Spook Light fame in the corners of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, where the borders of these three states meet. And so the legends and lore of the mysterious light became inextricably linked to the equally legendary highway.”
Drawn to the mystery like so many other Route 66 fans, I parked my car on the empty road in the calm of a moonless night. I waited over an hour in the dark, and though the ghostly light never bounced off in the distance, the lore I had read heightened my anticipation so much that a pair of passing headlights startled me, if only for a second.
Local resident Vance Randolph documented his encounter with the phenomenon in his 1947 tome Ozark Magic and Folklore. “I myself have seen this light on three occasions,” he wrote. “At first it appeared about the size of an egg, but varied until at times it appeared as large as a bathtub. I saw only one glow, but other witnesses saw it split into two, three, or four smaller lights. The thing looked yellow to me, but some observers describe it as red, green, blue, or even purple. One man swore it passed so close that he could distinctly feel the heat, and a woman saw it burst like a bubble, sending sparks in all directions.”