Sunday, September 17, 2006


The legend of the Joplin, Missouri Spooklight began in 1884 when, according to a pamphlet written by the original owner of the Spooklight Museum, Spooky (Arthur P.) Meadows, a young Quapaw Indian girl saw it weaving through the trees in northeastern Oklahoma.

Or, maybe it began when a miner, heading home just after dark, got lost in the woods. Some say that his wife, fearing the worst, grabbed an old lantern and set out to look for him, wandering until dawn. When her husband failed to return a second night, she set out again, and from that point on, each night, until she died. Now her ghost, carrying that lantern, searches for her husband.

Some say her lantern is the light that the Quapaw girl saw. Others suggest that the light was already there when the first of the white man arrived in the area around the beginning of the nineteenth century. Some thought it might have actually appeared about the time of Christ, but there were no humans around the area two thousand years ago. At least none who left a record for us to find.

Whatever the source of the light, or origin of the legend, the light is still there. I know because I have seen it. It appeared on each of the nights I was there, showing up about dusk and flashing around the sky until we left four or five hours later. Given what I know, I suspect it stayed until dawn and then gradually faded into the brightness of the day.
I spent a week in Joplin with Monty Skelton who, at one time, was the president of the North American UFO Organization. That first night, in the mid-1970s, as we pulled up near the somewhat dilapidated Spooklight Museum, about dusk, the light twinkled into existence hovering down the road. As Skelton stopped the car, I pulled my camera from the back, set up the tripod, and began to shoot. I hadn’t expected to see anything and hadn’t been fully prepared. I had only part of a roll of film.

Garland Middleton, who owned the museum in the 1970s, told me later that night, "I’ve seen a lot of people try to take pictures, but none of them got anything."

I finished the roll of film and the Spooklight was still there. Using binoculars, I watched it bob and weave, seeming to be about a hundred feet above the ground. It broke into three parts, and then five, and finally vanished for several seconds. Moments later it burst out again, outshining everything around it.

When it was totally dark, the outside lights of the museum had been turned on and I could see Middleton’s car, the door labeled "Spooklight," sitting close to it. While others stood on the road watching the light, and other cars arrived and left, I walked over to the museum.

Middleton was sitting on a couch by an old wood burning stove. He had worked with the original owner, Meadows, had run the museum for him, opening it in morning and sometimes closing it at night.
Meadows had been estranged from his own family telling Ron Bogue of the Joplin Globe, "I’ve got three sons. One of them I haven’t seen in twenty years. I don’t know where he is. My other two boys live in Kansas but they never come to see me... I don’t know them." Middleton, who shared a love of the Spooklight became, to some extent, Meadows’s heir, replacing the family who had no time for him.

When Meadows died, Middleton took over the museum, living out on what Meadows had called "Spooklight Corner." In the mid-seventies, there were two pool tables and three pinball machines in the museum. On one wall there were dozens of clippings about the light, several photographs of it and a short story about the museum. I read the clippings which told me little about the light and a lot about the legends including one that said river boat passengers had sometimes reported the light. Today I’m not sure what river boats the writer meant, or even what river the boats would have been traveling.

I studied the photographs which suggested that Middleton might have been exaggerating when he said that no one had much luck taking pictures. He was even selling post cards that had picture of the light on the front. It was apparently one of many taken by Meadows who had been a photographer in his younger years.

In the mid-1970s, Middleton was an old man, fairly tall and very thin. He was friendly and eager to talk about the light. He told me, "I first seen the light forty-years ago. It looks the same today as it did then. Now it usually stays away but it used to come right down the road, almost to the corner."

Middleton, like so many of the others I talked to, told of friends who had been within twenty feet of the light. He said that he had once gotten to within fifteen feet, but that was years ago. "Nowadays it seems to stay away more. It doesn’t come very close but it’s always out there."

There were a couple of teenagers in the museum. I asked these young men, who were playing pool, if they had seen the light. The taller of the two, who had slightly reddish hair and couldn’t have been more than eighteen said that he hadn’t really seen it and didn’t care to. He was just there to play pool. The other, shorter, stockier kid said that he had seen it but he wasn’t all that interested in it now. Pinball and pool had drawn him, and his friend, out to the museum. They could play uninterrupted because rarely anyone else came in to play pool.

Back outside, I traveled up the road where the Spooklight floated but when I reached the top of the last hill, the light vanished. Below me, stretched for miles, was part of Oklahoma. In the distance I could see lights flickering along a stretch of highway and some of them looked remarkably like the Spooklight but everyone said they weren’t.

"Besides," said James Smith of Joplin, "the light was here long before the town or cars or electricity."

Well, maybe.

We turned around and started back to the museum. In the rearview mirror we could catch glimpses of the light still hovering over the hilltops, seeming to pulsate and change color.

Although we tried to drive up on it several times, we always failed. One man volunteered that he sometimes came in from another direction, using some of the back roads and that way he could "fool it." Once, as he turned onto "Spooklight Road" it had passed over his car. At least that is what he said.

He wasn’t alone in making such a claim. Others said that they had friends, family, cousins, or had just heard that the light sometimes came down the road. One man said that his brother reported that the Spooklight had touched the hood of his car, sitting on it for several seconds before disappearing. When I traced the brother, he said, no, that had been a friend. But then the friend related that he had heard it from someone else. The story had evolved into the old "friend of a friend" routine. I could never get to the original source.

I returned on a couple of other nights. Once I was there with Marta Poyner, a reporter for the Joplin Globe. She said that she had been out several times but had never seen the Spooklight. Just as we pulled up, it flared once and seemed to split into pieces. I pointed it out and she said, "Oh, I’ve seen that before. I always thought it was car headlights."

One of those who had driven out that night overheard her comment and said, "It’s been here since 1811, long before there were any cars."

Well, maybe.

We both took pictures, and just like the batch I had taken the first night, these too, came out, contrary to the legend. Once we had finished, we tried walking down the road to the light, but after a mile or so, we gave up. The light wasn’t any closer, and I had already tried to approach it in a car.

Back at the museum, I ran into John Wysong, a long time Joplin resident. He was with his wife and son, and though he had first seen the light in 1955, he returned two or three times a year to look at it.

James Wysong, the son, had also seen the light before, but his wife, from Arizona had not. She hadn’t even heard of the light until after she was married into the Wysong clan.

I asked her what she thought of it. She said, "I didn’t know what they were talking about. I really didn’t believe that I would see it but there it is. I don’t know what to make of it but I know there must be some kind of explanation for it."

The younger Wysong said that he had tried to find out exactly what it was. One night he had tried to stalk it, but after only a few minutes had given up. He didn’t say it, but seemed to imply he didn’t really want to get too close to it. He didn’t know what he might discover and that had concerned him.

The older Mrs. Wysong leaned across the front seat of the van and said, "After studying it all these years, you would think that someone would be able to figure it out what it is. It’s a real mystery to me."

Well, she was right. You would think that after all the studies someone would have a logical explanation for the Spooklight.

During the Second World War, the Army Corps of Engineers spent some time studying the Spooklight. Colonel Dennis E. McCunniff was interviewed in his headquarters at Camp Crowder and said, "I know that no one is going to like this, or even believe this, but we found a few interesting things about the Spooklight. We discovered that it is seen more frequently in the winter but I believe that is due to the lack of foliage. Leaves off the trees and that kind of thing. After looking at it, we’ve determined that it’s a refraction of light. An optical illusion."

Well, maybe.

In 1960, William K. Underwood, a high school student from Carthage, Missouri, spent 400 hours studying the light for his high school science project. He claimed that the lights were from a section of highway going east out of Quapaw, Oklahoma, and directly west of the road where the Spooklight is seen. Underwood, with the help of his friends and family, designed a number of experiments to prove his theory. Using a spectroscopic photograph, Underwood discovered that the light was from an incandescent source. In other words, the light came from car headlights. This seems to corroborate the theory given by Colonel McCunniff.

He also had friends drive down the stretch of highway, some with colored filters on their headlights. He watched as they flashed signals at him that were reflected in the Spooklight, verifying, to some degree his theory.

Others, equipped with mirrors, binoculars and cameras made similar experiments. Given that the signals were flashed in random patterns so that those at the museum didn’t know exactly when they were coming or what the signals would be, it provided some dynamic evidence.

A Joplin resident, who didn’t want to be named, said that he believed the Spooklight to be some kind of magnetic aberration that caused an ionization of the atmosphere near it. That caused the gases to glow and could account for the reports that the light had been attracted to cars. The gases would have one electrical charge and the car would have the opposite. The problem was that the glow lasted for hours and that suggested it wasn’t an ionization. Besides, there was no real mechanism in the explanation to cause the glow. The air might be ionized, but that, in and of itself, does not cause it to glow.
Spooky Meadows, in 1969, told Bogue of the Globe that he had formed his own opinion of what, according to Bogue, "has baffled everyone from Army Engineers down to amateur scientists." Meadows said, "It’s a light, of course. But the mystery is - what causes it?"

Most of those who live in Joplin will tell those who ask that there is no good explanation for the Spooklight. They will tell you that the Army studied it, as have scientists and investigators, but no one has explained it. They will tell you that it is probably some kind of a natural phenomenon, but they will refuse to identify exactly what that phenomenon is, preferring to sound somewhat skeptical while denying any and all explanations.

They will also mention, whenever an explanation is offered, that the light was there long before cars and electricity arrived on the scene. I could find no documentation to support that. The first of the newspaper articles and other documents are from the beginning of the twentieth century.

Those who live in Joplin are going to believe what they want to believe and they won’t listen to an outsider with an explanation. That attitude was typified on a call-in radio program originating in Joplin. One woman heard that we were there and wondered why we didn’t just stay home. The light wasn’t ours to study, but it was theirs. It belonged to Joplin. "If they want to study something, why don’t they do it at home and leave us alone," she said.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Faked? Who Knows?

A number of years ago, more than I like to think about, I used to visit newspaper morgues and ask about UFO stories. Sometimes I got lucky and found information on cases that hadn’t been reported outside the local area. In Cedar Rapids I was given a photograph of two objects (seen at the left) as they flew over town. I deduced the date as late August or early September based on evidence in the picture and was told that it had been taken by Fay Clark, one time the mayor of little Hiawatha, Iowa.

Later I learned that the picture had been taken on September 3, 1955, and was pleased that I had figured the time of year properly. I learned that Sam Stochl had been commissioned by the mayor, Clark, to take aerial photographs of Hiawatha but hadn’t seen the objects in the picture. Clark said that "knowing the airplane was flying at 1,200 feet... we can triangulate the objects as approximately 33 feet in diameter... at an altitude of 800 feet."

All well and good, but the picture always struck me as looking as if the objects had been drawn on the photographic paper and then the picture printed. You might remember how you could put designs on Easter eggs using wax to protect the shell from the dye. I always thought the objects had that sort of a quality too them. I especially thought this after learning that no one had seen the objects in broad daylight.

Now I learn a little more about Fay Clark. He is credited with founding Hiawatha. He was a rock hound, a flying saucer enthusiast and had an interest in photography. He wrote about book in 1958, Beyond the Light, about astral projection and parapsychology.

Given this information, especially about his interests in UFOs and photography, given the look of the photograph, and given that the actual photographer, Sam Stochl didn’t see the objects, I think we can conclude that Clark created the photograph. It was undoubtedly meant as a local oddity and nothing more, though it has appeared in one book published for a national audience some years later.

This is just another in a long list of UFO photographs that doesn’t deserve much more than a casual glance. And even if we called the photograph authentic (meaning of real UFOs) there isn’t much more we can do. There are no eyewitnesses and the evidence offered is of little value without additional information. It is an oddity, it is interesting, and it does nothing to increase our knowledge.

Disappearing Aircraft - Part 3 The Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle is a place out in the Atlantic that supposedly swallows ships and aircraft with frightening regularity. These aircraft, according to legend, are often in radio contact with some kind of flight following agency, or in sight of land or airfields, and are said to disappear without a trace. The mystery deepens because there is never any wreckage suggesting to many that something supernatural or other worldly had occurred.

Such is the case of a C-119 Flying Boxcar that vanished in June 1965 while on enroute to Grand Turk Island from Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. The crew made a badly garbled radio transmission only minutes out and were never heard from again. It was suggested, by those who write about such things, that some kind of desperate last message had been sent, possibly about UFOs.

The International UFO Bureau, in 1973, took the idea of UFOs even further when they suggested that the UFO allegedly seen by James McDivitt and Ed White on a Gemini space mission was somehow tied into the disappearance of the C-119. McDivitt reported a strange object while over the Carribean and the International UFO Bureau thought that the UFO seen by the astronauts might have "captured" the cargo plane.

The real story, although as tragic, is not as dramatic. According to members of the Air Force Reserve and the 440th Tactical Airlift Wing at Milwaukee’s Billy Mitchell Field, the unit to which the aircraft and crew were assigned, the disappearance wasn’t nearly as total, nor as strange.

"We know," one officer told me, "that everything was fine about thirty minutes before landing. Major Louis Giuntoli [the pilot] had made a position report about 11 p.m."

A search was launched when the aircraft failed to arrive. Nearly 100,000 square miles of ocean were covered by boats and planes. By June 8, the Miami newspapers were calling attention to the Bermuda Triangle, recounting that dozens of planes had disappeared without a trace in the area.

The search was abandoned on June 10 when searchers failed to find any sign of the missing plane. But just two days later debris, stenciled with serial numbers and the tail number of the aircraft, was found. Although none of the wreckage was from the structure of the aircraft, the debris was from inside it.

About a month later, in early July, a wheel chock stenciled with the tail number turned up near Ackins Island. This was in the general area where the rest of the debris had been found.

The intelligence officer of the 928th Tactical Airlift Group, a subordinate unit to the 440th, said that he had talked to a number of officers in the wing and their belief was that the C-119 lost an engine just after the pilot had made his position report. He said, "If there was a corresponding electrical failure, which wouldn’t have been all that uncommon in those circumstances, they would have had no lights and no radio. Since this was at night when a light haze forms that makes it nearly impossible to see the horizon, the deck was stacked against them."

It means, simply, that the sky would have combined with the water surface giving the pilots the look of flying at a wall. With the instruments out because of the electrical failure, the pilots would have had nothing to use to keep the aircraft flying straight and level. The eventual outcome would be they would have flown into the ocean. It is not unlike what happened to JFK Jr. when he, his wife, and their female companion were killed in an aircraft accident.

Given the full story, the interviews with members of the missing aircraft’s unit members, the discovery of debris, and the circumstances, it is not difficult to understand how the aircraft might have crashed. Unlike the chroniclers of the Bermuda Triangle legend claim, wreckage was found, though not very much. The reasons for the crash are understood. It seems that this is one mystery that has been solved.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Disappearing Aircraft Part 2 - Kinross

When I had the chance, back in 1976, to look at the then recently declassified Project Blue Book files, one of the first cases I asked to see was that on the disappearance of an F-89 over Lake Superior on November 23, 1953. This was the story of a jet, scrambled into a stormy night to identify a UFO detected by radar. Those watching the intercept on radar saw the blip of the fighter merge with that of the UFO and then the single blip disappear from the scope. The fighter was never seen again and the two officers on board, Felix Moncla, Jr., and Robert R. Wilson were gone.

No one was sure what happened. By coincidence, earlier in the day, an F-89 from the same squadron had crashed near Madison Wisconsin, killing both pilots. They had been testing the afterburners and the test seemed to go fine. Not long after that witnesses reported they heard an explosion and the jet crashed into a swamp. It was a bad day for a unit that wasn’t involved in combat operations. No one is quite sure what happened there either, though both Donald Keyhoe and Frank Edwards speculated that flying saucers might have been involved (which makes for a great tale but doesn’t appear to be true).

But the case that I wanted to see when I had the first chance was that of Moncla and Wilson. When I was given the file, I was surprised. It contained two sheets of paper. One was a note explaining that the case was not a UFO sighting but an aircraft accident and the other was the page proof from a debunking book on UFOs. Neither was much help but they certainly provided a glimpse into the Air Force mind set in 1953.

What we know is this. On the evening of November 23, about six hours after the crash near Madison, radar at Truax Air Force Base picked up an unidentified blip over the Soo Locks in restricted airspace. Since it was unidentified, an interceptor was scrambled. Ground radar vectored the jet toward the UFO. Wilson said that he was unable to find the object on his radar, so the ground radars continued to vector the jet toward the object that had seemed to be hovering but was beginning to accelerate as it headed out over the lake.

For nine minutes the chase continued with Moncla able to gain slightly on the UFO and Wilson finally able to get a fix on it. The gap between the jet and the UFO narrowed, closed and then merged as Moncla caught the UFO.

At first no one was concerned because the ground radar had no high-finding capability and it was possible the jet had flown over or under the object but the blips didn’t separate. They hung together and then the lone blip flashed off the screen. The jet, apparently, was gone.

Attempts to reach Moncla failed. Radar operators called for Search and Rescue, providing the last known position of the jet. Through the night they continued to search, later joined by the Canadians. They found nothing. They found no clue about the fate of the jet or the crew. No wreckage and no sign that the crew had bailed out.

An early edition of the Chicago Tribune carried a story about the accident with the radar operator’s opinion that the jet had hit something. While the search continued, the Air Force moved to suppress the idea that the jet had hit anything.
Although a well-coordinated search was conducted, and everyone thought they knew where the jet had been because of the radar tracking, they never found anything. There was no wreckage, no oil slick, no bodies, nothing. The last trace of the jet had been when the two radar blips merged.

In the years that followed the Air Force offered a variety of answers for the accident. They claimed the radar operators had misread the scope and that Moncla had actually been chasing a Canadian DC-3. After Moncla had caught and identified it, he turned, only to have something happen then. Something so swift that he had time to neither report the identity of the unidentified blip or suggest the nature of the his sudden problem.

The Canadians quickly denied the jet had hit one of their aircraft, but the Air Force, for about a year, stuck to the DC-3 story until, finally, changing it to an RCAF jet. The Canadians, quite naturally, denied this, too. The Air Force later suggested that Moncla’s jet exploded at high altitude (which given what had happened earlier in the day wasn’t all that far out of line). That sort of an accident should have left wreckage scattered over the surface of the lake, but nothing was found.

The Air Force officers who were stationed at Truax in 1953 had their own theories. I talked to a lieutenant colonel (yes, I know exactly who the lieutenant colonel is, but given the way things operate in today’s environment, I’m not inclined to publish his name... I will reveal it to researchers who have a genuine interest in the case) who verified that the jet disappeared and that the search failed to find anything. He told me there were two schools of thought about what happened. "One group thought the plane had gone straight into the lake. If it didn’t break up, there would have been no oil slick or wreckage. That’s entirely possible. The other school thought that Moncla had been ‘taken’ by the UFO."

Not long after Moncla and Wilson disappeared, according to the lieutenant colonel, two jets found themselves paced by a large, bright UFO. They went through a series of turns and banks to make sure the UFO was not some bizarre reflection on the canopy or other optical illusion. Then, knowing what had happened to Moncla and Wilson, the flight leader called the break and both aircraft turned into the UFO. It hesitated for an instant and then flashed from sight. The lieutenant colonel, who had been there, told me that the pilots had, as regulations demanded, made a report to Project Blue Book. When I searched the Blue Book files, I could find no indication of this report. The lieutenant colonel said that he was surprised that no report could be found.

Some fifteen years after the disappearance, according to the Sault Daily Star two prospectors found aircraft parts, including a tail section, on the eastern shore of Lake Superior. The paper quoted Air Force sources saying the parts belonged to "a high performance military jet aircraft." Speculation was that the wreckage as from the missing F-89.

So that’s where the mystery stood for more than fifty years. What became known as the Kinross Incident puzzled researchers and while it didn’t prove UFOs were hostile, it certainly suggested they were dangerous. Neither the jet nor the missing airmen had been found.

Now, an outfit known as Great Lake Dive Company claims they have found the wreckage of the aircraft sitting on the bottom of Lake Superior in about 500 feet of water. On their website, is a photograph of an aircraft that could be the missing jet. It is in surprisingly good shape considering having crashed into the lake.

If this is the missing jet, then one question has been answered. We will know what happened to the aircraft. If Great Lake Dive succeeds in getting down to the aircraft and can verify that it is the missing jet, then they might be able to suggest something about the fate of the two men on board.

There are some, inside the UFO community, who caution that we should wait for more information. Finding the wreckage of an aircraft that could be an F-89 doesn’t automatically mean that it was the one flown by Moncla and Wilson, though the wreckage on the bottom seems to be missing the same pieces that were found in 1968. Even that doesn’t prove it was the jet flown by Moncla and Wilson. What we have here is the possible solution to a mystery. All we need is a little patience, along with a little more information.