Thursday, 3 May 2018

WHERE DID YOU GO, LADY BE GOOD?

The remains of Lady be Good, Libyan desert, 1959 (US Public Domain)

A few minutes after 3 PM, April 4, 1943, at the height of World War II, a brand, spanking new B-24D Liberator heavy bomber--serial number 41-24301--belonging to 514 Bomb Squadron, 376th Bomb Group left the US Army Air Force base at Soluch Field near Benghazi, Libya, north of the Sahara Desert, and headed northeast over the Mediterranean Sea to bomb the harbor at Naples, Italy.

War crews thought the world of their aircraft, giving them names as if they were human. This crew was no different: They had the words Lady Be Good hand-painted on the starboard, front side. The bomber was named after the popular song Oh, Lady Be Good, written by George and Ira Gershwin in 1924, and had been performed by big band leaders Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Count Basie and a few others up to that time. Besides given a new aircraft, the nine-man crew was on their first combat mission together, part of a two-prong attack containing 25 bombers, with Lady Be Good one of the 11-plane second wave.

The rookie crew consisted of…
--pilot: 1st Lt William Hatton from Whitestone, New York
--co-pilot: 2nd Lt Robert Toner from North Attleborough, Massachusetts
--navigator: 2nd Lt D.P Hays from Lee’s Summit, Missouri
--radio operator: T/Sgt Robert LaMotte from Lake Linden, Michigan
--flight engineer: Harold Ripslinger from Saginaw, Michigan
--bombardier: 2nd Lt John Woravka from Cleveland, Ohio
--tail gunner: S/Sgt Samuel Adams from Eureka, Illinois
--gunner/assistant radio operator: S/Sgt Vernon Moore from New Boston, Ohio
--gunner/assistant engineer: Guy Shelley from New Cumberland, Pennsylvania


April 4, 1943 was not a good day for this crew because too many things went wrong right from the start. High winds and bad visibility due to a wicked sandstorm hindered them from joining the other bombers in the stream. Nine aircraft returned to Soluch, leaving pilot William Hatton, and only three other pilots in the air, with Hatton taking the lead. Experiencing more high winds along the way and forced to make several coarse corrections, the four crews continued on. Arriving over the target at 24,900 feet and discovering the harbor blanketed in cloud cover and darkness, Hatton banked away, jettisoned his bombs over the Mediterranean, and headed back to Soluch, Libya. Little did he know his troubles were only beginning.

A few minutes after midnight, Hatton radioed Soluch to tell the operator his automatic direction finder was malfunctioning and asked for help to guide him to the runway. Despite the base staff lighting bright flares for the crew, the Lady Be Good B-24D Liberator vanished into the darkness. A search and rescue mission sent out at sunup found no trace of the crew or the bomber.


Lady be Good, Libyan Desert, 1959 (US Public Domain)
Where did it go? Two years later, the war was over and the incident was all but forgotten. Chalked up as one of those many World War II mysteries, it was presumed that the crew and aircraft Lady Be Good had gone down in the Mediterranean.

Then…

Fifteen years later, May 16, 1958, Captain Allan Frost, flying a twin-engine Dakota for Silver City Airways (a private British airline established in 1946), spotted a crashed four-engine aircraft deep in the Sahara Desert 440 miles south of Soluch, Libya. There were subsequent sightings of the broken aircraft over the next few months without much being done. By November 9 that same year, A British oil exploration team sub-contracting for British Petroleum (BP) reported the same crash site. The team marked the location and contacted the Americans at Wheelus Air Base on the Mediterranean coast near Tripoli, Libya.

By May 29, 1959, American boots were on the ground to inspect what turned out to be one of their own World War II bombers. To their surprise, they had discovered the elusive Lady Be Good. The bomber was well preserved, despite being snapped in two pieces along the fuselage. The machine guns and radio were still working, and food and water were discovered aboard. A thermos of coffee was found still drinkable. The lack of human remains and parachutes suggested that the crew had bailed out.

Following an extensive air search throughout the area beginning in February, 1960, plus a thorough analysis of the B-24’s flight and aftermath later, in addition to a BP exploration crew helping out, the whole story came together. And it was a strange tale indeed. All the bodies were found over the next few months except for one--Vernon Moore. His remains may have been discovered after a British Army desert patrol found a body in 1953. Unable to identify Moore, if it was him, and unaware that any American airmen were reported missing in the vicinity, they buried the body in an unmarked grave in an identified area.

The remains of John Moravka were discovered only a few miles away from the crash site. His parachute still attached meant his chute didn’t open and he probably died from the fall. Harold Ripslinger’s body was found the furthest from the others, an astonishing 200 miles from the Lady be Good’s crash site.
The crew of Lady be Good, 1943 (US Public Domain)
Going back to the flight…apparently, upon returning from Naples, the Lady Be Good experienced an extremely strong tail wind. Somehow mistaking the wind for a headwind and believing that his equipment was giving him false readings, Hatton flew over his base at Soluch, believing he and his crew was still over water. Instead, they flew approximately 440 miles into the desert beyond. By 2 AM, running out of fuel, the crew bailed out, while the bomber flew on for another 16 miles before landing flat on the desert floor and cracking apart.

One could just imagine the crew’s shock upon finding out they had actually landed on ground instead of the water they had expected. So, in the middle of the night, the crew rallied around the flares they lit and began the walk back to base which they were convinced was only a few miles away or over the next sand dune or two. Unfortunately, Soluch wasn’t that close.

Actually, had the crew realized where exactly they had landed in the Sahara that April 5, 1943 morning, they might have survived. First, by making a controlled landing on the desert bed, they could have used the radio to make a distress call. Or perhaps, after bailing out, they could’ve walked the 16 miles back to the bomber. Either way, they had provisions aboard, however meager, such as water and food, in 
addition to the radio. Also, they were within probable walking distance of Wadi Zighen, an oasis to the south with palm trees and ample water supply--five wells in all.

After the eight recovered bodies were shipped back to the United States for proper burials, pieces from Lady Be Good and crew mementos were exhibited in museums around the United States, including one of the props displayed in Lake Linden, the hometown of Robert LaMotte, the radio operator.

In August 1994, the remains of Lady be Good--the bomber that went on her first and last World War II combat mission--were removed from the crash site and taken to a Libyan military base in Tobruk, where they remain in storage today.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

JUNIOR JUMPERS—GOING STRAIGHT TO THE BIG SHOW

Today, a hotshot amateur player jumping from junior hockey one season directly into the NHL the next season seems to be all too common. But before the Entry Draft--in the days of the old Original Six hockey from 1942-1967--it was doubly tough to jump and make it. In this era where each NHL team had sponsored their own junior clubs there were even cases of players achieving success in the NHL via the senior amateur route.

What made it extra hard was that at any given time there were only a combined total of about 100 roster spots in the NHL. The league was rougher then, too, a “dog-eat-dog” world. So, who were these players who made the grade?


Detroit Red Wings…

Durable, dirty and feisty, nineteen-year-old Ted Lindsay finished his junior days an OHA St Michael’s Major in 1943-44. Left unclaimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs (who sponsored the college), Lindsay was snapped up by Red Wings’ chief scout Carson Cooper. Lindsay scored 17 goals in his first NHL season and never looked back, without playing a single game in the minors. By the time he retired, he was the highest scoring left winger in the game and the most penalized player.

The Leafs also blew it with defenseman Len “Red” Kelly, another St Michael’s graduate. Leaf scouts thought he was too frail for the NHL and wouldn’t make it past 20 games. Signed by Carson Cooper, Kelly proved them wrong by heading to the Wings in the fall of 1947, and went on to play 20 seasons in the NHL.

After center Alex Delvecchio--also scouted and signed by Cooper--graduated from Oshawa in the spring of 1951, he was sent to the Wings AHL affiliate in Indianapolis that fall. There, he scored three goals and assisted on six others in only six games. Six games in the minors were enough for the parent Wings, who quickly called him up for good. Twenty-three seasons and 456 goals later, he retired a lifetime Red Wing.


New York Rangers…

The “Big Apple” saw two notables making the jump from the OHA Guelph Biltmores in 1952. They were left winger Dean Prentice, who peaked at 32 goals in 1959-60 and netted ten, 20-goal seasons with five different teams; then Harry Howell, who in 1967, at age 34, won his only James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. At the dinner ceremonies, he said he was happy to receive the award when he did because there was a kid in Boston named Bobby Orr who was going to own the trophy for the next several years running.

Little center Camille Henry was a Quebec Citadelle junior in 1952-53. He scored 24 goals the next season as a Ranger regular, good enough to receive the NHL Rookie of the Year Award. The next season, however, he was sent down to the minors and wasn’t called back until the fall of 1956. In his next full season in 1957-58, he lit up the league with 32 goals. He scored at least 23 goals seven different times as a Ranger.

Hard-knocking free agent defenseman Gus Kyle from the Regina Capitals of Western Canada Senior Hockey League made the New York Rangers in 1949-50 where he played the full schedule. He spent two more seasons as a regular in the NHL before being sent to the minors.


Boston Bruins…

Equally talented at left wing and defense, Doug Mohns reached the Bruins at 19 in 1953-54, where he scored 13 goals in his rookie season after leaving his junior team, the Barrie Flyers. His career took him well into the middle 1970s, retiring as a Washington Capital.

In the early-to-mid-1960s, the Bruins were dreadful and were forced to call up a few youngsters sooner than expected. Ed Westfall was a defensive specialist at both right wing and defense who jumped from the Niagara Falls Flyers (via two games with Kingston in the Eastern Pro League) to Boston in 1961-62. Defenseman Dallas Smith of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League Estevan Bruins appeared later in the 1959-60 season as Bruin, then was sent down to the minors within two seasons before reappearing as a key blue line partner with Bobby Orr in 1967. Defenseman Gilles Marotte left Niagara Falls for the big club, getting there in the fall of 1965 along with goalie Bernie Parent, who later made his mark winning two Stanley Cups in Philadelphia in the 1970s.

The ultimate “junior jumper” had to be Bobby Orr. As an 18-year-old rookie fresh from the Oshawa Generals, he made the Bruins easily and was voted Rookie of the Year in 1967. He went on to six straight 100-point seasons and still found time to guard his end of the blue line better than anyone else in the league. Beginning in 1967-68, Orr’s second NHL season, he won eight straight James Norris Trophies. Harry Howell was right about the kid.


Chicago Black Hawks…

Stan Mikita beehive picture 
(Canadian Public Domain)

Between 1942-1957, the Black Hawks were pathetic, making the playoffs only three times. Then they received a gift on a silver platter: First-Team All-Stars Ted Lindsay and Glenn Hall in a lopsided deal from Detroit, a trade Detroit’s GM Jack Adams engineered to punish the two players for their involvement in starting a Players’ Association in 1957.
This, plus promoting two future offensive weapons directly from the junior St Catharines Teepees eventually helped to bring the Blacks Hawks a Stanley Cup championship in 1961. The players were left winger Bobby Hull and center Stan Mikita. Hull took Rookie of the Year honors for 1957-58, and Mikita first saw NHL action two years later. By the 1960s, they were both collecting points almost at will.

Two other junior jumpers were forwards Fred Stanfield and Ken Hodge, who advanced to the Hawks via the St Catharines Black Hawks in the mid-1960s. Then, before the start of the 1967-68 season, Stanfield (down in the minors) and Hodge, along with center Phil Esposito, were traded to Boston in one of the most one-sided deals in NHL history. Orr, Hodge, Stanfield, and Esposito were crucial in turning the Bruins into a powerhouse with Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972.


Montreal Canadiens…

During World War II goalie Bill Durnan and right winger Maurice “The Rocket” Richard made the jump to the NHL from senior hockey: Durnan from the Montreal Royals of the Quebec Senior Hockey League and Richard from the Montreal Senior Canadiens of the same league. Richard became a scoring machine through to 1960 and Durnan won six Vezina Trophies in his seven years as a Canadien.

1958-59 Parkhurst bubble gum card
of Dickie Moore (Canadian Public Domain)
Early in the Fifties, the same decade in which Montreal won six Stanley Cups, including five in row, the team promoted two capable youngsters from the Quebec Junior Hockey league: right winger Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion with his devastating slapshot from the Montreal Nationale in 1950; and future high-scoring left winger Dickie Moore via the Montreal Junior Canadiens a season later. The Rocket’s little brother, center Henri Richard, came over from the Montreal Junior Canadians in the fall of 1955. Upon retirement 20 years later, he had played on 11 Stanley Cup championship teams--an NHL record--as a Canadien.

Jean Beliveau, a highly-touted junior with the Quebec Citadelle, stayed in town to play for the Quebec Aces of the Quebec Hockey League in 1951, where he was the league’s biggest drawing card. He wanted no part of the NHL and wished to stay where he was--happy and content in the city that loved him and paid him well, despite being an amateur, at least on paper. The Canadiens wanted Beliveau so badly that they bought the entire league and turned it pro just to get their hands on him. Beliveau then signed a five-year deal worth $100,000. Ten Stanley Cups later, he retired as one of the classiest icons of the game.

In the Sixties, right winger Yvan “The Roadrunner” Cournoyer arrived from the Montreal Junior Canadiens, via a quick seven games with the AHL Quebec Aces. A lightning fast, sharpshooting scorer especially on power plays, he also celebrated 10 Stanley Cup victories.


Toronto Maple Leafs…

Ted “Teeder” Kennedy played no junior hockey, only 23 games for the Ontario Senior League Port Colborne Sailors in 1942-43 before cutting his teeth in the NHL with the Leafs the next season at the age of 18. A born center, he quickly established himself as the best faceoff man in the league for years. He remained in Toronto until his Hall of Fame career ended 13 years and five Stanley Cups later.

Leaf management brought up five junior prospects in the Fifties--within a stretch of six years--who went on to play a combined 87 NHL seasons. Left winger Frank Mahovlich, the only one based at St Michael’s, was the best. Runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting to Bobby Hull in 1958, “The Big M” scored 48 goals in 1960-61, then began to get booed by his hometown fans so fiercely that he had to be traded away. After four Stanley Cups wins with Toronto, he won two more in Montreal.

Defenseman Carl Brewer and forwards Eric Nesterenko, Ron Stewart, and Bob Pulford were the other four, arriving compliments of the Toronto Marlboro gravy train. The two-way Bob Pulford was the best of the crew and the only Hall of Famer. A steady left winger, he didn’t score that much in the regular season (four 20-goal seasons in 17 years), but in the playoffs he got the clutch goals and assists when the Leafs won four Cups between 1962-1967 (15 goals and 19 assists in 48 games in the four Stanley Cup runs).
Dave Keon beehive picture
(Canadian Public Domain)
In the Sixties came three more juniors ready for Leaf action. A skillful center with the St Michael’s college in 1959-60, then a 20-goal scorer and a Rookie of the Year Award winner the next season, the clean-playing Dave Keon made his presence known immediately. And it got better after that: 396 total goals and four Stanley Cups with Toronto, including a playoff MVP in 1967.

Another Rookie of the Year winner was high-scoring left winger Brit Selby in 1965-66, fresh from the Marlies. But that was it for Selby, who was passed around to different teams, never quite living up to his potential. A fan favorite in Toronto, right winger Ron Ellis, on the other hand, started strong with 23 goals in his first season in 1964-65 and remained effective as a lifetime Leaf until 1980-81 with 10 straight 20-goal seasons to his credit.

So, in short, it seemed to work out well for the six NHL teams by sending these juniors to the parent clubs early because out of all the 33 players mentioned here 19 are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not bad, eh?

Friday, 2 March 2018

THE NORRIS HOCKEY FAMILY

Who remembers the term “Original Six” hockey? I do, I do!

For the benefit for those who don’t, from 1942-1967 only six teams were part of the “Big Show” in the National Hockey League; the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Who had the money during that time? Who had the power? Who pushed their will on the others? Who made the boardroom decisions? In other words, who really controlled the league? Answer--the Norris family. They had their iron fists wrapped around all four American teams, much to the dismay of the two Canadian franchises across the border.

One family! How on earth did that happen?

James E Norris Sr (US Public Domain)
Let’s see…enter James E Norris, Sr whom friends called “Big Jim.” Born to a well-to-do family in Montreal in 1879, Norris Sr inherited Norris Grain Inc from his father after the family moved the operation to Chicago, Illinois. President of Norris Grain at age 28 in 1908, Big Jim set out to corner the market on the grain business by buying up huge clusters of storage elevators throughout the United States. Within 25 years of taking over Norris Grain Inc, James E Norris was the largest cash grain buyer in the world and a force to be reckoned with, despite the Great Depression gripping the country following the 1929 Stock Market Crash.

Worth multi-millions and using his successful grain business as a foundation to force his way into pro sports, Norris bought the bankrupt Detroit Falcons and the team’s arena--the five-year-old, 15,000 seat Detroit Olympia--in 1932 for a mere $100,000. One of his new employees was son James D Norris, hired to learn the ropes of running a hockey team. Big Jim’s next move was to rename the team: He came up with the Detroit Red Wings in honor of the Montreal amateur hockey team he had once played for called the “Winged Wheelers.” Of course, the new Detroit logo (an auto wheel attached to a bird wing) was the perfect fit for the industrial metropolis, being that it was the Motor City.

With loads of Norris cash now available for coach-GM Jack Adams, the Red Wings were able to build a farm system and purchase high-caliber players, so much so that within five years of Norris buying the team, they won back-to-back NHL championships, the first American team to achieve such a accolade.

James D Norris (US Public Domain)
The deepening Great Depression didn’t seem to hurt the Norris pocketbook any because in the space of four years in the mid-1930s, Big Jim spread his control over the remaining American teams, either outright or through the backdoor. He became the largest shareholder of Madison Square Garden, the home of the New York Rangers. He acquired Chicago Stadium, the home of the Black Hawks, plus provided business loans to Boston Bruins owner Charles Adams to keep his team afloat, besides owning a share or two of the Bruins’ rink, Boston Garden. All three arenas--or portions thereof--were obtained at reduced prices, due to the economic times. By 1940, Norris’ personal wealth exceeded $200 million, when you include his real estate investing and sprawling cattle ranches throughout the country.

In 1944, when Chicago’s owner Frederic McLaughlin died, Norris saw to it that Black Hawks president Bill Tobin, along with a number of partners could purchase the team. Although Tobin appeared to be the head on paper, most knew he was a Norris puppet using Norris money because son James D Norris was one of Tobin’s syndicate, while still remaining Vice President of the Detroit Red Wings. Another partner-to-be was Arthur Wirtz who had been Big Jim’s business partner up to that time, going back to the original purchase of the Wings in 1932. As with James D, Wirtz remained a Wing executive at the same time he had his fingers on the Hawks. Talk about a conflict of interest. By now, due to Big Jim’s influence, the joke was that the NHL stood for the “Norris House League.”

For the next decade, Norris Sr ignored the Norris-Tobin-Wirtz ownership and the family investment in the Chicago Black Hawks. The Red Wings were the important club. Furthermore, the Wings got the better part of any trades between the two. For the next 14 years, Chicago (by now the laughingstock of the NHL) made the playoffs only twice.

Upon his death on December 4, 1952, after his teams had won five Stanley Cups, Norris’ interests remained within the family. James D Norris gave up his Vice President position with the Detroit Red Wings to concentrate solely on the Black Hawks, as did Wing executive Arthur Wirtz. For the next two decades, the Wirtz-Norris partnership ran the Black Hawks until James D died in 1966.

Bruce Norris (US Public Domain)
James D had already received several of the family's other businesses in the late 1940s, including a significant ownership position in Norris Grain Inc and the entire family shares in Madison Square Garden. In Detroit, younger half-brother Bruce and his sister Marguerite Norris inherited the Red Wings, where Marguerite was named President, making her the first female executive in NHL history. After winning the Stanley Cup in 1955, Bruce bought out his sister's shares--some people claim he actually stole them--in the midst of a family squabble to become the sole owner of the Red Wings. In her three years at the helm, Marguerite’s team finished first every year and won the Stanley Cup twice. She was also the first female to have her name engraved on the Cup. In 1957, James D and Bruce Norris, as well as other NHL owners of the time, were accused of taking part in union busting activities during the blockbuster attempt by Detroit’s star Ted Lindsay and a group of NHL players to establish an NHL Players Association in which every player had been signed on except for one--Toronto’s Ted Kennedy. In response to Lindsay’s “treacherous” activities and for the “good of the league,” the Norris boys arranged a deal between the two teams to send Lindsay and goaltender Glenn Hall--both First Team All-Stars--to the lowly Black Hawks for Hank Bassen, Johnny Wilson, Bob Preston, and Forbes Kennedy. In other words, diddly squat. Little did anyone know--or maybe they did--that this deal would mark the beginning of a significant improvement in the Chicago Black Hawks’ fortunes, while it brought the Detroit Red Wings glory days to a screeching halt.

Although heading to the Stanley Cup finals five times from 1956-1966, Detroit didn’t win another Stanley Cup once Bruce Norris took the Red Wings over; while brother Jim and partner Art Wirtz finally won a championship in 1961, thanks to the steady netminding of Glenn Hall and stellar play from young stars Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Pierre Pilote, three prime examples of a revamped Black Hawks farm system.

Marguerite Norris (US Public Domain)
Throughout the 1960s, the Hawks were no longer the league doormats. The Wings took over that department, until Little Caesars Pizza owner Mike Ilitch bought the team from Bruce Norris in 1982 for only $8 million. Bruce died four years later, much too early to see his father’s old team turned into the NHL’s most elite organization and a perennial contender under the leadership of the “Pizza King” from Michigan.

All three Norris men are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Although Marguerite isn’t, she probably should be. She had more common sense and a better business head than her “Old Boys Club” brothers, certainly better than Bruce, who literally destroyed the Red Wings. Between the years 1967-1983, the Wings made the playoffs just twice. It got so bad at one point in the 1970s that Detroit fans referred to their team as either the “Dead Wings” or the “Dead Things.”

One thing was for certain: Had Marguerite been president in 1957 she would not have given permission to trade All-Stars Ted Lindsay and Glenn Hall. It was one of the worst deals the Wings had ever made in their history and the one that Bruce lived to regret.


Saturday, 3 February 2018

SPOOKLIGHT

Spooklight as photographed in early 1900s (US Public Domain)

Tourists come from afar in the hope of catching even a mere glimpse of it on dark nightsSome of these same tourists received even more than they had originally bargained for. The subject matter is a mysterious phenomenon: a glow of round bright lights in the Tri-State area where the borders of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma intersect, near the old two-lane Route 66 which has since been replaced by the wider and faster Interstate 44 

It usually starts off being one light that breaks off into smaller ones. It bobs, it weaves, and it bounces from side to side only a few feet off the groundColors seem to vary: green, orange, red, yellow, and occasionally blue. Some residents have seen it dance along their property: outside their bedrooms, on their roofs and porches. As if it’s trying to peek inside. 

It’s known by many names: the Tri-State Spooklight, the Hornet Spooklight, the Hollis Light, and the Joplin Spooklight, depending on where you reside, whether it be, say, Hornet or Joplin, Missouri. However, the most common handle is just plain Spooklight. When sighted, the light or a series of lights appear for various lengths of time during fog or mist: anywhere from a few seconds to as long as a few minutes. And it’s been around since the mid-nineteenth century.  

Is it spooky? To some it is. To others it’s an interesting occurrence that they can’t stay away from and often go out looking for, sometimes in groups. One thing is for certain: Enough people have seen it to ascertain that it’s no hoax. It’s out there. It exists.  

No one knows for sure what Spooklight really is and how it came aboutThe first reported sighting that ended up in print occurred in 1881. One legend says it’s the ghosts of two Native American lovers who had eloped from their tribe, were subsequently hunted down, and then committed suicide instead of being caught by their eldersAnother, it’s the ghost of a miner whose children were stolen by Native Americans.  

One of the more prominent places to spot Spooklight is about five miles south of the Tri-State Junction inside Oklahoma near Quapaw, along roads E40 and E50 (also called Spooklight Road)facing west between 10 PM and the early morning hours. At times it seems to have a mind of its own. People have driven into the light, only to see it disappear, then reappear behind them; while others watch in horror as the light attaches itself to their vehicle for a few seconds before bouncing off and disappearing into a nearby field or clump of trees.  

Tri-State Spook Light booklet,
printed 1955 (US Public Domain)
Iconic New York Yankees baseball player Mickey Mantle was born and raised in the area of Oklahoma where Spooklight has been sighted for decades. In his teens in the late-1940s, he and his friends would often go out at night in search of it. One boyhood friend in particular, Bill Mosely, related in The Last Hero, The Life of Mickey Mantle by David Falkner: “It was a pretty long ways out there, sometimes we’d go out there and wait for the light to come and sometimes we’d miss it. But yeah, a light really would come up…and boy it could scare the devil out of you. We’d start yellin’ and everything and maybe somebody’d get out of the car and throw rocks at it or take a shotgun.”  

Those of a technical mind seem to think that the light is atmospheric gases or glowing materials rising from decaying country vegetation and colliding with static electricity. During World War II, a group of US Army Corps of Engineers conducted their own study of the mystery with the latest scientific equipment. After careful observation, they arrived at one conclusion: “a mysterious light of unknown origin.”  

Kansas City Star newspaper quoted: “In the Star office we have received reports of these spook lights for many years. Scientists have visited the area, seeking explanations on the spot, but they failed to locate the source.” Even the syndicated Ripley’s Believe It or Not! organization looked into the matter, and they, too, were left baffled. 

The September 1965 issue of Popular Mechanics contained an article on Spooklight, written by Robert Gannon, who had gone to the area for verificationHe started out south of Joplin, Missouri, heading west. In Senica, Missouri, a florist named Clark Fryatt offered to accompany Gannon in search of the light. After driving over the state line into Oklahoma along Spooklight Road, which stretches three and a half miles long, they saw a jittery, golden glow in the distance, resembling a lantern. It played a cat-and-mouse game by appearing, then disappearing at different intervals lasting a few seconds to as long as 10 minutes, with the longest being four minutes and 20 seconds, according to Gannon’s stopwatch.  

A short time later, Gannon arranged for a University of Arkansas instructor to assist him in uncovering the mystery. The two determined that Spooklight was actually reflections of headlightsafter the writer flashed his vehicle headlights several times on Route 66 which were then supposedly seen miles away along Spooklight Road at the same timeGiven this news, locals didn’t buy Gannon’s conclusions, especially Clark Fryatt 

One of the best examples to support how the majority of locals felt was found in an article inside the Tri-State Spook Light Booklet, printed in 1955, distributed and sold in area for 25 cents. It’s a story told to an area reporter by Bill Mizer, a resident of Hornet, Missouri: 

“I’ve been around here since 1886, and I’ve heard all the stories…and the first time it was seen was in 1903. At that time there was a widow lady living near State Line Road. She lived alone, and when she first reported seeing the light, she thought someone was trying to run her off her property. The reports persisted, and a bunch of boys decided to investigate. 

“One night about six or seven of us went to the widow’s house…We didn’t have long to wait before we saw the thing that had the widow frightened. The first time I saw the light, my hair raised several inches from my scalp, and I had a hard time keeping my hat on my head. 

“There was a draw on her property, and a little branch ran through. Lots of cattails grew there, and as everyone knows when the vegetation dies down, and conditions are right, phosphorous gas comes from the decaying vegetation. You can rub some of the fuzz from the cattails on your hands and your hands will glow in the dark. So we thought we knew the answer. But as we took up our vigil on this particular night, we were not so sure.  

“After we had waited for a time, we saw this light moving up the draw. It floated like a will-o’-the-wisp, up the draw, and disappeared. Then presently it reappeared, and got to within a hundred feet of us, floated around, and when the wind got up a bit, it disappeared.  And as I said before, I had a hard time keeping my hat on my head. 

“Well, the next night…we went back, and waited. And the light reappeared just as it had done the previous night. Each time the wind would get up a bit, the light would float away. One of the fellows, who thought he was a bit smarter than the rest of us, said the marsh gases were causing this bit of a ghostly apparition, but we were never sure. I tell you, when you’re sitting out there in the dark, and this ball of light floats around for a while, and disappears, you begin to wonder. 

“After a month or so…we had almost forgotten about our experience; but early in 1905 reports had started coming in again about the light. I have talked to hundreds of people about the strange light which has existed here since long before the coming of the automobile. Since the passing of time and the many thousands of tourists coming here, it looks like the old light is here to stay.” 

Bill Mizer, long gone now, was right. Spooklight, by whatever name you wish calling it, is still around. It’s still a tourist attraction, and people are still mystified by it.