Day 184: Ozark Ghost Tales: The Devil’s Promenade


From Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore”:

“In the northeastern corner of Oklahoma, some fourteen miles from Joplin, Missouri, is a lonesome stretch of country road called the ‘Devil’s Promenade.’ Some mighty strange people have lived along this road, and some very strange things have happened there. The best of the ‘ha’nted road’ stories cannot be told at this time, but there is no longer any secret about the phenomena of the ‘Indian lights,’ which have been seen by thousands of tourists and discussed in newspapers as far off as St. Louis and Kansas City. One has only to drive slowly along the road any night after dark to see the ‘jack-o’-lantern’ come bobbing along, always traveling in an easterly direction. Sometimes it swings from one side of the road to another, sometimes it seems to roll on the ground, sometimes it rises to the tops of the scrubby oak trees at the roadside, but it never gets more than a few feet from the road on either side. I have seen this light myself, on three occasions. It first appeared about the size of an egg but varied until sometimes it looked as big as a washtub. It is hard to judge the distance, but the light seemed about a quarter of a mile off when I first saw it and disappeared when it approached to a distance of perhaps seventy-five yards. I saw only a single glow, but other witnesses have seen it split into two, three, or four smaller lights. The thing looked yellowish to me, but some observers describe it as red, green, blue, or even purple in color. One man swore that it passed so close to him that he could ‘plainly feel the heat,’ and a woman saw it ‘burst like a bubble, scattering sparks in all directions.’ A fellow who drove his car straight at the dancing phantom lost sight of it, but others standing a little way off said that they saw the light hovering impishly above the pursuer’s car, out of his sight but plainly visible to everybody else in the neighborhood.


“Some people think that the light at the ‘Devil’s Promenade’ is the ghost of an Osage chief who was murdered near this spot; others say it is the spirit of a Quapaw maiden who drowned herself in the river when her warrior was killed in battle. Others have suggested that the effect is produced somehow by electrical action of the mineral deposits in the ground, or by marsh gas. Mr. Logan Smith, of Neosho, Missouri, always contended that the mysterious lights are those of automobiles driving east on Highway 66, some five miles away. F. H. Darnell of Neosho, and a group of surveyors from Joplin, also incline to the view that cars on the distant highway are responsible for the mysterious lights. A. B. MacDonald, of the Kansas City Star, who came down to investigate the matter in January, 1936, is another convert to the Logan Smith theory. William Shears, who lives near the Promenade and has studied the phenomena, thinks that the lights may derive from the beacons at the Quapaw airport some six miles away. But the old-timers laugh at all such explanations, claiming that the Indian lights were seen at the same spot in the deep woods, fifty years before the ‘Devil’s Promenade’ road was built. Fred C. Reynolds of Kansas City says that his grandfather, a pioneer doctor at Baxter, Kansas, observed these lights ‘long before there was any such thing as a motor car,’ adding that he himself saw the ‘jack-o’-lantern’ as a boy. Bob Hill of Joplin, Missouri, observes that the phantom was seen by many persons in this vicinity before there was a Highway 66, and certainly long before the airport was established at Quapaw, Oklahoma.”

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