Roads have always seemed to attract about them tales of the strange and unusual. They push out, further and further ahead of us, their destinations not visible, mysterious, as the landscape rushes by us, sometimes bringing with it bizarreness. It is perhaps this almost primal sense of oddness that has spawned countless tales of haunted roads, inhabited by all manner of strange entities and apparitions. One feature of some spooky haunted roads are ghost lights, also called spook lights, dancing and twirling in the dark to baffle and amaze, and sometimes they seem to be far from harmless.
Some malevolent spook lights seem to be linked to some sort of phantom motorists, and perhaps one of the more well-known of these is said to prowl a rural road in Switzerland, in St. Johns County, Florida, in the United States. Here there is a modest little road called Greenbriar Road, which runs just east of the main town, and there have for years been tales of a rather aggressive spook light that stalks vehicles that dare to drive along here at night. The enigmatic light is typically said to look just like a motorcycle headlight, which will pull up behind cars and steadily catch up no matter how fast one goes, growing ever larger in the rear view mirrors of the startled drivers.
The light of Greenbriar Road will then either chase the car until it is gone, or bizarrely perch itself atop the vehicle, sort of piggybacking the car for some distance before blinking out of existence as if it were never there at all. In some cases the mysterious light has even been blamed for causing crashes along this lonely stretch of road. The most common origin story for this mysterious light is that it is the wraith of a doomed motorcyclist who died along the road when he was decapitated after running into a telephone pole wire, and that he now terrorizes the stretch upon which he met his fate, with only the headlight of his phantom bike visible. One witness named Todd M. gave an account on the site Weird U.S. thus:
A few years ago I went to see Greenbriar Road at night with three of my friends. We had heard the stories about that light that people see and we wanted to see it. We drove up and down the road for like forty-minutes trying to see something but never saw anything until we got ready to leave. My friend Tom was driving and he looked in the rear view mirror and said what is that? We looked behind us and there was the headlight of a motorcycle coming up fast. We slowed down a little and thought that the biker would pass us but then just as it got right behind us about a hundred feet the light went out. There was no motorcycle or anything. We turned around and went back but didn’t see anything. I really think we saw a ghost biker of that guy that was killed on his motorcycle on that road.
The malignant Greenbriar ghost light is so well-known in the area that it has been the target of paranormal investigations and even scientific studies and police investigations trying to find a rational explanation for what people are seeing, but no explanation has ever been found. Speaking of phantom motorcyclists, there is another similar spook said to haunt a remote stretch of road winding through the rural farming community of Exeter, in Tulare County, California, which is supposedly the stomping ground of a similar ghost.
In this case, in the 1950s a group of friends allegedly decided to play a prank on one of their friends by stretching out some rope across a narrow road called Bardsley road, in the Fresno Valley, after which they lied in wait for their motorcycle riding pal to come cruising by on his way home from work. The plan was for the rope to just hit him in the chest and knock him off his bike, which was pretty mean but they didn’t intend to seriously hurt him, certainly not kill him.
The story goes that the rider came along the darkened road as expected and also hit the rope just as expected. What wasn’t expected was that the rope would be too high and lop his head clean off to go rolling across the pavement. In the aftermath of the gruesome accident, people started occasionally claiming to see a bright light shooting up and down the road, sometimes accompanied by the sound of a motorcycle engine, and with the full apparition of a headless rider visible as well. Motorists and people walking along the road at night have also told of being followed or even chased by the phantom motorcyclist, and it is believed that if you encounter the rider you will be cursed to be in an accident yourself.
Adding to these a is headless rider is said to prowl Creek Road of Ojai, California, apparently riding a vintage 1940s motorcycle and appearing as a glowing light at first, often pulling right up next to motorists to bang on their vehicles or chasing them. Interestingly, Creek Road is ground zero for all manner of ghostly phenomena and high strangeness, including at least two phantom horse riders, numerous apparitions, a smoking, horribly burned and disfigured entity called the Char Man, and even a supposed vampire, making a headless motorcycle rider actually one of the less bizarre tales from this place. For more on phantom motorcyclists, you can read my article on this phenomenon here.
Other sinister spook lights seem to be malevolent spirits or even possibly demons. Located out just northeast of Jacksonville, Florida, is St. George Island, which is home to a historic sugar cane, cotton, and corn plantation from the slave days called Kingsley Plantation, established by a man named Zephaniah Kingsley in 1813. The original plantation would quickly grow, until Kingsley owned around a total of 32,000 acres of land and employed about 200 slaves. Despite having so many slaves, Kingsley was known for being a very lax and kind master, allowing his workforce to basically do whatever they wanted when they were off duty, and they were allowed to sell any crafts they made on their own time. Kingsley even married one of his slaves, Ana Madgigine Jai, who would go on to take a prominent management role on the plantation, own her own land, and end up being one of the richest women in the state.
Although conditions were much better for slaves on the Kingsley plantation than they were elsewhere, there was some amount of tragedy on the plantation nevertheless. At some point one of the slaves allegedly took to beating and raping other female slaves, even according to the stories murdering a few and hiding their bodies in the wilderness. When the other slaves got wind of this grim behavior they are said to have gathered up a lynch mob to hunt the perpetrator down and had him strung up and hanged on a massive, spooky looking oak tree right in front of the plantation along the main road to the premises, leaving his lifeless body to swing there in the wind. Although Kingsley would move to Haiti along with all of his slaves in 1837, it seems that at least some of them remained, in a macabre sense.
Over the years the Kingsley plantation has come to gather quite a reputation for being intensely haunted, supposedly by the ghosts of those murdered here. One is a woman in white that is frequently spotted roaming around, and has a habit of photo-bombing pictures taken at the locale, while another is an unearthly screaming or wailing that supposedly emanates from the old abandoned well on the property, said to be from a victim of the crime spree whose body was unceremoniously dumped down there in the darkness.
However, one of the most frightening of the spirits of the old Kingsley Plantation is supposedly the vindictive spirit of the mad slave murderer himself, who terrorizes the plantation’s creepy and rugged unpaved road. This particularly malicious spirit typically takes the form of two malevolent, angry looking red lights, said to be his glowing eyes, earning the phantom the name “Old Red Eyes.” These lights will supposedly appear right behind cars right about at the old oak tree and chase them, in some reports even relentlessly attacking them. One report of an encounter with Old Red Eyes was described by a witness thus:
I’ve saw Old Red Eye several years ago. I have a friend that lives just off that road and had taken him home from Jacksonville one night. It was about midnight and after dropping him off, I was driving back down that road to the hard road and looked in the side mirror on my car and saw two red lights. At first I thought it was the tail lights of another car but they were too close together. I slowed down a little and watched them in the mirror and it looked like they were coming closer. I knew that I had not passed another car and it did not seem like a car would be coming down that dark road backwards. I stopped and stuck my head out the window and looked back and there was nothing there. Then I looked in the mirror again and there they were and they were right behind my car. I gunned it and got the hell out of there. What I saw wasn’t a car.
Just as ominous is the appropriately named “Demon’s Road” in Huntsville, Texas, which is already spooky enough, as it meanders through groves of twisted trees and darkened woods and ends up at the desolate Martha’s Chapel Cemetery. The real name is Bowden Road, but it has earned its nickname in the decidedly frightening phenomena that have been reported from here, such as shadow people, a ghostly child with glowing eyes on a tricycle, a hulking faceless beast, a strange hooded figure, and arms reaching out from graves. There are many spirits said to lurk along the murky stretches of this road and in the cemetery, but one of the creepiest is a ghost light that seems to be quite malicious indeed.
Motorists venturing down the Demon’s Road have often reported mysterious red lights hovering about in the dark, the number of which seems to depend on how many people are in the vehicle at the time. These spook lights will supposedly aggressively pursue cars, and spookiest of all, will leave unexplained handprints on the outside. Indeed these lights have plagued many who have travelled down the road, often leaving those handprints and always hostile, sometimes even clawing or grabbing at cars to leave scratches and dents behind. What could this diabolical force be and why does it want to attack vehicles? Who knows?
Another case in Texas of an aggressive ghost light is that said to roam a road in Hardin County leading from Bragg to Saratoga, which actually at one point was a part of the Santa Fe Railroad back in the early 1900s before being paved over to be turned into a road. In an area called Big Thicket there have long been reports of a multicolored spook light hovering about at night along the road and in the surrounding wilderness, with many of them pointing at the light being quite evil.
Even from the beginning the reports of the Big Thicket ghost light, also called the Saratoga ghost light, were far from friendly. Hunters reported being chased by the lights, and it was not uncommon to hear of them rushing amongst horses to send the animals into a panicked frenzy, to the point that on at least one occasion a horse drawn wagon was forced to go crashing into a ditch because of the lights. At the time the lights became a pretty widespread rumor, attracting all sorts of curiosity seekers, and author F.E. Abernethy would explain of the phenomenon in his book Tales from the Big Thicket thus:
Light-seers poured onto the road by the hundreds. People of all ages and intellects came to see and test their belief in the supernatural. They shot at it, they chased it, and they tested it with litmus paper and geiger counters. A preacher harangued the road’s multitudes from the top of his car, making the Light as an ill omen of the world’s impending doom. There were some nights the light didn't show at all, but for the most part it was there to inspire stories that could be passed on, to change and grow at the will and imagination of the story teller.
In later years the light did not stop its antics in the slightest bit, with reports of it chasing people or even attacking them common, such as cases in which the light stopped car engines, burned people’s hands, or even violently knocked them down. There have been reports of cars being dinged, dented, or smashed by the ghost light, and it is generally not something one wants to encounter while driving down the already eerie rural road. As usual there have been many attempts to rationally explain the Big Thicket Light, such as that it is some sort of illusion, swamp gas, or merely headlights, and there have been a fair number of more paranormal explanations as well, including that it is the spirit of a hunter or Civil War soldier, or even that it is a curse placed over a lost Spanish treasure. Whatever the case may be, the stories of the evil ghost light of Saratoga persist.
Texas seems to be a haven for such spook lights, because there is another road in this state that has its own scary stories of such entities. In the area of the Mitchell Flat, east of Marfa, Texas, there have long been reports of mystery lights floating out over the desert landscape since at least the 1800s. The phenomena are usually described as dancing orbs of light that zip and zoom low to the ground over the parched desert scrub, and they have collectively been coined the “Marfa Lights.” While the phenomenon is puzzling but usually harmless and distant, there have been some reports that show these lights can be rather frightening on occasion.
In one report from Weird Texas, one man named Tim Stevens gave an account of a very bizarre experience witnesses by a friend of his father’s named Roy while traveling down Route 90 in the 1970s. According to the report, Roy had been driving for hours out from San Antonio after sunset and just before dark, and there had been no other cars out on this remote stretch of the highway that evening. Suddenly, he noticed what he took to be headlights in his rear view mirror. For some time the lights remained a comfortable distance away, but at some point the lights quickly closed the distance to follow right behind him. The report explained the follwing sequence of events:
My dad said that Roy had been driving with the lights a comfortable distance behind him for several minutes when the vehicle sped and up and approached his truck rapidly. For a few seconds, he honestly thought he was about to be rear-ended. Before an impact occurred, however, the lights stopped a few feet short of hitting his truck. At 60 MPH, in the middle of an otherwise deserted highway, it probably wasn’t too much to ask for the courtesy of a little breathing room. So Roy tapped the brakes. The driver of the vehicle behind him maintained his distance. Roy again tapped his brakes––no response. Finally, very annoyed, Roy jammed hard on his brakes for a fraction of a second. To his amazement, the vehicle behind him stayed the exact distance from his rear bumper as it had been.
Roy decided to try a different approach. He said he floored the gas pedal making his small truck shudder and lurch ahead. The speed crept up to 80 MPH. The lights behind him reacted in perfect unison, staying several feet behind his truck, as it approached speeds Roy was sure he’d never pushed it to before. At nearly 100 MPH, the truck was beginning to vibrate badly, but the lights did not waiver.
Enough was enough. Roy eased off the gas and let the truck coast down to a sane speed, and then he stood on the brakes. The tires screeched and smoked, and the truck pitched and slid slightly to the side––but the whole time, Roy watched the lights in the mirror. They stayed in exactly the same spot until the truck came to a stop. Roy then saw something completely unexpected––the lights shot out, off the road to the right, and fired across the desert like missiles. He craned his neck around to try and follow them visually, impressed by the driver’s driving on what was sure to be very rough road. He smiled and was about to drive on when a thought occurred to him.
He frowned, and, making sure that he wasn’t about to be run over by a big rig or other traffic, put his truck in reverse and slowly backed up maybe a couple of hundred feet. He checked the barbed wire fence line for a road, a gate, or other break of some kind where his pursuer might have slipped through––but there was none. Roy said he was pretty spooked, alright. Off in the distance he could see lights moved swiftly across the horizon.
Whatever this was, whether it was connected to the Marfa Lights or not, it certainly seems hard to explain away as a trick of light or headlight reflections from the distance. Ghost lights have been a persistent phenomenon within the world of the weird, and there have been countless theories to try and explain them. Yet, none seem to touch on those lights that seem to reach out from the merely mysterious to lash out at or harass those who encounter them. Is there some explanation for this or is this just hoaxes and tall tales? If it is indeed real, then why do these particular spook lights cling to these locations, and why do they seem so hostile and threatening? It seems to be beyond our ability to comprehend at this point, and these lights may flit about the periphery of our understanding prowling their haunting grounds without ever being satisfactorily explained.