Today we follow a tantalizing will-o’-the-wisp leading us into the murks and mires of an area of Ohio once known as The Great Black Swamp. This tale of a mysterious red spook-light comes from the community of Columbus Grove, a smallish town in northwestern Ohio.
One of Columbus Grove’s claims to fame in the early 20th century was a sanitarium built around sulphurous springs, where Isaac Fullerton, a healer born with a caul (and a seventh son of a seventh son), diagnosed illness by looking at a patient’s hands or feet. Fullerton drew visitors from all over the world. But an even bigger draw was the “Phantom Light of Deakin’s Woods.”
COLUMBUS GROVE MYSTIFIED BY BLAZING RED “PHANTOM” LIGHT
DEAKIN’S WOODS SCENE OF GHOSTLY PHENOMENA
COUNTRYSIDE IS AROUSED
POSSE TO MAKE ATTEMPT TO SOLVE RIDDLE
Columbus Grove (Special) A phantom light, blazing red in color, is the strange and mysterious apparition that is puzzling folk in this community.
For more than a week a light has been seen moving slowly in and out among the trees in Deakin’s woods, located at the very edge of the village.
It appears shortly after darkness has settled over the countryside and can be seen slowly moving thither and thither until the first faint streaks of dawn creep over the horizon, reports from the 1,000 or more people who have been observing the phenomena say.
During the day the woods are deserted except for the cattle which graze unconcernedly among the trees. The only building is an old shack that used to house the only saloon in this section of the county. It is now deserted and empty.
Pasture fields lay between the woods and the city and roads on the north, west and south sides. It is from these vantage points that crowds watch for the light to appear and start its course thru the trees.
So far no one has had the courage to enter the woods and attempt to solve the mystery of the light. Its ghostly appearance has served to keep the curious at a safe distance.
Residents of this village who recall the carousals that used to be regular occurrences at the saloon are of the opinion that the spirit of some man, secretly murdered and his body hidden away, has returned to earth.
Shots and strange cries heard in the night during the old days recalled by the villagers and tales of fights and brawls are mulled over in an attempt to reach a solution to the mystery.
Yet, no one has summoned up enough courage to enter the woods and trace the light to its source. It is as if all are afraid that the strange light might not prove to be of natural origin.
And again, neighbors believe if there is anything ghostly to the light it is caused by the return of Arthur Deakin, former owner of the property who died some time ago.
Deakin was a well known figure around the village and while in good health could be seen walking about his small farm. Superstitious folk believe that he may have returned and is now walking about the farm inspecting it as of old.
Practical minded citizens, however, cast aside all these theories and lay the strange light to bootleggers seeking customers, phosphoric lights caused by the heavy rains or practical jokers.
Investigation of the lights is promised by Mayor George Luce as soon as it is possible to get a posse together. Until that time he warns all citizens against impromptu searches, declaring that someone may be killed.
Warning was also issued by Luce against the blockading of the roads around the woods. He fears that a serious accident may occur should the crowds of onlookers grow too large.
Indications are that thousands of people from all parts of northwestern Ohio will view the mysterious light before its source is at last revealed. Lima [OH] News 15 June 1924: pp. 1-2
PHANTOM LIGHT STILL BAFFLES CITIZENS OF COLUMBUS GROVE
HUNDREDS VISIT VILLAGE SUNDAY NIGHT BUT MYSTERY OF DEAKIN’S WOODS IS NOT SOLVED
TOWN AROUSED—VARIED THEORIES ADVANCED
Columbus Grove (Special) From a drowsy village of peaceful contentment, Columbus Grove Sunday night teemed with excitement with over 5,000 curious motorist from northwestern Ohio gathered here to solve the mystery of the “phantom light” in Deakin’s grove at the edge of town where Columbus Grove’s only saloon was located in pre-prohibition days.
They were not disappointed. Just at dark when the roadside traffic grew thick with automobiles silhouetted in the glare of bright headlights and anxious occupants peered into the dimly lighted grove nestled back from the road, a weird, mysterious red glare appeared among the trees and moved slowly back and forth, showing brilliantly against the black background of shadows cast by the trees in the beautiful grove.
Superstitious awe grasped the thousands of curious spectators, who at first scoffed with disdain at the “ghost light.” A hush fell over the vicinity. Occupants of automobiles leaned forward and a painful silence of what seemed like hours’ duration enveloped the vicinity as the “phantom red glow” slowly and mysteriously passed through the foliage like the timed flight of a “fire bird,” recounted in Indian mystery lore.
SHOTS ARE FIRED
As the silence grew more painful and the “phantom light” continued to glow, a shot pierced the stillness followed by shrieks—not from anyone wounded, but from the lips of spectators who involuntarily cried out in terror when unconsciously released from the strange power which gripped them with the appearance of the light. Other shots and more cries followed. Soon the scene was one of disorder. Frantic queries of “Is he killed, what has happened? Who shot?” and others were heard.
But the light continued to pass slowly between the dark shadows of the trees, glowing more brightly, it seemed, assuming a crimson hue like the flare of red fire, leaving a trail of light behind as it circled as it has done for the past two weeks. For hours the strange phenomena appeared while many persons left the scene astonished at the weirdness of the strange thing and others quickly took their places at the roadside.
All during the darkness of the night, the “phantom light” appeared and as the faint streaks of dawn settled over the woods a peaceful scene of cattle grazing in the woods spread itself in marked contrast to the weirdness of the night before, and a lonely and deserted shack, nearly dilapidated, stood at the edge of the grove, the beauty of which appeared as it was unfurled in the streaks of light.
Columbus Grove is astonished at the strange and unaccounted for apparition. Prominent and conservative citizens are gradually growing convinced of something superstitious and unnatural. Many strange theories are advanced, but so far no one has ventured into the woods after dark to solve the mystery of the light….
Mayor George Luce is determined to break up the “foolishness” as he terms it. Sunday night after shots were fired into the woods he issued an edict against the discharge of firearms, threatening arrest of any persons shooting in that vicinity.
POLICEMAN ON GUARD
He has also placed George Turner, nightwatchman, on traffic duty to prevent congestion as hundreds of automobiles have visited Columbus Grove in the past two weeks and hundreds more are expected as long as the light continues to pass through the grove.
Soil examination of Deakin’s grove is to be made Wednesday to determine if recent heavy rains have caused some chemical disturbance and created the light, the discovery of which is attributed to Mrs. Andrew Vandivier, who lives west of the grove. For nights the strange apparition appeared and faded at daylight. She spread the alarm and now this little town is the center of interested with noted spiritualists and “mystery solvers” expected to arrive here this week to banish the light.
Raymond M. Krise, Baltimore & Ohio switchman, of Cincinnati, at noon Monday telegraphed his mother, Mrs. John Bruce Krise, owner of the land upon which the Deakin grove is located, that he would arrive here Monday night with a party of friends and that a complete investigation of the mysterious light would be made. Lima [OH] News, 16 June 1924: p. 1
Part two of this story is found here.
For previous stories of mysterious fires and lights, see “Spook Lights and Corpse Candles”
“A Fiery Exhalation Rising Out of the Sea: The Deadly Welsh Mystery Lights”
“Owl Blasting: A Fire Elemental in the Welsh Marches”
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead; also on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.