Pillars of Light and Mysterious Illuminations

Light Pillars from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/02/photogalleries/light-pillars/

Light Pillars from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/02/photogalleries/light-pillars/

In January, 2014 “pillars of light” were seen and photographed at Mansfield, Ohio. A few days ago A Man Called Da-Da, one of my favorite bloggers, did a round-up of some of his “pillars-of-light” posts, with photos and video.  These dramatic illuminations are the result of ice crystals in the air and because they look so impressive and mysterious, reports are common in the literature of the anomalous. I will use them as a peg on which to hang some stories of mystery lights that fall outside of the usual “spook light” genre. Here is an 18th-century example, in which the light exceeds the scope of normal light pillars.

Winbourn, Dorset, Feb. 7 Friday night, between eight and nine o’clock, when it was extremely dark, as I was returning home in my coach, with the canvas up, I was suddenly surprized with the most extraordinary appearance of light I ever beheld; which rendered every object so visible (not only on the spot where we were, but for miles round) that my servants, who, but just before, could scarce perceive the heads of the horses they rode on, could now see to take a pin from the ground; and, what rendered it the more alarming, it happened when I was but two fields distance from my house, and appeared as if rising from the top of it, in two large pillars of about seven feet high; from whence I conjectured the roof was on fire, and ordered my servant to drive on as fast as possible; in the interim, so light was every thing round the house, that I could plainly see into the rooms, thro’ every window in view, and when I came near, I jumped out of the coach, expecting to find the whole building in flames; but, in an instant, to my second great surprize, the light vanished, without leaving a spark behind, or doing the least damage. I since hear this surprizing phaenomenon, or meteor, or whatever the naturalists please to call it, was seen at six miles distance, and lasted for only half a minute; but its continuation over the house, I judge to be near five minutes, and when it disappeared, it seemed to move forward, and sink down below the roof. Annual Register Vol. 4 December 1761: pp 72-73

We move from pillars of light to the “house on fire” motif found in other mystery-illumination stories like the Egryn lights of the 1904 Welsh religious revival where “stars” shone on rooftops and houses looked like they were on fire. This is a story from The Face in the Window.





  Plain City, O., March 26. Mrs. Nancy Reedy, widow, lives on her farm, four miles southwest of Plain City, on the London road, where her first husband, John Atkinson died nearly twenty years ago. Her son, William Atkinson, rents the farm, and with his wife and child and a farmhand, occupies the house with her. Mrs. Reedy has been spending two weeks with another married son in this place, and Sunday night William hitched the horses to the family carriage and brought his wife and child and Tuck Raynor, the hired man, to town to attend revival services at the Universalist church. Before leaving home he drew down the window curtains in all the rooms, and was careful to fasten a favourite dog in the kitchen and lock all the outside doors.

It was half past eleven o’clock when the party returned home from the meeting, and when within half a mile of the dwelling, which stands about two hundred yards east of the road, the little boy exclaimed: “O, papa, our house is on fire!” Then they first observed that every visible window in the old fashioned, low frame building was ablaze with vivid light, and they drove hastily down the lane and into the door-yard, where they found the house dog cringing and whining in fear, and manifesting extreme pleasure at their coming.

All the windows, with the curtains drawn up, were yet streaming with light, but as Atkinson and Raynor sprang from the carriage, they observed the light in the north room window gradually dying out, and in a moment more, that part of the house was shrouded in darkness. Then the glare in the middle room windows began to waver and finally went out, and when all was darkness there, the lights began to lessen in the windows of the adjoining south room, or kitchen, and soon entirely disappeared.

As no one in the party had a match, Atkinson unlocked the north-side door and groped his way in darkness through the north and middle rooms to the kitchen, where he found matches and lighted a lamp. A thorough examination of every room in the house was then made, but no evidence was found that indicated the presence of nocturnal visitors during their absence. The curtains were all drawn down, save one in the kitchen window.

A pane of glass in the upper sash of this window had apparently been pushed out from the inside and was found lying, unbroken, on a pile of stones under the window, outside of the house. It is supposed that the dog made his exit from the room through this opening; but why he should have attempted escape at so high a point of egress, nobody attempts to explain. Indeed, the whole family are greatly excited and mystified by the affair; and it need hardly be said that when the men go out to the stable and care for the horses after dark the women go along too.

A Press reporter went to the Atkinson home yesterday morning and was told by Mrs. Reedy that, several years ago, when returning home with her family at a late hour from a visit with friends in Clarke County, the same ghastly lighting up of the house occurred as they approached, the lights suddenly disappearing as they drove in to the door-yard.

[The story continues with various other ghostly manifestations. No solution was proposed.] Newark [OH] Daily Advocate 26 March 1889: p. 3

A similar illumination was found in a haunted school house in Massachusetts. This is only a small part of the entire complicated story.


At times the Whole School-room has been illuminated, while the school has been in session, by a strong, yellow glow, which on dark days has proceeded from the entry and entered through the partition window.In the midst of storms, when the sky is heavily overcast and the school is almost lost in gloom and obscurity, a soft and equal radiance has stolen over the scene and lighted up the furthest corner of the apartment. This is nothing that can be ignored and treated with brave indifference. Over the faces of the pupils who have put aside their books on account of the darkness, there suddenly begins to creep this terrible light. It has no central point. There is no flame anywhere. There is no brilliant burning focus. It is an illuminated exhalation, arising from no one knows what, and shedding its rays into the petrified and astonished visages of the children. Outside all is tempestuous, black and howling. Within all is calm, vivid, and silent. An examination of the entry reveals nothing. The light springs from nowhere in particular, but from everywhere. One can see the most distant corners. All is revealed and brought out plainly. After half an hour, perhaps, this light begins to fade away. It withdraws gradually and slowly. It is extinguished with the same tardiness that marked its coming, and the honest daylight, or rather the honest gloom, resumes its sway. The Haunted School-house at Newburyport, Mass, 1873

It is something of a cliche in haunted house stories that people carefully turn off lights and return to find the house alight from top to bottom or lights are found blazing in empty houses, “even though there was no power to the building…” [cue dramatic chord.] Explanations for these luminous phenomena? Got a light? Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com.

For other mystery lights see this post on some deadly Welsh mystery lights, or this, on the mysterious light in Deakin’s Woods, or a strange illumination at the Parthenon. Or see the “spook light” subject heading.

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. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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