Ozarks hills and hollers are filled with history and heroes that make the region a unique place to live. However, some examples are far beyond the norm: Tales of ghosts and the unknown, stories that simply can’t be explained. Of people who come to help and heal and don’t make sense. Of moments in time that will likely never be explained.
Keep reading for eight of the most unusual stories.
The Wizard of Oto
The Wizard of Oto wasn’t of this world, or at least any world that hill-and-hollow Ozarkers knew back in the 1930s. He was a doctor — at least that’s what he told them — but seemed to be on a journey to escape his past.
After miraculously healing a local in time of need, the doctor’s fame spread quickly. Even though he healed thousands — all for free — even today, no one knows for sure who he was. He never gave his real name.
Click here to learn more about the Wizard of Oto.
The Blue Man
Once upon a time, a wild, man-like creature roamed the remote, wooded hills around Douglas County. He was infrequently seen, but his presence felt as far back as the 1860s.
Looking to chase and kill, he carried a wooden club in his huge hand, threw large boulders and feasted upon livestock. Periodic appearances sent locals spinning into a tizzy and brave men searching the woods — and enough excitement to last until the next sighting.
He was the Blue Man of Spring Creek.
Click here to learn more about this mysterious Ozarks figure.
The ghost of Clara Thompson Hall
Soft strains of sound — but not of the vocal or instrumental variety — have long grabbed music students’ attention at Clara Thompson Hall. The facility, which houses Drury University’s music departments, has reportedly been haunted by a albeit friendly spirit for generations.
Just who that spirit is tied to is a mystery, although many believe it’s Clara Wallace Thompson herself. As a young adult, Thompson was a student of Drury’s music conservatory. She met her future husband while attending classes at the college, but their union was short-lived.
After marrying, the couple moved to Germany for a period of time so Thompson’s husband could study. The trip ended in heartbreak: When they came back — with a baby — the new wife and mother was seriously ill with tuberculosis.
Her baby passed away in early August 1895, and Thompson died the following month.
More than 30 years later, her name was immortalized on campus when her foster mother donated funds in support of the music hall. (Another donation went to Wallace Hall, also still on Drury’s campus, which was named in honor of her late husband).
But back to the ghost. “Students also say they have heard the rustling of a dress, seen an apparition in the balcony or even felt an embrace,” recorded the Springfield News-Leader in 2011, which also noted that another theory.
Others, it stated, theorize that the ghost is Thomas Stanley Skinner who served as Dean of the Drury Conservatory of Music from 1920 to 1950. However, this idea is challenged because of ghost stories in the hall dating before his death.
Regardless of who, it’s generally believed the spirit isn’t there for harm.
“I know it is gentle and I feel like it watches over us,” Sidney Vise, a former head of Drury’s music department, told the university’s student newspaper in 1987. “I believe activity, especially with music, makes it happy.”
The Albino Farm
Even though it’s the venue for one of Springfield’s most popular legends, the so-called Albino Farm never technically existed. If you ask any children of the ’60s and ’70s, however, they’d debate you on that point. They just knew that at least one albino lived on the property — and visiting would surely result in death.
In reality, the land referred to as such was Springlawn Farm. Even today, the myth and lore surrounding the estate still lives on. Keep reading for another tale tied to the farm…
Hatchet Man’s Bridge
As with the Albino Farm, accounts of Hatchet Man’s — other times known simply as Haunted — Bridge differ. One version of the story features a couple who was driving across the bridge when their car died. Before leaving to get help, the boy made his date promise to lock the doors and not to open them for anyone. Shortly thereafter, a thumping on the roof scared the girl to screams.
However, she didn’t get out of the car. The next morning, the police arrived and convinced her to open the door — but told her not to look as they escorted her away. A quick glance revealed more than she bargained for: Her boyfriend hanging from a limb above the car, his feet only inches from the roof. And of course, the albino caretaker was said to have had a central role.
Click here to learn more about both the Albino Farm and Hatchet Man’s Bridge.
Angel of Ava
It may be trendy to talk of “paying it forward” when buying that latte or burger for the next car in the drive-thru line, but anonymous generosity in the Ozarks isn’t a new concept. One particular example came in 1940, when the folks of Douglas County were visited by the Angel of Ava.
The seemingly divine being was most surely mortal, but appeared to be from above when envelopes of money began arriving in local folks’ mailboxes. Some contained cash, while others offered cashier’s checks. Mysterious messages were often included, but never a name save a signature of “Your Sunshine Friend.”
The amounts varied from person to person, but were frequently around $100 — which felt more like $1,800 does today after accounting for inflation.
Click here to learn more about the mysterious benefactor.
Some say it’s bottomless. Others think it’s a portal to faraway places. And then there are people who don’t even know it’s there, driving by daily without any idea of the lore and legend just a few feet from the road.
“It” is Devil’s Den, a longtime local landmark hidden in a grove of oak trees.
Scientifically speaking, Devil’s Den is simply a water-filled sinkhole. But it’s big: Some accounts liken its depths to nearly a football field in length, and about a third of such in width. According to “The History of Webster County,” published in 1955, Devil’s Den is “natural curiosity — a lake of oval shape, covering an area of about half an acre. This lake…lies in a limestone basin, the walls of which stand perpendicularly for about 100 feet…This mysterious lake has never been sounded. The crevices of the rocks surrounding the lake are filled with a substance resembling sperm, that burns like a candle.”
Click here to learn more about the den’s story.
Down a quiet, country road near Joplin lives a legend. Instead of a person, however, the road leads to a story; a tale often referred to as the Hornet Spook Light. Though it’s not there every night, the blazing ball has accented the night sky — seemingly out of nowhere — for decades, uniting generations in puzzled curiosity.
“Sometimes it looks like a lantern far in the distance, carried by someone slowly walking. At other times it appears to be a ball of fire hurtling at the viewer with incredible speed — only to stop, skip around near treetop level, then zoom back into the distance. Occasionally, so I was told, it settles on the hood of your car, or dances off a little into the woods or disappears, then reappears behind you,” wrote Robert Gannon for Popular Mechanics in September 1965.
Gannon is only one of an untold number of people who have come to see the spook light. Perplexed and drawn by its mystique, such visitors have created a story far longer than the tree-guarded, gravel road where it began.
Click here to learn more about the spooklight.