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MU History Department Lecture Series- The Saratoga Lights

The Miskatonic University Department of History presents: The Saratoga Lights

Dr. Gerard: Legends about mysterious spectral lights can be found all over the United States, but the Lone Star State seems to have more than its share of such stories. Some explanations of these eerie sightings give us a window into historical events, revealing strong ties between folklore and the past.  Department of History graduate student H.G. Bukowski reports from the field in Southeast Texas on his research into the Saratoga Lights.

Bukowski: Out here in the dense 84-thousand acre wilderness that locals call The Big Thicket, many strange sightings have been reported. A dirt road dating back to 1934 wends its way along an old lumber-industry rail bed from the town of Saratoga to the ghost town of Bragg (is this even close to true? Please fix my stupidity of not).

Recorded sightings of the so-called Saratoga Light along this road started popping up in the 1940s. Witnesses reported seeing a floating light on or off to the side of the road that changed from white to yellow, and sometimes turned red as it got closer. Some said the light would swing from side to side, leading to stories of a decapitated rail worker holding a signal lantern. Others have speculated that the lights are spirits of Conquistadores looking for gold – perhaps members of the shipwrecked Cabeza de Vaca expedition from the 16th century.

But others have tied this apparition to a strange footnote in Civil War history.

This dense forest was used as a hiding place for people who refused to fight for the Confederate Army. They were known as Jayhawkers. They dressed in corn sacks stolen from rail stations, survived off of game and fruit of the land and gathered wild honey to trade for coffee and tobacco.

The Civil War ended on April 9th 1865 when Robet E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, but news traveled slowly in the war-torn south, and fighting continued 12-hundred miles away in Southeast Texas.

A handful of the Big Thicket Jayhawkers were rounded up in the spring of 1865 and jailed in nearby Woodville.  The story goes that the prisoners got their jailers drunk, started playing fiddle and distracted them with a dazzling jig. The prisoners removed a plank in the floor and escaped.

In a fit of rage after the incident, Confederate Captain James Kaiser set fire to a cane break near the woods to flush the Jayhawkers out of hiding. The ensuing blaze, now known as the “Kaiser Burnout,” consumed 3000 acres of the Big Thicket. It is not known how many died in the blaze. It’s not clear there were any deaths at all.

Could those lights be from outdated lanterns used by a surviving tribe of Jayhawker descendants? Was the prisoners’ jig part of some arcane enchantment? Could the Saratoga Lights really be the restless spirits of souls consumed in the fire? Or are witnesses catching a glimpse, through some doorway in time, to the embers and flames of the Kaizer’s fire?

The again, perhaps it’s just swamp gas or strange weather, as so many scholars are quick to suggest.

This is MU History graduate student H.G. Bukaowski, reporting from Saratoga, Texas.

Dr. Gerard: To discuss your theories about the strange lights in Texas and other topics, stop by the National History Honors Society, where bold speculation is welcome.

This lecture was sponsored by the Miskatonic University Department of History.

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