Anson Light: Busted!

Last night ACU students made history. We officially busted the Anson Light.

One of my most favorite posts is the one where I tell the story of how a group of students and I went out to try to bust the Anson Light.

If you've not read that post, let me catch you up. About 25 miles north of Abilene is the small town of Anson. And one of the things Anson is famous for is the Anson Light.

The Anson Light is a ghost light that has attracted over the decades quite a bit of media and paranormal investigative attention. But mainly it attracts high school and college students who have got nothing to do on slow Saturday nights.

To find the light you head north out of Abilene on US-83. When you get to US-180 in Anson (the first traffic light you reach) you take a right. You go about a mile or so down the road until you reach a cemetery. You take a right on the dirt road next to the cemetery. You go about a mile down the dirt road until you reach a crossroads. At the crossroads you turn around to face back down the road toward the cemetery. Here's a map if you ever want to plan a family vacation to Anson:
After you turn back around you're supposed to flash your car lights. After some moments the ghost light will appear down the road.

The legend behind the light is this:

There was a young boy who got lost in a snowstorm. His mother, in her grief, went out searching the night for him with a lantern. They both never return. The Anson light is the illumination from the mother's lamp still searching the night for her lost son.
Visiting the Anson Light at least once is kind of a rite of passage for ACU students. When I last visited with my students a few years ago we indeed saw the light and spent a couple of hours trying to figure it out. I was pretty convinced the light was coming from car headlights but I wasn't 100% confident. So we left with a mystery. But I was determined to return in the future to get to the bottom of the matter. And last night we did.

Around 9:30 Caroline, Kurt, Zach, Anne, Casey, Tyler #1, and Tyler #2 gathered in the Chambers parking lot at ACU, piled into my car and Kurt's truck and headed north to Anson.

We got out to the crossroads and, sure enough, there was the Anson Light. We watched it for awhile, looking at it through binoculars. Some of the group got spooked because it is very dark out there. And then the coyotes started howling and screaming...

I ignored the coyotes because we had a hypothesis to test. After my last failed attempt at ghost busting I went home to research what the various paranormal investigation groups had determined about the light. The best analysis I found was a 2001 report by the Southwestern Ghost Hunters Association. According to their report, the SGHA thought that the Anson Light is caused by the oncoming headlights from US-277 which is perfectly aligned with the dirt road where the Anson Light is observed. You can see this alignment here:
As best I could tell from their online report, the SGHA didn't actually trace the light to its source. They mainly drew their conclusion by zooming in on the light with their video camera where they said they could make out the car lights on US-277. However, I've looked at the light through binoculars with students and while some of them see car lights others disagree. So if we really wanted to settle the question we'd need to do something the SGHA didn't do: Trace the lights to their origin. Only then would we have the definitive "proof" that the Anson Light isn't a ghost light.

And that's what we set out to do.

Looking at Google Maps it appeared that we could follow some dirt roads from the crossroads to the source of the light (what we believed to be car lights from US-277). The key was to get ourselves exactly on the line between the ghost light and the crossroads. The route for the first part of our journey looked like this:
From this location we'd be "in between" the ghost light and the crossroads, theoretically speaking. It was possible that once we arrived to this spot the light could have been to our south rather than to our north. That is, we could have "passed" the ghost on the way to this spot.

However, when we got to this location we looked north and were able to see the ghost light. Only this time we were much closer to the source and, thus, were better able to see that these were car lights. However, some of the students still doubted. We needed to get closer.

So we set out on the second part of the journey, driving on the dirt roads to get all the way to the light. Fortunately, as you can see from the map below, the last little bit of this drive would be exactly on line with the ghost light. We'd be driving right into it:
So we set out. Then took a right heading north. The light came back into view, off to our right. We then took another right and lost the light. But taking a final left turn we got back on the sight line. The light came back into view and we drove toward it.

And as we closed in on the light, approaching the intersection with US-277, it all became clear: The Anson Light is the approaching car lights from southbound traffic on US-277. The Southwestern Ghost Hunters Association was right. But we had tracked the light all the way to its source. If there was any doubt back on the crossroads looking through binoculars those were effectively dispelled.

Conclusion: The Anson Light is not a ghost light. Anyone interested can repeat the steps we took to verify for themselves that the source of the Anson Light is the southbound traffic on US-277.

And as best I can tell, this is the first investigation of its kind posted on the Internet. We are the first group I know of to post a public record of tracking the Anson Light from the crossroads to its origin. Where scores of media and paranormal investigators have failed our ACU students have succeeded. Caroline, Kurt, Zach, Anne, Casey, Tyler #1, and Tyler #2 enter the history books of the world as the people who officially busted the Anson Light.

The legend of the Anson Light died on June 23, 2011 at 11:37 pm.

What made our success possible? Why were we successful last night when my other students couldn't bust the light those many years ago?

Answer: the iPhone.

As many of you know, as a part of our Connected initiative all ACU students are given iPhones. And those iPhones were the difference-makers in our paranormal investigation.

The key to our success as described above was getting ourselves exactly on the sight line of the Anson Light. Using the Google Maps and GPS system on our iPhones we were able to execute the plan described above (we also used our iPhone compasses, picture, and video applications along with using the phones to communicate between cars and those walking the road). The last time I was out in Anson with students we couldn't have pulled this off. It is very difficult to navigate those dirt roads and it's very dark. Plus, the terrain obscures your sight. It was only with the Google Maps and iPhone GPS that we could get to the exact locations we needed to test hypotheses and track the light.

So hooray for ACU's Connected initiative! In my opinion, this is its greatest and most stunning success. There's a lot of talk on our campus about how the iPhone would allow ACU students to do field research. But I bet the Connected folks could never have envisioned the role of the iPhone as vital part of paranormal investigative field research.

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41 thoughts on “Anson Light: Busted!”

  1. All we had back then was good hiking shoes, WalMart walkie-talkies and indomitable curiosity.

  2. Some of my group were a bit too skittish for hiking. Once the coyotes started up one student, who will go nameless, retreated to the cars and never got out again. Good times.

  3. I wonder if the famous Marfa lights are a similar phenomenon.  Anybody know?

  4. Hahaha I love it! Please get this published. I have to say, I am a little disappointed - I saw the Anson Light and just about had a conniption when we were out there 5 years ago. Well done for tracking it :) Next on list - have you tried out the marble above-ground grave in the cemetery there that "knocks back" when you lay on top of it? 

  5. Well Shaggy was always a bit skittish too, but he was an integral part of the group, and Scooby's best friend. Will you be trading in for a van painted "Mystery Machine"? After all, the ghost would have gotten away with it "if it weren't for you meddling kids ..."

  6. As one who, as a freshman, partook in this wacky piece of Abilene lore, I am both delighted and a little bit sad to read that Anson Light has been busted ... found out ... made.  Next I suppose you're on to disprove all my other folkloric fantasies: the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, the Curse of the Bambino.  For shame!

  7. p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px 'Lucida Grande'}

    This reckless research may have single-handedly ruined the cure for cancer, cloning of dinosaurs and putting a person of the surface of Mars. You see, with the mystery solved, there is no excuse to take a potential mate out to investigate. Without that excursion, dozens of young people will not find each other. That equates to potentially hundreds of children who will never be born, to never have had the change to solve the great problems of our time. It is you sir, who future generations will point to as the reason we are all suffering from boring dates in a dinasour-less Abilene. The cascading ramifications of this are endless... shame on you all... shame!

  8. Thanks for driving a stake through the heart of my adolescence Richard. A stunning success for iPhones, technology and scientific method. A crushing blow to mystery.

    I (mostly) kid

  9. Well done.  Is it too far for a roadtrip to SW Missouri?  Perhaps you can take on the "Spook Light" that I grew up with.

  10. A stunning success!.  So happy that the researchers at our university could provide this wonderful scientific information for us all!  :)

  11. Thanks for this great story, and for the work that went into it. I went out to see the Anson Lights during Welcome Week in 1991.

  12. Take heart.  After critical distance comes the second naivete. There is hope for mystery, yet. 

  13. For those missing the mystery of the paranormal in the Abilene area, isn't there also supposed to be a ghost that haunts the Historic Buffalo Gap Village? And that one is not as far to drive ...

  14. hmmm, your own named series "Angel of the iPhone", and "Discerning the Spirits" seems to take on a new meaning after the anson light escapades! 

  15. This is awesome!  One question that comes up for me in the details of your research, however.  Perhaps this is just me moving with frantic steps through realism and into the second naivete.  At the arrival point of "Step 1", you say you should have passed the ghost.  At that point you looked North.  Did you have someone simultaneously looking South?  Many old lanterns had reflective pieces of metal, giving the light of the lantern a directional focus.  Did you also have someone staying back at the original crossroads, looking North, to see if the ghost light was between the observer and your new location?

    I see how the headlights of cars on the highway are definitely one, logical explanation for the phenomenon.  However, it does not logically follow that the presence of that explanation negates the possibility of the existence of the original, more metaphysical one.  The only means of certainty would be to have someone parked in the spot North of the crossroads with a red, blue, or green light.  Then, an observer would walk toward the light-bearer (who is pointing the light in the air and waving it so as not to obscure the view of the ghost light).  The observer would have to walk from the crossroads to the northern point, covering all ground between the crossroads and the first stopping point.  In this way, it could be visually confirmed if the ghost light is closer or further than the first stopping point.

    Of course, maybe the mother isn't out because of the lack of snow... :)

  16. Hello Everyone,
    Thanks for all the congratulations! And my apologies to those saddened by the debunking. I admit, I'm a little sad as well. But there is still plenty of paranormal mystery in the world. And I hope the best of my ghost hunting years are ahead of me.

    Let me make one other comment. I hope everyone knows that the "history making" and "we're the first" stuff in the post is just a bit of fun. I'm sure others (in fact some have commented) have done something similar to what we did. If we've done anything it's that we've published online the first very clear debunking of the light. Something much more clear and definitive than what was online before. Second, "debunking" is a relative term. No doubt others have tracked the light to its source. What this post does is publicly publish an easy way for anyone to replicate our results. Get an iPhone (or equivalent), drive out to Anson, and follow our procedure. With very little fuss in about 30 minutes you'll be able to see for yourself.

  17. Hi Bill,
    To be sure, no amount of debunking is going to rule out the metaphysical explanation. For example, I see your point about passing the location of the light. But trying to walk a straight line to the light runs into a similar problem. Due to terrain and obstacles you can't keep the light in sight for the entire walk. Thus, when you reacquire the light someone could always say that what you reacquired is not the Anson Light but the headlights of US-277 with the real ghost light now behind you.

    And I agree that having two signalers at the two locations would provide a tighter correlation. That's easily done. Still, I doubt that would debunk the claim. You'd just be establishing that you could see a light in the distance from the crossroads. That is, you might have replicated the Anson light but it's not the ghost light. Basically, someone could always claim that any given light isn't the "real" Anson Light.

    So here's where I think the situation now stands. It's pretty easy to prove our hypothesis wrong. All someone needs to do is document seeing the Anson Light with no traffic of US-277. If someone can document that then, well, the battle is joined and we'll head back out to Anson!

  18. Congrats to Dr Beck and the student team on debunking the lights. What a creative use of technology and ingenuity.

  19. Geesh! If you
    guys had just asked Santa Claus years ago about Anson’s tourist wonder he could
    have told you! Well, he might've been a bit more tactful and just whispered in
    your ear. He is, of course, way beyond iPhone technology. And yet,
    somehow, he uses it all without dispelling the hope…the mystery…we mere
    earthlings cling to.


    But, now that
    you’re research has successfully shed light in the right direction… Can you
    tackle the old missile silo? Is it still a popular date venue or ‘this-could-be-a-date-but-we’re-just
    friends’ venue for ACU students to explore in the dark with a possible mate for
    life? Are iPhones and missile silos even compatible? I always had to ride in
    the back of some pick-up and it was SO DARK I could never figure out which
    direction we were going. All we took with us back in the day were flashlights
    and Swiss pocket knives. I don’t remember ropes, not that the use of ropes or
    subsequent trips would improve my single status or acrophobia. Ah, the promises
    I used to fall for from the opposite sex! Such is the power of hope…

  20. The Anson Light was supposed to be found behind the south lake dam around an old water processing plant back in the day. Someone was supposed to have drowned in the lake and the light was supposed to be them. Kids were parking to neck out there and some saw the light(s). Of course, rumors change with time...or someone changed it to stop people from parking couple of guys once tied two flashlights on the upper branches of a mesquite tree. They covered the lens with red rags. The wind moved the tree which moved the lights... don't know who that of '71

  21. Was it really necessary to 'bust' this old tale?  Generations have enjoyed the Anson light and it lent an air of mystery to the area.

  22. This is pretty stupid.  The mystery was solved a long time ago...everyone wants to think they are first. 

  23. agreed this is dumb, if you have lived in abilene longer than 6 months you knew that it was south bound cars on 277. Its the thrill of taking newbies out there just like snipe hunting. Way to waste your time.

  24. Back in the late 80's my young teen friends and I got caught by the Anson police while looking at the light in the cemetery. In exasperation the officers explained that the light was only the traffic on 277.

  25. Being from the Abilene area, I've seen the Anson light several times when I was younger.  To say that they have debunked the mystery is absolutely laughable.  I've seen the light to several things such as:
    1. Hover then dart into the tree line to the east.  Then go back to it's original location without losing it's shape or having any glow around it.
    2. Appear as a white light for a while, then split into three separate lights of different colors (white, blue and orange (?)).  Each separate light would go in different directions, shooting through the tree lines on both sides of the road.  Then the three different colored lights would collide back into one.
    3. We have seen it behind us (to our south) as we were leaving..
    4. In one instance we stopped halfway down the road (facing north) so I could relieve myself.  As I was facing west, the light was in the field probably thirty yards from me.
    Some of my old friends have seen similar phenomenon. 
    I have a question for the people who think it's headlights: How could that possibly be the case when we sat there on several occasions for one to two hours and never saw anything?  Traffic moves along Hwy 277 north and south 24 hrs a day.  And it never stops.

  26.  In no way am I saying that it's a ghost or anything supernatural.  But I just don't think a few headlights can make these things happen.

  27. It couldn't have been car lights, because we saw the light dance around, appear behind us, fly between our legs, follow us to the car, got in the back seat, and has been following us around ever since. That was 13 years ago. It might be from a car though.

  28. If you want to truly debunk my Lightness, why not repeat your little test numerous times? One text and you claim "debunked?" Laughable.

    Or better yet, why not take two cars, park one by the cemetery and take the other to Hwy. 277? This way you could talk to one another on your iPhones, and flash your headlights lights as you are watching & talking, video it (yes the iPhone again) with audio, and post it for all to see.

    You don't do this simple test because you cannot debunk the truth. Take cheer my friends. The Light lives on.

  29. I seem to remember a hill on the dirt road. It was about half way to the intersection from the main road. The light seemed to appear on this hill. And how come you could only see the light(s) from the intersection on the dirt road? A friend and I stood alone on foot, on the hill where the light appears. Out friends at the intersection said they saw the light! But we saw nothing. Shouldn't my friend and I been able to see the light even better? Considering we were about 1/4 mile closer to US 277. And you'd think that us standing in the middle of the dirt road (1/2 way between the intersection and main road, that we would have obstructed the view of the light some. But our friends said it looked exactly the same and that it looked like we were standing next to it. All I know is that there is a hill in the way. And we have chased this light many times. It moves further and further away as you approach it. Then darts into the wood line to the left right before you get to the cemetery. Very weird! That happened almost every time too. I suppose there could be a much Larger hill involved, that in higher and in the distance that US 277 is on. But chasing this thing. And it darts off into the wood line. I guess US 277 does go east towards the same direction. That could possibly make the light appear to go east into the wood line, but it rather US 277 moving off into that direction. You guys are prob right. Cops have been known to say the same thing.

  30. I hate to tell you, but we all figured that out back in 1982 when I was at McMurry University. So, you are definitely not the first but maybe the first to put it online...we didn't have the internet back then!

  31. ok tell me how it is head lights....ive been there numerous times as has my whole family..cousins,,aunts,,uncles,,mom,,,,who are from mccaulley Tx,,,,if it is head lights from another road tell me how when a car passes on 180 goin east you can see the light even as the car is passn you can clearly see its at the end of the dirt road.....and how are the marfa lights..that are in the desert explained...smh

  32. Now explain why only the drunk see Anson Jones (stone statue on the courthouse steps) get up and wave at them. Legend of more than 50 years. I live in Anson. All the college students from Abilene need to get a life. It is not headlights from cars on 277.

  33. well hate bust your whole plan you took time to do all this all good but are you ready!!!!! dont we have them dam bright blue head lights that glimmer big and brighter well the light never changes color or does it veary in any way it comes and goes pluse theres a long dip in road now try this its a reflection from car head lights that why theres no change in color or bright or dim the anson light not lights been same for long long time wont dont will not differ in any way ok kick that around and rember no dancin in anson get it bible belt law !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  34. Now use all that energy and objective thinking to BUST The belief that God exists.

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