Most Central Florida natives of the baby boomer generation will remember the tales of the Oviedo Lights. While some may have been too scared of the whole thing to bother testing the story, many of them went as teenagers to the spot below the Snow Hill Road bridge, which runs over the Econlockhatchee River, to try and catch a glimpse of the infamous lights.
“Up North, we took our dates to watch the submarine races,” an Oviedo resident told the Orlando Sentinel in an interview for their 1990 article about the lights. “Down here, you took your date to see the Oviedo lights.”
But what are the Oviedo lights? Why did they cause so much interest and confusion, and why is there still no consensus of opinion for their cause?
The Green, Ghost Lights of Oviedo
Trying to see these illuminations was a popular pastime for teenagers between the 1940s and the 1970s. The lights were usually best seen in the warmer months when one drove to the bridge, parked, and walked down to the canoe launch via the path from the bridge. The lights were often described as greenish and very, very bright. Some locals even describe being chased by the lights as they scrambled back to their cars.
Reported sightings of the lights have diminished since the 1970s, but this doesn’t mean they have completely disappeared. Still, perhaps the most intriguing issue of the lights is their resistance to being defined or explained.
Swamp Gas or Something More?
The best explanation for the lights, and one in which many people firmly believe, is that they are a product of swamp gases. Also called swamp ghost lights, jack-o-lanterns, or will-o’-the-wisps, these lights are created when organic material breaks down in swamplands, creating methane and phosphine gases. Methane is flammable, and phosphines can self-ignite when they meet oxygen, which can cause these spontaneous bursts of light. But they are real—and they are most likely the direct inspiration for fairy tales where characters see a light far off in the distance that lures them off their path… and into a bog or swamp.
Still, not everyone is ready to accept this explanation for the Oviedo lights. Many people believe them to be the work of a supernatural element, and even the scientific community of Central Florida hasn’t come up with a clear answer for this issue. In 1969, the University of Central Florida, then Florida Technical College, allowed for several students in their physics department to study and research the lights. After doing so, the university released a statement citing “insufficient information on which to base a concrete scientific opinion.”
Unexplained and Dangerous
So, what can we say about the Oviedo lights? Are they simply a strange, yet natural phenomenon caused by swamp gas, or are they something more? One of the oddest things about this local mystery is that, while most people in the area will be able to tell you about the Oviedo lights, there isn’t one, specific story linked with them. Usually, when a ghost story appears with a strange phenomenon, there is an underlying thread of similar tales, but people in the area might say the lights are connected with anything from a couple who were killed while parking in the woods to a Cub Scout who became lost and haunts the area to this day.
Does this mean the lights aren’t real, or that they are, as some people believe, a hallucination brought on by fear or confusion? It’s hard to say. One thing is for certain: though swamp gas seems to be the easiest and most likely explanation for the lights, it probably won’t satisfy the people who have seen them.
By Julia Tilford, contributor for Ripleys.com