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Ball Of Fire

Among Kentucky’s many chilling tales of unexplained phenomena are scores of eyewitness accounts by reliable people who have vowed that they were true.

So it was with this strange happening in western Kentucky, described to me years ago by the man who saw it.

The late J.F. Hankins said that when the incident occurred in the mid-1950s, he owned a 256-acre farm off U.S. 231 in northern Ohio County, about halfway between Hartford and Owensboro. From his farmhouse, he could look across the bottomlands to Barnett Creek.

He had recently discovered a few of his tools missing and was keeping a close eye on his barns and other outbuildings, hoping to catch the thief.

One October night, he heard his dog, Boots, barking and looked out to see a bright light moving around one of the barns. Then it circled a second barn before heading toward an unoccupied tenant house.

Hankins was sure that the light was a gas lantern. It was three or four feet off the ground and bobbing along about the speed of someone at a brisk walk.

He grabbed his double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun, loaded it with no. 6 buckshot, and slipped away toward the road along the creek where he guessed the thief had parked his car and would be bound to come past him. Sure enough, the light came down the road toward where Hankins was hiding in the edge of a cornfield with his fearless watchdog at his side.

When it was about 30 yards away, Hankins stepped out of the cornfield, leveled his shotgun at the light, and yelled, “Hold it right there!” Boots lunged forward and started to bark, then stopped dead still.

The light was still coming toward them, but there was no one holding it.

It was just a “bluish-like” ball of fire about 16 inches through, Hankins said. It illuminated the roadbed beneath it, the edge of the cornfield, and surrounding roadside.

Hankins stood frozen in his tracks as Boots lay whimpering at his feet and the ball of light approached them. Just before it reached them, Hankins said, it turned and passed through a gate, then turned and followed a fence beside a cow path leading to the creek.

When it reached the creek, it turned again and moved down the middle of the creek channel, bobbing up and down three to four feet above the water.

Hankins said he watched in disbelief as the light “followed every little crook and turn” of the stream, until it went out of sight under a bridge on the county road.

He has always wondered what would have happened if he had fired his shotgun at the light.

Hunters later told him that they had seen a similar light while hunting at night in the creek bottoms.

Was it swamp gas? Maybe. But a university researcher later said that the description of the light matched no naturally produced gas source.

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