The Levee Walker

By Travis on March 24, 2010

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From the darkness, a small light emerges growing larger as it grows closer and closer. During my teenage years it was common for groups of teens to venture to the river bottoms and see if the Levee walker was to make an appearance, the bravest calling out his name, challenging him to appear. Most teens would inevitably return to the safety of the car begging to get out of there, not sure whether they actually wanted to see if this urban legend was a reality.  If the levee walker was or wasn’t seen, the experience became apart of the culture of hometown lore. Like most urban legends, the tale of the levee walker consists of several different stories and just enough fuzzy details to leave someone wanting more.

The first origin story of the levee walker dates back to the original construction of the levee. A possible altercation began when one man took an interest in another man’s wife. In the end either husband or the offender was killed, his body being quietly buried in the levee still under construction. Never receiving a proper burial, his ghost is said to walk the levee at night searching for his body under the faint glow of a lantern. It is said that the ghost might consider your presence on the levee an invitation to help him find his body. If you are disrespectful, as the story goes, you may find yourself being pursued by the glowing basketball sized orb of light that allegedly depicts the presence of the levee walker.

Another origin of the levee walker consists of an angry old man trying to teach kids a lesson in the 80’s. Teenagers would often partake in activities that teenagers should not partake in under the protection of the quiet and sparsely populated river bottoms. An older man lived nearby and took note of these ongoing activities and as the partying continued late into the night, decided to try and scare the kids in hopes they would not return. The old man dressed in dark clothes and with an old lantern climbed the levee and began walking towards the kids. As he grew closer, they did indeed grow scared and as the man grew closer and closer they panicked, running to their cars hoping to make a hasty retreat. During the confusion one teenager accidentally threw the car into reverse and hammered the accelerator, striking the old man most likely killing him. Guilt forced the teen to come back later and investigate what he had hit in his hazy state of panic. Upon returning to the scene no sign of the old man was found, only a broken lantern. The old man’s vengeful ghost continues to walk the levee seeking retribution on groups of partying teens for his death. His presence being made known by the approach of the glowing light of a lantern appearing in the distance and growing nearer.

Another story takes place soon before the flood of 1993. A hippie was allegedly walking up and down the levee lighting joints with his lantern. Feeling the affects of what he was smoking, he somehow fell into the waters and drowned. His spirit is said to be an angry one, chasing those who interfere with his ongoing patrols on the levee.

All of these mentioned stories have little historical evidence to back them up, and are not likely to contain any kind of absolute truth or fact. What I find more interesting is regardless of what if anything happened on that levee, why are these reports so similar. In all cases a person sees what is usually describes as an orb of light appear and seem to grow closer. I’ll be the first one to admit, it’s highly possible that these eyewitnesses may have been partaking in certain activities that might distort their perception of a situation. For the sake of argument however, let’s assume they weren’t and actually did see what they claim…what could it have been? I’m a strong skeptic when it comes to things such as ghosts, however i think that everything should be given a fair chance to have evidence evaluated. Could the levee walker sightings be a natural occurring phenomena whose occurrence has spawned all these stories to try and explain it?

I am reminded of another mysterious light that exists near Joplin, Missouri on the border of Missouri and Oklahoma. This light of a mysterious origin is called the The Hornet Spooklight, also often called The Joplin Spooklight or The Devil’s Promenade. In a remote area a lone paved road runs through the countryside. For over 140 years there have been consistent sightings of a mysterious orb of light that forms and travels down the road towards eyewitnesses. Many people and organizations including the army corps of engineers have investigated this mysterious occurrence, trying to figure out the source of this light. Many urban legends also surround this light, stories of Native American spirits and ghost lanterns of deceased miners are included. Several explanations have been propose including one that suggests the lights are reflections from passing cars on nearby interstate 44. Other explanations involve electrical anomalies as a result of the “piezo-electric effect”, which is thought to be the of an electric charge by quartz when the mineral is put under pressure Others think that the lights are escaping gases from old zinc mines that have somehow managed to ignite.

Both the legend of the levee walker and the Hornet spook light share similar accounts, in fact there are many areas around the U.S. that claim mysterious lights. Though some photos, be it poor quality exist of the Hornet spook light, I have yet to see any photographic evidence of the levee walker…and nowadays any proposed photographic evidence could be easily created via photoshop. Logic tells us that the levee walker is just a typical urban legend created by teenagers who were probably already paranoid, potentially drinking, or smoking something. Any strange light reflection or figment of the imagination is sure to alarm you if you believe you’re dong something you shouldn’t be. Truth has no home in urban legends. However, urban legends such as the levee walker are the social fabric that create a tapestry of culture and give a community color and a unique story that is all its own, stories that make Quincy…..Qtown.


How about you, have you ever seen the levee walker? Let us know about it in the comment section below!

Editor’s Note: Qtown strongly discourages trespassing of any kind.

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7 Responses to “The Levee Walker”

  1. Daniel Webster says:

    I am from Adams County and can go back in memory long before these stories of the Levee Walker. I can tell you that it is not a man, but a woman.

    In the times before the understanding of the average person today, we were more hospitable in keeping with the bible. We welcomed strangers into our homes and shared our bounty. A weary traveler or sourjourner could knock on just about any door for a meal and maybe trade a little labor. Many folks traveled by foot or by horse and some with wagon or cart. Most of these foreign visitors were seeking their fortune or looking for opportunity and had no intent of harm, but there was also a bad element that most often traveled the rails or back roads to avoid detection.

    They may be referred to as bum’s, hobo’s, hoppers, boozers, gypsy’s, vagrants or derelicts. Whatever you called them, more often than not, they were not seeking to make better of themselves. These, mostly men, were running from something. Often they were criminal, crazed, fearful or just plain mean. Even the police avoided wandering into their midst.

    The times were hard at the turn from the 1800’s to the 1900’s and news traveled slowly. When a man escaped from the Moberly, Mo. facility for the criminally insane it was purposely kept quiet as to not scare folks. The man was described as vacant, almost catatonic, eyes filled with hate and evil intent. He was barrel like at about 5’8″ tall and muscular with neck and arms as big as some mens waist. He had killed more than a hundred people in Mississippi and Alabama they say and had carved them up like a butcher carved a beef. At each grizzly crime the valuables and children were missing. He also killed dogs and livestock piling the vestiges of his carnage in plain site.

    When he was captured he had in his posession a leather apron with sheaths for a dozen knives and only because of a fall in the night had he been rendered pless with two broken legs. He was never tried for a crime because there were no witnesses. The sheriff who came up on the man knew in his heart that he was an insane killer so he manufactured enough evidence to have him committed on a lesser crime.

    On his escape from the institution the man took every cutting edged kitchen utensil they had including a large meat cleaver and he stole away on the first freight train he could find. The train crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois and paralelled the river heading north past Quincy.

    Along the way, he must have gotten hungry and left the train somewhere about Meyer, stopping at the home of Rev. and Mrs. Newton Whilland. Mrs. Newton, Nellie, was gone to help a sickly neighbor and left her 7 year old son at home with Newton.

    Early the next morning Nellie made her way home on a bicylce shared by the family and stopped to pick some wild flowers along the edge of the river. In doing so she encountered a burly, blood covered man with a burlap sack over his shoulder. The sack moved like it was full of wild game. He stopped and looked at her and his stare froze her in place, but after several minutes he turned and headed towards the river.

    What Nellie found when she raced to the house was indescribable. Their goats, chickens, pigs and cows had all been slaughtered and spread on the front porch of the little parsonage house they lived in and blood had been poured on the doors and steps of the small church. Pastor Newton was found cut into many pieces, but her son Matthew was nowhere to be found. Nellie’s own butcher knife was stuck in the porch railing.

    The Dr. said Nellie died of a broken heart and the church family burried her next to Newton along side the church. That was on a Thursday and on Sundy the folks gathered for a day of prayer as they had not yet a new minister though the parsonage was cleaned and painted and ready as was the little church.

    Everyone was of a mind to put the past behind them, but when the arrived at the church they found Nellie’s grave empty. An inventory of the house and church showed the only things missing were the large railroad type lantern from the porch and a butcher knife from the kitchen.

    Folks say Nellie is still searching for her son and possibly the man she saw when she was picking flowers. After that the church and house were burnt to the ground and the ground left to grow in weeds. A small fence was placed around the grave of Pastor Whilland and a church and parsonage built elsewhere.

  2. Travis says:

    Wow. Thanks so much Daniel. I had heard someone mention that it might be a woman but never heard the story. That was amazing, I really appreciate you sharing it all! Thanks again.

  3. Wendy Warren says:

    Thank you Daniel! This area is surrounded by such stories and it’s very interesting to hear the actual story put down in word such as you have. It would be a great story for our team to investigate, are you ready Travis? Seriously though, we are quite aware of the importance of the levees and the farmlands they protect. No one should be walking around on them at night without permission from those who protect them. It would be interesting to hear of more personal accounts however. Having lived here all my life this Travis’ story was the first time I had heard this account.

  4. Marc Hollembeak says:

    Whoa!! Some really good stories. Glad I don’t hang at the levee anymore.

  5. scott says:

    does anyone know where about they were buried? any record of that church that burned down?

  6. Amanda says:

    omg. good stories. i have to show my daughter. she actually said something about that when she was there but i never believed her. omg.

  7. kathleen says:

    As someone who used to reside in Quincy and regularly walked on the levee system (sometimes I trespassed, but also walked by the lock and dam) late in the evening, I never witnessed anything, nor ever heard of either the folklore nor any observations of an unexplained light. The occasional suspicious driver(s), either due to alcohol, drugs, vehicle sex, or out to illegally hunt (spotlight hunting), yes – no ‘spook light’ such as the one observed in Missouri or near Marfa, Texas. What I personally observed near the Quincy levee system that frightened me – a mountain lion early in the morning, likely a younger male roaming in a large range. I was afraid some jerk would attempt to trap or kill it, so I didn’t notify the Cons. Police about it – someone else then saw it and it became news fodder.

    Some places do have interesting unexplained phenomena, but this one can be chalked up to story telling, with the cliched hazy, unsubstantiated tale of a brutal murder or disappearance that can’t be verified by historical record (keep in mind that homicides around the central IL region were in fact generally being documented back even in the 1820’s and 1830’s).

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