After Hurricane Katrina the landscape here in our little rural parish north of New Orleans had changed drastically, and the traditions seemed to be changing quickly, too, with the influx of new people from the flooded metro area. Washington Parish had depended economically on timber and dairy farms, both of which had suffered with the growth of megacorporations, the dairy farms almost disappearing. Katrina destroyed a large portion of the dairies that remained, and in only a few hours the storm obliterated over 70 years worth of timber harvest.
In the aftermath of the hurricane, local residents and citizens volunteered for a large variety of recovery and restoration efforts. It was their work and the work of volunteers from all over the country that got us back on our feet. I, being a decrepit old woman, wasn’t able to do much physically, so I focused my efforts on sedentary activities that might help to raise funds for our parish library system, the central library of which was closed for many months after Katrina because of damage from the hurricane.
One of our fund raising projects was the publication of a book of local tales and lore. In both newspapers in the parish, we advertised that we were looking for stories about Washington Parish lore, traditions, events, people, and just plain interesting facts. The book, Washington Parish Tales, was published about three years after Katrina, and it was pretty successful in promoting our library system and raising funds for it. It included writings by about 50 local authors, adults and children, plus many photos and prints of beautiful drawings and paintings done by some of our local artists.
The book had one thing that none of us Friends of the Library had expected to get. That surprise was found in a group of stories submitted by a writer who had collected old-time tales of Washington Parish for several years. A couple of the stories were about a man who lived in a rather isolated part of the parish, about halfway between the two main towns, during the early twentieth century. He lived as many people of the area lived in the twenties and thirties – on a self-contained farm where the residents grew their own fruits and vegetables and raised cattle, chickens, and hogs. They were truly independent, doing just about everything for themselves. They had no indoor plumbing or electricity and only a rare automobile passed through, although this was only about 60 miles from the bustling port of New Orleans and only about 15 miles from the booming town of Bogalusa, which was the home of one of the largest lumber mills in the world at that time.
The surprise story was about a “booger” which this farmer had encountered in the woods not far from his home in the late fall of 1923. When I saw the word “booger” in the title, I thought this was going to be a funny story about a practical joke or about some animal that turned out to be much smaller than expected when it came out of the bushes. It was nothing like that. The “booger” had frightened the man so much that the experience remained with him and he told people about it for the rest of his life. Since he didn’t know what the thing was, he always referred to it as a booger. I think it clearly can be classified as a UFO.
As the tale goes, the sighting happened on a narrow trail near what was then and is now known as Choctaw Road, which actually follows one of the main paths used by the Choctaw before white settlers moved into the area. The narrow wagon trail twisted through a forest of longleaf yellow pine, dogwood, and red oaks. The farmer was driving his mule-drawn wagon, loaded with fire wood, down the trail as night was quickly falling over the trees.
After the night got darker, a bright light suddenly appeared directly over the trail as the wagon approached a bend in the road. The light was no more than 20 feet in front of the mule. The mule, struck with terror, stopped cold in its tracks, and the farmer was stunned into silence. He remembered that he just sat completely still as his hands gripped the reins tighter and tighter. He described the light as glowing and pulsating and said it positioned itself about five feet above the mule’s head and then became motionless except for the pulsating light.
The farmer, overcome with fear, felt a cold paralysis cover his body. Next, sweat poured down his forehead, and the hair on his neck and head seemed to stand out as his head and neck tingled. He could not break loose from whatever had him in its grasp or even move. As he told it later, he felt the eerie light was drawing his body and soul to its own center of energy. Unable to escape and glued to his seat on the wagon for what seemed like forever, he feared he was going to be totally consumed by the light.
Finally, he was somehow released from the power of the light, and he immediately jerked forward, snapped the reins, and shouted at the mule. “Git up mule! Move! Git gone from here!” But he could not get the mule to move an inch. It remained frozen in its tracks. Neither shouts nor the reins could make it budge.
The farmer said the light changed its intensity, at times glowing with a brilliant white light and at times shining with a warmer golden tone. It illuminated the 70-foot pine trees against the night sky. The light also lit the trail for several yards in front of and behind the wagon.
Then as quickly as it had first appeared, the huge light flickered and shot off into the darkness. For several moments the farmer sat there trying to gather his thoughts. He tried to understand what he had seen and experienced, but he could think of no rational explanation.
The mule suddenly sprang to life and tugged at the harness, jerking the wagon down the road before the farmer’s eyes could adjust to the natural darkness of the night. Since he could not see well, he had to trust the mule’s instincts. He just wanted to get away from where he had been stopped by the light. He thought any place would be better than that. The mule pulled the wagon to the end of the narrow trail, and the farmer turned him left onto old Choctaw Road and headed for home. He repeatedly looked behind him and to the sides, afraid that the light would reappear, but it was not long before he saw the glow of a coal oil lamp in the window of his home, welcoming him. He never saw that booger again.
As he told the story of the booger light in the woods throughout the remainder of his life, the farmer often said, “Well, I’ll tell ya, I warn’t feard ah hell nor rattlesnakes, but that booger made the hair on my head stand straight up!”