Tonight go to Booker’s Creek in St. Petersburg, Florida. Lean over the edge and look at the water which appears more like the dirty, foamy stream of at the end of your driveway when you wash your car than a waterway. Hold your breath for a moment and say, “Mini Lights, Mini Lights, come out tonight,” three times. Try not to notice that noise behind you as you finish. But then the rustling get louder and is coming from all around you. You see a glowing figure a bit away from you, moving quickly as it runs the distance between the two of you. You turn to escape, but a pair of pale blue hands, too strong for how small they are, have grabbed your leg and won’t let go. The other one is getting closer. You’re in a city neighborhood, Tropicana Field less than a mile away, but you’re alone, and you know, because you’ve heard the stories for years, that you may never be seen again.
Here’s the thing about urban legends and folklore; they’re always in the background and ready when you need them. They sit there on the shelf with all their universal truths waiting for moments when they are needed. The right situation, the right need, and they jump out, like memories with springs on them, and fill the void. They make sense because you’ve heard them before.
The story of the Mini Lights is one that keeps changing and adapting to its environment, a sign of the times. It’s nearly impossible to create a straight narrative line which tells the story of them. Over time the tales have been twisted and combined and borrowed and cut so that everyone who talks about it tells their own version. That makes a folklorist smile but a storyteller left struggling to choose how to tell the story the right way. What’s the in and how do you weave it the right way. No one can even agree with what they should be called.
- Minnie Lights
- Mini Lights
- Mystery Lights
- Midget Lights
- Minnie’s Lightning
- Mini Lightning
- Merry Lights
- The Memonites
The story has to start, maybe because it is easiest, with a description as to what people have physically claimed to see, or more accurately what they claim other people have told them they see. First hand sightings are almost nonexistent. People state they have witnessed or heard stories of strange, almost monstrous “small people” around a bridge or in a field near the bridge in one of three possible locations. Descriptions vary as to what is seen. An article in the Tampa Bay Times says the creatures are, “bluish-greenish-gray, bald and small.” Some say they are small people whose skin has a green or pale glow to it. Other people say they are just dressed in all green with painted skin but have glowing green eyes. Stories are out there to say they are more like ogres. In modern times people have said the Mini Lights are now dead and exist as ghost lights of white and green and blue, nearly as large as a small child, floating or appearing to run at you.
Both the people and the orbs are said to appear and disappear at will, popping up and seeming to surround you, supporting the idea they are paranormal or sewer travelers. The most important aspect of their behavior, and the one that both inspires their infamy and explains it, is that they abduct people and take them away never to been seen again. They may physically attack you or try to intimidate you to leave, but more than likely if you see them, it’s too late. No evidence left behind.
The story is said to date back generations, but has experienced a resurgence in the last few years, partly due to the nearby baseball team and partly due to a new movie being made about them. When newspapers mention them, they get responses from people who all know the details as they were told them by their sources, and when Facebook posts went out asking residents for details, the responses were an avalanche and conflicting.
We can start with the witch, because she is somewhat consistent to the story. She lived in a shack near Booker Creek and was named Minnie. At times she is said to live under a bridge that crosses the creek. No one is really sure of the date or how she had came to the area, but she was protective of her land. Anyone approaching would soon find themselves being chased by two protectors. Some of the stories claim these are her sons, or may even be circus freaks she worked with while she was with the circus. Others claim they were monsters she had captured or even a witch’s familiar, maybe born of some horrible spell that mutated humans.
As the area was developed more, they say the shack was torn down and Minnie disappeared, perhaps leaving a curse on the area. Another tale says she was upset when she had to give up a part of her land when they began developing and sought her revenge. Others say she left, but for a while the shack remained and you could conjure something by circling her house and chanting her name. Sometimes the house is a Mennonite church near the bridge or that she is a Mennonite that moved into an abandoned church. Either way, the little ones remained in the area, perhaps becoming ghosts, and still wander around at night. They can be brought out by calling out, “Mini Lights, Mini Lights, come out tonight.”
The Bridge is Just over There
Here’s where things get a bit more confusing. There are several locations people have associated with the story. Online and news sources retell the story as happening as very specific locations and addresses (which we will not print). The majority of stories focus on one of three locations which are connected to Booker Creek; Rosier Park, Thrill Hill, and Child’s Park. This made it hard to focus our attention when we went out to see if we could find the witch or the lights.
We first went to Thrill Hill, named because of the steep climb and quick drop of the road the hill takes as the bridge crosses over the Creek. The legend, which has a racial element we will talk about later, may be closely tied to the slow losing of the community, and as we made our way there, weaving in and out of small neighborhoods, the streets alternated between close, rundown houses and large well-kept properties. Thrill Hill itself was more of an industrial park, with large business and docks on either side. Of the places we went, this was the only one that had enough water to support a boat and a large enough space under the bridge to lend credence to the “living under the bridge” aspects of the story. The place was not near spooky. Cars were coming by constantly, and the lights and music from nearby businesses broke any odd atmosphere that might have been there at some point.
We stood on opposite ends of the bridge and both called out to whatever might be there three times. Between the water and cars and lights, it might be able understand why people might associate Thrill Hill with the story. There are odd streaks of colored lights all over the bridge and the road, but all can be explained, mostly by the way the road rises and falls. It may be more a case of a location having a name that is promoted and known by local businesses and the nature of the name pinning a local legend to it.
The next location, Roser Park, offered much more. Natalie is convinced this was the location of Mini Lights, and there were elements to our experience there that points at something being in the park. The area is 270-acres and has almost 150 historic homes, some of which are beautiful near-estates and other of which have that same rundown feel we saw in the other neighborhoods. The main path that cuts through it is also lined with houses and markers talking about the history, development, and renaissance of the neighborhood. Just past the trees and bridge crossing lies a hospital.
The bridges at Roser Park were much smaller and crossed Booker Creek at several places. One, however, was where the creek turned and also had a field that fit the description of how the monsters would cover an expanse of land in chasing you down. On the other hand, there is a connection between economic challenges and the sightings, and the community appeared to be a higher end locale.
We called out three times in several places along the water, but nothing dramatic happened. There are times when we are in the field when I keep things from Natalie in order to keep us from influencing each other and partly to not scare her with what I am seeing. Several times I saw orbs the size of basketballs crossing the street. I tried to get pictures of them, but they had moved on before I could. I also saw something more disturbing. As we walked back and forth across the path, something dark was following us. A dark shadow moved behind us in the tree, jumping from branch to branch and tree to tree and then leaning against the trunk, almost out of view. It was like a solid shadow in the form of a person but with no eyes or distinguishable face. It stopped when we stopped and moved when we did, and when I would turn back and see it, it would jump, land, and lean. I had the distinct impression it was the same figure, or at least related, to the one we saw in Holiday, Florida. I also heard crunching of leaves as if something unseen was following us and surrounding us as we walked the distance of the area.
The last location led the two of us to again enter a playground after dark, this time Child’s Park. This was my frontrunner for the actual location, mainly due to its reference in one of the news articles as being the place where a specific witness had grown up hearing the story. We found a cement foundation, which may have been the place where Minnie’s house once stood, and it was situated near a large entrance to the sewer that could have been where her foot soldiers could move throughout the area and create that impression they could appear and disappear at will.
When we stopped to try and conjure the Mini Lights, it was obvious we were not alone. The distinct sounds of alligators could be heard from the sewer, which may sound a bit like the old urban legend of alligators in the sewers of major cities but makes more sense when you consider the tunnels size and their location. It also lends credibility to one aspect of the legend we will look into more in Part 2. We ran into several people walking through the park that added to the overall creepiness there, and the surrounding area seem to fit the depressed and urban aspects of the story, but nothing happened there to prove or disprove that this was the spot where the story takes place.
Unlike some other legends we have explored in the last year, the Mini Lights does not have sightings we can pin down that spark the folklore. It seems to be more a story passed down to warn kids and say something about the community rather than one invented to explain away events that were unexplained. What we’re left with then is the question of why they story has endured and what it means about the people who continue to pass it down.
Of course, that is a story for another day.