Frightening Fables: A Spotlight on the Mothman

THE MENACE IN QUESTION: A strange winged creature who terrorized the small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, for over a year.
THE THREAT: Uncertain. Attack from above? Abduction? Seeing Mothy and falling off the Silver Bridge?
FIRST APPEARANCE: November 15th, 1966 in Point Pleasant; first appearance on screen was in 2002’s The Mothman Prophecies.

As a great man – alright, let’s be honest: a complete human disaster – once said, “I want to believe.” And as someone who lives by that credo, I like to think of myself as open, but not entirely credulous.

So when 100+ people claim to have seen a giant winged creature with glowing red eyes over the course of a year in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, I’m willing to accept that maybe something wiggy was going on.

That something may just have been a giant stork off of his typical migration route – but I digress. Let’s get the full story first.

On November 15th, 1966, a pair of young married couples parked on a lovers’ lane outside a derelict TNT factory thought they saw a 7-foot-tall man with wings and glowing red eyes.

Understandably perturbed, the quartet took off back to town. The creature apparently kept pace with their car, though they claimed to have been going nearly 100 mph in their panic. Within days, multiple townspeople reported seeing the strange creature. Hunting parties began combing the woods along the banks of the Ohio River.

Meanwhile, further strange happenings beset the town. Odd men dressed all in black and driving shiny, seemingly new cars straight out of the 1940s appeared and began asking witnesses unusual questions.

Telephones rang constantly, but when answered produced only buzzing, shrieking, and garbled voices speaking foreign languages. Dogs and cattle disappeared. Bright lights and unidentified flying objects were reported nightly, at times numbering in the dozens.

Then, on December 15th, 1967 – exactly thirteen months after the first sighting of the creature now dubbed “The Mothman” – the Silver Bridge spanning the Ohio River, connecting Point Pleasant to Gallipolis, Ohio, collapsed. Forty-six people died as a result of the tragedy and, overnight, the odd happenings ceased.

Gone were the lights, the men, the phone calls, and the Mothman. To this day, residents of Point Pleasant still believe he was an omen of the bridge collapse.

Mothman first gained attention on a nation-wide scale with the release of John Keel’s book, The Mothman Prophecies, in 1975. Keel detailed a number of strange reports and witness testimonies, and speculated that Mothman and the other phenomena were the result of aliens or inter-dimensional travelers.

In 2002, the story was once again in the news with the release of The Mothman Prophecies, a film based on Keel’s book starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney. The atmospheric thriller is a rather good movie, with solid performances, plenty of creepiness, and an unsettling soundtrack from Tomandandy.

Later that same year, Point Pleasant decided it was time to properly honor the cryptid that had put it on the map – to that end, the town held its first Annual Mothman Festival. A three-day event held over the third weekend of every September, it features guest speakers from the paranormal community, vendor exhibits, eating contests, and hayride tours around the infamous TNT factory.

And in 2003, the town unveiled a 12-foot-tall metal statue of Mothy, created by artist Bob Roach. Because nothing says, “Bring the kids!,” like a giant angel of death with claws and glowing red eyes.

Me being me, I have – yes – actually attended a Mothman Festival alongside my good friend and fellow cryptid enthusiast Jo. We heard authors talk about the nature of Bigfoot, how local law enforcement officers are hiding werewolves from the public, and the different ways ghosts can manifest. We drank lemon shake-ups, bought Mothman art, and had our pictures taken with both the infamous statue and a man dressed in a rubber-and-fur Mothy costume.

Talk about heaven.

Naysayers have long said the Mothman was nothing more than a misidentified giant heron or sandhill crane, which can grow to be as tall as a man with a 7-foot wingspan. The bird also has red circles of feathers around its eyes, which could be mistaken for glowing monstrous eyes in poor light. Others say the numerous reports were the result of simple hysteria and elaborate pranks.

It’s true that no clear photos or videos of the Mothman exists; he very well could just be an urban legend on par with the Hook-Handed Man, meant to scare necking couples on lovers’ lanes.

But the fact remains that dozens of residents thought they saw something supernatural. The sandhill crane is not native to the region. And then there’s the odd fact that no Native American tribe dared to settle on the patch of land where Point Pleasant sits. Chief Cornstalk, the last tribal leader of the area, allegedly told the white settlers that it was a cursed place with evil energy – just before they massacred him and his warriors.

Perhaps Mothman is a vengeful spirit haunting the area. Or a banshee-like harbinger of impending doom. Maybe he was an alien just passing through while his UFO recharged, whiling away the time by scaring the locals. Given that he hasn’t reappeared in almost fifty years, we’ll probably never be certain what the real story is.

But given the choice over monster and spindly bird, I’ll choose monster every time. It’s far more interesting and the merchandise is cooler.

• The cryptid has had at least two songs written about him: “Genus Unknown” by Blitzkid and “Mothman” by Ekidna Orgy.
• In the video games Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin he’s one of three cryptozoology-based monsters, alongside the Yeti and the “Flying Humanoid.” He’s also a recurring villain in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise.
• Name-dropped in The X-Files Monster-of-the-Week episode “Detour” by Mulder.
• Multiple crews of “reality” shows have attempted to either find the Mothman or recreate photographs taken by witnesses for debunking purposes.
• In true SyFy Channel fashion, there was an absolutely ridiculous made-for-TV film, Mothman, in 2010 starring Jewel Staite (Kaylee of Firefly).

Angel of Wrath by Bill Myers.
Dark Wings by John Rust.
The Silver Bridge: The Classic Mothman Tale by Gray Barker.
Mothman and Other Curious Encounters by L. Coleman.
The Mothman’s Photographer: The Work of an Artist Touched by the Prophecies of the Infamous Mothman by Andrew Colvin.
Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend by Donnie Sergent Jr.
The Silver Bridge Disaster of 1967 by Stephan Bullard.

And keep an eye out next week for our next Frightening Fables piece!



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