A haunted town, or just a townie with the biggest hoax of all time? The legend of the Mothman reached a craze in the small town of Point Pleasant in West Virginia in the 60’s. It has everything from a classic pulp science fiction movie from that time. UFO’s, monsters in the sky, an abandoned chemical plant from the war and a Black 57′ Chevy. This is the story of the Mothman that terrorized the people of the small town. And… today?
It was a November, five grave diggers dug a grave in a cemetery in West Virginia. One of them was Kenneth Duncan, and he was digging the grave for his father-in-law. It was 12th of November, 1966, and he was about to be the first ’official’ witness to the Mothman.
Suddenly he saw something right above the trees. It was no bird. It looked more like a human being. But at the same time, it was not. Thus creature had wings.
— It was gliding through the trees and was in sight for about a minute, Duncan said.
The four other men together with Duncan did not see the creature before it flew away, and the men didn’t talk about this strange encounter with others than their close friends. Perhaps it would be forgotten, hadn’t other people started reporting seeing the exact same thing.
The Legend was born
This November sighting was not to be the last, however. Perhaps the most reported about and famous sighting was the Scarberry and Mallette sighting on November 15th in 1966 in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. This is the first sighting to be reported to the media and got any public attention.
Two couples, Linda and Roger Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette, were riding around north of the city. In a place used as a so called ‘lovers lane’, Joyriding around they reached the abandoned North Power Plant. It is known as the TNT area, or the TNT plant. There they saw the eyes of creature, reflected from the headlights of their Black 1957 Chevy.
— There was no glowing about it until the lights hit it, Linda said in her handwritten account of the incident.
They were glowing red after this, belonging to a gray figure, 6 or 7 feet man-like with wings. They said the creature wobbled, like it couldn’t keep its balance.
Terrified at the sighting, they drove off down Route 62, Linda yelling at Roger to speed up. As they went around a curve, they saw the creature on a hill by a large billboard. Spreading its wings it started to fly, flying back and forth over the car.
— We didn’t know what it was. I don’t think we’ve ever been so scared, Linda said.
Going a 100 miles an hour, they tried to speed away from the creature, but the Mothman still managed to keep up. They couldn’t get away, hearing the wings hitting the top of the car. They reported to have been scratch marks on the Chevy after the incident.
—It squeaked like a big mouse, Mary Mallette said.
It was first when they reached the outskirts of Point pleasant they managed to get away from the creature as it disappeared, veering off into a nearby field.
They stopped at the local Dairyland and tried to figure out what to do about it all. Linda wanted to go to the police to report it, but both Roger and Steve didn’t want to be laughed at. They wanted to go back, to see if the thing was still there. But the group was too scared and turned back to Point Pleasant. When they did, they noticed a dead dog along the road were the creature jumped out, going across the roof of the car before it disappeared in the field again. It was gone when they went back later. They drove back to town and stopped at Tiny’s Diner. There they contacted the police.
—If I had seen it while by myself, I wouldn’t have said anything, but there were four of us who saw it, Roger later told the local papers.
Deputy Millard Halstead was the one that met them. The couples told about a large winged creature with glowing red eyes. Halstead didn’t believe them at first. He knew they weren’t trouble makers, and saw they were terrified, so he went to investigate. The couples went with the deputy to the area. Halstead heard strange static disturbances from the radio, but found no trace of the creature. The couples sat in the car and said they saw shadows circling around nearby and dust kick up from the coal yard nearby. The Mallette was too scared to go home, and they stayed awake, all night in Scarberry’s trailer, lights on, terrified.
The next day the couples went back to the area in the daylight. They found tracks looking like “two horseshoes put together”. Steve reported seeing something fly up when a door kicked open. They left the place before they could see what is was. The same day, the Sheriff, George Johnson held a press conference. The local press attended and named the creature Mothman. Batman had just gotten a television series at that time, so they named him after the character. After this more and more sightings was reported, including Duncan’s at the cemetary. It sparked national, even internationally attention in the media. Steve said to the local paper.
— We understand people are lauging at us. But we wouldn’t make up all this to make us look like fools.
After the Scarberry and Mallette sighting
After this particular sighting, several of the previous ones came forward.
People flocked to the wildlife area where the incident took place and the volunteer fire department had to direct the traffic. Two of those also came forward with tales of seeing a large bird with red eyes, the Gettysburg Times could report.
One famous anecdote from this time, must be Newell Partridge and his missing dog. He was a contractor, living 100 miles north, and claimed the Mothman had something to do with the disappearance of his German shepherd dog, Bandit. He sighted “a thing” in the meadow near his home only 90 minutes before the sighting of the couples in Point Pleasant. He took a flashlight, and directed it towards the shadows. Glowing red eyes looked back, and Bandit started barking and ran after the creature. The dog never returned and the next morning, there was no trace of it.
At the time of the Mothman sightings, residents also reported chilling incidents of unexplained paranormal activity, vanishing pets. Remember that dog laying dead in the road? Also there were reports of television interference.
Rumors of Men in Black, UFO’s, weird dreams and shadows in the corner of their eyes. That is just some of the reported responses around this time in Point Pleasant and the areas surrounding it. Under, is just some of the newspaper clippings from around that time.
And it the legend spun, grew, and at last, culminated in a fatal tragedy of the people in Point Pleasant.
The collapse of the Silver Bridge
On 15th of December, 1967, the Silver Bridge collapsed. It connected Point Pleasant to Ohio and was an eyebar-chain suspension bridge built in 1928. When it collapsed under the weight of rush-hour traffic, it resulted it the death of 46 people. Two of the victims were never found.
Analysis showed the bridge carried more weight than it had been designed for and had been poorly maintained. The collapse of the bridge made so several other old bridges were maintained and inspected. Historian Henry Petroski called it a “cautionary tale for engineers of every kind.”
Several reports, including John Keel in his book: The Mothman Prophecies linked the Mothman to the horrible disaster. As it was at the height of the Mothman sightings.
The bridge were full of cars, coming back from work or out Christmas shopping, and they suddenly felt the bridge shake. Then came a moaning of metal before the screeching of the collapse. Then the bridge went down into the water.
Many citizens spooked by the torrent of eerie occurrences blamed the Mothman for this unexpected disaster. It was only thirteen months since the first Mothman sighting by Duncan.
The strange thing about the connection is that several reports claimed they had strange dreams and nightmares about drowning and an oncoming disaster. This was also reported by Mary Hyre. She was a reporter and wrote the column Where the Water Mingles, in the Athens Messenger. She often reported on the weird occurrences in Point Pleasant, and often about the Mothman. She became therefore a good friend of John Keel. There were also tales about Men in Black coming down to her office to try to shut her down. She told Keel On November 19th 1967, a whole month before the disaster:
— I had a terrible nightmare. There were a lot of people drowning in the river and Christmas packages were floating everywhere in the water. Its like something awful is going to happen.
Some saw the Mothman as a premonition of the oncoming disaster, some saw it as the cause of it. In any case, this spurred the legend that the Mothman was an Omen of Doom.
This has not been the last time horrible disasters have been connected to sightings of strange creatures. Both before 9/11 and before the Russian apartment bombings, several claimed to have seen huge bird-like creatures with legs near the surrounding area of where the tragedy took place.
So what was it all? Was it just a hoax? Was it an actual thing? Something in between?
Cryptozoologist, Mark A. Hall said it could be an undiscovered species of a giant owl, dubbing it Bighoot, as evidence or reports of it has existed in the Point Pleasant area, long before and after the legend of Mothman was born. Is that it? Was it an enormous owl or other bird that terrified the inhabitants?
There has also been theories about it being a big Crane, as the description could be fitted to the big Sandhill Crane as it has a wing span for around seven feet and can stand as tall as a man. That was what Dr. Robert L. Smith, professor in wildlife biology at WVU, said at that time.
Another theory is around the abandoned TNT area — the local left over bunkers that were used for storing toxic chemicals, during the Great War. It was used as an ammunition manufacturing facility that employed a few thousand people at its peak. What really happened in there? What exactly was stored in there? Could it be that it interfered with the neighboring wildlife preserve, creating something… new?
In May of 2010, one of the igloos at TNT, containing 20,000 pounds of unstable materials suddenly exploded. Fortunately no one was injuredbut the place had to be shut down and cleaned out before opening again. Was it enough? Is the danger gone now?
But is this the only occurrences of the moth man? For the particular interested, the Mothman fandom wiki has made a super interesting timeline of supposed Mothman sightings, both before the 60’s and after. Check it out here.
Today the Mothman is something of a legend, still living in Point Pleasant as a memory the people keep alive. It has its own museum dedicated to it with a 24 hour web cam around the area, a diner called The Mothman Diner, and has been run for almost fifty years now. It has its own statue in the town, even its own festival every September dedicated to one and only.
The legend has spun several books, movies, art, toys and the occasional reported sighting:
Last big one on camera was in 2016. A man was driving down the road and suddenly saw something jumping from the nearby trees. The man had just moved to Point Pleasant and claimed he didn’t know anything about the legend and that he didn’t edit the photos he took of the thing in the sky at all. Check it out here.
Let us just hope that the Mothman, in fact, is not an Omen of Doom then, at that if it is, the sightings will stop entirely for the sake of the people of Point Pleasant.
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Source: Hall, Mark A. 1998. Bighoot – the giant owl. Wonders 5, no. 3 (September): 67-79.
The Mystery Chronicles: More Real-Life X-Files by Joe Nickell, University Press of Kentucky. https://books.google.no/books?id=sComGoDFJZ4C&pg=PA93&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false