A creature has been lurking in the forests of the American heartland and in our imaginations. For the last 50 years, the legend of this bipedal winged creature has grown and flourished with every passing decade. From his evil glowing eyes to his impressive wingspan, the details of the creature's appearance and modus operandi have evolved over time. But one thing is certain. Everyone who's seen this mysterious creature of the night will never forget him.
Today, we're going to examine the horrifying history of the Mothman.
A Modern Myth
The legend of the Mothman was born in western Virginia in 1966 when a seven-foot-tall creature with large wings was first spotted in the town of point pleasant. In the years since this piece of local folklore has taken flight and become a global mystery.
On November 15, 1966, Roger and Linda Scarberry and their friends Steve and Mary Mallette were driving through an area of point pleasant referred to as the TNT, named for the world war II manufacturing plants that are located in the area. As their car sped through the murky darkness of the forest, they chanced upon something that would change their lives forever.
The Scarberry's headlights revealed a large gray creature with red glowing eyes and massive wings. The creature had stopped in the middle of the road, quickly turning to stare forebodingly at the oncoming vehicle. As the car veered to avoid hitting it, the creature flew off into the nearby swamplands. The car screeched to a halt, almost careening off the road into the trees. Shocked, the four people sat in stunned silence for a moment.
Then steve Mallette, hearing something, looked out of the rear window of the car and claimed he saw the glowing red eyes of the creature zooming down the roadway toward their car. Roger stepped on the gas jolting the car forward and the creature gave chase as the vehicle steadily increased its speed. Roger claimed that he was driving as fast as the car could go, nearly 100 miles per hour. But the flying creature kept up. That is until the car left the TNT area and the creature just disappeared into the night. The two couples were understandably very shaken by the experience and spent the next few days telling everyone what they had seen. They tried to convince the townspeople of point pleasant that their story was true. That they had in fact witnessed a massive, flying, red-eyed creature that chased their car at 100 miles per hour.
Over the next few days, other point pleasant residents claimed to witness the winged creature as well; from brief glimpses in the distance, to fall on face-to-face confrontations. Two volunteer firefighters, a city contractor named newell partridge, and a few others came forward with their stories. It was around this time that the tales of the bizarre creature began to take on a life of their own. People started reporting seeing the creature outside of point pleasant. Indeed, all over the midwest.
The story went proto-viral perhaps mostly due to the fact that, in a published story about sightings of the creature, an Ohio newspaper coined the name the Mothman. Initially, the Mothman moniker confused people, because in some of the stories the creature was called a birdman. In fact, a rival newspaper, the Beckley herald-dispatch, tried to rename the creature as the mason bird monster in a piece written by journalist ralph turner and published on November 22, 1966.
However, the fact that the sightings described a birdman wasn't actually the true origin of the creature's catchy new name. An unknown copy editor at the previously mentioned newspaper named him Mothman after a villain on the popular 1966 batman tv show called the killer moth. The killer moth would later be renamed Caraxes on the show, but the name Mothman stuck.
Continued sightings of Mothman would be peppered throughout the next year. Witnesses all over the midwest would claim to have interacted with a winged man. Some even got close enough to touch him, reporting that he smelled like a woodland animal. However, on December 15, 1967, a tragedy would take place that would propel the character to global recognition.
The Silver Bridge Incident
The sliver bridge, a large suspension bridge spanning the Ohio River and connecting West Virginia and Ohio, mysteriously and suddenly collapsed on that day. The quaking and ultimate crumbling of the bridge was said to be heard for miles around. 31 cars plunged into the river injuring more than 60 people, 46 of whom died.
The silver bridge was constructed in 1928 and opened for public use on May 30 of that year. At 700 feet high and more than 2000 feet long the bridge, which was built almost entirely out of steel, was a staple of interstate travel.
However, neither law enforcement nor state and local officials could offer any tangible cause for the sudden collapse of this major road link between the two states. In that information vacuum, the local legend spread like wildfire with tall tales springing up almost as instantly as the bridge went down. The carnage and mass death of the accident prompted many people to come forward claiming to have seen the Mothman sitting atop the bridge just prior to its collapse.
The Ohio and West Virginia communities that had been so deeply affected by this trauma began to place religious significance on the Mothman's arrival. They claimed he was a harbinger of doom and pain. And the otherworldly sign of impending loss. From here on out, people would claim to see the Mothman all over the globe. Any instance of mass trauma or tragedy would be followed by people claiming to see the Mothman lurking in the shadows or caught in a reflection of a window.
The Book Expand Everything
In the early 1970s, a journalist named john keel, who was born Alva John Kiehl, began to investigate the initial Mothman sightings. He became fascinated by how quickly the stories about this winged beast had spread.
Eventually, his research developed into the now infamous book, the Mothman prophecies. Kiehl's book investigates the origins of the creature through interviews with many of the initial witnesses. He traveled to point pleasant, staying there for an extended period of time researching, and ultimately made some stunning conclusions about the Mothman. Conclusions which not everyone interested in the urban legend agrees with. The keel was mostly interested in ufos and otherworldly phenomena that involved extraterrestrials.
In the Mothman prophecies book, keel drew connections between the cryptid and Ufos, claiming that they simply had to be involved in the Mothman's existence and the existence of other unexplained supernatural phenomena.
In the book, keel classifies the Mothman as part of a group that he calls Ultraterrestrials; otherworldly beings who walk among us in secret. Much of the Mothman prophecies are concerned with the connections and correlations between these Ultraterrestrials and the many sightings of alien visitors. No other person was so influential in galvanizing and propagating the legend of the Mothman within pop culture.
What started as a deeply fringe and beloved regional character with small pockets of sightings all over the globe, quickly became a creature who stood shoulder to shoulder with the likes of bigfoot and the jersey devil. As a young man born in the new york area, keel quickly developed a simultaneous interest in the otherworldly and in writing. After working in the newspaper industry and participating in the early days of radio and tv, keel found himself in the army serving in the Korean War on the staff of the American forces network in frankfurt Germany. After being honorably discharged, keel began telling a tale so outlandish it simply had to be true.
He claimed that he was actually employed in the art of psychological warfare while serving as a propaganda writer. In 1957, he published a book titled jadoo which described his investigations into Indian rope tricks and also, his search for the legendary Yeti.
While becoming involved in an amateur network of ufo hunters throughout the 60s and 70s, he paid the bills by working in television writing episodes of getting smart, the monkeys, and lost in space. But here's where keel's involvement in the paranormal takes a turn.
In 1967 keel coined the term men in black to refer to the shadowy and secretive government agents who always seem to materialize whenever there were extraterrestrial encrypted sightings. The term first appeared in an article he wrote for saga magazine titled "ufo agents of terror." this line of interest led keel to point pleasant where he began to draw many correlations between the Mothman sightings and strange visitors from outer space. His interest was first drawn to West Virginia after receiving strange phone calls and ongoing reports of mangled pets.
The Mothman Film
While the Mothman was a semi-fixture in the public imagination due to keel's book. He waned in popularity as the 80s and 90s dragged on. However, he came roaring back and reached new heights thanks to the 2002 film the Mothman prophecies, directed by Mark Pellington and starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney.
The film was an adaptation of john keel's book. However, the screenplay, adapted by Richard Hatem, had some key differences. It took a more intellectual thriller approach to the subject matter. It was less a creature feature, displaying the winged menace for all to see, and more of a thinking man's shadowy campfire tale.
The film stars Gere as John Klein, a reporter who's researching the legend of the Mothman. Still grieving from the loss of his wife in a mysterious accident, Klein finds himself in point pleasant and hears of multiple sightings of a creature that has the townspeople deeply frightened.
The more Klein investigates, the more his obsession with the Mothman grows. And he begins to harbor a deep-seated belief that if he can just solve this riddle, he will in some way find answers to his wife's death. The film, like keel's novel, incorporates extraterrestrial components in the climax. While many true believers in the Mothman don't like this approach to the myth, this aspect of the legend has been a constant since the book's release.
The film debuted on January 22, 2002, to mixed reactions from Mothman fans and general audiences alike. Many said that Richard Gere was miscast in the film while others felt that the film was too derivative of the x-files. Ultimately, it is remembered as a film with a highly recognizable name, but that not many people actually watched.
This simple dichotomy likely helped the legend of Mothman expand further than it typically would have in the wake of a poorly executed film.
Today, point pleasant has fully embraced the legacy of its urban legend. Jeff Wamsley, a local area Mothman expert, and aficionado run the aptly named Mothman museum. It's the only one of its kind in the world. The museum has props from the film, replicas of what the Mothman would have looked like photographs taken by individuals who were able to snap a photo of the creature, and newspaper clippings from all over the world.
The museum also features handwritten depositions from eyewitnesses and original drawings made by people who claim to have had interactions with Mothman. And a short documentary film that screens at regular intervals.
Mothman prophesies author john keels himself is featured in the documentary, offering his recollections about his time spent in point pleasant. In the years since the first sighting, point pleasant has erected a Mothman statue in the center of town. Standing over 10 feet tall, this metallic sculpture serves as a reminder to all the locals to never forget the legacy of the terrifying winged creature from the great beyond.
In fact, the town has embraced their love of Mothman so much that they have an annual Mothman Festival. Every year on the third weekend in September, come hell or flying harbingers of doom, the town of point pleasant celebrates the rash of unearthly sightings all those years ago.
The legend of Mothman is a bizarre story that has been firmly cemented in the public consciousness. For more than half a century it has taken wing from a local tall tale to an international mystery, capturing the imaginations of people from all walks of life. Mothman has been viewed as a harbinger of great loss. Some have even claimed to see him in the shadows of the Chernobyl disaster, or in the plumes of smoke and ash after 9/11. One thing we can be sure of about the Mothman is that he's not going away any time soon.
So what do you think? was the Mothman just a large bird? is there really an extraterrestrial connection to this urban legend? is there more than one Mothman? a group of so-called Ultraterrestrials living in our midst?