Jack the Ripper, Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein's monster, Bigfoot, Extraterrestrials... these creatures (among others) are the things that nightmares are made of. Let's add one more to the ever growing list of the things that scare us the most; The Mothman. The release of "The Mothman Prophecies" has renewed interest in this 40 year old mystery, which brings us to the question at hand. What is the Mothman anyway? It seems that each time the creature was seen, it was described somewhat differently. Could the unnerving thought of being ripped to shreds by this creature of the night cause one's judgment to be impaired? Obviously so. What could be worse than a cloaked madman like the Ripper lurking in the fog shrouded alleys of Whitehall ready to take another victim, or the sight of a half-man half-giant bird swooping down and clawing us to death, or eating us alive? How did the legend of the terror inspiring Mothman begin anyway?
The very first sighting of the Mothman was supposedly on the night of November 15, 1966, near the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Two married couples, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette were driving past a closed down World War II ammunitions plant that was commonly called the "TNT AREA" by locals. They were only about six miles north of the city proper, in an area set aside by the city as a wildlife preserve for birds, called the McClintic Wildlife Preserve. The area had many underground tunnels and caves; an easy hiding or nesting place. The first thing that caught their attention was the glow of two large red eyes peering through the darkness. They could soon make out the shape of a creature six to seven foot tall, with the basic shape of a human with what appeared to be wings folded around his sides and back.
The glowing red eyes were also identified with another mysterious creature, oddly enough, in Flatwoods, West Virginia. The being is commonly referred to as the Flatwoods monster. The Flatwoods event occurred in September of 1952. A bright, burning UFO that was seen crashing to the ground heralded the subsequent sighting of two large red eyes about a foot apart which glowed in the night. The initial assumption was that an airplane had crashed.. that is until the reports began to come in of sightings of the monster. Eye witness testimony still exists, part of which I will quote from here:
Topping the hill, they (several school boys and a neighbor lady) could see a "glowing, hissing" object about 10 feet in diameter, about 100 yards away. Now completely dark, the night was shattered by two lights, about a foot apart. One of the boys had a flashlight, and when he turned it on the two distant lights a creature ten foot tall appeared.." a bright red face, bright green clothing, a head which resembled the ace of spades, and clothing which, from the waist down, hung in great folds." Suddenly, the creature began to "float" toward them, sending the group running back down the hill to the May house, where they quickly called the Sheriff.
These two accounts, if put side by side will bring some remarkable similarities. One could make a good case that the Mothman and the Flatwoods monster were the same species.
Both creatures had red glowing eyes. Both, allowing for some exaggeration by the youngsters, were 7 foot tall or more. The clothing, which hung in folds, could have been wings, and the "floating" could have been flying. Monsters stories are somewhat like fish tales, and we must keep that in mind to get a reliable rendering of what the Mothman really was.
Location of two main sightings, Point Pleasant and Flatwoods, 125 miles apart by auto
The four adults in Point Pleasant also made the statement that the eyes had a "hypnotizing" effect on them. As they stared in wonderment at the creature, it suddenly moved..then made a mad dash toward an open door in the plant. Awe had turned into fear now, as the four sped away, racing toward Point Pleasant. Only a few moments passed before they again saw the creature..or another like it. Standing in a field just off the lonely road, it spread open it's massive wings. The witnesses said that the creature's wings were similar to those of a bat.
The creature rose into the air, seemingly without effort, lifting it's enormous body against the Earth's gravity easily. The four sped on, but now this hideous winged fiend was following them! The frantic four, now speeding at near 100 miles per hour, were astonished to see the creature pacing them. During this run for their lives, they could hear a sound even above the roar of the car engine. This was a sound like a "record played at high speeds." Obviously the high speed working of it's wings accounted for the strange sound. Finally the foursome reached the town of Point Pleasant, where the creature abandoned it's pursuit, opting for the loneliness of the outskirts rather than the sounds and lights of the city. The witnesses noticed a dead dog near the city limits as they finally put distance between themselves and the monster. Later, when returning with policemen to the scene, they noticed that the body of the dog was gone.
"It was shaped like a man, but bigger. Maybe six and a half or seven feet tall. And it had big wings folded against its back," Roger Scarberry told reporters.
But it was those eyes that got us. It had two big eyes like automobile reflectors," added Linda Scarberry. They were hypnotic. For a minute, we could only stare at it. I couldn't take my eyes off it.
The frightened four never stopped their car until they reached the Mason County Sheriff's Office. Deputy Millard Halstead was the first person the four frightened witnesses saw. They immediately began to tell their unusual story.
Building where the first Mothman sighting took place
Halstead would later explain: "I've known these kids all their lives. They'd never been in any trouble and they were really scared that night."
The Deputy followed the four back to the area of the initial sighting. Arriving at the spot, Halstead turned his radio on to make reports if necessary. His radio did something very odd. It made a loud screeching sound to the point that he turned it off. He was visibly shaken. He soon left the scene and immediately returned to headquarters to report his radio problems.
The harrowing experience of the two couples was not the only unusual occurrence that night in Point Pleasant. About 10:30 P.M. contractor Newell Partridge was sitting at home in front of the television. Suddenly, the picture on the screen disappeared. It was replaced by a "herringbone pattern" and a "loud whining noise." He could now hear the familiar sounds of his dog Bandit howling on the porch. Bandit was a big muscular German Shephard who was always on guard, alerting Partridge of any unusual happenings around the house. He was a country dog, and used to defending himself and his family. Partridge quickly made his way to the porch to see what his loyal Bandit was making such a fuss about. The dog was heading to the family's barn, located about one hundred and fifty yards away. Partridge aimed his flashlight in the direction of the barn, and was shocked to see "two circle-like eyes" glowing red through the night.
Partridge's own words were:
"I shined the [flash]light in that direction, and it picked up two red circles, or eyes, which looked like bicycle reflectors. I certainly know what animal eyes look like-these were much larger. It's a good length of a football field to that hay barn, still those eyes showed up huge for that distance."
Something wasn't right, and Partridge ran inside to get his trusty gun, ready to defend himself from whatever or whoever was trespassing on his property. He spent the night with one eye open, and the gun at his side. When morning broke, he went to find Bandit, worried that he was hurt, or worse, dead. There was no sign of Bandit, but Partridge did find a worrisome clue to his whereabouts. He found tracks in a circular pattern, telling him that Bandit had gone round and round probably barking at something in the air! Bandit was never seen again. Could the body of the dog seen on the outskirts of town been that of Bandit? The news of this strange event quickly spread from police headquarters to the local news media. The popularity of the Batman television series and comic books would influence a local reporter to tag the unknown creature as the "Mothman." The Batman series had a character of that name. The legend was born.
The next morning a press conference was called by Sheriff George Johnson. At this meeting, all of the witnesses of the night before were interviewed. In this short period of time, the word had spread dramatically, reaching far beyond the state of West Virginia. Present was journalist Mary Hyre, who covered the Point Pleasant area for the Athens, Ohio paper the "Messenger." She would become a major player in the Mothman mystery. She would write a riveting account of the West Virginia enigma which was picked up by the Associated Press.
Everybody in Point Pleasant knew Mary, recalled Roy Cross, her boss in the bureau. She ran that town. Hyre died February 15, 1970. Cross was one of her pallbearers, along with several West Virginia state troopers, the Mason County sheriff, and the Messengers publisher. The Pittsburgh Press, now defunct, gave the United Press International version front-page coverage on its November 16 edition with the headline: Red-Eyed 7-Footer: Bird Flaps Scare Into W. Va. Couples.
In time, there would be some one hundred witnesses who claimed to have seen the Mothman. Sightings were made through the rest of the year, and even into 1967. Many descriptions of the Mothman were made, all of them similar, yet with some differences. The minor inconsistencies could easily be accounted for due to the experience of the individual witness, or the circumstances of the event, as to lighting, weather, and the venue.
"It stood taller and broader than a man, walked in sort of a halting shuffle on humanlike legs, and emitted a squeaking sound."
"The red, glowing eyes, set into the shoulders, seem to have been more terrifying than either the size of the creature or span of its bat-like wings."
More than one witness mentioned hearing a mechanical humming as the creature flew above them. Witnesses reported feeling an uncontrollable, indescribable terror:
"I've never had that feeling before. A weird kind of fear. That fear gripped you and held you."
One of the most discussed sightings of the creature would occur on the night of November 16, 1966. A terrifying creature would be encountered again in the sparsely populated TNT area at the home of Ralph Thomas. Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Wamsley were visiting the Thomas family along with Mrs. Marcella Bennett and her young daughter. As the Wamsley group was walking through the yard to their car, they seemed to accidently step on top of something either resting or asleep on the ground. They had encountered the Mothman. Marcella Bennett would describe the experience in this manner:
"It rose up slowly from the ground. A big, gray thing. Bigger than a man, with terrible, glowing red eyes."
Marcella was so terrified that she dropped her infant to the ground. The creature opened it's massive wings, and as it did, Wamsley quickly grabbed the baby, and ran with the rest of the witnesses into the house. The three children of the house opened the door for the group as they too had witnessed the winged ogre. Mothman followed behind them, coming up on the porch, and even peering through the window. All of those in the house were totally terrified. Walmsley immediately phoned the police, but before they arrived, the Mothman was gone. The witnesses in the yard were probably spared injury or death because the creature was not fully awake. Mrs. Bennet would require medical attention. She was in a state of shock after the event.
At the TNT area outside of town, each night would bring visitors hoping to get a glimpse of the Mothman. Many brought their families along, and camped out. They brought along food, blankets, books, and cameras. Many hoped to get that one photograph of this mysterious being. No doubt a good photograph would bring a small fortune when the media was in the Mothman frenzy. It was common place for reporters and television crews to camp out at the old TNT plant, hoping for that one big story or picture that would launch the career of an up and coming reporter, or make a legend of an established one. Unfortunately for them, the only legend launched would be that of the Mothman.
The sightings of the Mothman seemed to wind down by the end of 1967, but the legend would go out with a bang. On November 21, police received a frantic call from Richard West of Charleston. He had spotted a tall winged creature on the roof of his neighbors house. He described the being as having a wing span of six to eight feet. He also detected the red glowing eyes. He claimed that the Mothman rose straight up from the roof, just "like a helicopter." Only four days later, on the 25th, Tom Vry was driving along Route 62 in the TNT area. As he scanned the landscape, he was taken aback by the sight of a Mothman standing in a field along the road.
He described the creature as tall and gray with wings. He said the being spread it's wings, and lifted straight up into the air. Then the Mothman flew above his car. Vry sped away and saw him no more. Two days later on the 27th, Connie Carpenter was driving home from church. Near the town of Mason, she spied a grayish figure standing on the golf course. The creature saw her, and flew directly toward her car. He got close enough for her to see his face. She described it as "horrible."
Would this be the end of the Mothman? For a time maybe, but the legend will continue. Many UFOologists write the legend off as incredible fantasy, or a hoax. However, it must be said that the reports of the Mothman should be viewed on a case by case basis, just like UFO reports. Certainly there were some reports of the Mothman that were hoaxes, as to be expected. Hoaxes are just part of human nature. Many try to sensationalize an ongoing event for the purpose of personal notoriety or financial gain, but any clear minded investigator must not discount ALL of the reports just because SOME of them are false.
The Mothman sightings invoked as many explanations as sightings. The strange phenomena that accompanied the first reports continued to the end. Many residents of the area of Point Pleasant were victims of electrical problems and even apparitions, leading some to believe that the whole phenomena was spiritual in nature. It should be mentioned that animal and cattle mutilation reports skyrocketed during the Mothman period, though no direct evidence connected the Mothman to the reports.
Some of the theories put forth for the devilish bird were:
He was the result of some type of demonic or cult ritual.
He was formerly a crane who was subjected to a type of genetic altering due to secret chemicals used at the old TNT plant.
He was the manifestation of a 200 year old Shawnee Indian curse put on the area of Point Pleasant.
He was a type of secret government experiment, as reports of the infamous Men in Black visiting witnesses were reported.
Those who laughed at these theories claimed that the sightings were nothing more than misinformed reports of the sandhill crane, which did have reddish patches on it's head, and did get quite large. The area also had among it's native wildlife other large species of birds, such as an extremely large vulture found by some young boys in July 1967 in New Haven. Also a local farmer shot and killed an Arctic snow owl with a wingspan of five feet.
The Silver Bridge
Mothman was even blamed for a natural disaster that occurred on December 15, 1967. The Silver Bridge, which crossed the Ohio River at Point Pleasant, collapsed during a heavy traffic period. Forty-six vehicles fell into the icy waters, and thirty-eight fatalities were reported. Supposedly this marked the end of the Mothman sightings. Some have even surmised that the majority of the Mothman population lived under the bridge and were killed during the collapse. Only a couple of sightings were reported after the bridge disaster.
Everyone loves a mystery, and the Mothman is certainly one that will endure, just like other monster stories. It is human nature to perpetuate an exciting story, whether true or false. We must not forget however that a good number of the sightings of the Mothman were made by reasonable, sane individuals who were genuinely frightened, and stood to gain nothing by reporting what they saw. There is no doubt in my mind that at least SOME of the sightings are real.
We are left with a puzzling question. Scientists will tell you that there is NO known species of animal that matches the eye witness accounts of the Mothman. If the scientific community is correct, then every eye witness was either lying, having a hallucination, or simply mistook a native animal or bird as a monster. This is extremely difficult to believe. Sane, responsible people know better. Give them some credit. There is a huge difference between a crane, and a 7-8 foot tall winged creature with red eyes that flies right at you, or follows your automobile at 100 hundred miles per hour, or takes off vertically like a helicopter. There is no crane that can do these things, but the Mothman can.
Source & References:
"The Mothman Prophecies" by John Keel