Panic In Point Pleasant
Point Pleasant is an optimistic name for a city, and in my vast experience of such things, I find that optimism is often misplaced. It sits on the boarder between West Virginia and Ohio, with the magnificent Silver Bridge connecting the two, but other than this, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was nothing here of particular note. Nothing to set it apart from the other hundreds of thousands of cities across the United States. And that may have been the case, were it not for the rumours of a mysterious creature, and a catastrophic tragedy that cemented it’s legend in American Folklore.
The Mothman Cometh
It all began one late November night in 1966. Two young couples were taking a “late night drive” through what is known locally as the “TNT area” – a decommissioned World War II industrial site, now used as a wildlife area.
Whatever nocturnal escapades brought the couples – the Scarberry’s and the Mallette’s – to the area is both unknown and unimportant, but what happened put Point Pleasant on the map for every paranormal enthusiast.
According to the headline of the next day’s Point Pleasant Register, the couples were accosted by a “Man-Sized Bird… Creature…Something!”
They described the creature as follows:
…being about six or seven feet tall, having a wing span of 10 feet and red eyes about two inches in diameter and six inches apart.
“It was like a man with wings,” Mallette said. ”It wasn’t like anything you’d see on TV or in a monster movie…”
The terrified group fled the scene – a perfectly reasonable response to such a sight – however, the creature seemed to follow them, keeping pace with their vehicle. They eventually lost the creature, and sat a while at the edge of town to gather their thoughts. They calmed themselves by insisting the bizarre creature must be some type of bird.
They could have left it at that. If they had, would they have forgotten the incident, content that they’d been frightened by some perfectly natural – if not a little weird – bird? Would they have laughed it off the next morning and never go on to tell a soul? If they had, maybe our red-eyed friend would have remained unknown, lost to time and public consciousness.
Luckily for us, this group of intrepid adventurers turned their car around, and headed back to the TNT area, just to prove to themselves that it was indeed, just a bird.
At least, not according to them. The creature seemed to be “waiting” for their return on Route 62, but when the group tried to catch it in the headlights, it escaped, flying directly upwards, “like a helicopter”. This was the last straw for the group, who fled back into town to call the local Sheriff.
Although this wasn’t the first sighting of the creature, this account is the most well known. There are at least two reports of a “red-eyed, winged creature” in the nights proceeding the Scarberry-Mallette encounter, although neither have been as well documented. These were not the last sightings, as similar reports flooded in over subsequent months, and the creature became known as The Mothman.
Rumours surrounding the creature abound. Some say he was responsible for the disappearance of dogs. Some reported strange lights in the sky around the time of his appearance. One woman even claimed to have developed a psychic connection with him, which filled her with the sense of impending doom.
Whether that was a case of foreshadowing or hindsight, I’m not sure, but one thing is certain: Exactly 13 months to the day of the Scarberry-Mallette sighting, something awful happened in Point Pleasant.
December 15th, 1967 was a normal day in Point Pleasant, right up until the evening rush hour. The Silver Bridge was full of its usual commuters, plus the occasional Christmas shopper, when it began to shake. This shaking was followed by a tremendous metallic sound, and in less than a minute, The Silver Bridge collapsed into the Ohio River.
The collapse left 46 people dead, with more injured and the entire town traumatised. The bridge, which was built in late 1920’s, had not been designed to accommodate the load and volume of traffic it grew to bare, and the accident caused by the failure of a single link, which corroded under stress.
After the collapse, sightings of the Mothman ceased.
The Man, The Moth, The Legend
The most famous investigator in the Mothman saga (aside from myself, of course) was the journalist and UFOlogist, John Keele, who’s work, The Mothman Prophecies, became a major motion picture in the early 2000’s and likely contributed to the legend’s modern resurgence.
It’s Keele’s account that first links Mothman to the bridge collapse, where he claims the people of Point Pleasant were troubled by dreams from Thanksgiving 1967.
One of these reports supposedly originates from a local reporter named Mary Hyre, who befriended Keele and was herself an avid researcher of the paranormal. She is said to have told him:
“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.”
Compelling stuff, if it’s to be believed, but unfortunately, we must remember the lesson learnt in my handy dandy ghost hunting tips – Beware confirmation bias.
Mothman seemed to leave Point Pleasant after The Silver Bridge Collapse, which is not surprising in itself. Any tales of unexplained creatures were far from the minds of a mourning town. However in the following years, people have reported similar visitations preceding various disasters, including:
- The Black Bird Of Chernobyl – Legend states that a large “red-eyed, winged creature” was witnessed by workers in the Chernobyl plant in the days before the explosion.
- Freiburg Shrieker – On 10th September, 1978, a group of miners were supposedly scared away from there posts by a Mothman like creature. Later that day, the mine they were supposed to be in collapsed. I have attempted to research this story further, however, I can find no record of a mine collapse around Freiburg, Germany on or around this date.
- Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster – Several online news outlets tell of sightings in the weeks leading up to the accident.
Analysis and Explanations
A Natural Explanation
As researchers, it’s only proper for us to take a closer look at some possible explanations for our mysterious friends, even if they do spoil the fun of a good old fashion monster story.
That being said, they say if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck, and although there’s no reports Mothman sized ducks, the point still stands.
The most likely natural explanation for Mothman is the misidentification of a bird, possibly an owl. If we’re looking for creatures with huge wing-span, undefined necks and glowing red eyes, owls fit the bill.
The Sheriff who attended the Scarberry-Mallette sighting seemed to believe it was a bird of some description, and the group themselves even believed this initially. Then again, they certainly changed their minds on their return to the area. Additionally, birds tend not to rise straight up during take off. Of course, we can attribute this to misinterpretation, but whatever it was made enough of an impression for a group of four people to risk public ridicule to report.
If something weird’s going on, it’s probably aliens. Apparently.
John Keel seemed to theorise a connection between Mothman and UFOs, and goes into depth with this in The Mothman Prophecies, reporting incidents of missing time, technological anomalies and even visits from the infamous “Men In Black”.
Just bear in mind that Keel’s research has come under scrutiny by Skeptical Inquirer journalist, John C Sherwood, who examined private letters and found significant differences in Keel’s thoughts on the Mothman.
The Mothman Prophecies and Sherwood’s article is likely the best place to start if you intend to research this theory further. Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor inclination to do so.
An Omen Of Misfortune?
Many seem to think of Mothman as a harbinger of doom, and if the above records are accurate, it seems fair to think so. We’re familiar with the concept of Banshees, who’s wails foretell death, and with the very real tragedy of The Silver Bridge, Mothman assimilates into this folklore nicely.
Much like the Banshee, Mothman serves as a warning, giving us a chance to rationalise such accidents. Removing the unpredictability and replacing it with the face of a mysterious entity probably helps our puny human brains make some order out of chaos.
Perhaps intertwining legend with such disasters, provides us with a handle to cling to in hindsight. The fact that something knew it was going to happen means we may have a chance to change it, or at least prepare for the inevitability of it.
I’m inclined to believe that’s why similar sightings occur worldwide, and always seem to come to light after the fact.
Rather than a physical being, perhaps Mothman is something spiritual. Theories of angels or demons have been thrown around on some corners of the internet, but if we are to give credence to this claim, maybe Mothman is a manifestation of our collective subconscious awareness of danger.
In the years since the first sightings, Point Pleasant has embraced its famous cryptid. These days there’s a museum, festival and even a statue dedicated to Mothman, our lord and saviour. The intimidating statue is a sight to behold, but nothing compared to what I saw one winter night in ’66 when, through a series of inexplicable coincidences, I found myself near the TNT area. His feathered wings, and great talons were exceptional, but his eyes were truly majestic.
Oh Mothman, my beloved, won’t you gaze upon me with your glowing red eyes once more?
– Dr L J Hawthorn