Big Foot. The Loch Ness Monster. The Abominable Snowman. All are a part of folklore and legend yet some believe are entities existing outside the realm of traditional science or nature. Like UFOs, they are typically considered by mainstream society and certainly the media with tongue-in-cheek – at worst hoaxes and at best misunderstood but explainable, naturally occurring phenomenon. And then there is Mothman.
Least known of the so-called ‘cryptids’ of lore yet most seen and covered by media over an extended time period, Mothman has been the subject of numerous theories and speculation for more than 50 years. Is it a bird, a plane or something more? screamed the headlines in scores of newspapers in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966 and, soon, across the country. The Point Pleasant Register, Herald-Dispatch, Charleston Daily Mail – all covered extensively what would soon become, over a year’s time, hundreds of sightings of an entity the size of a large man yet possessing the wings of a bird and, most prominently and unforgettably, witnesses described, red, mesmerizing eyes.
Last week, I visited the small town of Point Pleasant on my travels. I had previously read about Mothman in the past, most notably after the release, in 2003, of the Richard Gere’s “The Mothman Prophesies,” a movie based largely on the book of the same name by reporter John Keel. What has always fascinated me is how local media covered the sightings – as legitimate, front-page news – perhaps like no other mainstream press before or since. This was not a joke; it appeared, but a series of eyewitness accounts over many months that put a community on edge. Leading the charge for area news was Mary Hyre of the Athens Messenger. A society reporter for the paper, Hyre knew virtually everyone in the 5,000-person community. As such, when one and then scores of individuals kept seeing the same, unexplainable thing, she vetted them, believed them, and quoted them in print. This was no ‘one and done’ story but one with legs (and wings).
The tale would ultimately culminate with the tragic collapse, in December 1967, of the Silver Bridge, which for years had joined West Virginia and Ohio across the Ohio River. Nearly 50 people were killed. UFO sightings, ‘Men in Black’ appearances and a host of other strangeness had also perplexed citizens during this Mothman time period. After the collapse, the creature was not seen again (or has he? see below).
Since that time, countless books, movies, an annual festival and a Mothman Museum (hosting clips of much of the media coverage I described previously) have all kept the legend alive as questions persist. Was Mothman an angel? Devil? A harbinger of doom? Were his appearances a warning of the disaster that would soon befall the community? In November 2016, photographs from a man purporting to have seen and photographed Mothman were shown by a local TV station. The anchor smiled and joked and, no doubt, the story ran at the very end of the newscast. Google the local papers and you will find no coverage listed online. Which begs the question: Should we remain skeptical of such phenomenon or retain an open mind? More recent history suggests we gravitate toward the former when perhaps we should lean a bit more to the latter. Certainly times have changed, especially in an era of video hoaxes and photoshopping. Still, who really knows? After all, at one time the world was flat and the sun revolved around the earth.