Mothman: America’s Notorious Winged Monster

Mothman: America’s Notorious Winged Monster


It did have the biggest red eyes. There’s
a six-foot bird and massive wings. I asked her how big the wingspan was, she
said about 10 to 12 feet. Is Point Pleasant haunted? Yes very much. I’m here in Point Pleasant West Virginia.
The little Appalachian town with a big monster history. It’s home to one of
America’s most notorious legends -Mothman. Described as a humanoid creature with
massive wings and glowing red eyes, this man with wings was first spotted in this
area in the 1960s and has been a fixture of life in Point Pleasant ever since.
The monster is a perfect example of iconic modern American folklore. There’s
even a Mothman statue in the middle of downtown. Hi! It speaks to the idea that
this really is modern folklore. It came from this town. Like, we’re staking this
spot in this part of the world as Mothman. So they’re really uniting
Mothman and Point Pleasant and West Virginia . On December 15th, 1967 this
paranormal activity culminated in a very real tragedy. The collapse of Silver
Bridge. Some claim Mothman was the cause of the accident. Others say he was
actually meant to forewarn the town of the catastrophe. But how do you explain the Mothman
phenomenon? Was it an elaborate hoax or did people simply mistake something real
for an imaginary creature? Or maybe it was something truly so bizarre that it
just can’t be easily explained. I’m Dr. Emily Zarqa and this is Monstrum. On November 12 1966 in Clendenin West
Virginia, five grave diggers claimed to have seen what they described as a man
with wings gliding over their heads. Eye witness Kenneth Duncan later said the
beam was gliding through the trees and was in sight for about a minute. But it
was here where Mothman became a legend. I’m at the spot of what is widely
believed to be the earliest officially reported Mothman sighting.
What used to be the West Virginia ordinance works munitions plant. Better
known as the TNT area. On November 15 1966 two young married couples, Roger and
Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Malec were driving around the TNT area when
they reportedly spotted what looked like a man with large wings standing in the
middle of the road. Steve described the creature as being six or seven feet tall
with a ten-foot wingspan and red eyes about two inches in diameter and six
inches apart. Linda claims she couldn’t see a head or arms but also saw glowing
red eyes when the car headlights hit the figure who seemed to shy away from the
light. Frightened, they quickly sped away from the figure. But shortly after while
traveling along route 62 they spotted it again. This time it followed them.
They claimed they couldn’t shake the creature even when the car reached
speeds as fast as a hundred miles per hour. This is Denny Bellamy, the Mason County
Visitors Bureau Executive Director. Denny has lived in the Point Pleasant Mason
County area for over 60 years. I was in third grade. My neighbors saw it and
said there’s a large there’s a six-foot bird with big red eyes and massive wings
chasing cars in the TNT Area. And in fact, it kept up with Roger Scarberry’s 57 Chevy.
Right on this road. This road, as you can see, it’s like a drag strip. And that’s
what Roger Scarberry was doing out here – was drag racing. There were scratch marks
on the ceiling of his car and he was upset and he was scared. Shaken by the
experience, the group drove straight to the sheriff’s office to file a report
around 2:00 a.m. that morning. Officers immediately set out to investigate, but
by the time they arrived at the TNT site no evidence of the creature could be
found. I’m here at the Point Pleasant Public Library doing some research
looking through their archiv.There’s a lot of stuff here I’m super excited to
explore this. This is a copy of the original Point Pleasant register of the first
Mothman sighting Wednesday November 16th. In the morning after,
couple sees man-sized bird creature. Well there’s drawings. There’s drawings! Eyewitness sketch of Mothman verified by
others one of the original eyewitnesses. Both were slightly pale and tired from
lack of sleep during the night following their harrowing experience. ‘If I hadn’t
it while by myself I wouldn’t have said anything but there were four of us who
saw it.’ They speculated that the thing was living in the vacant power plant
possibly one of the huge boilers. There are pigeons in all the other buildings
but not in that one. I love finding new info! This was a top-secret government
facility. They made all the explosives from the
atomic bomb. It employed all the people from the town. You would come to work
here on to a bus that all the windows were blacked out of so you couldn’t see
anything in the facility. And they drove you right to where you were working. You did your job, you got back on the bus, and they never saw anything. And the day we
dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, they closed the facility. That was it. They were
done. We’re going to go look at the bunkers that give the TNT area its name.
It’s where they stored the explosives, TNT, and the nitroglycerin . It’s
creepy first start bringing people out here there were still rusted
hands of gunpowder. So here’s definitely some Mothman graffiti. I mean we have the
humanoid structure. We have the wings, the you see two large eyes. I grew up in forests but there’s
something about the abandoned buildings and the legends and the real history
that there’s a spooky vibe. I mean it’s honestly really really
creepy. We’re walking into one of the buildings that used to be part of the
TNT site. So we’re gonna go in. We have no idea what’s inside. It’s pitch black.
Let’s see what happens. Okay, I don’t know how far back it goes. Look at the lights! I
don’t know what it was used for and there’s stuff everywhere.It
definitely looks like it could be haunted, especially about the workers who
used to be he. You never know. I just kicked something! Okay no more!
I’m creeped out now that I have been in that building. Over the following three days
after the November 15th sighting at least eight more people reported similar
creatures. My brother and I said, don’t look but there’s something there beside the
car. If I’d rolled my window down I could’ve touched it.
And then it jumped on the hood and just sit there and just squatted. Kind of look
this. But it did have the biggest red eyes – and it run right past the car and
it jumped up in there and just opened up the biggest pretty set of bird wings.
Because you could see the feathers and everything just opened up and just went
off in the night like that. For one year starting in November 1966, over a hundred
eye witnesses reported accounts of the Mothman in this area. Almost all agreed
on the same points. The monster was as large as larger than a big man, it had
wings but no feathers, and took off into the air straight like a helicopter
gliding through the sky. Its face was indistinguishable besides two large
glowing red eyes. The town’s population was so intrigued
by the creature that hundreds of local residents some armed and went hunting for
the winged figure. There was a police officer directing traffic.There was so
much. Newspapers are often the first indicators of an emerging legend.They
help rumors become lore as more variations are published and told to the
public. Mothman was no exception. He even received his famous title from an
anonymous Ohio newspaper copy editor who likely gave the mysterious bird the name
Mothman after the famous comic book character Batman, who is the subject of a
popular TV shot at the time. Later that month, the Beckley Herald Dispatch
renamed the Mothman as the Mason bird monster but that didn’t quite stick.
Were the Mothman eyewitnesses in the 1960s really seeing a monster?
Some people certainly saw something in the night sky. The sheer number of
sightings might be an example of the psychological and social phenomenon
known as mass hysteria. The textbook definition of mass hysteria says it is a
form of mass contagion in which an irrational belief or behavior grips a
group or community. The size of a small town link Point Pleasant offered a
unique social environment. Residents either had a Mothman story themselves or
knew someone who did which allowed the story to circulate in a relatively
closed inner network that could bolster the belief in the creature. What is
undoubtedly very real as the event that stopped the Mothman sightings of the
1960s. On December 15 1967, exactly 13 months after the first reported sighting
of Mothman, an estimated 31 cars and trucks plunged into the Ohio River after
the bridge connecting Ohio and West Virginia collapsed. 64 people went into
the water 46 of them died. It officially ended the Mothman. That’s
what ended the story. When the bridge fell, no one wanted to
hear about the Mothman anymore. It was ultimately discovered that a
single eye bar, 55 feet long, fractured causing the pin holding it in place
to become loose and the tragic chain of events to follow. Survivors and witnesses
recall that the bridge shook violently before it collapsed. Some even say they
saw Mothman on the bridge days before. This is really where the myth of the
Mothman as a harbinger of death started. Was he a warning to the townspeople or a
curse being bringing destruction with him? Some people speculated that Mothman and the bridge collapse had something to do with a rumored legend known as the
Curse of Cornstalk. a Shawnee leader of the indigenous people, Chief
Cornstalk and his men fought in the Battle of Point Pleasant against
colonial troops in 1774. Local legend in Point Pleasant said that with his dying
breath, Cornstalk cursed the town for 200 years. Some people even speculated that the Mothman was sent by cornstalk himself
from beyond the grave. But in 2006, it was revealed that the
rumored curse of cornstalk was nothing more than a myth. A rediscovered
historical pageant play was found in an old grade school in Point Pleasant that
includes Cornstalk’s Curse. Most likely, the playwright added it in to give the
performance a little more drama. …and the energies of its people paralyzed by the
stain of our blood so saying he fell dead by the side of the son. There’s the
curse! Maybe the Mothman sightings can be explained by something from the natural
world. It was proposed early on that the Mothman was actually a sandhill crane
when a West Virginia University professor told the press in an article
published December 1st 1966 quote ‘I definitely believe that’s what these
people are seeing this is the sandhill crane.’ Dr. Robert Smith of the West
Virginia University biology department said the description fits that of a
sandhill crane. Sandhill cranes have an average wingspan of around 6.5 feet and
are about 3 to 4 feet tall. They also happen to have red patches around their eyes. But Dr. Z you may be wondering, do sandhill cranes
ever make it to West Virginia? The answer is yes! Because I am a crazy bird person
and this Mothman thing was driving me insane, I contacted the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for sandhill crane data from
the 1960s. While they couldn’t give me anything from that time period, I did
find that sightings of sandhill cranes happened today. At least 28 of them have
been spotted in West Virginia between January 2017 and August 2019. Sometimes in large groups. Brenda Knight the sister-in-law of one of the November 15
witnesses, said quote ‘We all thought it was a mutant sandhill crane because of
the toxins in the swamp.’ Maybe Brenda was on to something. She wasn’t the only one
to think that illegally dumped chemicals had caused animal mutations. The
munitions plant that gave the TNT area its name was built during World War II
to produce and store explosives from 1942 to 1945. After the war, much of the
land was given to the Department of Natural Resources. It became a wildlife
reserve in 1966 and is now called the McClintock Wildlife Management Area. The
mutation theory might have a little more validity to it than some of the other
explanations. In 198, a red water seep was discovered in the area which led to
the realization that contamination had occurred. The red water is a result of a
cold water and select mixture used to rinse the TNT. According to the US Army
Corps of Engineers, the red water was discharged directly into the Ohio River
through a pipe located about one foot offshore. After becoming part of the
national priority list in 1983, cleanup became the focus and ground water
extraction was completed in 1997. So how could you explain mothman’s infamous
glowing red eyes? Another type of bird was quickly thrown out as a possible
explanation to the humanoid flying creature. One known for its silent
nocturnal flights – owls. It’s always owls! Birds eyes appear red when a bright
light is shined at them because of the vascular membrane that shows through the pigment layer of the retina. An effect referred to as eyeshine. One owl is known for its very dramatic eyeshine. The barred owl is a large species with a rounded head common throughout the
southeast that prefers to roost in old trees in open forests. Extra blood
vessels around their eyes make them glow more red than other species. Officials at
the McClintock Wildlife Management Area told the Audubon Society who also looked
at the explanation for Mothman. That the area has a healthy population
of the species some people in Point Pleasant argue that Mothman was really
just a lost weather balloon or even an elaborate hoax a local rumor exists
alongside Mothman himself what about a local teenage prankster who found it fun
to jump out at cars driving at night in the TNT area while wearing a Halloween
costume hoaxes like these could have happened on more than one occasion but
that doesn’t really explain the Mothman phenomenon you’re probably wondering how
we’ve gotten this far without mentioning the Mothman Prophecies written by John
keel the book and its 2002 film adaptation are the most important texts
for how the legend took root outside of Point Pleasant Hill was a journalist and
paranormal investigator who went to Point Pleasant in December 1966 to
explore the Mothman and other supernatural sightings in the area he
interviewed a lot of the original witnesses and even claimed to have
experience with what he calls ultra terrestrials I read the whole thing and
it’s a doozy honestly the book seems more concerned about UFOs and men in
black than Mothman regardless of how factual the Mothman Prophecies is or not
the 1975 book and the movie did have one indisputable result they made Mothman
globally recognized and turned the town of Point Pleasant into a tourist
destination. Quite frankly, I mean there’s only one Mothman and there’s only one
Point Pleasant. People were really interested in that. Although I wasn’t and
actually the town wasn’t. The town didn’t believe it. Although there
kept on being sightings. The newspaper kept writing about it. But it was mostly
tongue-in-cheek. It was all that. But frankly still is today for most.
One time someone said, ‘We’d like to talk to some people that don’t
believe in the Mothman.’ I said ‘Pick any one on Main Street!’ One year after the
movie came out they erected a statue of him on Main Street in 2003. We’re
dedicating the statue and we’re all kind of…the mayor and everyone’s kind of
like ‘Jeez!’ you know. The mayor has to speak at the dedication. I go over to see
what’s going on. I had to come back. I said you probably ought to put a suit and tie on.
He said, ‘What’s going on?’ I said CBS is here, CBS Sunday morning. Bill Geist is out there. That’s Willie Geist’s father and
that’s how it started. When Bill Geist showed up, I became a Mothman
believer. In 2005, a whole Mothman museum opened up. Created by Jeff
Walmsley, Point Pleasant resident and local Mothman expert, it sees thousands
of visitors a year. A lot of the movie props that we have here in the museum
were donated and that was kind of like the catalyst to get the museum going. The
Mothman festival was started back in 2002, but it’s a big boon to the tourism
here. I mean, with the festival and the museum, people have embraced it you know.
You still have skeptics which is fine. I mean, you know, I’m not out to convince
anybody of anything. I mean everything in the museum is for people to decide for
themselves. They weren’t sure that they really
wanted the Mothman in our town. But the Mothman festival grew every year. We
had to! They were all coming! We had no choice. Tourism has grown and grown and
our entire state has embraced it now. That is the one weekend here that the entire town
will tell you anything you want to know about Mothman. And we just enjoy looking
at everybody. It’s entertaining for us. How much money is made on average now? At least probably two million flows down on Main Street on that weekend which is
probably more than the rest of year. You know, we attract 10 to 12 thousand people
so the town’s population doubles, you know. The local people they’re used to it.
I mean they’re used to the attention and everything and don’t get me wrong – Point
Pleasant has a lot to offer rather than just Mothman, you know. Native American
history, riverboat history, Farm Museum, River Museum. All that kind of stuff.
To me, I think, you know, the Mothman story is just a nice way to get people’s
attention. They come here and they’re like oh you know we got the flood wall, murals.
You know, we got the river museum. I don’t see anything negative about it,
you know. With the help of the Internet, Mothman has become a global phenomenon.
Online rumors circulate frequently. Some claiming that he was spotted before the
Chernobyl disaster and even in the smoke of the towers at 9/11. Most recently, the
largest number of Mothman sightings in one area occurred in Chicago in 2017.
There were more than 20 reports of a winged humanoid in Chicago from April to
July of that year. Whether you believe in him or not, Mothman has become a cultural touchstone – a monster myth that inspires both fear
and fascination. Legends only truly take root when they become a subject of
conflicting opinions. They are born in stories told and retold with countless
contradictions and disputes. Mothman is no different.
He’s been demonized and deified in almost equal measure.
Mothman shows us how a local phenomenon can become a global sensation. People
identify with Mothman. He’s a rumor and an outcast a monster
who was ultimately embraced by the small town that once feared him. Whether the
people of Point Pleasant liked it or not, Mothman is now part of their town’s
identity. It can even be argued that the people of Point Pleasant embraced the
creature because it made their little part of the world visible to a lot more
people. Like other small towns, a portion of the town’s economic survival depends
on its ability to attract outsiders. It does feel like a ruin and I always think
that ruins carry some kind of energy that allows them to attract myths like
this. I’m not surprised, being here now, that there were so many Mothman
sightings. I’m actually not. I don’t know. I think it’s probably a bird or some kind
of giant bird maybe – maybe just abnormally large and freakish. But
there’s something – and the way this forest is so creepy – there’s definitely a
way that imagination could have run wild a hundred percent. Personal opinion. I
have also been in a lot of creepy forests and
this one takes the cake. I don’t know. If I was a monster this is where I hang out.
A legend survives when it is able to adapt to the current cultural moment. The
Mothman has done this astonishingly well. He’s gone from mysterious humanoid to
prophetic demon, guardian angel to old for terrestrial. Scary monster to cute
cryptid and everything in between. Interestingly, no witness has ever
reported this creature harmed a human. Maybe he really is just your friendly
neighborhood Mothman. Mothman is about number five on the list of things I
don’t want to run into out here. What is number 1? Snakes. I do not like snakes.

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