I was taking the scenic route home from a week-long visit to Little Rock. I had spent the past week exploring the area while my mother attended a stamp show for her work. The Great Lakes region was under a storm watch, so I stayed south of the snowstorm as I ventured eastward. I knew at some point I was going to have to turn northward and into the storm, but I planned on avoiding the storm as long as I possibly could.
We arrived in Huntington, West Virginia, and stopped for breakfast. Looking at the weather maps, it appeared the majority of the storm was northeast of us. After consulting the weather maps, it was decided we were going to follow the Ohio River to a community that was the center of all things bizarre for thirteen months in 1966 and 1967.
Almost an hour later, I had the first view of my destination as a large bridge appeared on my left spanning the Ohio River. I instantly recognized it as the Silver Memorial Bridge which carries Route 35 between Henderson, West Virginia, and Gallipolis, Ohio. This modern bridge was opened in 1969, about a mile downriver from where the Silver Bridge collapse that happened two years previously.
We crossed the Kanawha River and entered the community of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. We followed Viand Street and turned left onto Fourth Street.
“Is that what you’re looking for?” mom asked as the statue, which stands in Mothman Park, came into view. Something about the tone of her voice told me she was not impressed with the statue. Formerly known as Gunn Park, the small parklet is in the middle of Fourth Street and is marked with benches, West Virginia historical markers and the statue to Mothman.
I found a place to park and carefully walked on the icy sidewalks and roadway to the statue. I was soon face to face with West Virginia’s most famous monster.
The statue was nothing like I had envisioned the folkloric creature to look like. For some reason, the statue reminded me of what would have happened if a Sleestak from Land of the Lost and a Cylon from Battlestar Galatica, got together and had a child – it looked nothing like the description of the mysterious creature that once plagued the region.
According to witness statements, the creature stood roughly seven foot tall, had gray or brown skin, and human-like legs that gave it a shuffling walk. The strangest part of the description was it had glowing red eyes that appeared to be set near the top of its chest – none of the witnesses ever claimed to see a head on the creature as far as I am able to determine. It had a pair of bat-like wings that allowed the creature to glide, but it could take off straight up into the air. Witnesses reported hearing a squeaking sound coming from the creature and when flying, some heard it emitting a humming noise.
The bizarre story of Mothman begins in early November 1966, when a strange creature was spotted by Kenneth Duncan while he was helping to dig a grave near Clendenin, West Virginia. He watched as the creature lifted from a tree at the edge of the cemetery and passed overhead. Duncan described the creature as being “humanoid” in appearance – sadly none of the other men seemed to have noticed the creature as it passed overhead and flew out of sight.
On Tuesday, November 15, 1966 two couples were exploring the abandoned TNT grounds north of town. The TNT area’s official name was the West Virginia Ordinance Works, which stored TNT used to make munitions during World War Two and after it was abandoned, it became a popular hangout for locals. The car they were in had just crested a hill when they spotted a pair of glowing red eyes reflecting in the car headlights. The creature the two couples spotted was described as looking like a grey man with wings and glowing red eyes, but the creature had of definite head. They watched as the creature stumbled through the open door of the generator plant and disappeared into the darkness.
The two couples fled the power plant and headed back toward town. As the car rounded a curve on Route 62, they saw the creature again standing along the road. As they lights of the car illuminated the creature, it spread its wings and shot straight up off the billboard and into the air. The car, which was going close to one hundred miles per hour, could not escape the creature that banged against the roof. The creature finally disappeared as the car entered town.
The couples told their strange story to Deputy Millard Halstead who went to the TNT area to search for the creature, but was unable to determine what the couples had seen that night.
Little did the two couples know their strange encounter was about to set off a bizarre series of events that would plague the town for the next thirteen months. The Gettysburg Times stated in its December 1, 1966 edition that between November 14 and 18, the creature was spotted by at least eight other people, including two volunteer firefighters who described the creature as being “a very large bird with large red eyes.”
Regional newspapers initially referred to it as the “Mason County Monster,” the “Giant Bird,” and the “Man Bird.” However, it was the nickname of “Mothman” that would capture the headlines and reader’s attention.
The creature would be sighted countless times over the next year on both sides of the river, but mostly in the area of the old TNT plant. Locals believed that the creature was living in the TNT lands because the wooded region with thick undergrowth and numerous abandoned bunkers provided the perfect hiding place.
Mothman was not the only strangeness that plagued the area over the next year. On November 16, 1966, a glowing red light was spotted hovering over the abandoned TNT factory. This was the first of many sightings of UFOs that would be reported by residents. Added to the fears of the Mothman, people started reporting they had been approached by strangers who visited and often threatened UFO witnesses, earning the name “Men in Black” due to being dressed in black and driving a black vehicle.
During this time of strangeness, many others reported seeing gigantic birds in the region. The reports of thunderbirds and giant owls had been reported previously in West Virginia, but at the time of the Mothman encounters, these reports seemed to increase. Those who encountered these large birds stated they were birds and not winged humanoids.
On December 15, 1967 – at the height of the hysteria – the Silver Bridge collapsed, killing forty-six people. In the aftermath of the disaster, sightings of the Mothman declined and by the end of 1967, reports of the creature were no longer coming in. However, the week of Christmas 1967, the town would receive another strange visitor – another Man in Black arrived and approached a number of residents about the UFOs they had been seeing. After he questioned a number of residents, the stranger seemingly disappeared back from wherever he had come.
Over the years, the strangeness that happened in Point Pleasant has become connected to the Cornstalk Curse. Cornstalk was a Shawnee chief who was murdered by the white settlers he called his friends. Though he raided the settlements, after his defeat at Point Pleasant on October 10, 1774, he pursued a path of peace. In 1777, Cornstalk and two of his companions were seized by colonial soldiers who feared he was going to incite his followers to join the British forces.
On November 9, 1777, Cornstalk’s son, Ellinipsico, arrived at Point Pleasant and was also detained at Fort Randolph. The next day a soldier was shot and killed by a Shawnee near the fort. Soldiers responded by rushing into the room where Cornstalk was being held and shot him, his two companions and then Cornstalk’s son. His murder changed the Shawnee from a neutral people to feared killers who raided the frontier settlements.
According to lore, with his dying breath he cursed the land and the Mothman was part of this curse.
The identity of Mothman has been debated over the years. The more bizarre identities include a creature from another dimension to the result of a failed military experiment to an alien stranded on Earth. One of my personal favorite explanations is it was a creature that had descended here from the moon.
Natural explanations include an owl or a sandhill crane. From the start, the sand hill crane was considered to be the creature behind the Mothman. Due the red patch over the crane’s eyes, biologists believed the large red eyes spotted by witnesses were the red feathers above the eyes of the sand hill crane. In late December 1966, local farmers shot and killed a snowy owl with a five-foot wingspan. Despite this being an explanation, the overall appearance of the Mothman did not match with any known creature.
I finished studying the statue that remembers the strangeness that once terrorized the community and went to explore nearby historical markers. While I personally do not know what to make of the high strangeness that plagued Point Pleasant in the 1960s, the story continues to fascinate many because there is no answer to what happened there. With no answers being revealed and many questions remaining, I turned my attention from the paranormal to the disaster that shook the region on December 15, 1967.
Note: While John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies popularized the folklore and strangeness around Point Pleasant, these were not the only strange events happening in Southern Appalachia. Beginning in the spring of 1964, Southern Appalachia was plagued by an abnormal about of sightings involving giant birds, UFOs, and other cryptids. Oddly, after the Mothman event, these encounters seemed to have either 1) halted or 2) failed to make the newspapers like before.