In the growing pantheon of cryptids, from Bigfoot to El Chupacabras, there is an abundance of weird and wonderful creatures in this world. A good many are surrounded by mystery and controversy, but some are the stuff nightmares are made of, such as the notorious Mothman. To some, the very mention of Mothman strikes fear into their hearts, he, or shall I say, it is the very picture of creepy.
Popularised by author Grey Barker in his 1970 book The Silver Bridge (Saucerian Books) –which was reprinted in 2008 under the title The Silver Bridge: The Classic Mothman Tale (BookSurge Publishing). Then by John Keel in his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies (Saturday Review Press), which was later developed into the wildly popular movie of the same name in 2002, staring Richard Gere. It seems Mothman’s press agent is particularly adept.
Mothman is best known for its involvement in the Silver Bridge incident in Point Pleasant, West Virginia on December 15, 1967, but its history actually predates that event by at least a year, and perhaps much more than that. As the story goes, a group of five men digging a grave in a cemetery near Clendenin, West Virginia on November 12, 1966, saw a strange winged man fly overhead. The men described the creature as looking like “a brown human being”, claiming that it flew from a group of trees, low over their heads and likely scared the bejesus out of them.
It showed up next in Point Pleasant three days later, where two young couples driving along a road in the “TNT Area” –a specific location in Point Pleasant that is a former World War II munitions plant and is thought to be Mothman’s home- claimed that a “flying man with ten foot wings” chased them for several minutes. Roger and Linda Scarberry, and Steve and Mary Mallette described Mothman (who hadn’t yet been named) as a large white creature whose eyes glowed red when caught in the headlights of their vehicle. This account was printed in the Point Pleasant Register on November 16, 1966, a small, local newspaper that received much attention for their piece titled: Couples See Man-sized Bird…Creature…Something.
A contractor by the name of Newell Partridge described an encounter with a strange creature that he believed was responsible for disrupting his television reception and was the apparent cause of the demise of his beloved German Shepherd named Bandit. Partridge claimed that when he shone a flashlight into the darkness to illuminate the cause of his dog’s nervousness he was startled by two large red eyes reflecting the light. He fled to the shelter of his home, locking the door behind him (seems prudent to me), but was unable to find his companion, Bandit, in the morning. The dog was never seen again.
Officials at the time were unconvinced of the truth of these Mothman reports, claiming that what was likely responsible was the Sandhill Crane, a very large white bird known to visit the area from time to time.
After the events of 1967, Mothman has apparently been sighted “hundreds of times” by Linda Scarberry and her husband. According to interviews she participated in with UFOlogist Jerome Clark, Scarberry claims that “It seems like it doesn’t want to hurt you. It just wants to communicate with you.”
As popular culture has immortalised Mothman for its apparent involvement in the collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River on December 15, 1967, which resulted in the deaths of some 46 people, most people believe that Mothman is
some kind of harbinger of doom, though the accounts that tell of Mothman sightings on or near the bridge immediately prior to the collapse seem to be false. Nonetheless, it has been responsible for a great many urban legends over the years.
Of course, most are quite familiar with the story of Mothman from John Keel’s book and movie, which sort of intimates that Mothman was directly connected to the creepy psychic phone stalker/fortune teller Indrid Cold and to the reports of strange encounters with Men In Black that occurred shortly before the bridge collapse. In reality though, the stories are quite separate and Mothman seems to be a completely different phenomenon from that described in The Mothman Prophecies. Indrid Cold, in fact, is a phenomenon unto itself.
As sightings apparently continue right up to present day, most of which are highly suspect, some liken Mothman to other winged cryptids such as Spring Heeled Jack, a creature (or man?) that originates in Great Britain in the Victorian era,
sightings of whom have been reported in the eastern United States as late as 1995. It has also been likened to the Flatwoods Monster (or the Braxton County Monster / Phantom of Flatwoods), though the Flatwoods Monster is said to have stubby arms with claw-like fingers rather than huge wings.
Skeptics are fairly adamant, however, that Mothman is a case of repeated misidentification, citing (as noted above) the Sandhill Crane, the common Barn Owl and/or the Snowy Owl as the likely culprit. Believers have a few different theories though, ranging from 3rd kind close encounters with extraterrestrials, to angelic origins, to demons, and the descriptions do seem to be a tad more specific –with most describing the creature as
more than seven feet tall, with arms, legs and facial features- than most sceptics are willing to admit.
Having said that, it does seems coincidental that the most prevalent component of Mothman sightings is the red eye shine described by witnesses, a phenomenon known as tapetum lucidum which is the reflecting of directed light by the eyes of an animal (even humans) that can manifest in several colours, including red. Though it appears in the descriptions of many cryptids, Bigfoot included, there is nothing supernatural about red eye shine.
In any event, Mothman has been written about in more than 11 books and four movies (two of which were made-for-TV documentaries), and his likeness is doubtful to go away any time soon. With the annual Mothman Festival taking place in Point Pleasant on the 3rd weekend of every September, it seems there’s no shortage of people willing to cash in on Mothman’s popularity. Crypto-tourism is a burgeoning industry apparently, as has been seen with the Nain Rouge and even El Chupacabras.
One of the best things about cryptozoology is the fact that everyone has an opinion about the creatures we investigate, and Mothman has its share of supporters and deniers. In an effort to foster more discussion, both groups are invited to share their opinions in the comment section below.