Monday, May 2, 2016

Mothman

Point Pleasant, West Virginia
“Is that what you’re looking for?” mom asked as she stared at the statue that stood in the Mothman Park (formerly known as Gunn Park) which was in the middle of Fourth Street. “I think I’ll just wait here,” she spoke, obviously not as impressed with the statue as I was, though it looked nothing like I imagined. Making my way across the icy road and sidewalks, I found myself staring face to face with West Virginia’s most famous monster.

Returning home from a stamp show in Little Rock, we detoured south to avoid the major snow storm that was buffeting Ohio and Pennsylvania. After a scenic detour through Huntington, West Virginia, I found myself heading northward on Route 2, which parallels the Ohio River most of the way. Along the way to my destination I enjoyed beautiful views of the river and the gigantic ice columns hanging from the large rocks that overlooked the road.

An hour of driving the scenic route, I had my first view of my destination; the large bridge that spanned the Ohio River was instantly recognized as the Silver Memorial Bridge at carries Route 35 across the Ohio River. Located in Henderson (about a mile south of the original location) the bridge was opened in 1969, replacing the Silver Bridge that collapsed two years before. I crossed the Kanawha River and was soon in the community of Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

While the history of Point Pleasant is rich, to most the town brings one name to mind – mothman.

Plaque at the base of the mothman statue
The story of the creature that came to be known as the mothman started in early November 1966, when a strange creature was spotted by five men digging a grave in a cemetery near Point Pleasant. They watched as the creature lifted from a tree at the edge of the cemetery and passed overhead. What they described as a being that appeared like a man with wings.

On November 15, one of the most famous sightings of Mothman happened by two young couples in the abandoned TNT area as the creature flew alongside their car in speeds over one hundred miles an hour. They described it as a man with wings and it had two large glowing eyes.

The creature would be sighted countless times over the next year, mostly in the area of the old TNT plant. When active, the plant had produced ammunition during World War Two. It was the perfect hiding spot – a wooded region with thick undergrowth and numerous abandoned bunkers that had been used to store ammunition provided a place for the creature to remain hidden..

But mothman was not the only thing that would plague the area over the next year. On November 16 a glowing red light was spotted hovering over the abandoned TNT factory. This was the first of many sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects that would be reported. The witnesses also reported seeing a large gray figure with glowing eyes.

Mothman
And then to add even more hysteria to the town already on edge, reports of Men in Black appearing to witnesses started.

So what did this mysterious creature look like? Compiling the most credible of the witness statements, it was roughly seven foot tall, had gray or brown skin, was wider than an average man and human-like legs that allowed it to have 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 shoulders – 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 and emitting a humming noise when it flew. It never spoke (at least nobody reported it speaking), but some reported hearing it giving off a screeching sound.

One of the final times the creature was spotted was shortly before the Silver Bridge collapse on December 15, 1967. The bridge collapse would kill 46 people - 44 are buried in Gallipolis, Ohio, while two of those killed were never recovered from the icy waters of the Ohio.

The week of Christmas, 1967, the town would receive another strange visitor – another Man in Black arrived. He appeared to a number of residents, wanting to speak to them about the UFOs they had been seeing After questioning a number of them, he seemingly disappeared back from wherever he had come.

Close-up of mothman's head
Mothman has become a part of American folklore. Remember mothman’s description from witness reports? As I stood here taking in the statue of the creature, I must admit it looks nothing like the common description of the creature. Instead, this statue reminded me of the possible offspring of a Sleestak from Land of the Lost and a Cylon from Battlestar Galatica, with a little bit of butterfly DNA to give it wings.

Definitely not what I always thought mothman looked like.

The day I visited, the museum dedicated to the mothman was closed. So after taking a number of photos, I made my way back to the truck and made my way home, traveling through the famous TNT area. The wilderness of the TNT area allowed my mind to venture into the origins of the mothman and I could not help but wonder if the mass hysteria that haunted the region was caused by a simple misidentification. Many believe that the first sighting was possibly an owl. Looking at the earliest sketches of the monster I would tend to agree, But what caused the panic and the bizarre situations that John Keel recorded in his book "The Mothman Prophecies?" I have no answer.

However, the mysterious mothman was only one of the strange events that happened here. According to many the land is the victim of 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, he was seized by Colonial soldiers who feared he was going to incite his followers to join the British forces.

On November 9, Cornstalk’s son, Ellinipsico, arrived as was also detained at Fort Randolph. The next day a soldier was shot and killed by an Indian near the fort. Soldiers rushed to the room where Cornstalk was being held and shot him, then 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.

West Virginia historical marker
Remembering the disastrous
Silver Bridge Collapse
According to lore with his dying breath he cursed the land. Over the years a number of bizarre accidents have plagued the area from train wrecks to floods, from the bridge collapse to airplanes crashes. However, as I read the lists of those disasters, it is odd the number of strange things that have happened, but to me these events are so far apart in years and location for me to call it a curse.

Leaving Point Pleasant and the TNT region behind, I left with questions unanswered and maybe one or two added to the list. One day I would have to return to investigate the area a little more when the weather was warmer...sadly, my journey discovered no new sightings of the creature.


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