The Mothman is a creature reportedly seen in the Charleston and Point Pleasant areas of West Virginia from November 12, 1966, to December 1967. Most observers describe the Mothman as a winged man-sized creature with large reflective red eyes and large wings. The creature was sometimes reported as having no head, with its eyes set into its chest.
A number of hypotheses have been presented to explain eyewitness accounts, ranging from misidentification and coincidence, to paranormal phenomena and conspiracy theories.
On November 15, 1966, two young, married couples from Point Pleasant, and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette, were traveling late at night in the Scarberrys’ car. They were passing the West Virginia Ordnance Works, an abandoned World War II TNT factory, about seven miles north of Point Pleasant, in the 2,500 acre (10 km²) McClintic Wildlife Management Area, when they noticed two red lights in the shadows by an old generator plant near the factory gate. They stopped the car, and reportedly discovered that the lights were the glowing red eyes of a large animal, “shaped like a man, but bigger, maybe six and a half or seven feet tall, with big wings folded against its back”, according to Roger Scarberry. Terrified, they drove toward Route 62, where the creature supposedly chased them at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. However, as quoted in Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies, the Scarberrys, despite driving more than 100 miles per hour,were chased by the creature and then claimed to have noticed a dead dog on the side of the road, and in fact made such accurate note of its location that they claimed to have gone back the very next day and looked for it. Explanations for how they were able to make so accurate a mental note at a time of such great distress, or why they would go back to look for the dead dog, are not included in Keel’s book.
A plaque on the Mothman statue provides a version of the original legend: On a chilly, fall night in November 1966, two young couples drove into the TNT area north of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, when they realized they were not alone. Driving down the exit road, they saw the supposed creature standing on a nearby ridge. It spread its wings and flew alongside the vehicle up to the city limits. They drove to the Mason County courthouse to alert Deputy Millard Halstead, who later said, “I’ve known these kids all their lives. They’d never been in any trouble and they were really scared that night. I took them seriously.” He then followed Roger Scarberry’s car back to the secret ex-U.S. Federal bomb and missile factory, but found no trace of the strange creature. According to the book Alien Animals, by Janet and Colin Bord, a poltergeist attack on the Scarberry home occurred later that night, during which the creature was seen several times.
The following night, on November 16, several armed townspeople combed the area around the TNT plant for signs of Mothman. Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Wamsley, and Mrs. Marcella Bennett, with her infant daughter Teena in tow, were in a car en-route to visit their friends, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Thomas, who lived in a bungalow among the igloos (concrete dome-shaped dynamite storage structures erected during WW-II) near the TNT plant. The igloos were now empty, some owned by the county, others by companies intending to use them for storage. They were heading back to their car when a figure appeared behind their parked vehicle. Mrs. Bennett said that it seemed like it had been lying down, slowly rising up from the ground, large and gray, with glowing red eyes. While Wamsley phoned the police, the creature walked onto the porch and peered in at them through the window.
On November 24, four people allegedly saw the creature flying over the TNT area.
On the morning of November 25, Thomas Ury, who was driving along Route 62 just north of the TNT, claimed to have seen the creature standing in a field, and then it spread its wings and flew alongside his car as he sped toward the Point Pleasant sheriff’s office.
On November 26, Mrs. Ruth Foster of Charleston, West Virginia reportedly saw Mothman standing on her front lawn, but the creature was gone by the time her brother-in-law went out to investigate. Further, on the morning of November 27, the creature allegedly pursued a young woman near Mason, West Virginia, and was reported again in St. Albans the same night, by two children.
A Mothman sighting was again reported on January 11, 1967, and several other times that same year. Fewer sightings of the Mothman were reported after the collapse of the Silver Bridge, when 46 people died. The Silver Bridge, so named for its aluminium paint, was an eyebar chain suspension bridge that connected the cities of Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio over the Ohio River. The bridge was built in 1928, and it collapsed on December 15, 1967. Investigation of the bridge wreckage pointed to the failure of a single eye-bar in a suspension chain due to a small manufacturing flaw. There are rumors that the Mothman appears before upcoming disasters, or that the Mothman causes disasters.
The word “Mothman” was an invention by an Ohio newspaper copyeditor, after the first news stories of the “Big Bird” sightings appeared.
A large collection of first-hand material about the Mothman is found in John Keel’s 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, in which Keel lays out the chronology of the Mothman and what he claims to be related parapsychological events in the area, including UFO activity, Men in Black encounters, poltergeist activity, Bigfoot and black panther sightings, animal and human mutilations, precognitions by witnesses, and the December 15 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge spanning the Ohio River.
Keel’s first book was the basis of a 2002 film, The Mothman Prophecies, starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Debra Messing, and Will Patton, directed by Mark Pellington. A companion book called The Eighth Tower, also released in 1975, was derived from material edited from The Mothman Prophecies by the publishers.
In the May-June 2002 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer, journalist John C. Sherwood, a former business associate of UFO hoaxer Gray Barker, published an analysis of private letters between Keel and Barker during the period of Keel’s investigation. In the article, “Gray Barker’s Book of Bunk”, Sherwood documented significant differences between what Keel wrote at the time of his investigation and what Keel wrote in his first book about the Mothman reports, raising questions about the book’s accuracy.
Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, in conjunction with Sony/Screen Gems studio and as noted in the documentary film by David Grabias, “In Search of the Mothman”, served as one of the fictional movie’s two publicity spokespersons (Keel being the other, although Keel’s involvement was limited by health concerns).
Andy Colvin, a photographer and documentary filmmaker who claims to have seen the Mothman, has produced two books and a reality series on Mothman called The Mothman’s Photographer, featuring John Keel and almost 50 witnesses. Colvin’s sister took a snapshot of him in 1973 that allegedly shows a Garuda in the background.
There are several theories concerning the Mothman phenomenon.
John Keel claimed that Mothman was related to parapsychological events in the area, including UFO activity, Men in Black encounters, poltergeist activity, Bigfoot and black panther sightings, animal and human mutilations, precognitions by witnesses, and the December 15, 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge spanning the Ohio River.
One of the early theories is that the Mothman was a misidentified Sandhill Crane, which, in the late 1960s had been a problem in surrounding regions. Sandhill cranes have an average wingspan of 5.3 feet (up to 7 feet), average overall length of 39 inches and have the general appearance described, glide for long distances without flapping, and have an unusual shriek. Other theories suggest the possibility of the Mothman being a Barn Owl, an albino owl, or perhaps a large Snowy Owl (based on artists’ impressions). Skeptics suggest that the Mothman’s glowing eyes are actually red-eye caused from the reflection of light, from flashlights, or other light sources that witnesses may have had with them.