The Mothman

Every year on the third weekend of September, the town of Point Pleasant, WV, hosts the Mothman Festival to commemorate the appearance of a mysterious creature or entity known as the Mothman, reportedly seen in the Point Pleasant area from November 12, 1966, to December 15, 1967.

Now, a lot of misinformation has spread about what really occurred, thanks in no small part to a horribly inaccurate movie called The Mothman Prophecies [2002] starring [ech!] Richard friggin Gere. The movie was based on an equally preposterous book [1976] of the same title by author, credulous Fortean and all around opportunist John A. Keel. Keel wove a tale of outsider forces trying to warn a small West Virginia town of impending disaster, because, ya know, those alien outsider minds care about falling bridges in small hick towns, y’all.

The facts of the case, in brief, are thus:

On November 15, 1966, two young couples went to the TNT area of Point Pleasant [a common haunt for young drinkers], saw something and got spooked. They described the creature as the size of a man, with huge red eyes and wings folded against its back. Despite fleeing at about 100 miles per hour in a sheer panic, they say that the creature was able to pursue them. They reported the details of the incident to the authorities.

The Mothman [originally called the “Big Bird”] was sighted off and on over the next 13 months. In the meantime, it was given media attention and attracted the likes of Ufologist Gray Barker [responsible for the Men in Black concept] and aforementioned Fortean imagineer John Alva Keel.

Conservative theories have suggested that it might have been a misidentified sandhill crane or an owl whose eyes were reflecting in the light of the moon, flashlights, headlights, et cetera. I lean toward the latter theory. The following explains why.

MothmanLives.com [a true believer site] has this to say about eyewitness accounts of the creature:

“According to eyewitness accounts, Mothman stood much taller than an average man, at 7 feet tall, perhaps 8 feet. Its most prominent features were the massive wings spanning 10 feet across. Some accounts stated that small patches of feathers were spotted on the body and wings, some said the wings were featherless. Even more unusual were the huge, red, glowing eyes on the generally featureless face. Some eyewitnesses were unable to recall seeing a head; these reports stated the eyes were actually in the shoulder area where a neck and head “should” be. Few, if any, could remember details about the presence or type of feet the creature possessed.”

Here is an eyewitness’ sketch of the creature:

You’ll note that it looks a bit like a shadowy image of an owl in a threat posture:

Cool fact: an owl’s eyes reflect red. I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that ol’ Mothman was probably an owl. Given the fact that the incidents stopped when the tragedy of the December 15, 1967 Silver Bridge collapse occurred and hype gave way to horror, it seems safe to presume that the Mothman was born of mass hysteria driven by media attention. When a real horror reared its head, the citizens of Point Pleasant had no more stomach for fireside tales and other distractions. Reality steamrolled over their infatuation with fame and ghost tales. This is the Psychosocial Hypothesis of UFO in action. 

Today Mothman serves as a cautionary tale for cryptid hunters, though an imaginative statue of the creature and an annual Mothman Festival keep the legend alive. There’s a statue of the Mothman in Point Pleasant, WV that is supposed to resemble the Frank Frazetta cover to the 1991 edition of John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies. Most UFO enthusiasts try to link the Mothman with the Green Monster of Flatwoods, WV [an alleged alien encounter] mostly because they’re both monsters from Weird & Wonderful West Virginia and, or course, with the Men in Black.

Though legends of Bird Men abound, cryptozoologists might well keep in mind this farce in their investigations. When hysteria, bits of pocket fame and misidentified animals combine, false cryptids emerge.

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