The Mystery of the Mothman.

Image credit: Flikr/puroticico

Mothman Statue, Point Pleasant, WV

Between November of 1966 and December of 1967, the citizens of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, reported multiple sightings of a strange, winged creature, in and around the town. Eye-witness Linda Scarberry described the brutish thing as having the body of a man, with wings shaped like an angel. It was nearly 7 feet tall. Its huge, glowing red eyes were its most prominent feature.

Scarberry said that she, her husband Roger, and two other friends had been riding around what was then known as the TNT, area on November 15, 1966.

At that time, the spot was something of a haven for young people wanting some privacy, to drink and make out.  Scarberry and the others had been “chasing parkers” when they encountered the Mothman for the first time.  Scarberry said they had just topped a hill near the TNT area power plant, when they saw it. The creature saw them too, and chased them back toward town at speeds of near 100 miles an hour, as they tried to flee the area.  They made it back to town within half an hour, and  immediately reported the sighting to the authorities. Linda drew them a sketch of what she had seen.

Eyewitness Linda Scarberry’s sketch of the Mothman

During the Second World War, The West Virginia Ordinance Works had sprung up six miles north of Point Pleasant, on state route 62. Created by the town in an effort to help the war effort, the new facility created trinitrotoluene, or TNT. Decommissioned in 1945, it became the McClintic State Wildlife Management Area.  But the locals still just call it The TNT Area.

The facility boasted about a hundred storage units, called “igloos” due to their unique design. The area is also home to many small, swampy lakes, contaminated with chemicals from the manufacture of TNT.  It seemed an ideal location for a creature such as the Mothman to hide out and in fact, several of the initial encounters took place there.

One of the “igloos” in the TNT area. Photo credit: Joshua Dudley Greer 2009

Frequent reports of U.F.O.’s were also being made during the same period of time, with sightings occurring in many of the same locations that the creature had been seen.  Along with these reports, came stories and rumors of strangers in the town.  All of them were male, all of them wore black clothes, and all of them asked odd and disturbing questions, then left with cryptic warnings to town folk never to speak of what they’d seen again.

Finally, on December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge, which spanned the Ohio River from Point Pleasant, to Gallipolis OH, collapsed.  Thirty-seven vehicles fell into the river that evening, and 46 men, women and children lost their lives, drowning in the bitterly cold water.

The bridge had been built in 1927, using what was then a new type of high-carbon steel.  Its design was what was called an “eye-bar suspension” bridge. The practical explanation for the collapse was that eye-bar # 13N had broken in two at the circular eye.  Government investigators reported that the crack had been there since the steel parts had been manufactured in 1926.  At the time of the event, the collapse was considered the the worst bridge accident in U.S.history.  The Silver Bridge had stood for nearly 40 years before that fateful day.

Photo credit: colgatephys111.blogspot.com

Almost immediately following the accident, folks in town began talking about having seen the Mothman, as it was now called, flying over and around the Silver Bridge just moments before the collapse. Some said they had seen two men in black clothes walking underneath the bridge on the day before the collapse.  After all the sightings and goings-on of the previous year, people began to fear that the creature and the collapse of the bridge might be connected somehow. And they weren’t alone.

Most newspaper reports of the day made light of the Mothman.  A few even poked fun at those who claimed to have encountered creature.  Several reporters cited expert opinions claiming the Mothman was nothing but a Barred owl, which were common to the area.  But two people , both journalists, took the sightings seriously and became determined to find out the truth of what was happening.

Mary Hyre was a correspondent for The Athens Messenger, a newspaper based in Athens, Ohio. The Messenger had a sister office in Point Pleasant and it was from there that Mary began writing about the Mothman. She used her popular column Where the Waters Mingle to keep her readers informed about all the mysterious goings-on. The men in black started visiting Mary’s office after she wrote about her own U.F.O. sighting.  She described them as short, with olive complexions.  One such visitor picked up a ball point pen from Mary’s desk and looked at it as if he had no idea what it was, then ran out of her office with it, laughing. Their speech had a strange cadence as if they were unfamiliar with the mechanics of speaking. Many of Mary’s odd visitors asked her the same question.  What would Mary do if someone told her to stop reporting on the U.F.O’s and the Mothman. Mary’s response was always something along the lines of “I’d tell them to go to hell.”

John Keel, an investigative journalist, had been commissioned by Playboy to write an article about U.F.Os in 1966.  Playboy rejected Keel’s article, but by that time he’d become hooked on the subject.  Keel visited Point Pleasant five times during the 13 months of the Mothman affair, sometimes staying for weeks.  He too, became convinced that the U.F.O’S, the Men in Black, and the Mothman, were all somehow linked. Keel received strange phone calls during that time, both while in Point Pleasant, and at his home in New York. Sometimes, when he answered, there was nothing but static.  On other occasions there was a voice, often whispering something either unintelligible or vaguely threatening. He found that some of the Mothman witnesses he spoke to, were also receiving odd calls, and many suffered from painfully red and swollen eyes after their encounters.

Keel and Mary Hyre corresponded until February of 1969, when Mary passed away.  Between the two of them, they came up with many theories about the Mothman, the Men In Black and the U.F.O’s.  There are some people who believe that Mary Hyre’s death was no accident; that it was somehow connected to the fact that she refused to stop investigating the Mothman.  John Keel passed away in July of 2009.  He had continued to investigate and write about otherworldly phenomena, including the Mothman, until he died.  For all the work Mary Hyre, John Keel, and many others have done over the years, investigating the odd and terrifying events in Point Pleasant, the mystery has yet to be solved.

So, who or what was the Mothman?  Was his appearance along with the M.I.B and the U.F.O’s in Point Pleasant, coincidence or conspiracy?  Did he cause the collapse of the Silver Bridge?  Was he, as some believe, sent as a distraction to attract attention from some larger scheme involving the UFO’s?    Perhaps, as some witnesses believe, to he was there to warn folk of the impending tragedy of December 15th.

There are still so many questions left unanswered.  There have been reports of sightings of creatures similar to the Mothman since before and long after the Point Pleasant sightings.  Even now, in 2017, there are multiple reports coming out of Chicago about a Mothman-like creature being seen. Are they connected?  We may never know.