Saturday, April 3, 2010

Who Is Mothman?

In the fall of 1966, life took a turn into the Twilight Zone
for the residents of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The story begins in a remote location near Point Pleasant, known by the local teens as T.N.T. It was a favorite spot for parking and partying, far from the censorious eyes of their elders. The area is covered with dense forest, steep hills and tunnels. This area had been set up as the McClintic Wildlife Preserve in the 1900s, mostly as a bird sanctuary. Then, part of the land had been taken over during WWII as an underground storage site for wartime explosives. After the war, parts of the preserve had been leased or sold to chemical companies – and biochemistry came to this isolated area. Some, or all, of that history may have played a part in what happened next.

Two young married couples, Mr. and Mrs. Roger Scarberry and Mr. and Mrs. Steve Mallette, drove through the T.N.T area on November 15th, 1966. They were looking for friends who often came to the area. At about 11:30, they reached an old generator plant on the preserve. The door to the plant appeared to have been ripped off its hinges and the couples saw a bizarre creature. They later reported that the creature looked like a man – though about 7 feet tall – and had wings folded against its back. However, the most striking thing about it was its eyes. They were huge, like bicycle reflectors and the young people described them as hypnotic.

Roger Scarberry reacted by slamming down the accelerator in the old Chevy, fleeing from the terrifying sight. They saw the creature take flight – straight into the air without flapping its wings. Although the Chevy was soon roaring along close to a hundred miles an hour, the creature was able to keep up with them until the car reached the city limits of Point Pleasant, when it broke off its pursuit and disappeared. The terrified couples rushed to the Mason County Courthouse to report what they had seen.

Deputy Millard Hallstead returned to T.N.T with the couples to check out their confused report. He didn’t see anything but he clearly believed that the young people had seen something. Their fear was far too real. He attempted to call in while still at the preserve but his police radio wouldn’t work. Instead a loud screech came from the speaker. The deputy found the coincidence of the malfunctioning radio and the young couples’ report disturbing.

By the next day, more reports of this strange huge “bird” came in. In one report, it swooped down over another moving car, frightening the passengers. A different report came from nearby Salem. A farmer, Newell Partridge, had been watching television around 10:30 on the 14th, when the picture suddenly blacked out. The television emitted a strange noise, “like a generator winding up.” About the same time, his large German Shepherd, Bandit, began howling from the porch.

Partridge went outside and saw that Bandit was howling toward the barn. Partridge shone a flashlight in that direction and saw what looked like two bicycle reflectors shining brightly. Despite the distance to the barn, about the length of a football field, the “eyes” shone plainly. Bandit growled and ran toward the eyes. Partridge said that fear swept over him like a “cold chill” and he went back into the house – that night he slept with his shotgun.

The next day he found Bandit’s tracks clearly showing the dog had raced around in a circle, as if chasing his tail. No other tracks were found and Bandit was never seen again.

On the morning of November 16th, Sheriff George Johnson held a press conference about the incidents and all of the people who had reported sightings were interviewed. The news story stirred such a fervor that it was picked up by the Associate Press. The creature was dubbed “Mothman” after the popular television character, Batman.

Sightings continued to pour in. Certain features remained consistent – the creature’s size, build and hypnotic eyes. Also, malfunctioning radios and televisions featured in many of the reports. Another consistent feature was the fear – people were terrified of the Mothman. Also, a sudden increase of dog disappearances and animal mutilations were reported – and Mothman was held responsible for those, as well. As one would expect with this kind of media coverage, thousands of people poured into the T.N.T. area, hoping for a sighting. Television crews set up at the generator plant, hoping to catch Mothman on film.

Theories of what the Mothman was abounded – the demonic result of a magic ritual, a biochemically altered bird, or perhaps the embodiment of a 200-year-old Shawnee curse on the land. Not surprisingly, skeptics scoffed at these theories, stating instead that Mothman was probably just some normal bird; probably a sandhill crane. The sandhill crane has reddish patches on its head that could possibly be mistaken for large red eyes. And sandhill cranes are very large – some reaching roughly the size attributed to Mothman. However other large birds have been found in the area as well. In July 1967, several boys found a large vulture near New Haven. And at Gallipolis Ferry, a farmer shot an Arctic snow owl; it was two feet tall with a five-foot wingspan. Many local people were not interested in logical explanations – they were afraid and, by the one-year anniversary of the first report, over one hundred incidents linked to Mothman had been reported.

On the evening of December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge, which crossed the Ohio River at Point Pleasant, collapsed in rush-hour traffic. Over forty-six cars fell into the river. It was the biggest disaster ever to hit Point Pleasant and it seemed to mark the end of the flurry of Mothman sightings. People began to speculate that the Mothman was somehow responsible for the bridge’s collapse. At any rate, the severity of the accident seemed to turn public attention away from the Mothman and only scattered reports of him have surfaced since then.

Still, the mystique of Mothman is a strong one and many people believe he existed. Today, UFOs and Men in Black have been added to the Mothman legend. A movie based on John A. Keel's book The Mothman Prophocies is in the works, proving that Mothman still has a following today.

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