Mothman: Monster Or Imagination?

A shadowy winged creature reportedly terrorized West Virginia in the mid-1960s, flying alongside cars at high speeds, following people home, and leaving in its wake a string of strange occurrences. Quickly dubbed “Mothman”, the creature left local residents living in fear. What was it? Why was it there? What did it want?

There were a few scattered reports of strange sightings in West Virginia during the 1960s – a woman who drove by a large winged man, a child who saw an angel in the yard, gravediggers who witnessed a brown human flying from the trees – but the largest wave of Mothman sightings took place in 1966 and 1967 in the Point Pleasant area.

All witnesses described the creature in the same way: a large white bird-man, six or seven feet tall, with glowing red eyes. Witnesses claimed that the shadowy creature had a wingspan of ten feet and that it took off in flight at a staggering speed of over a hundred miles per hour.

The first of over one hundred reported sightings took place when four friends, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette, were driving near an abandoned World War II ammunition storage facility. Suddenly their headlights lit upon a tall creature with glowing red eyes and large folded wings. The friends sped off in terror, but the creature took to the air and raced after them, following them home before disappearing. They later filed a police report, leading to the first Mothman-related headline in the Point Pleasant Register on November 16th 1966:

“Couples See Man-Size Bird…Creature…Something”

The sheriff investigated the area, however he witnessed nothing out of the ordinary, aside from static and interference on his radio.

Not so, however, for many other people living in the area. Over the next year, over one hundred people reportedly saw Mothman, some of them – such as Linda Scarberry – claiming to have seen him hundreds of times. A wave of other unexplained occurrences were said to accompany the Mothman sightings: missing dogs, buzzing noises on televisions and phones, stalled cars, radio failure, lights in the sky, unidentified flying objects, premonitions, strange noises and voices.

On December 15, 1967, an unimaginable tragedy rocked the community when the Silver Bridge collapsed, sending 46 people to their deaths. After the bridge collapsed, Mothman sightings tapered to nothing, leading many to believe that the mysterious creature was somehow connected to the tragedy – either acting as a messenger of doom or perhaps even causing the disaster. Skeptics suggest that it is more likely that locals, reeling from the aftermath of a true tragedy, were left with little time or interest in wild stories.

Mothman was first introduced to the world at large by Gray Barker, an author who wrote about paranormal and unexplained phenomena. John Keel later wrote about it in his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, which was fictionalize in a 2002 movie by the same name. While skeptics and critics suggest that Barker and Keel embellished – or perhaps even invented – stories to sell books, many of the original witnesses insisted that what they saw was real.

What really happened in West Virginia in 1966 and 1967? Was Mothman real? And if it was, what was its origins? Was it a new cryptid (a creature whose existence has been suggested but is not yet recognized by science), an alien or perhaps a creature from another dimension? What was its purpose? Skeptics suggest that it was a large bird – perhaps a barred owl or a sandhill crane. Still others believe that it was nothing but mass hysteria or even an elaborate hoax.

Regardless of what people believe now, there is little doubt that Mothman was very real, at least to some of the people who saw it.

The eerie winged creature is commemorated by a twelve-foot sculpture in Mothman Park in Point Pleasant, as well as by the yearly Mothman Festival. One of the most popular festival activities is a haunted hayride that passes through the old ammunition storage site, now a wildlife management area. Who knows? Perhaps one day a passenger on the hayride will see something shadowy in the darkness and stare in fear and wonder as a tall winged creature with glowing red eyes takes to the sky.

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