We’re switching it up yet again this week with a weird detour from true crime into the hills of West Virginia. Besides the interesting political shifts that have been happening in the state (as discussed in my classmate’s blog), West Virginia is also home to one of the creepiest – but could actually be true – cryptids.
According to Wikipedia, cryptids are animals and plants that have been “derived from anecdotal or other evidence considered insufficient by mainstream science.” More famous cryptids include Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the chupacabra – in fact, it was this Bones episode about a chupacabra that inspired me to write about a cryptid this week. The field of science (or some say, pseudoscience) that studies these creatures is known as cryptology.
So, what is the Mothman? And why should I be terrified if I ever drive through Point Pleasant, WV? Let’s get to it.
Although all urban tales and monsters have variations each time the story is told, here’s how the blog “Unexplained America” says the legend goes:
The first sighting of the Mothman was on November 12, 1966 near Claredenin, WV. Five men were in a cemetery preparing for a local burial when they say a “brown human being” flew down from a tree and swooped over their heads.
The next sighting was even more bizarre, as two married couples who were driving down the road in Point Pleasant, WV a few days later say they drove past an abandoned TNT plant and saw something that was “six or seven feet tall” with “big wings folded against its back.” They said that the creature caught sight of them, caught up with the car, and followed the couples until they drove out of town.
The sightings continued, and at least 100 people in Point Pleasant reported witnessing the creature between November 1966 and November 1967. But it wasn’t all close calls – in December of 1967, a suspension bridge in the town where there were frequent Mothman sightings collapsed during rush hour, killing 46 people.
Many claim that the bridge collapse must have had something to do with the Mothman, and have also reported other strange phenomenon around the town, like blinking lights in the sky, strange-looking visitors claiming to be reporters, and supposed UFO sightings. Even today, some in the town still claim to have seen the Mothman, even though his appearances in recent years have been slim.
However, the Mothman has remained in the minds for many across the country thanks to a book titled The Mothman Prophecies that is based on researcher John Keel’s experiences in the region. The book was also made into a semi-successful fictional film in 2002 under the same title, and a Mothman “museum” has been created with memorabilia around the creature and movie. The town of Point Pleasant has even memorialized the Mothman’s presence and erected a statue of the creature downtown. Each year, the town has a festival to “indulge and celebrate” all things Mothman.
What’s astonishing about this urban legend is the consistency in eyewitness reports about the appearance of the creature. From the many iterations of the urban legend around the web, here’s what has been generally agreed upon as the “Mothman”:
- Very tall – most likely as high as 7 feet tall
- Wider than a man
- Walks with a shuffle on two legs
- Glowing eyes set near the top of the creature’s shoulders
- Bat-like wings, rather than bird-like, allowing the creature to glide
- Grayish brown skin
- Emits a humming sound as it flies and screeches like a woman screaming
Cryptids are similar to true crime cases in that when unsolved, there’s room for endless speculation. While no one has been able to catch the Mothman or say for sure what was really going on in Point Pleasant, here are several of the most prominent solutions that have been brought up over the years.
- Point Pleasant is a “window” area – This theory by Mothman researcher John Keel suggests that Point Pleasant is a “window” into another dimension or to some kind of underworld or afterlife. This explains why there have also been UFO sightings, and claims of alien visitations, in the same area.
- A barn owl – Although not seven feet tall, barn owls’ extended wingspan can be surprisingly long. Their eyes also reflect an eerie red glow when shined on by lights, which could account for the Mothman’s creepy glowing eyes. However, this suggestion may be unlikely since the Mothman’s wings are supposedly more bat-like rather than bird-like.
- An alien – while also an unconfirmable theory, some think the Mothman is an alien, or at least, connected to the alien and “men in black” sightings around Point Pleasant throughout the years. This could explain why the creature is so strange as well as the other unexplained phenomena in the area.
- A thunderbird – Native Americans who lived around the Point Pleasant area have stories about “thunderbirds”, which were giant birds who lived in ancient times that were big enough to swoop down and carry people away. It’s possible that one of these birds lived – or still lives – in the area. Additionally, these tribes’ representations of thunderbirds in their mythology look similar to current drawings of Mothman, suggesting sightings could go back past the 1600s.
- A mutated bird – Listverse brings this theory to life, explaining how the Mothman’s seeming home (a WWII munitions dump and abandoned TNT factory) could mean the chemicals in the area created a mutant bird that looked human-like and grew large.
- A hoax – It’s also entirely possible that one or two cases of faulty perception led some in the town to start perpetuating a hoax of the Mothman. Listverse notes that one of the people who popularized the Mothman legend was known for exploiting legends for financial gain and planting hoaxes to mess with true researchers, and was a close associate of John Keel who wrote the famed Mothman Prophecies.
- Actually a man with wings – although no one has proved the Mothman story true, it hasn’t been proven totally false, either. Thus, it’s entirely possible there was – or is – an actual Mothman who lives in the area.
- Faulty perception – It’s no myth that eyewitnesses are unreliable and memories are fickle at best. Perhaps it was a large bird or small plane these eyewitnesses saw, but were so scared from the encounter and egged on by the other claims, that they chose to say it was the Mothman.
Unlike true crime which has a definitive end, or truth, to search for, cryptids and urban legends are some of the truest mysteries out there because we will never quite be sure if there is a truth to know.
Perhaps that is why they are so enthralling and fun to learn about – in a world where everything needs an answer and so much seems to be known, urban legends remind us that we don’t know everything, and that there is more out there to be explored and discovered.
What do you think? Does the Mothman exist? What are some of your favorite urban legends or cryptids?