In the late 1990s, I was asked to pen a book of West Virginia folklore. I opted instead to create my own tales based on local legends, but other legends are more closely grounded in the soil of West Virginia. Maybe you haven’t heard such tales. Perhaps you’re planning a trip to the state. Well, folks, you've been warned. What follows is the top five mountain monsters you may encounter in West Virginia. My advice? Educate yourself. Speak kindly to folks you meet. And stick to the road.
No. 1: Mothman
The granddaddy of all West Virginia monsters, Mothman has gained worldwide notoriety. Much of the mythology surrounding the creature is tied to the deadly 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge, which spanned the Ohio River at Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Some claim its appearance was a harbinger of the collapse, during which 46 motorists lost their lives in the icy river. But the story goes back further. Tales of the Mothman likely began when five men digging a grave at Clendenin, near Charleston, West Virginia, claimed to have seen a man-like creature glide silently over their heads. Its eyes glowed like red coals, according to the tale.
"Word spread quickly, and, shortly thereafter, two young couples out driving in what is now the McClintic Wildlife Management Area, near Point Pleasant, saw what they described as a man with ten-foot wings and red, glowing eyes. They told police that the creature followed their car.
Over the next few weeks, accounts of such a creature poured into the local police station. More than 100 claims were recorded. What is known is that all sightings ceased following the collapse of the Silver Bridge, which led some to speculate that the sightings and disaster were related. The legend was further sensationalized in 1975 by the publication of the John Keel novel "The Mothman Prophecies." The book popularized the legend of "Men in Black" and the 1997 film by that name and the 2002 film "The Mothman Prophecies.
What the Mothman might be remains a mystery. Some say it was nothing more than a large migratory bird. Others believe it was an alien. Others say it was an angel or a supernatural harbinger of death. Read also: Visit the Mothman Museum
No. 2: Snarly Yow
The creature called Snarly Yow has been roaming the mountains near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, possibly since the first Germans settled in the upper Potomac Valley in the early 1700s. Its evocative name is derived from germanic words that describe a wail that emanates from a toothy mouth.
Some who have encountered the dog-like beast claim to have shot it. A motorist near Boonsboro, Maryland, claimed to have run over the monster, only to see it standing and raging defiantly in his rearview mirror afterward. Others allege to have seen it standing on its hind legs. Similar to the tales of old German settlers, Snarly Yow is said to appear out of thin air, to change its size, to disappear instantly. According to the legends, the beast lurks along old main roads into towns, challenging travelers along the way. It is encountered most often in the area of the Blue Ridge and South Mountain in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.
No. 3: The Flatwoods Monster
Also known as the Green Monster, the Phantom of Flatwoods, and the Braxton County Monster, the Flatwoods Monster is assumed to have been extraterrestrial by those who tell the tales that spread wildly along the upper Elk River in the 1950s.
The monster legend began in 1952 after a group of children watched a UFO crash behind a hill near the town of Flatwoods, West Virginia. Armed only with courage, they and a local hairdresser scouted the woods above the town where they discovered what they believed to be a crash site and encountered what some assumed to have been the lone survivor of the crash -- a towering alien that moved nefariously toward the group.
The monster was described as having green skin, a reptilian head, and long, thin arms. It is apparently legless and floats upon a device that allows it to glide across the ground. Various illnesses had been blamed on the monster and the sulfurous fumes said to have emanated from the crash site. Subsequent sightings have all been placed in or around this area near Sutton, West Virginia, and Gassaway reports of the close encounter earned national news coverage and were featured on a recent episode of The History Channel series "MonsterQuest.
No. 4: The White Thing
Also known as the White Creature, this monster of the mountains that rise along the lower Kanawha Valley has been described as being as large as a bear though shaped like a dog. Its saber-like fangs extend from a ravenous mouth, and the beast is covered in filthy white, woolly fur. It first entered the annals of folklore in 1965 in the book "The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales," a collection of stories compiled by Ruth Ann Musick. A folklorist, Musick proposed that such beasts appeared to be both phantom and physical.
The thing appears to be related to Sheepsquatch, which, according to Monstropedia.org, has been encountered in Boone, Mason, Putnam, and Kanawha counties in western and southwestern West Virginia. A gorge of sightings took place near Cross Lanes, West Virginia, in the mid-1990s, though reports continue, according to the site.
Its front limbs are similar to those of a raccoon but are larger. From its head sprouts horns like those of a goat. It has a long tail, not unlike that of a raccoon. A stench of sulfur surrounds it. The creature has been seen racing through the woods and scurrying down riverbanks to drink. Some witnesses claim to have seen it standing on its hind legs like a bear. Others say it has four eyes. Others have heard it scream."
No. 5: The Grafton Monster
Formerly a railroad boomtown, Grafton, West Virginia, today seems somewhat an anomaly -- a village of big-city architecture locked in a territory of small farms and dense woodlands. Through these woodlands prowls a monster, some say. The legend of the Grafton Monster has endured since the 1960s when sightings were at their peak. The manlike beast is said to be akin to a Bigfoot or Skunk Ape. According to the book "Monsters of West Virginia," eyewitnesses have estimated that it stands between seven and nine feet tall and is cloaked in pale skin that is slick like that of a seal.
Some also say it is headless, though recordings on night-vision equipment seem to show otherwise. Hazy images captured during an instance of spooked cattle and detailed in the television show "Mountain Monsters" reveal a very tall creature moving quickly through the treeline. What others might have mistaken for a headless creature appears more like a skulking monster, its head tucked close to its chest. Some say it lets out a low whistle as it stalks its prey. As the creature is thought to be a meat-eater, you best be on your way!
Author Biography: A former police reporter, author Ted Fauster writes science fantasy adventure, a hybrid blend of sci-fi and fantasy. Follow him at Ted Fauster.
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