Did legendary Mothman first appear near Elk River Trail?

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Did legendary Mothman first appear near Elk River Trail?
David Sibray looks out across the valley of the Elk River from the Koontz Cemetery at Clendenin, W.Va.

Whether or not you believe in tales of "Mothman," if you live in West Virginia, you're likely to have heard them. The legend is almost inescapable in a state so renowned for its monsters and mountain mysteries.

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And while most folks associate the man-beast with the region around Point Pleasant on the Ohio River, there's another story of what may be an earlier encounter in the valley of the Elk River near the Elk River Trail State Park.

According to popular lore, the Mothman is (or was) a winged creature with glowing red eyes that haunted the farmland along the Ohio River near Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Encounters with the creature were famously reported in the late 1960s, and some say it still visits the region.

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The first newspaper report regarding the beast was published in the Point Pleasant Register and was titled "Couples See Man-Sized Bird...Creature... Something."

The Mothman, as it came to be called, was popularized by author John Keel more than a decade later in his novel The Mothman Prophecies, which connected the sightings to the collapse of the Silver Bridge, which dropped into the Ohio River in 1967, killing 46 people.

The Elk River flows past Big Chimney eat miles above its mouth at Charleston.
The Elk River flows past Big Chimney eight miles above its mouth at Charleston. (Courtesy W.Va. Dept. of Commerce)

Keel's book likewise inspired the 2002 film The Mothman Prophecies, starring Richard Gere, and his introduction of mysterious researchers known as "men in black" provided fodder for a series of science-fiction comedy films first released in 1997.

According to the early newspaper report, the being first appeared on November 12, 1966, when two young couples, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette, told police they saw a large grey creature whose eyes "glowed red" when the car's headlights picked it up.

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They described it as a "large flying man with ten-foot wings." They claimed that it followed their car while they were traveling through an area near the town known as "the TNT area," a former World War II munitions plant now located in the McClintic Wildlife Management Area.

However, the encounter alleged at Point Pleasant followed on the heels of a similar strange report of a "flying man" seen in a graveyard along the Elk River near Clendenin, West Virginia, fifty miles away.

On November 12, 1966, Kenneth Duncan, of Blue Creek, was digging a grave for Duncan's father-in-law, Homer Smith, in a cemetery at Clendenin with four other men when Duncan saw a human-like figure fly out of the surrounding woods and glide over their heads.

Laboring with him that day were Robert Lovejoy, of Allen, Mich., formerly of Campbells Creek, William Poole, also of Allen, Andrew Godby, of Blue Creek, and Emil Gibson, of Quincy, none of who apparently saw the creature.

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"It was gliding through the trees and was in sight for about a minute," Duncan later said.

The men discussed the incident with only a few friends, and it might have been forgotten had not the Scarberry and Mallette sighting of Mothman led Duncan to report his encounter.

Whether or not the sighting was that of the Mothman or a native flying squirrel spooked out of its treetop nest, no exploration of the Mothman in West Virginia would be entirely complete without a visit to the Koontz Cemetery at Clendenin.


The TNT Area: Mothman’s lair attracting fans day and night

Appearing as the Mothman itself, a visitor to Point Pleasant visits the TNT Area at night.
A visitor standing at the entrance to an abandoned TNT bunker appears almost mothman-like. (Photo Jesse Thornton)

Suppose you’re a fan of the Mothman legend and haven’t visited its alleged lair, also known as the TNT Area. In that case, you owe yourself the hair-raising experience, says Denny Bellamy, executive director of the Mason County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And if you really want to experience Mothman, you’ve got to be in the TNT area at night,” Bellamy says, referring to the vine-draped woodland in which the winged creature was reported in 1966. Read the full story here.

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