POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — America's quintessential Atomic Age monster, Mothman continues to attract attention in the Ohio Valley, so much so that more than 25,000 visitors attended the annual Mothman Festival in 2022, and far more are expected at the three-day 2023 event in September.
As much as people might know or suspect about the legendary beast, which made its first recorded appearance in 1966, three critical details about its alleged history and habitation are not always considered, says Denny Bellamy, director of the Mason County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"Tales of Mothman have spread across the globe over the last half-century, so it's not surprising that most people who visit Point Pleasant have a good idea of that backstory, but there are some important things they miss and that a good many fans don't know," Bellamy says.
For those who don't know the tale, the Mothman is a humanoid creature reportedly seen in the Point Pleasant area in November 1966. A newspaper report published in the Point Pleasant Register was titled "Couples See Man-Sized Bird... Creature... Something." The national press picked up reports and spread the story across the U.S.
Gray Barker and John Keel re-introduced the legend to a broader audience in 1970s. In his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, Keel claimed there were supernatural events related to the sightings and connection to the collapse of the Silver Bridge. His book was later adapted into a 2002 film starring Richard Gere.
On November 15, 1966, two young couples from Point Pleasant told police they had seen a large white creature whose eyes "glowed red" standing at the side of the road near "the TNT area," the site of a former World War II munitions plant just north of town. One described it as a "slender, muscular man" about seven feet tall with white wings.
Over the next few days, others reported similar sightings after local newspapers reported it. Two volunteer firemen who saw it said it was a "large bird with red eyes." Some area residents claimed the monster caused their television sets to emit static sounds and blamed it for missing pets.
Following the 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio at Point Pleasant and the deaths of 46 people, Keel connected the Mothman sightings to the collapse. Others believe its presence could be associated with the Battle of Point Pleasant, fought between the Virginia militia and Shawnee and Mingo warriors in 1774.
As recently as 2016, WCHS-TV published a photo of the alleged Mothman that an anonymous motorist took while driving WV-2 along the Ohio River.
Though many have attributed the sightings to hyperbole or the misidentification of a crane or heron, others are sure that the Mothman not only exists but continues to exist and haunts the farms and woodlands along the Ohio.
Bellamy says that Mothman hunters continue to visit the region daily and, at the very least, visit the Mothman Museum, have their photos taken at the Mothman Statue in historic downtown Point Pleasant and return with Mothman souvenirs from local stores.
So, with all the years of lore and legend built around the winged creature, what might fans be missing? Three aspects of the tale come to mind, Bellamy says.
Mothman has never harmed anyone
Bellamy says the monster has never been violent despite its fearsome appearance. "I don't know that anyone's ever had a physical encounter with it. I sure have talked to a lot of people and have never met anyone who claimed to be a victim—other than mentally, of course. When you see something you don't expect to see, it can be disturbing, to say the least."
Mothman was first encountered at Clendenin
Reports of a flying humanoid came first from along the Elk River at Clendenin, West Virginia, near the Elk River Trail State Park. "It wasn't originally spotted at Point Pleasant. It was first seen at Clendenin," Bellamy says. "I don't know why it migrated here, but I suppose it had something to do with the ordnance factory. Something must have been going on there, and something still must be going on." Read the article: Did legendary Mothman first appear near Elk River Trail?
Mothman's supposed lair was a top-secret installation
The flying creature was first encountered along a country road near what's now known as the TNT Area, an overgrown complex of canals and domed bunkers that were part of a military installation. Something about the operation, Camp Conley, may have attracted the Mothman.
"Growing up here, we didn't even know what the area was for. As far as I know, it was shut down the day after we dropped the first atomic bomb, and it's always been shrouded in secrecy," Bellamy says.
"None of the men who worked there ever knew anything about the facility other than that was where they worked. All the windows were blacked out. They were bussed into and out of the facility and never saw a thing."
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