“Mothman” is perhaps one of the strangest creatures to ever grace the annals of weirdness in West Virginia, or even in all of America for that matter. Even though this mysterious and unsolved case has nothing to do with ghosts… it would be remiss of me not to include it in a section about the unexplained in West Virginia.
The weird events connected to the Mothman began on November 12, 1966 near Clendenin, West Virginia. Five men were in the local cemetery that day, preparing a grave for a burial, when something that looked like a “brown human being” lifted off from some nearby trees and flew over their heads. The men were baffled. It did not appear to be a bird, but more like a man with wings. A few days later, more sightings would take place, electrifying the entire region.
Late in the evening of November 15, two young married couples had a very strange encounter as they drove past an abandoned TNT plant near Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The couples spotted two large eyes that were attached to something that was “shaped like a man, but bigger, maybe six or seven feet tall. And it had big wings folded against its back”. When the creature moved toward the plant door, the couples panicked and sped away. Moments later, they saw the same creature on a hillside near the road. It spread its wings and rose into the air, following with their car, which by now was traveling at over 100 miles per hour. “That bird kept right up with us,” said one of the group. They told Deputy Sheriff Millard Halstead that it followed them down Highway 62 and right to the Point Pleasant city limits. And they would not be the only ones to report the creature that night. Another group of four witnesses claimed to see the “bird” three different times!
Another sighting had more bizarre results. At about 10:30 on that same evening, Newell Partridge, a local building contractor who lived in Salem (about 90 miles from Point Pleasant), was watching television when the screen suddenly went dark. He stated that a weird pattern filled the screen and then he heard a loud, whining sounds from outside that raised in pitch and then ceased. “It sounded like a generator winding up” he later stated. Partridge’s dog, Bandit, began to howl out on the front porch and Newell went out to see what was going on.
When he walked outside, he saw Bandit facing the hay barn, about 150 yards from the house. Puzzled, Partridge turned a flashlight in that direction and spotted two red circles that looked like eyes or “bicycle reflectors”. They moving red orbs were certainly not animal’s eyes, he believed, and the sight of them frightened him. Bandit, an experienced hunting dog and protective of his territory, shot off across the yard in pursuit of the glowing eyes. Partridge called for him to stop, but the animal paid no attention. His owner turned and went back into the house for his gun, but then was too scared to go back outside again. He slept that night with his gun propped up next to the bed. The next morning, he realized that Bandit had disappeared. The dog had still not shown up two days later when Partridge read in the newspaper about the sightings in Point Pleasant that night.
One statement that he read in the newspaper chilled him to the bone. Roger Scarberry, one member of the group who spotted the strange “bird” at the TNT plant, said that as they entered the city limits of Point Pleasant, they saw the body of a large dog lying on the side of the road. A few minutes later, on the way back out of town, the dog was gone. They even stopped to look for the body, knowing they had passed it just a few minutes before. Newell Partridge immediately thought of Bandit, who was never seen again.
On November 16, a press conference was held in the county courthouse and the couples from the TNT plant sighting repeated their story. Deputy Halstead, who had known the couples all of their lives, took them very seriously. “They’ve never been in any trouble,” he told investigators and had no reason to doubt their stories. Many of the reporters who were present for the weird recounting felt the same way. The news of the strange sightings spread around the world. The press dubbed the odd flying creature “Mothman”, after a character from the popular Batman television series of the day.
The remote and abandoned TNT plant became the lair of the Mothman in the months ahead and it could not have picked a better place to hide in. The area was made up of several hundred acres of woods and large concrete domes where high explosives were stored during World War II. A network of tunnels honeycombed the area and made it possible for the creature to move about without being seen. In addition to the manmade labyrinth, the area was also comprised of the McClintic Wildlife Station, a heavily forested animal preserve filled with woods, artificial ponds and steep ridges and hills. Much of the property was almost inaccessible and without a doubt, Mothman could have hid for weeks or months and remained totally unseen. The only people who ever wandered there were hunters and fishermen and the local teenagers, who used the rutted dirt roads of the preserve as “lover’s lanes”.
Very few homes could be found in the region, but one dwelling belonged to the Ralph Thomas family. One November 16, they spotted a “funny red light” in the sky that moved and hovered above the TNT plant. “It wasn’t an airplane”, Mrs. Marcella Bennett (a friend of the Thomas family) said, “but we couldn’t figure out what it was.” Mrs. Bennett drove to the Thomas house a few minutes later and got out of the car with her baby. Suddenly, a figure stirred near the automobile. “It seemed as though it had been lying down,” she later recalled. “It rose up slowly from the ground. A big gray thing. Bigger than a man with terrible glowing eyes.”
Mrs. Bennett was so horrified that she dropped her little girl! She quickly recovered, picked up her child and ran to the house. The family locked everyone inside but hysteria gripped them as the creature shuffled onto the porch and peered into the windows. The police were summoned, but the Mothman had vanished by the time the authorities had arrived.
Mrs. Bennett would not recover from the incident for months and was in fact so distraught that she sought medical attention to deal with her anxieties. She was tormented by frightening dreams and later told investigators that she believed the creature had visited her own home too. She said that she could often hear a keening sounds (like a woman screaming) near her isolated home on the edge of Point Pleasant.
Many would come to believe that the sightings of Mothman, as well as UFO sightings and encounters with “men in black” in the area, were all related. For nearly a year, strange happenings continued in the area. Researchers, investigators and “monster hunters” descended on the area but none so famous as author John Keel, who has written extensively about Mothman and other unexplained anomalies. He has written for many years about UFO’s but dismisses the standard “extraterrestrial” theories of the mainstream UFO movement. For this reason, he has been a controversial figure for decades. According to Keel, man has had a long history of interaction with the supernatural. He believes that the intervention of mysterious strangers in the lives of historic personages like Thomas Jefferson and Malcolm X provides evidence of the continuing presence of the “gods of old”. The manifestation of these elder gods comes in the form of UFO’s and aliens, monsters, demons, angels and even ghosts. He has remained a colorful character to many and yet remains respected in the field for his research and fascinating writings.
Keel became the major chronicler of the Mothman case and wrote that at least 100 people personally witnessed the creature between November 1966 and November 1967. According to their reports, the creature stood between five and seven feet tall, was wider than a man and shuffled on human-like legs. Its eyes were set near the top of the shoulders and had bat-like wings that glided, rather than flapped, when it flew. Strangely though, it was able to ascend straight up “like a helicopter”. Witnesses also described its murky skin as being either gray or brown and it emitted a humming sound when it flew. The Mothman was apparently incapable of speech and gave off a screeching sound. Mrs. Bennett stated that it sounded like a “woman screaming”.
John Keel arrived in Point Pleasant in December 1966 and immediately began collecting reports of Mothman sightings and even UFO reports from before the creature was seen. He also compiled evidence that suggested a problem with televisions and phones that began in the fall of 1966. Lights had been seen in the skies, particularly around the TNT plant, and cars that passed along the nearby road sometimes stalled without explanation. He and his fellow researchers also uncovered a number of short-lived poltergeist cases in the Ohio Valley area. Locked doors opened and closed by themselves, strange thumps were heard inside and outside of homes and often, inexplicable voices were heard. The James Lilley family, who lived just south of the TNT plant, were so bothered by the bizarre events that they finally sold their home and moved to another neighborhood. Keel was convinced that the intense period of activity was all connected.
And stranger things still took place….. A reporter named Mary Hyre, who was the Point Pleasant correspondent for the Athens, Ohio newspaper the Messenger, also wrote extensively about the local sightings. In fact, after one very active weekend, she was deluged with over 500 phone calls from people who saw strange lights in the skies. One night in January 1967, she was working late in her office in the county courthouse and a man walked in the door. He was very short and had strange eyes that were covered with thick glasses. He also had long, black hair that was cut squarely “like a bowl haircut”. Hyre said that he spoke in a low, halting voice and he asked for directions to Welsh, West Virginia. She thought that he had some sort of speech impediment and for some reason, he terrified her. “He kept getting closer and closer to me, ” she said, ” and his funny eyes were staring at me almost hypnotically.”
Alarmed, she summoned the newspaper’s circulation manager to her office and together, they spoke to the strange little man. She said that at one point in the discussion, she answered the telephone when it rang and she noticed the little man pick up a pen from her desk. He looked at it in amazement, “as if he had never seen a pen before.” Then, he grabbed the pen, laughed loudly and ran out of the building.
Several weeks later, Hyre was crossing the street near her office and saw the same man on the street. He appeared to be startled when he realized that she was watching him, turned away quickly and ran for a large black car that suddenly came around the corner. The little man climbed in and it quickly drove away.
By this time, most of the sightings had come to an end and Mothman had faded away into the strange “twilight zone” from which he had come… but the story of Point Pleasant had not yet ended. At around 5:00 in the evening on December 5, 1967, the 700-foot bridge linking Point Pleasant to Ohio suddenly collapsed while filled with rush hour traffic. Dozens of vehicles plunged into the dark waters of the Ohio River and 46 people were killed. Two of those were never found and the other 44 are buried together in the town cemetery of Gallipolis, Ohio.
On that same tragic night, the James Lilley family (who still lived near the TNT plant at that time) counted more than 12 eerie lights that flashed above their home and vanished into the forest.
The collapse of the Silver Bridge made headlines all over the country and Mary Hyre went days without sleep as reporters and television crews from everywhere descended on the town. The local citizens were stunned with horror and disbelief and the tragedy is still being felt today.
During Christmas week, a short, dark-skinned man entered the office of Mary Hyre. He was dressed in a black suit, with a black tie, and she said that he looked vaguely Oriental. He had high cheekbones, narrow eyes and an unidentified accent. He was not interested in the bridge disaster, she said, but wanted to know about local UFO sightings. Hyre was too busy to talk with him and she handed her a file of related press clipping instead. He was not interested in them and insisted on speaking with her. She finally dismissed him from her office.
That same night, an identically described man visited the homes of several witnesses in the area who had reported seeing the lights in the sky. He made all of them very uneasy and uncomfortable and while he claimed to be a reporter from Cambridge, Ohio, he inadvertently admitted that he did not know where Columbus, Ohio was even though the two towns are just a few miles apart.
So who was Mothman and what was behind the strange events in Point Pleasant?
Whatever the creature may have been, it seems clear that Mothman was no hoax. There were simply too many credible witnesses who saw “something”. It was suggested at the time that the creature may have been a sandhill crane, which while they are not native to the area, could have migrated south from Canada. That was one explanation anyway, although it was one that was rejected by Mothman witnesses, who stated that what they saw looked nothing like a crane.
But there could have been a logical explanation for some of the sightings. Even John Keel (who believed the creature was genuine) suspected that a few of the cases involved people who were spooked by recent reports and saw owls flying along deserted roads at night. Even so, Mothman remains hard to easily dismiss. The case is filled with an impressive number of multiple-witness sightings by individuals that were deemed reliable, even by law enforcement officials.
But if Mothman was real… and he truly was some unidentified creature that cannot be explained, what was behind the UFO sightings, the poltergeist reports, the strange lights, sounds, the “men in black” and most horrifying, the collapse of the Silver Bridge?
John Keel believes that Point Pleasant was a “window” area, a place that was marked by long periods of strange sightings, monster reports and the coming and going of unusual persons. He states that it may be wrong to blame the collapse of the bridge on the local UFO sightings, but the intense activity in the area at the time does suggest some sort of connection.
And if such things can happen in West Virginia, then why not elsewhere in the country? Can these “window” areas explain other phantom attackers, mysterious creatures, mad gassers and more that have been reported all over America? Perhaps they can, but to consider this, we have to consider an even more chilling question… where will the next “window” area be? It might be of benefit to study your local sightings and weird events a little more carefully in the future!