Mothman: The Continuing Saga

March 28, 2011

I was in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in March 2011—with fellow cryptozoologist Loren Coleman—to be filmed for a TV documentary on “Mothman.” (I’ll no doubt have more to say about this when the show airs.)

Mothman is the name a journalist fancifully gave to a great winged creature seen in the vicinity of Point Pleasant—first on the night of November 15, 1966, then on successive occasions for the following year. Eyewitnesses described it as somewhat resembling a man but walking with a shuffling gait or flying with big wings in a mothlike or noiseless flight. It had a “funny little face” and eyes that some would later mistakenly report “glowed” but that witnesses at the time insisted only shone; they were fiercely crimson “like automobile reflectors” when lights were pointed it its direction.

In my new book, Tracking the Man-Beasts, I relate my fieldwork that helped me solve the Mothman mystery—identifying it as a barred owl that eyewitnesses misperceived as much larger than it was. Mothman was first seen at the McClintic Wildlife Management Area, indeed a bird sanctuary! In addition, I track the fabled creature—the subject of books, countless articles, a Hollywood movie, and a museum and statue in downtown Point Pleasant—in folklore and fakelore.

I also trace its iconography (i.e., the evolution of its appearance): for example it later sprouted arms and took on some of the features of aliens and the silly “chupacabra” (which is also featured in Tracking the Man-Beasts). And I discuss the results of an experiment in perception that I conducted, relating to Mothman sightings, for the popular TV series Monster Quest.

Mothman appeared off and on for a year in the Point Pleasant vicinity and sparked many nighttime incidents. Reportedly, one young man dressed in a Halloween costume and hid near the original site, jumping out at parked couples to scare them. Others sent up helium-filled balloons to which were tied red flashlights, and there was even a “prankster pilot” who glided over the area at night. One man saw a creature on his property with eyes “like bicycle reflectors,” and a farmer named Asa Henry shot such a creature off his barn. It was a large owl. By November 1967, however, the incidents had mostly ended.

But, in a sense, Mothman’s presence in Point Pleasant is greater than ever. Witness my next blog, “The Business of Mothman.”