This December will mark 50 years since the tragic collapse of the Silver Bridge. The disaster claimed the lives of 46 people when they were plunged into the icy waters of the Ohio River. Thirteen months earlier, the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a small community sitting at the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio rivers, was thrust into the national spotlight when a winged humanoid began making appearances.
The event that set the Mothman craze into motion was a sighting by two young couples, the Scarberrys and the Mallettes, who were driving late at night through the “TNT area,”—a decommissioned munitions plant—when they saw a man-shaped, winged figure beside the road looking at them. The winged humanoid stood at a height of close to 7 feet and had unforgettable, large red eyes.
Startled by the creature, Roger Scarberry punched the gas and headed for Point Pleasant as fast as he could—he claimed to reach a speed of 100 miles an hour. As they headed to town, Linda Scarberry, Roger’s wife, noticed that the monster was following them. It glided effortlessly with its wings spread about 10 feet apart. The wings never flapped, and the creature kept pace with the speeding automobile. Mary Mallette claimed to hear the creature make squeaking sounds, like a giant mouse, as it pursued the vehicle.
The Mallettes and Scarberrys, scared out of their wits, reported the encounter to Mason County Deputy Millard Halstead as soon as they reached town. Halstead returned to the scene of the incident with them, but the strange beast had disappeared without a trace.
About 100 miles away from the Scarberry/Mallette encounter, and about an hour and half earlier, Newell Partridge, of Salem, West Virginia, saw two large, glowing red objects that shined like reflectors in his field. His dog, a German shepherd named Bandit, disappeared and was never seen again after running into the field in the direction of the red objects.1 Coincidentally—or maybe not—the Scarberrys and Mallettes saw a large dog that lay dead along the road as they fled the TNT Area. Oddly, the carcass was gone when they returned with Deputy Halstead.
The encounter that the Scarberrys and the Mallettes had with the weird winged creature was reported by the Associated Press. The creature, who was dubbed Mothman, after a character in a Batman comic book, became known to the world—hordes of “monster hunters” descended upon the TNT Area hoping to see Mothman for themselves. So many joined the fracas that volunteer firemen were called in to help direct traffic.2 The small river community of Point Pleasant would never be the same again.
During the height of the Mothman flap, a strange flying creature was spotted while driving along the Ohio River on Route 2 near the in April 1967. The witness saw a large black form rise from a wooded area and fly over his car. The strange being was about 10 feet wide and moved incredibly fast. In fact, much like the Scarberry/Mallette encounter, the creature was able to keep pace with his car—the automobile was traveling at a speed of 70 miles per hour! The monster eventually veered off and headed toward the river and disappeared.
In November 1967, four men were hunting in the Cornstalk Wildlife Management Area when they saw a giant gray figure with red eyes. The men were so frightened by the sight that they failed to even think of raising their weapons and firing on the creature.3
Though the Scarberry/Mallette encounter with Mothman was the first to make headlines, Mothman had been spotted a number of times earlier. In fact, sightings of Mothman, or something similar, go back for years, possibly even decades earlier.
On November 12, Kenneth Duncan and four other men were digging a grave in a Clendenin cemetery when a brown man-like figure flew out from some trees and glided over their heads. Duncan reported his story after the Mallettes and Scarberrys came forward with their sighting.
The Duncan sighting sounds similar to that of a National Guardsman who saw something on November 1. He observed a large man-shaped figure on a tree limb at the armory.4
There were various other incidents that occurred before the Scarberry/Mallette sighting: that summer, a lady claimed to see something resembling a giant butterfly while in her yard; a little boy claimed to see a man with wings—he thought it was angel—his mother didn’t take his story seriously until the Mothman craze swept the area. It is impossible to know how many people saw something strange and kept it to themselves.
In his book Haunted Valley: And More Folk Tales of Appalachia, James Gay Jones wrote of a birdman that terrorized families who lived in several rural counties in the early 20th century. More to the point of this article, Jones mentioned a creature with a 12-foot wingspan that was spotted in Point Pleasant in the early 1900s. Sometime after the Second World War, a number of people driving along the Ohio River were chased by some sort of birdman.
For about a year after the Associated Press’ first report on the Mothman, sightings continued at a dizzying pace. Numerous eyewitness reports of a human-like creature with a wingspan of 10 feet made it clear that something strange was roaming the Point Pleasant area—and beyond.
In Charleston, the police were called around 10:15 PM on November 21, 1966 when Richard West saw a “Batman” sitting on a neighbor’s rooftop. Whatever West saw closely matched typical Mothman descriptions—a 6-foot-tall, winged humanoid; it had large, striking red eyes; its wingspan reached 8 feet; and, when taking flight, the creature lifted off vertically.5
Another interesting sighting also occurred in Charleston. This time, though, in an unusual departure from “normal” sightings, Mothman’s face was described. Lyle Atkins told police that he saw a creature with a 6–7-foot wingspan—and a monkey face. Detective R.K. Gordon seemed to believe a known animal fit the profile. He said the creature, “pretty well fits a big owl, if you cut about two or three feet off that wingspread.”6
In St. Albans, a woman said she saw a large gray creature with big, red eyes in her yard. Whatever it was stood taller than a man. The same night, two sisters were walking home from a store when they saw something similar standing next to an area junkyard. The girls were frightened and immediately ran home. However, the creature took flight in pursuit and swooped over them as they ran away.
Thomas Ury spotted something that may have been a bird, though not one that he had ever seen before, north of the TNT Area. Ury saw something in a field take flight. He claimed that creature veered over his car and began circling above him. As in other cases, the weird bird seemingly kept pace with his car which was traveling at a speed of 75 miles an hour.
Volunteer firemen Captain Paul Yoder and Benjamin Enochs saw a large bird in the TNT area. The pair claimed that what they saw was huge and had large red eyes. Unlike the winged humanoids that others claimed to see, the pair unequivocally stated that what they saw was a bird—however, it was unlike any bird they had ever seen before.
Far from the Point Pleasant area, in the Northern Panhandle town Colliers, two girls were frightened by something similar to descriptions of Mothman. The girls told Brooke County deputies that the creature was “gray on the inside and pinkish on the outside with black and yellow dots on the inside of its wing, having a large orange beak and at least one glowing red eye.” The girls disturbed the creature when they tugged on a tree branch. It jumped down from the tree emitting a scream and buzzing sound and chased the them.7
Eerily, Mothman showed himself to a number of people who would die soon—some of the eyewitnesses perished in the Silver Bridge catastrophe.8 Page upon page could be written in an effort to chronicle the overabundance of Mothman sightings; renowned author and investigator John Keel claimed to have interviewed over 100 eyewitnesses.
During the time Mothman was flying the skies over the Ohio Valley, UFOs and strange lights in the sky were also being observed. Additionally, weird electrical disturbances were plaguing residents. Worse, there were a number of people who experienced poltergeist activity in their homes.
Mary Hyre, a reporter for the Athens Messenger and friend of John Keel, wrote in her personal notes on May 24, 1967, that she was seeing UFOs on a nightly basis.9 Hyre was well-respected and trusted in the community; scores of people contacted her with their sightings. Hyre was a tremendous asset to Keel during his investigation of the Mothman phenomenon. She was able to put him in touch with eyewitnesses who would have never spoken to him on their own.
The uptick in UFO sightings were not confined to the Point Pleasant area. Reports were coming from Charleston and Huntington as well.
Reporters in Huntington were being contacted by a number of people who claimed to have seen strange lights in the sky. At times, the lights stood still, but they would suddenly take off at speeds faster than a jet. On March 2, 1967, six reports of UFOs came in. One report stated that five UFOs were moving along Interstate 64—seemingly following the roadway.10
In January, in Charleston, a UFO reportedly hovered above I-64 blocking the road. The craft was spherical and had the appearance of dull aluminum. According to Tad Jones, the object was about 25 feet in diameter and was about 4 feet off the ground; he was unable to drive around it. Jones was reluctant at first to report the incident—he knew that he would be ridiculed. Mockery was the least of his problems, though; shortly after Jones reported the occurrence, a note was left under the door of his appliance store. It read: “We were here and if you don’t keep your mouth shut, we’ll be back.”11
Electrical anomalies were also taking place in the Ohio Valley; many people told John Keel of problems with their television sets and other appliances. Others reported problems with their phones. Pranksters, or Men in Black, hounded Mothman and UFO eyewitnesses with harassing phone calls. Some unfortunate eyewitnesses became the victim of poltergeist activity.
Maybe Mothman Didn’t Leave
Conventional thinking says that Mothman left Point Pleasant after the Silver Bridge collapsed. He went on his way to wherever, or whatever realm, he came from. However, this may not be the case.
After the disaster, stories and reports on Mothman faded away. However, according to John Keel, folks in Point Pleasant and the surrounding area were still seeing the creature as late as 1969 and even beyond. Perhaps people in the community had grown tired of Mothman and just stopped reporting their sightings. This is understandable, especially in the aftermath of such a devastating event.
In 1994, on a backroad in Braxton County, West Virginia, David Sykes saw something matching typical Mothman descriptions: a winged humanoid with large red eyes.12 Braxton County is known for another monster, the Flatwoods Monster, who appeared there in 1952.
As recently as November 2016, a sighting took place in Point Pleasant and this time, the eyewitness photographed the creature.13 The photographs show what appear to be a flying humanoid moving between the trees. Maybe. I have a different take: I believe the witness saw an owl in flight. What appear to be legs, in my opinion, is a snake (although November is rather cold for snakes in West Virginia) or a piece or strip of a carcass being carried in the owl’s mouth. View the photographs for yourself and draw your own conclusion.
Of course, these are just a few examples of sightings that lingered on after the tragic event. There are many, many more and the Mothman-type of sightings go far beyond West Virginia. Some folks claim there were Mothman sightings in 2007 before the I-35 Bridge collapsed in Minnesota. For the record, I am skeptical of these claims. With that being said, Chicago has been in the throes of winged humanoid sightings since 2011; reports began to increase exponentially this spring. I would be lying if I said the reports didn’t make me feel at least a little bit uneasy.
The appearance of Mothman over 50 years ago in a small West Virginia town is inexorably linked to a disaster that forever altered life in the community. Could the sightings in the greater Chicago area be a precursor to something awful that will occur in the future? Only time will tell.
Article by Denver Michaels. www.denvermichaels.net
His book Wild & Wonderful (and Paranormal) West Virginia can be found on Amazon.com.
- “Another Reports ‘Bird Creature.’” Raleigh Register (Beckley, WV), November 17, 1966.
- “’The Mothman’ Remains at Large.” Salina Journal, December 2, 1966.
- John A. Keel, The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings(New York: Doubleday, 1994), 274.
- Ibid., 267.
- Ibid., 248–249.
- “’Monkey-Faced’ Bird Reported.” Charleston Daily Mail, November 21, 1966.
- “Colliers Girls Report Odd Bird.” Weirton Daily Times, March 14, 1967.
- Strange Magazine. No. 5, March, 1990, 39.
- Mary Hyre’s notes at the World’s Only MothmanMuseum. Point Pleasant, WV.
- Ron Hite, “Sharp Rise in UFO Reports Noted Here,” Herald Dispatch (Huntington, WV).
- Charlie Conner, “UFO-Spotter Finds ‘Keep Mouth Shut’ Note.” Charleston Daily Mail, January 20, 1967.
- Kurt B. McCoy, White Things: West Virginia’s Weird White Monsters. (Morgantown, WV: OguaBooks, 2008), Kindle edition, Loc821.
- Fallon Pierson, “Man Photographs Creature that Resembles Legendary ‘”Mothman” of Point Pleasant,” WCHS, November 21, 2016, accessed January 18, 2017, http://wchstv.com/news/local/man-photographs-creature-that-resembles-legendary-mothman-of-point-pleasant.