The Mothman of West Virginia by Amy Van De Casteele

From 12 November 1966 to 15 December 1967 the small West Virginia town of Point Pleasant and the surrounding area was plagued by terrifying supernatural phenomenon – mainly centred around the appearance of a large, winged creature with blazing red eyes which came to be known as “Mothman”.

First sighted by five grave-diggers working in a cemetery near the town of Clendenin, the creature appeared as a black man-sized shape skimming above the trees. Days later, on 16 November, the headline in the Point Pleasant Register ran: “Couples See Man-sized Bird…Creature…Something”. The article recounted how, at around midnight of the previous night, Steve Mallette, Roger Scarberry and their partners (Mary and Linda respectively) had been driving away from the “TNT area” – a decommissioned WWII explosives factory – when they encountered a terrifying being. Standing six or seven feet tall, it resembled “a man with wings” and had bright red eyes that shone eerily in the darkness. It glided over their car, following them as they drove away but seeming to shun the headlights of the vehicle, averse to the bright light.

The frightening being followed them as they drove back towards town but eventually disappeared. Shocked but intrigued they turned the car around and headed back to the TNT area, only to find the creature seemingly waiting for them.

The day after their encounter the couples were ashen-faced and weary, but fascinated by their experiences. They surmised that the creature must be living in one of the empty munitions factory’s massive boilers, Steve Mallette commenting that no pigeons roosted in the building where they believed it to live. He went on to say that the creature “doesn’t have an explanation to it” and that it was “like nothing I’ve ever seen before”. He also vowed that he would go out to look for it again.

Hauntingly, they were not the only people to see the creature that night. At 10:30 on the night of the 15th, a building contractor in Salem called Newell Partridge was quietly watching television when the screen suddenly went black and an unnatural whining noise started up outside. His German Shepherd dog Bandit was on the front porch and began howling, prompting Partridge to hurry outside and see what was happening. When he emerged from his front door he saw Bandit staring towards the hay barn and aimed the beam of his torch in that direction. Two red eyes glowed in the bright light and at the same moment Bandit launched himself towards the hay barn, unheeding of Partridge’s voice as he tried vainly to call him back.

Bandit was never seen again and the next morning Partridge read about the sighting of the Mothman by the two couples, and how during their encounter they had seen the body of a dog lying beside the road towards town…When they returned minutes later it was gone. No one knows what happened to Bandit; his disappearance is just one of many mysteries surrounding the Mothman.

The greatest mystery is, of course, that of the Mothman’s identity. What was this strange winged creature that the Mallettes and the Scarberrys saw, which flew through the air at 100 mph and stood as tall as a man? We may never really know but one thing is certain – its unsettling legacy will not be forgotten anytime soon. That eerie creature which emerged from the TNT area would go on to become a local phenomenon, appearing a number of times over the coming months and sparking a West Virginia legend which would become immortalized in its own Museum, statue and movie – 2002’s ‘The Mothman Prophecies’, starring Richard Gere.

Renowned sceptic Joe Nickell said that he believed the Mothman to be nothing more than sightings of a large bird and a series of pranks and hoaxes; this statement was backed up by Dr. Robert L. Smith, a wildlife biologist at West Virginia University, who believed the creature to be the Sandhill crane – a tall bird which has a 7-foot wingspan and red markings around the eyes.

John Keel, a prominent Ufologist who penned the New York Times bestselling book ‘The Mothman Prophecies’ had his own beliefs about the creature. In the book he recounts a number of stories about these flying entities, tales which hail not only from the US but from far flung countries such as England and Vietnam. For example, in 1961 a New York pilot saw a massive flying creature “bigger than an eagle” as he flew over the Hudson River Valley. Two years later, on November 16 1963, four Kentish teens witnessed a “tall, dark figure” with “big bat wings”, while a woman driving with her father near Chief Cornstalk Hunting Grounds in Mason County, West Virginia witnessed “a big gray figure” with wings which took off straight into the air and vanished from sight.

Keel states that “these great Garudas” {a mythical bird from Hindu and Buddhist mythology} “and winged beings are closely associated with luminous phenomena. They tend to appear in areas where UFOs have been active and, like UFOs, they tend to linger for days or even weeks in the same specific area”. Keel goes on to call 1966 “The Year of the Garuda”, but it wasn’t only the Mothman that was troubling West Virginia that year. UFOs were witnessed by a number of people in the state while others were harassed by unnatural men in black and strange lights were seen in the sky. On November 17 a music teacher named Mrs Grose was roused at quarter to five in the morning by the frantic barking of her little dog. Looking out the window she saw a large circular UFO hovering over a field on the other side of the road. As she looked on in astonishment it “made a zig-zag motion” and vanished from view.

The next day, in the TNT area, Mothman was seen again, this time by two firemen. They stated that it was a bird but “was huge” and added that they’d “never seen anything like it”. Two days after that five teenagers encountered the creature in the woods around Campbells Creek and an elderly Point Pleasant resident found Mothman standing brazenly on his front lawn. The sight of the looming grey figure with its burning red eyes was so terrifying that when the creature suddenly flew off and he staggered back into his home he looked so pale and stricken that his wife thought he was having a heart attack.

More than 100 people saw Mothman, during that year 1966-67 but a young woman named Connie Carpenter was particularly traumatized by her experiences. As well as encountering the creature on a number of occasions, she was also plagued by unexplained beeping noises coming from outside her bedroom window and was once almost abducted on her way to school by a strange young man with thick black hair. She managed to free herself but the next day a note was pushed under her front door; it read: “Be careful, girl. I can get you yet”.

Was this intimidating young man just a passing lunatic – or one of the strange men in black that had begun to appear around the same time as the Mothman? Was there a connection between Connie’s experiences with the Mothman and her near-abduction?

Recommended reading:

The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel

Mothman and Other Curious Encounters by L. Coleman

The Silver Bridge: The Classic Mothman Tale by Gray Barker