The Legend of the Mothman: Agent of Destruction or Harbinger of Doom?
WORLD HISTORY | February 9, 2019
Drawing of the mothman in The Mothman Prophecies (2002. Source: (blumhouse.com)
In 2002, Richard Gere starred in The Mothman Prophecies, the film adaptation of the 1975 novel by the same name. The novel was written by John Keel and chronicled his investigation into the numerous sightings of a strange birdlike creature in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The creature was dubbed the “mothman” due to its appearance and the popularity of the television series Batman.
Keel, who had a history of fascination with the supernatural, arrived in Point Pleasant in December of 1966, about a month after the sightings began. His investigation involved interviewing witnesses who claimed to have personally encountered the creature. According to Keel, there were at least one hundred witnesses between November 1966 and November 1967. They described the creature as between five and seven feet tall with human legs and bat-like wings. It made a sound which one witness described as sounding like a woman’s scream. In addition to the witness accounts of mothman sightings, Keel also collected reports of phone and television disruption, poltergeists, and UFO sightings, all of which he believed to be connected.
While the Point Pleasant sightings gave the mothman its name, it wasn’t the first time the creature had been spotted. In January 1926, a creature referred to locally as the “man dragon” was witnessed hovering over Xiaon Te Dam in Southeastern China. The dam later collapsed, and 15,000 people were killed.
The Point Pleasant incident began in the neighboring town of Clendenin, West Virginia, on November 12, 1966. Five gravediggers witnessed what they described as a “brown human being” flying over their heads. The next sighting occurred three days later near Point Pleasant. Roger and Linda Scarberry, and Steve and Mary Mallette reported encountering the creature as they drove past an abandoned TNT plant. They described it as being six or seven feet tall, with bright red eyes, and a wingspan of ten feet. According to their testimony, the creature followed them, keeping up with their car as it exceeded one hundred miles per hour. But that wasn’t the only sighting that night.
It was around 10:30 that night and Newell Partridge, a resident of Salem, West Virginia, located about ninety miles from Point Pleasant, was watching television. Suddenly, his screen went dark and a strange pattern appeared on it. At the same time, he heard a whining sound coming from outside which caused his dog, Bandit, to start howling. Both dog and man went outside to investigate. Partridge reported seeing two red eyes that looked like “bicycle reflectors.” Bandit took off after the creature and was never seen again; however, Roger Scarberry, in his report of his own sighting, mentioned seeing the body of a large dog near the city limits of Point Pleasant. However, the dog disappeared soon after and it is unknown whether or not it was Bandit.
These incidents were the beginning of a year-long series of sightings and other strange occurrences, including electrical interferences, unusual lights in the sky, and weird humming noises. The events culminated in tragedy on December 15, 1967, when the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River collapsed during rush hour traffic, causing the death of forty-seven people. The official cause of the collapse was failed welding, but many, including Keel, considered it no coincidence that the mothman sightings in Point Pleasant abruptly ceased after the tragedy.
After disappearing from Point Pleasant, mothman sightings began to spring up across the world and seemed to be in some way connected to tragic events, though no one knows if it causes the events or merely appears as a warning. In one case, its appearance actually saved lives. It was September 10, 1978, in Freiburg, Germany. A group of miners were blocked from entering a mine by a creature with glowing red eyes and large black wings. It came to be known as the “Freiburg Shrieker” due to its screech that chased the miners out of the mine, which collapsed an hour later and would have most likely killed the miners had the creature not prevented them from entering.
In the year before the Chernobyl incident, there were numerous claims of a creature matching the mothman’s description flying around the plant. There were also reports of witnesses plagued with strange phone calls and nightmares. After the explosion on April 26, 1986, several people claimed that a “huge black bird” was flying around the smoke.
The creature allegedly appeared once again on September 11, 2001, flying near the Twin Towers. Witnesses claim it could be seen flying parallel to the second plane as it hit the building. These witnesses claim to have been silenced by “men in black” who warned them to keep quiet about what they saw.
The mothman has resurfaced again during the years since. In 2007, it once again accompanied a bridge collapse, with sightings beginning one month before the collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on August 1. Ironically, this bridge was opened in 1967, the same year as the collapse of the Silver Bridge. In 2009, a similar creature was spotted in La Junta, Mexico, shortly before the swine flu outbreak. In 2011, it was seen by Marcus Pules near the Fukushima plant in Japan shortly before an earthquake triggered an explosion there.
Several possible explanations have been offered to explain the mysterious sightings. Dr. Robert L. Smith of West Virginia University suggested that the witnesses from Point Pleasant were most likely seeing a sandhill crane, a large bird with red flesh around its eyes. Others believe it was an elaborate prank. While John Keel believed in the existence of the Mothman, he believed several witnesses were frightened by the recent accounts and likely mistook an owl for the mothman. In any case, the mothman has become a legend in Point Pleasant and can now be seen on display in the form of a twelve-foot statue at the local historical museum.
Tags: legends, the mothman, destruction, harbinger of doom
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