I’m a lover of the paranormal and a conspiracy enthusiast (note the distinction from theorist) but cryptids don’t really do anything for me. I can suspend my disbelief for this sort of thing for only so long before rational thought comes barging in. It’s so easy to dismiss cryptids, too. For a species to persist, it requires the presence of a breeding population. When an animal dies, it leaves behind remains. No remains of Bigfoot have ever been found or verified to be real and a breeding population in any area of the world would make it so that someone would eventually find one or the remains of one but it never happens. Maybe this sort of logic doesn’t apply to the ocean since there’s a shit ton of ocean that is unexplored so it’s entirely conceivable that Bloop could have been produced by some massive undersea creature. Or Cthulhu. Mothman is different, though. Technically, it’s the story of a cryptid, but the Mothman’s presence oftens means something. It’s a bad omen, usually.
John Keel, one of America’s most important figures in Forteana popularized the idea of a West Virginia legend that began in 1966. To this point, Keel was a leader in the field of UFOlogy but the Mothman marked a departure. The legend wove in elements of strange UFO culture but it mostly stuck to cryptid territory. The legend, immortalized on a plaque in Point Pleasant, West Virginia goes something like this:
On a chilly, fall night in November 1966, two young couples drove into the TNT area of North Point Pleasant, West Virginia when they realized they were not alone.
What they saw that night has evolved into one of the great mysteries of all time; hence the Mothman Legacy began. It has grown into a phenomenon known all over the world by millions of curious people asking questions. What really happened? What did those people see? Has it been seen since?
It still sparks the world’s curiosity – the mystery behind Point Pleasant, West Virginia’s MOTHMAN.
Mothman was first sighted by couples, The Scarberrys and the Mallettes while out late near an old World War 2 TNT factory. At first they only saw two red lights near a generator as they passed but after stopping the car to get a better look, the lights turned out to be the eyes of a huge humanoid creature, nearly 7 feet tall with wings folded against its back. They hit the gas and took off and the Mothman took off after them, keeping up as their car approached 100 miles per hour. According to Keel’s research on the topic, the victims of the Mothman’s attack turned up at the town courthouse raving about this animal that they had seen and Deputy Millard Halstead took them seriously having known these people for a long time and vouching for their otherwise rational behavior. They sounded terrified and in later research, The Scarberrys intimated that later that the Mothman had turned up at their home that night to terrorize them while poltergeist activity ran wild in the house. The following night, the creature was seen again out by the same TNT factory. This time it followed another couple home and watched them through their windows. Following that, the creature was seen again on the next night in the same place. Sightings were common troughout Point Pleasant up until 1967 when the Silver Bridge, connecting Point Pleasant to Ohio collapsed, taking 46 lives with it. Just prior to its collapse, the Mothman was seen hovering over the bridge and because of this, gained the reputation of a harbinger of death. Following this sighting, however, the Moth Man disappeared from the public consciousness and no further sightings were reported. To this day, the Moth Man remains an important part of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. They have an annual festival dedicate to the creature’s memory.
John Keel, whose book The Mothman Prophecies documents these events, goes seriously deep behind X-Files lines and expands the mythology as witnesses to the Mothman’s presence suddenly took on spectacular abilities, such as precognition, or found themselves visited in the night by Men In Black, warning them not to tell anyone of their encounter. Several witnesses to the Mothman describe surreal and sometimes terrifying encounters with a being known throughout Forteana as The Grinning Man, a being typically deployed to discourage people from disclosing their encounters with the bizarre to the police and media. In the case of The Mothman, The Grinning Man was never explicitly malicious or menacing. In most descriptions, he was goofy looking, dressed strangely, piloting an impossibly fast vehicle and communicating entirely with his mind.
Keel’s book, The Mothman Prophecies, is one hella strange piece of American non-fiction. The characters of Point Plesant are supremely weird and the aftermath of Mothman sightings are stranger than the actual sightings. I recommend it.