It’s named for the color of its aluminum paint and carries travelers over the Ohio River on U.S. Route 35, connecting Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio. I’m speaking, of course, of the Silver Bridge, the bridge that collapsed in December of 1967 around Christmastime. After some investigation, a faulty eye bar in the suspension chain was said to be to blame for the collapse, the bridge was almost always carrying a higher load than it should and was poorly maintained, but some residents of Point Pleasant believe that something more sinister lies at the heart of the disaster that claimed the lives of 46 people (2 bodies were never recovered). Some of those residents claim a creature that has wound its way into the history of Point Pleasant, and popular culture in general, was the culprit. That creature was a being called Mothman.
Prior to the collapse of the Silver Bridge, several residents of Point Pleasant had communicated to their friends, neighbors, and the authorities, that they had seen a strange creature in the skies above the small city. It was large and birdlike, but the most memorable and often repeated feature were the creatures glowing red eyes.
The first appearance of Mothman can be traced to Clendin, West Virginia, when a group of men digging a grave observed a strange creature circling above them (Nov. 1966). They said it was human-like and remained high over their heads for a short time before disappearing over the treetops and out of sight.
Just a few days later, (Nov. 15) in Point Pleasant, two couples reported seeing a white-winged creature with glowing eyes with the beams of their car headlights. Two witnesses, one of them Steve Mallette, one of the individuals in one of the cars, said “it was like a man with wings. It wasn’t anything like you’d seen on TV or in a monster movie.” The Point Pleasant Register reported, “Couples See Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something.” Mallette and his wife had been driving near the McClintie Wildlife Reserve on West Virginia Route 62 at the time.
The other witness, Roger Scarberry, gave very specific information about the creature’s eyes, stating that they were about 2″ in diameter and 6″ apart. Scarberry stated that he might not have said anything if there hadn’t been so many people who reported seeing it. He might have dismissed it as a trick of his eyes and gone about his business, but the fact that 3 other people saw what he did, he felt compelled to relate his story. Scarberry and his wife were also driving near the McClintie Wildlife Reserve at the time of their sighting. Scarberry stated that their vehicle came to a hill and, as they crested it, they saw the creature with their headlights. They claimed it was 7′ tall and had a 10′ wingspan. Scarberry swerved to avoid hitting the figure, but mere seconds later, the creature was back in front of their car. It kept pace with their car as they sped back toward town, sometimes reaching speeds of 100 mph. At times, it would soar to almost 50′ above them, only to return moments later in front of them. The couple were forced to stop and observed the creature seemingly laying on the road in a lump. Too afraid to investigate, they turned their car around and headed back to town. They returned later that evening with a Sheriff’s Deputy, but the creature was gone. However, they did find a strange pile of dust where the creature had been.
Many reported seeing Mothman both in the Wildlife Reserve and on their private property. Reports flooded the local paper. Residents stated they’d heard noises outside at night and, when they went to investigate, they came upon the creature with the beam of their flashlights. Others claim Mothman is responsible for eating their beloved family pets. A farmer told the Point Pleasant Register that his German shepherd disappeared after he’d seen a creature with large, glowing red eyes.
Sightings of the Mothman continued and came to a head in 1967 with the collapse of the Silver Bridge, leading many to believe that Mothman was a harbinger of doom and that his presence in Point Pleasant either brought about or predicted the disaster. Others are firm in their belief that Mothman predicted the tragedies and appeared as a warning to the tragedy. John Keel, writer of the book The Mothman Prophecies (the book was made into a movie in 2002), claims that residents of Point Pleasant were experiencing premonitions of the bridge collapse and tried to voice their concerns to others who brushed it off as superstition.
Wildlife experts believe that a large bird, perhaps a sandhill crane or a barred owl, is to blame for the sightings. This doesn’t explain the missing pets (sandhill cranes just wouldn’t find a schnauzer appetizing and a German shepherd is far too large for either bird to contend with), but many accepted this explanation. Other residents and experts feel that Mothman falls into the realm of cryptozoological phenomena, to be categorized with the likes of Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster. Some have even claimed that Mothman has been seen prior to other catastrophic events around the globe including 9-11.
Shows like Monster Quest have tried debunking the Mothman legends, claiming that those who have supposedly seen the creature are simply mistaken. MQ created wood cutouts of various sizes of the creature with red reflectors attached in hopes of figuring out whether the size and shape descriptions of the creature are entirely accurate. They claim there are many ways in which fear can influence memory and distort it, leading them to believe that a 3′ figure is actually 7-10′ tall. Apparently, people who view horrific things are highly confident in what they have seen or are seeing and they exaggerate certain features. Perhaps those who have seen Mothman exaggerated the glowing red eyes of the creature and are now so confident in what they have seen that it has become fact?
In September each year, the residents of Point Pleasant hold a festival for Mothman (https://www.mothmanfestival.com/) commemorating the original, 1966 sighting of the creature. The town is now home to a Mothman Museum, featuring witness sketches and accounts, newspaper articles, and merchandise, and a large statue of Mothman with a plaque outlining the first sighting. Attendance to the festival, featuring bands, guest speakers, and various merch vendors, is a must for anyone who wishes to learn more about Point Pleasant’s cryptozoological wonder and, if you’re brave, take a trip out to the Wildlife Reserve to perhaps see the creature himself. Linda Scarberry says she can still hear the sound of the creature’s wings above their car and she still has trouble sleeping. Just keep that in mind as you venture forth into the dark unknown.
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