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Mothman Artist's Impression.png
Artist's impression of the Mothman
Other name(s)Winged Man
CountryUnited States
RegionPoint Pleasant, West Virginia

In West Virginia folklore, the Mothman is a humanoid creature reportedly seen in the Point Pleasant area from November 15, 1966, to December 15, 1967. The first newspaper report was published in the Point Pleasant Register, dated November 16, 1966, titled "Couples See Man-Sized Bird ... Creature ... Something".[1] The national press soon picked up the reports and helped spread the story across the United States.

The Mothman was introduced to a wider audience by Gray Barker in 1970,[2][3] and was later popularized by John Keel in his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies,[4] claiming that there were supernatural events related to the sightings, and a connection to the collapse of the Silver Bridge. The book was later adapted into a 2002 film, starring Richard Gere.[5]

An annual festival in Point Pleasant is devoted to the Mothman legend.[6]


On November 15, 1966, two young couples from Point Pleasant—Roger and Linda Scarberry, and Steve and Mary Mallette—told police they saw a large grey creature whose eyes "glowed red" when the car's headlights picked it up. They described it as a "large flying man with ten-foot wings", following their car while they were driving in an area outside of town known as "the TNT area", the site of a former World War II munitions plant.[7][8]

During the next few days, other people reported similar sightings. Two volunteer firemen who saw it said it was a "large bird with red eyes." Mason County Sheriff George Johnson commented that he believed the sightings were due to an unusually large heron he termed a "shitepoke". Contractor Newell Partridge told Johnson that when he aimed a flashlight at a creature in a nearby field its eyes glowed "like bicycle reflectors", and blamed buzzing noises from his television set and the disappearance of his German Shepherd dog on the creature.[9] Wildlife biologist Robert L. Smith at West Virginia University told reporters that descriptions and sightings all fit the sandhill crane, a large American crane almost as high as a man with a seven-foot wingspan featuring circles of reddish coloring around the eyes. The bird may have wandered out of its migration route, and therefore was unrecognized at first because it was not native to this region.[9][10]

Due to the popularity of the Batman TV series at the time, the fictional superhero Batman and his rogue's gallery were prominently featured in the public eye. While the villain Killer Moth did not appear in the show, the comic book influence of both him and Batman is believed by some to have influenced the coinage of the name “Mothman” in the local newspapers.[11][12]

Following the December 15, 1967, collapse of the Silver Bridge and the death of 46 people,[13] the incident gave rise to the legend and connected the Mothman sightings to the bridge collapse.[9][14][15]

The Mothman Prophecies (2002) is a major motion picture, loosely based on the 1975 book of the same name by John Keel.

According to Georgian newspaper Svobodnaya Gruziya, Russian UFOlogists claim that Mothman sightings in Moscow foreshadowed the 1999 Russian apartment bombings.[16]

In 2016, WCHS-TV published a photo purported to be of Mothman taken by an anonymous man while driving on Route 2 in Mason County, WV.[17] Science writer Sharon A. Hill proposed that the photo showed "a bird, perhaps an owl, carrying a frog or snake away" and wrote that "there is zero reason to suspect it is the Mothman as described in legend. There are too many far more reasonable explanations."[10][18]


Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand notes that Mothman has been widely covered in the popular press, some claiming sightings connected with UFOs, and others claiming that a military storage site was Mothman's "home". Brunvand notes that recountings of the 1966–67 Mothman reports usually state that at least 100 people saw Mothman with many more "afraid to report their sightings" but observed that written sources for such stories consisted of children's books or sensationalized or undocumented accounts that fail to quote identifiable persons. Brunvand found elements in common among many Mothman reports and much older folk tales, suggesting that something real may have triggered the scares and became woven with existing folklore. He also records anecdotal tales of Mothman supposedly attacking the roofs of parked cars occupied by teenagers.[19]

Conversely, Joe Nickell says that a number of hoaxes followed the publicity generated by the original reports, such as a group of construction workers who tied flashlights to helium balloons. Nickell attributes the Mothman stories to sightings of barn owls, suggesting that the Mothman's "glowing eyes" were actually red-eye effect caused from the reflection of light from flashlights or other bright light sources.[18][7] Benjamin Radford points out that the only report of glowing "red eyes," was secondhand, that of Shirley Hensley quoting her father.[20]

According to University of Chicago psychologist David A. Gallo, 55 sightings of Mothman in Chicago during 2017 published on the website of self-described Fortean researcher Lon Strickler are "a selective sample". Gallo explains that "he's not sampling random people and asking if they saw the Mothman – he's just counting the number of people that voluntarily came forward to report a sighting." According to Gallo, "people more likely to visit a paranormal-centric website like Strickler's might also be more inclined to believe in, and therefore witness the existence of, a 'Mothman'."[21]

Some pseudoscience adherents (such as ufologists, paranormal authors, and cryptozoologists) claim that Mothman was an alien, a supernatural manifestation, or a previously unknown species of animal. In his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, author John Keel claimed that the Point Pleasant residents experienced precognitions including premonitions of the collapse of the Silver Bridge, unidentified flying object sightings, visits from inhuman or threatening men in black, and other phenomena.[22]

Festival and statues[edit]

Point Pleasant held its first Annual Mothman Festival in 2002. The Mothman Festival began after brainstorming creative ways for people to visit Point Pleasant. The group organizing the event chose the Mothman to be the center of the festival due to its uniqueness, and as a way to celebrate its local legacy in the town.[23]

According to the event organizer Jeff Wamsley, the average attendance for the Mothman is an estimated 10–12 thousand people per year.[23] A 12-foot-tall metallic statue of the creature, created by artist and sculptor Bob Roach, was unveiled in 2003. The Mothman Museum and Research Center opened in 2005.[24][25][26] The festival is held on the third weekend of every September, hosting guest speakers, vendor exhibits, pancake-eating contests, and hayride tours of locally notable areas.[14]

In June of 2020, a petition was started to replace all Confederate statues in the United States with statues of Mothman. As of June 2021, the petition has garnered nearly 19,000 signatures.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Couples See Man-Sized Bird...Creature...Something". Point Pleasant Register Point Pleasant, WV Wednesday, November 16, 1966. WestVA.Net, Mark Turner. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  2. ^ Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 33 (Pennsylvania State University, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. 2009)
  3. ^ Gray Barker, The Silver Bridge (Saucerian Books, 1970). Reprinted in 2008 entitled The Silver Bridge: The Classic Mothman Tale (BookSurge Publishing). ISBN 1-4392-0427-6
  4. ^ Keel, John A. The Mothman Prophecies (2007). ISBN 0-7653-4197-2 (Originally published in 1975 by Saturday Review Press)
  5. ^ Meehan, Paul (2009). Cinema of the Psychic Realm: A Critical Survey, p. 130. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-3966-9
  6. ^ "Mothman Festival".
  7. ^ a b Nickell, Joe (2004). The Mystery Chronicles: More Real-Life X-Files. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 93–. ISBN 978-0-8131-2318-9. Retrieved August 21, 2011.
  8. ^ "Munitions Risk Closes Part of Wildlife Area Again". Retrieved February 8, 2012.
  9. ^ a b c Associated Press (December 1, 1966). "Monster Bird With Red Eyes May Be Crane". Gettysburg Times. Retrieved August 21, 2011.
  10. ^ a b Palma, Bethania. "Mothman About Town". Snopes. Retrieved January 18, 2017.
  11. ^ Cassandra Eason (2008). Fabulous Creatures, Mythical Monsters, and Animal Power Symbols: A Handbook. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 15–. ISBN 978-0-275-99425-9.
  12. ^ Richard Moreno (August 6, 2013). Myths and Mysteries of Illinois: True Stories of the Unsolved and Unexplained. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 142–. ISBN 978-1-4930-0231-3.
  13. ^ LeRose, Chris. "The Collapse of the Silver Bridge". West Virginia Historical Society Quarterly. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Retrieved September 24, 2014.
  14. ^ a b Associated Press (January 19, 2008). "Mothman' still a frighteningly big draw for tourists". Toronto Star. Retrieved August 21, 2011.
  15. ^ "Eight People Say They Saw 'Creature'". Williamson Daily News. Williamson, WV. United Press International. November 18, 1966. Retrieved August 22, 2011.
  16. ^ Lobkov, Denis (May 23, 2002). Призраки катастроф. Zheltaya Gazeta via Svobodnaya Gruziya (in Russian). (English translation of the article.)
  17. ^ Pierson, Fallon. "Man photographs creature that resembles legendary Mothman" of Point Pleasant". WCHS-TV news. WCHS. Retrieved January 18, 2017.
  18. ^ a b Elbein, Asher (October 26, 2018). "Is the Mothman of West Virginia an Owl?". Archived from the original on October 27, 2018. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
  19. ^ Brunvand, Jan Harold (1994). The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 98–. ISBN 978-0-393-31208-9.
  20. ^ Radford, Benjamin (May–June 2020). "Investigating Mothman's Red Eyeshine". Skeptical Inquirer. 44: 29–31.
  21. ^ Terry, Josh (January 17, 2018). "People Keep Seeing the Mothman in Chicago". Vice.
  22. ^ Clark, Jerome (2000). Extraordinary Encounters: An Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrials and Otherworldly Beings. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, ISBN 1-57607-249-5, pp. 178–179.
  23. ^ a b "Mothman Festival returns Sept. 21–22". – The Point Pleasant Register. September 6, 2019. Retrieved October 7, 2020.
  24. ^ Mothman Statue
  25. ^ Moran, Mark; Sceurman, Mark; Lake, Matt (2008). Weird U.S. The ODDyssey Continues – Your Travel Guide to America's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, p. 260. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN 978-1-4027-4544-7
  26. ^ "Legend of the Mothman" plaque on the base of the statue
  27. ^ "Petition Launched to Replace Every Confederate Statue With Mothman". CBR. July 6, 2020. Retrieved July 7, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]