In the rolling, wooded hills alongside the Ohio River sits the quiet small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. An ordinary-seeming place, Point Pleasant, perhaps, is not quite so innocent as its name would suggest. Home to an abandoned explosives factory and a legendary Indian curse, the town was also ground zero for a rash of mysterious creature sightings in the 1960s — a creature who soon became known as Mothman.
In November 1966, two young couples went out for a drive near the old explosives plant. This “TNT area” was abandoned after World War II and had become a hang-out spot for Point Pleasant kids. As their car approached the area, the couples noticed a strange pair of lights shining in the brush. It soon became apparent to the four that these lights were actually the glowing red eyes of a seven-foot-tall, winged, humanlike creature. Terrified, they drove off as fast as possible, but the creature kept pace, allegedly up to speeds of 100 miles per hour.
The four returned to Point Pleasant and summoned the police, who checked the area but found nothing unusual. Deputies would later say they knew the four to be credible individuals, and their obvious fear convinced the officials that they’d seen something weird that night.
After the sighting was published in the local paper (a copy of the article is available HERE), others came forward to report sightings of similar strange creatures. A group of gravediggers in a local cemetery had seen a manlike winged creature flying above them as they worked. Another man reported his German shepherd had taken off after a large, unknown creature with glowing red eyes and was never seen again. Dozens of sightings were reported over the next year. Paranormal researcher John Keel came to Point Pleasant to investigate and found a significant amount of UFO activity in the area. Keel also reported a whole slew of creepy, mysterious “Men in Black” skulking about. (Keel later based his book The Mothman Prophecies on these incidents.)
Then tragedy struck. The Silver Bridge, which spanned the Ohio River from Point Pleasant to Gallipolis, Ohio, collapsed suddenly in December 1967, sending dozens of cars into the ice-cold river. Forty-six people lost their lives just days before Christmas. No one in Point Pleasant was unaffected; everybody in the small town had friends or family who perished. Thereafter, according to local tales, the Mothman disappeared.
Was the Mothman trying to warn of the disaster, or was he simply a harbinger of doom? Was it an extraterrestrial from one of Keel’s UFOs? Or is there a rational, natural explanation? A popular theory suggests that what people were seeing in the months leading up to the Silver Bridge catastrophe were simply herons, or owls, or slightly confused sandhill cranes. Perhaps it was a genetically modified ornithological oddity that had mutated from living in the polluted gloom of an abandoned explosives factory. Or perhaps it was part of Chief Cornstalk’s curse.
Cornstalk, known as Hokoleska in his native language, was a Shawnee chief who lived in the area during the Revolutionary War. Cornstalk, his son, and two other Shawnee were taken hostage and murdered by rogue militia members near present-day Point Pleasant in 1777. As the last breaths escaped the chief’s body, he is said to have pronounced a curse upon that land and all those who dwell there. Some have speculated the Mothman was a spirit being brought about by the curse.
Whatever it is — or was — that people were seeing in the 1960s, it’s become a cottage industry in Point Pleasant. The 2002 Richard Gere movie The Mothman Prophecies (based very loosely on Keel’s book) renewed interest in the creature, and Point Pleasant’s Mothman Museum and its annual Mothman festival draw thousands of curiosity seekers to the town on the banks of the Ohio. Regardless of its origins, the Mothman has become one of America’s most enduring and beloved legends.