We’ve all heard of the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, but they’re not the only mysterious beings allegedly living in our midst. Deeper into the annals of cryptozoology is a creature first reported nearly 50 years ago, whose appearance is said by some to herald disaster: The strange and terrifying Mothman.
The first Mothman sighting occurred on November 12, 1966, in Clendenin, West Virginia, when five gravediggers claimed to see a human-like figure soaring just above them in the autumn trees. Days later on November 15, in nearby Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a small city located at the meeting place of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers, two couples both spotted a white-winged, human-sized creature with fiery eyes standing in front of their car headlights.
Steve Mallette was one of those witnesses. “It was like a man with wings,” he recounted to the Point Pleasant Register. “It wasn’t anything like you’d seen on TV or in a monster movie.”
Another witness, Roger Scarberry, described the creature as having red eyes about two inches in diameter and six inches apart. Scarberry said that had he seen the creature by himself, he wouldn’t have said anything, “but there were four of us who saw it.”
The sightings continued for months throughout the Point Pleasant area. The mystery and fear surrounding the strange bird-like monster came to a head on December 15, 1967, with the tragic collapse of the Silver Bridge. Forty-six people died when the bridge, which connected the city with Gallipolis, Ohio, collapsed during rush hour. The destruction was blamed on a dysfunctional eyebar in the suspension chain, but some locals felt that something more sinister was at play and that it might be connected to the recent reports of the eerie creature.
Theories arose that Pleasure Point might have been a portal to an alternate realm—and that the Mothman creature, coupled with reports of UFOs, poltergeists, and bizarre light phenomenons in the area, was somehow connected to the Silver Bridge tragedy. Some wondered if the Mothman was responsible for the Silver Bridge destruction. Others hypothesized that, despite the Mothman’s frightening appearance, he might have been sent to warn the town of impending tragedy. As the legend grew, the question surrounding Mothman’s intentions remained—and so has public fascination with the mysterious creature.
The Point Pleasant incidents have been recounted in various media, including the 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, written by John Keel, who was on assignment in West Virginia during the height of the Mothman phenomenon; the 2002 movie adaptation of the same name; and the 2002 book by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, Mothman and Other Curious Encounters. As the Mothman story gained notoriety in pop culture, rumors of other times when the beast appeared prior to tragedy striking began to swirl.
On April 26, 1986, in the Soviet Union, the world’s worst nuclear disaster occurred when an explosion took place during a routine systems test of Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. The nearby town of Pripyat served as a base for the first responders but was later evacuated due to the presence of harmful radiation. In the decades following the disaster, rumors have flown on cryptozoology-inclined corners of the internet that Chernobyl workers and residents of Pripyat saw something very eerie in the days prior to the explosion.
Reportedly, a bizarre winged creature was seen flying over the town on numerous occasions. A few workers at Chernobyl also allegedly saw the same creature hovering over the plant. Even stranger, those who claimed to have seen the creature were reportedly plagued by nightmares and harassed by incessant, threatening phone calls thereafter. Many claimed the creature resembled a man-like bird with red eyes, and some came to refer to it as “the Black Bird of Chernobyl.” Was the Black Bird of Chernobyl the same creature as the one seen prior to the Silver Bridge disaster? Or was it, as some have suggested, merely a rare black stork?
According to Loren Coleman, it was neither. In 2010, the author said that reports of the Mothman Chernobyl sightings were entirely based on fictional accounts from the 2002 Mothman Prophecies movie: “The Chernobyl story, the Galveston Hurricane-Mothman tie-in, and other examples given in the 2002 movie were pure fiction […] right after the movie was released, various websites posted the Chernobyl/Mothman reports as factual. But there is not one thread of evidence that any winged weirdies were witnessed before the Chernobyl accident. It is a bit of movie fiction that has, unfortunately, moved into pseudo-factoid cryptozoology.”
Following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, rumors emerged that witnesses reported seeing a large crane-like figure in the vicinity of the towers five days prior to the attack. It had been 31 years since any such sighting of Mothman in North America. On the day of the horrific attack, Mothman was reported to have appeared again, some claiming they could see his face through clouds of smoke and debris.
I-35W Bridge Collapse
Freakishly enough, another sighting of Mothman was noted at the site of a bridge collapse. At rush hour on August 1, 2007, a bridge on Interstate 35 in Minneapolis, Minnesota gave way at its center. Thirteen people died and nearly 145 were injured in its fall. Reports trickled in that a Mothman-like figure started appearing near the bridge about a month prior to its collapse. Skeptics dismissed the creature as a large heron or crane, but some Mothman believers began to theorize that Mothman could possibly be a paranormal entity, rather than a cryptid. Could he have arrived to warn of the impending danger? Or was he present to prepare for the bridge’s collapse?
Swine Flu Outbreak in Mexico
On April 10, 2009, residents of La Junta in the Mexican state of Chihuahua began noticing a strange creature in their midst. He was very tall and hairy, with two expansive wings and wide, bloodshot eyes. One young student even reported that the creature chased him relentlessly. “Those were 15 minutes of maximum despair,” said the student, who chose to remain anonymous during the interview.
It was during this time that the area began to see a rise in swine flu cases tied to the ongoing 2009 outbreak. Two other witnesses by the names of Angela Mendez and Viviana Ledezma claimed to have heard the creature in an apple orchard near Miñaca Cemetery. Some believers theorize that the creature terrifying the residents of Chihuahua was in fact the Mothman.
So what is the Mothman, really? A monster bent on wreaking destruction on Earth? A supernatural force sent to warn of impending danger? A conflation of various local myths and animal sightings? We may never know for sure, but it’s clear that the fearsome creature is a source of fascination for many, half a century after the first sighting.
Today, Mothman is the focus of an annual festival in Point Pleasant, and a local museum is also dedicated to the “winged weirdie.” As movies and other pop culture bring attention to Mothman and the sightings of him consequently increase, some are less credible than others … but the events in Point Pleasant remain as compelling and mysterious for Mothman believers as ever.