Monday, October 7, 2013

Day 6 - The Mothman

     Time for another generally creepy, non-Halloweeny post.

     The Mothman was the central character in a potential cryptozoological/paranormal phenomenon that took place in Point Pleasant, WV from 1967-1968. It was a rather limited event and so the Mothman hadn't reached the same level of fame as, say, Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster but it found some nationwide recognition with the 2002 movie The Mothman Prophecies. That this is the only exposure to the story for most people is unfortunate. I've only watched the movie once, many years ago, but I remember it being very bland. As if some clever movie executive read the book it was based on and said, "Yeah, this is some interesting, eerie stuff, but what if we go another way and change a lot of elements and make it forgettable?"

      While John Keel's book has been deemed a questionable account of events and Keel accused of being an unreliable narrator, it's still a freaky deeky read...and that's what's important for the purposes of this blog. The story begins when some young folks were driving home, probably from Point Pleasant's Makeout Lane, and saw a man size figure with enormous wings and great glowing red eyes. This figure proceeded to take flight and pursue their car for several miles. An unsettling way to end to their evening. For months afterwards, the Mothman made several more horrifying first impressions on various Point Pleasantites. The sightings never accounted to much more than that, a sighting. The Mothman never "spoke" or attacked anyone, content with just showing up to fuel nightmares and hysteria.

     This is the extent of the phenomenon that can be reasonably verified. Keel goes on to report about UFO sightings that happened during this period, mysterious threatening encounters with bizarre "men in black", residents having premonitions...all kinds of kooky stuff. The book's accounts ultimately culminating with the tragic collapse of the Silver Bridge, the takeaway being that in the end perhaps the Mothman was a harbinger of doom.
    Or maybe the bridge disaster was a horrible, perfectly natural mechanical failure, and adding all that creepy filler and tying everything together with the Mothman as the backbone just makes for a better selling book. The most likely case. The book is, at best, filled with embellishments but its written with juuuust enough sincerity and with the format of a reporter coming to a small town and interviewing simple folks who are scared and don't have much to gain, that if you're in the right frame of mind its easy to get caught up in the craziness and enjoy the ride.

     Besides the local connection, growing up in WV it was neat to read about "our own personal bigfoot", what makes the Mothman stick in my brain is the lasting mystery. There are theories, most prevalent that a few people saw a sandhill crane and many others a barn owl or some other perfectly normal thing and panicked and succumbed to group hysteria. But we'll never really know what happened. The whole ordeal, if you count the collapse of the Silver Bridge as the nice convenient cap to the tale, only lasted about a year and there is nothing to look into besides eyewitness reports. There's no cellphone video, no photographs. There haven't been continual sightings for decades as there have been for Bigfoot or UFOs. It's remained an isolated event and the character has therefore not been neutered by years of scrutiny and permeation into pop culture. There's not been a Harry and the Hendersons type Mothman movie, Mothman doesn't get teased with beef jerky in commercials, there's no asinine reality show called "Finding Mothman".    
     Okay, there is a Mothman festival every year in Point Pleasant, its legacy is almost untarnished by sanitizing and commercialization.

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