Mothman is a moth-like creature apparently witnessed in the Point Pleasant location of West Virginia from 15 November 1966 to 15 December 1967. The first newspaper article was published in the Point Pleasant Register dated 16 November 1966, titled “Couples See Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something”.
Mothman was introduced to a wider audience by Gray Barker in 1970 later popularized by John Keel in his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, claiming that Mothman was related to a wide array of supernatural events in the area and the collapse of the Silver Bridge. The 2002 film The Mothman Prophecies, starring Richard Gere, was based on Keel’s book.
On November 12, 1966, five men who were digging a grave at a cemetery near Clendenin, WV claimed to see a man-like figure fly low from the trees over their heads. This is often identified as the first known sighting of what became known as the Mothman.
Shortly thereafter, 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 white creature whose eyes “glowed red” when the car 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.
During the next few days, other people reported similar sightings. Two volunteer firemen who sighted 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.
Wildlife biologist Dr. 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, and that the bird may have wandered out of its migration route.
There were no Mothman reports in the immediate aftermath of the December 15, 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge and the death of 46 people, giving rise to legends that the Mothman sightings and the bridge collapse were connected.
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 inhabited by teenagers.