Uncovering The West Virginia Mothman And The Events That Actually Happened There In The ’60s
Just A Normal Night
Four gravediggers were hard at work one November night in Clendenin, West Virginia when things got… a little weird.
Overhead, they saw what they later claimed to be a brown man with massive wings hopping from treetop to treetop. It was the 1960s in West Virginia. That night, a legend was born.
Only The Beginning
The gravediggers’ massive humanoid monster (that definitely wasn’t a substance-induced hallucination) was the first of many sightings. The creature was given the name “Mothman.”
Despite its incredibly lame name, the creature went on to cause mass hysteria over the next couple of years, with sightings popping up as far west as Chicago. We think the mass proliferation of LSD had something to do with it but we’ll probably never find out.
The next report of this Mothman came from nearby Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Four people were sitting in their car when a large white-winged man flew into the beams of their headlights.
As you may have noted, this Mothman is a different color from the first one. Maybe it was the light or maybe it was because the story is like one big game of telephone. We’ll never know.
That's Not How Moths Work
Next, the four witnesses went on to claim that the seven- to eight-foot tall Mothman had large glowing red eyes that were about six inches apart and a wingspan nearing 10 feet. Either the witness was a great guesser or they got out and measured the creature.
They also claimed that it seemed keen on avoiding the bright headlights, likening it to a moth, even though that’s the opposite of what moths do.
In addition to oddly specific measurements, the witnesses were also able to offer information on how Mothman moved. They said they drove away from the scene, but the monster chased them, flying at speeds over 100 miles per hour.
West Virginia law enforcement apparently saw no need to ask the followup questions that are no doubt screaming in your head. But the report included other key details, like how the Mothman was apparently a clumsy runner, according to witnesses.
With A Little Help From His Friends
Realizing how stupid the story probably sounded to sane people, the man from the second encounter admitted: “If I had seen it while by myself I wouldn’t have said anything, but there were four of us who saw it.”
Hiding behind his buddies as an alibi for his sanity, the man had nothing more to say about Mothman or his misconceptions about moths.
Over the next few days, a growing number of reports rolled in to various publications. People all over the Point Pleasant area claimed to have seen large birdlike creatures with red eyes, including a couple of first responders.
Spreading as all mass hysterias do, the number of accounts of this mythical terror grew.
A Monstrous Reputation
The one story about Mothman that likely gave the beast its fearsome reputation involved a Salem, West Virginia resident and his dog. Newell Partridge had no idea what kind of legendary excitement he was in for that evening. No amount of mind-altering substances could have made his experiences any more bizarre.
Your Average Evening
Partridge’s evening started out presumably like any other. Get home, have a beer, eat a microwave dinner or something, and then sit down in front of the TV. He would soon realize that something wasn’t right.
The first thing that tipped him off was when his TV started making weird noises.
Just Hit It A Few Times
Anyone who remembers TV sets from before the digital takeover knows just how unreliable those things can be. Presumably, giving the set a few good whacks didn’t fix it. Next, he heard a strange sound outside.
He grabbed a flashlight (and possibly a shotgun, we don’t know) and took a look out the window.
Horror Of Horrors
What he saw standing in his yard was none other than the infamous Mothman. The beast, as Partridge described it, had glowing red eyes like bicycle reflectors. After that, there’s a gap in the story until the next morning.
Partridge might have fainted from shock and conveniently left that bit out.
The next morning, when the story resumes, Partridge mentioned the disappearance of his dog. He doesn’t mention whether or not the dog had been tied out on a lead or if it had been roaming in the yard.
He claimed that the Mothman took his furry friend, though the story is ambiguous about whether or not the dog was ever found.
The legend mostly stayed within the bounds of West Virginia, but a few isolated accounts cropped up as far south as Georgia and as far west as Chicago.
Sightings began escalating to the point where people were blaming industrial disasters on the monster, prompting logical folks to respond with their analyses of the Mothman.
Some critics say that the Mothman was little more than a dedicated prankster who dressed in costume and hid in a nearby WWII munitions plant. As amusing as this idea is, chances of it actually being the case are pretty slim (unless this prankster also knew how to fly).
Most professionals have a more reasonable explanation for the mysterious beast.
Caw Caw! Caw Caw!
Most professionals agree that the legendary Mothman was little more than a flock of sandhill cranes that had strayed from their migration path. Normally, the human-sized birds would pass just west of West Virginia, but straying a couple hundred miles east wouldn’t be unheard of. From size to coloration, they fit the bill perfectly.
It's The Thought That Counts
Even if the Mothman was just a flock of modern pterodactyls, it’s the spirit of the infestation that made a lasting impression in West Virginian communities. Annual festivals are held to celebrate the myth of Mothman, and they’re serious about it.
There’s an official website for the celebration, a museum, a statue, and everything!
Up Close And Personal
Out of all the interpretations and renditions, Fallout 76‘s has got to be the most in-depth. You can visit the Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, hunt the beast in the wilds of Appalachia, and visit the Mothman museum (if you can pick the lock, anyway).
The game makes it easy for anyone to get up close and personal with the legend.
Most notably of all recent releases, the Mothman is right at home in Bethesda’s newest online game, Fallout 76, which takes place in West Virginia. The beast is one of several Appalachian cryptids wandering the game, with many opportunities for a random encounter.
There’s even a quest where you can specifically summon a docile version of the beast and pose for pictures.
If online games (or specifically Bethesda and their glorious, glorious physics glitches) aren’t your thing, consider heading to Point Pleasant in real life and taking part in their annual Mothman Festival.
The 2019 festival is taking place on September 21, so you still have plenty of time to book your tickets and get a cosplay ready.
A Whole New World
If you’re from a different part of the country, consider looking into the folklore and myths native to your area. Across the U.S. alone, you can find tales of everything from lake monsters to massive humanoids to horrifying tales of shapeshifters that can run faster than speeding vehicles.
Yeah, we uh, don’t like to talk about those. They can smell fear.
Weird And Wonderful
If you do decide to attend the festival, you can expect to find people in costume, vendors, activities, and music. It’s family-friendly fun, so you can bring your kids and not have to worry. Well, except maybe about the nightmares.
Mothman was kind of known for being a town terror, so you be the judge of how family-friendly it really is.
If you’ve never seen a sandhill crane, don’t let the cute pictures on the internet fool you. The birds stand around four to five feet tall, have at least a five-foot wingspan, and aren’t afraid to challenge alligators.
The “glowing red eyes” were likely the scarlet rings of flesh around their eyes. Being surprised by one in the middle of the night would be enough to make anyone wet their pants a little.
Viral Story Telling To Blame?
As for how the stories spread all the way up to the Great Lakes, you have the power of suggestion to thank for that. Psychologists studying the phenomenon attributed it to a combination of things.
It turns out, the human mind isn’t terribly creative when it comes to inventing “new” terrors, as social media taught us.
A Little Paranoia Goes A Long... Long Way
Anyone willing to believe in the existence of something like Mothman is likely to “see” the creature in mundane things (like giant birds). The beast’s demonic appearance pulls many elements from common folklore and nightmares.
Glowing red eyes, shadowy appearance, and incredible speed are all shared traits with other things that go bump in the night.
Bird of Mighty Terror
Between the surprisingly terrifying silhouette of a sandhill crane in a defensive stance and the chaos brewed by the human subconscious, it’s easy to see how Mothman came about.
Despite the chaos caused by the creature’s appearance back in the late 60s, people today seem to find it rather endearing.
Aside from the sandhill crane theory, some debunkers proposed that people might have been seeing large owls. Their eyes certainly would reflect a staggering amount of light, but unless people were seeing shadows, there are no known species that are human-sized.
If there were, we probably wouldn’t be here to read and write articles about them.
Well, What Is It?
No one was ever able to confirm (or deny) what exactly the Mothman was, so the best we can do is speculate. Maybe it was some dude in a costume or a horrifyingly large owl instead of a simple alligator-fighting monster bird.
Whatever the Mothman was (or is), the legacy it left behind from its brief appearance in the 60s is nothing to shake a flashlight at.
The Coolest Thing
More impressive than the legend itself is how its popularity has spread throughout our culture and media over the years. Books about Mothman have been in circulation since around the time of the legend’s inception.
TV shows and movies have made use of the animal as a bizarre cryptid worthy of professional trackers’ time.
An Atomic Sensation
More recently, video games have incorporated the Appalachian mystery into their bestiaries. Metroid, Castlevania, and Shin Megami Tensei have featured Mothman as a minor character.
In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the Mothman is said to lurk out in the desert as a fun easter egg for more intrepid players.
Fact Or Fiction
Whether or not you choose to believe in the Mothman and other cryptids, you can always appreciate the legends for what they are and what they teach us. In stressful situations, people are impressionable. If enough people believe in something, it can spread like wildfire.
But just for the record, when you hear a loud banging on your roof or see a giant flying monster overhead, it’s probably a crane.