Exploring the Legend of the Mothman
Stepping Into the Twilight Zone in Point Pleasant, West Virginia
Story and photos by Matt Bayman
POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. - If there were ever a chance to be part of a real-life "Twilight Zone" episode it would have to be in Point Pleasant, West Virginia - home to the legendary and elusive Mothman.
Although the legend of the Mothman dates back to the late 1960s, the spirit of this fabled creature is alive and well in Point Pleasant - located about 2 hours from Miami County.
The historic city has become a destination for supernatural adventure-seekers, which, as of recent, now includes my wife, Becca, and me.
Located just across the Ohio River on U.S. 35 (about 160 miles away), Point Pleasant has a museum dedicated to the Mothman, a Mothman statue (pictured below) and even an annual Mothman Festival, which takes place in September each year. (Click HERE for information on the festival).
Whether visiting Point Pleasant for the festival, or during a road trip, the experience is entertaining - and completely unique.
For starters, almost everyone you meet in the town's quaint shops and diners has a story to tell about the Mothman - many of which are first-hand accounts. These same folks can point tourists in the direction of other Mothman landmarks, including the TNT plant, which is located in a secluded wildlife refuge north of town.
Point Pleasant sits at the fork of the Ohio and Kahawha rivers, and, even if the Mothman incident had never occurred, it's a great place to visit. Highlights include the historic Tu-Endie-Wei State Park, a gallery of large murals painted along the river, and the Point Pleasant River Museum, among many others points of interest.
But the fact remains, the legend of the Mothman brings more tourists to Point Pleasant than all other attractions. It was certainly the reason my wife and I visited.
As the story goes, on Nov. 15, 1966 at 11:30 p.m., two young married couples were driving south on State Route 62 (north of Point Pleasant and along the Ohio River) when they noticed what appeared to be two red lights near the North Power Plant. (Also called the "TNT facility or plant.")
The couple pulled their vehicle into the TNT plant and got out to take a closer look but were shocked to see a large, bird-like creature standing nearby.
In a police report from the incident, Linda Scarberry, one of the witnesses in the vehicle, described the creature
as being "shaped like a man, but bigger. Maybe 6-and-a-half to 7-feet-tall... it had big wings folded against its back. But it was those eyes that got us. It had two big eyes like automobile reflectors. They were hypnotic. For a minute, we could only stare at it. I couldn't take my eyes off it."
Startled and afraid, the couples got back in their car and sped away; only to be followed by this mysterious creature. According to police reports, the driver traveled at speeds of 100 mph, but, to his surprise, the creature used its wings (reported to be about 6-feet wide) to fly smoothly alongside their car.
Scarberry told police the creature flew with such ease that it "wasn't even flapping its wings."
The next day the couples' story made headlines in the local newspaper - and the legend of the Mothman was born.
That evening several armed townspeople combed the area near the TNT plant for any signs of the "Mothman." (The name had been given to the creature by a Charleston, W.Va. newspaper reporter). Although the armed group didn't find anything out of the ordinary at the TNT plant, a Mr. & Mrs. Raymond Wamsley and Marcella Bennett did.
According to police reports, the Wamsleys and Bennet were driving near the plant when they saw a figure behind a parked vehicle. Mrs. Bennett said the creature "seemed to be lying down, and then slowly rose up from the ground. It was large and gray with glowing red eyes."
Just as the first witnesses had reported, Mr. Wamsley said when he sped away from the TNT plant the creature followed. Upon arriving home, he called the police and reported the incident. As Mr. Wamsley talked to the police dispatcher he reported that the create walked onto the family's porch, peered through the window and then flew off into the night.
For the next three nights there were dozens of Mothman sightings. Some were reported as far away as Charleston, W.Va. (50 miles away). Several sightings were reported to have coincided with strange lights in the sky, as well as animal mutilations and other unusual incidents.
Reports of the Mothman persisted through 1967, and some say, still persist
AT THE MOTHMAN MUSEUM
Reflecting back on the history of the Mothman incident, Jeff Wamsley, owner of the Mothman Museum and a Mothman expert (and no relation to the above-mentioned Wamsley family) told me there were about 100 sightings of the creature reported in 1966 and 1967.
Some sightings, he said, involved UFOs and "Men in Black" - where several townspeople reported being visited by strange men that warned them not to talk about what they'd seen.
"People didn't know if they were military or government, or from another dimension for that matter," Wamsley said from his desk at the museum.
Wamsley said the sightings peaked around Dec. 15, 1967 when the Silver Bridge, which spanned the Ohio River into Point Pleasant from Ohio, collapsed killing 46 people. To this day many townspeople believe the Mothman was a messenger sent to warn the community about the imminent collapse of the bridge. Others believe it had to do with army experiments, or was a natural phenomena, or the result of overactive imaginations or mass hysteria.
Whatever the Mothman was (or is), Wamsley said it is one of the most well-documented supernatural events in history.
"A lot of people saw this thing. It wasn't just two or three people. Something really happened. Whatever it was, it was big enough to scare people - many people," he said.
For Mothman seekers like Becca and myself, the Mothman Museum was a great starting point for our adventure. It contains a massive collection of Mothman materials, including original hand-written statements made by the first witnesses to see it, sketches of the Mothman, photographs and more, plus materials and props from the 2002 movie "Mothman Prophecy," which stars Richard Gere and tells the story of the Mothman incident. It was partially filmed in Point Pleasant and several landmarks in the city are featured in the film and can be visited.
Although Wamsley has written two books on the subject, he said he doubts anyone will ever be able to fully explain what the Mothman creature was. He does, however, have an explanation for the strange lights reported in the sky in 1967.
"People were reporting lights in the sky near the TNT area," Wamsley said. "John Keel (the author and Mothman researcher whose work the 'Mothman Prophecy" film were based on) couldn't keep up with the number of sightings he investigated. There were hundreds, if not thousands of reports."
"What townspeople didn't know at the time was that the Air Force was using the Ohio River to conduct military maneuvers, probably because the river resembled the terrain of Vietnam. If the government was messing with stealth technology at that time, people easily could have mistaken them for UFOs," he said.
THE TNT AREA
After talking with Wamsley and exploring the museum, Becca and I made our way to a coffee shop called The Point Where the Rivers Meet, which has since closed. The coffee shop was known to be a place where Mothman tourists gathered to discuss the legend.
The coffee shop was owned by the late Bob Landrum and located directly next to the steel statue of the Mothman.
Before he retired to open his coffee shop, Landrum had been a truck driver and actually crossed the Silver Bridge in his semi four hours before it collapsed in 1967.
Landrum believed the Mothman never left Point Pleasant and, in fact, was probably in these parts long before the White Man arrived in Appalachia.
"The TNT area was built on top of an Indian burial mound. I think it all ties into that," he said.
For tourists who were interested, Landrum offered maps to the TNT area. It is here, he said, that supernatural activity continues to be reported - and, in some instances, recorded.
On the wall of his coffee shop, Landrum kept photographs of the igloos at the TNT area, which show what he called "light orbs" (alleged to be ghosts) and, in some pictures, the face of the Mothman.
"About everyone I send up there gets orbs in their pictures," he said. "I've had grown men go up there and not be able to stay longer than a couple of minutes."
Is that a dare? I thought.
Using Landrum's map, we drove north along the Ohio River until we reached a desolate side road.
In the early part of the 1900s, this part of West Virginia was set aside by the government as the McClintic Wildlife Preserve (a name it retains today). During World War II, part of the preserve was secretly torn apart to construct hundreds of bomb-proof igloos. These large cement structures were made to be unnoticed from the air.
After parking our car on the side of an eerily quiet road labeled simply "11" (don't worry, you're allowed to be here), we made our way down a dirt path that hugged a very long and narrow pond. About 100 yards in, we found our first "igloo." To reach the igloo, I pushed aside overgrown brush and branches to unveil a massive steel door. It was open and very rusted from age.
Inside, it was dark. And although I like to think I don't scare easily, I found myself taking pictures of the interiors of these igloos very quickly. I would then retreat to the sunlight.
Although I certainly had some strange sensations at the TNT area, I did not capture any photographs of "orbs" - or anything else for that matter. But was very fun.
BACK IN TOWN & A HAUNTED HOTEL
Once back in town, Becca and I were hungry. We decided to eat at the famous Harris Steak House in the historic district, which is not far from the Mothman Museum.
Tragically, the owner of the diner lost her husband and son in the bridge tragedy.
Still, she is eager to help any tourists who come looking for the Mothman. What Becca and I learned at the diner was that the town is also famous for its haunted hotel - the Lowe Hotel, which was built at the turn of the 20th century.
Guests have reported activities in rooms, 314, 311 and 328, including coming face-to-face with the ghost of a lady dressed in white and a river boat captain. Although we didn't stay at the hotel, the legend and stories told to us about it added to our experience.
In the end, our day trip to Point Pleasant was an experience I'll never forget. It was just plain fun - and spooky.
PLAN A TRIP
To plan a trip to Point Pleasant, visit:
Mothman Festival & Mothman Attractions - www.mothmanfestival.com
Mothman Road Trip - (great resource) www.cultofweird.com/paranormal/mothman-roadtrip-point-pleasant/
The Mothman Museum - www.mothmanmuseum.com
If you'd like to stay at the haunted hotel, visit www.thelowehotel.com for reservations.