A Terrifying CreatureMothman is possibly the weirdest creature ever to grace (or terrify) the UFO era. Though this winged monstrosity only rarely has been linked directly with UFOs, its most celebrated manifestations-the ones that gave it its name-coincided with a series of UFO reports and other strange events (including men in black visitations) in the Ohio River Valley in 1966 and 1967.
Late on the evening of November 15, 1966, as they drove past an abandoned TNT plant near Point Pleasant, West Virginia, two young married couples spotted two large eyes, two inches wide and six inches apart, attached to something that "was shaped like a man, but bigger. Maybe six or seven feet tall. And it had big wings folded against its back." The eyes were "hypnotic," the witnesses agreed. When it started to move, heading toward the plant door, the four panicked and sped away. In short order they saw the same or a similar creature on a hillside near the road. It spread its batlike wings, rose into the air, and followed the car, which by now was doing 100 mph.
"That bird kept right up with us," Roger Scarberry, one of the group, said to investigator John A. Keel. "It wasn't even flapping its wings." The witnesses told Deputy Sheriff Millard Halstead it made a sound like a "record played at high speed or the squeak of a mouse." It followed them on Highway 62 right to the Point Pleasant city limits.
The two couples were not the only persons to see the creature that night. Another group of four claimed to have seen it not once but three times. A third report is of particular interest.
At 10:30 on the evening of the fifteenth, Newell Partridge, a building contractor who lived outside Salem, West Virginia (approximately 90 miles northeast of Point Pleasant), was watching television when suddenly the screen blanked out, a "fine herringbone pattern appeared on the tube, and at the same time the set started a loud whining noise, winding up to a high pitch, peaking and breaking off, as if you were on a musical scale and you went as high as you could and came back down and repeated it.... It sounded like a generator winding up." The Partridges' dog Bandit began to howl on the porch, continuing even after they turned the set off.
Partridge stepped outside, where he saw Bandit facing toward the hay barn 150 yards away. "I shined the light in that direction," Partridge said in an interview with West Virginia writer Gray Barker, "and it picked up two red circles, or eyes, which looked like bicycle reflectors," but apparently much larger. Something about the sight deeply frightened him. They were not, he was certain, an animal's eyes.
Snarling, Bandit, an experienced hunting dog, shot off toward the figure. Partridge called to him to stop, but the dog paid no heed. At this point Partridge went inside to get a gun but then decided not to go outside again. He slept that night with the weapon by his side. By morning he realized Bandit had disappeared, and the dog had not shown up two days later when Partridge read a newspaper report of the Point Pleasant sightings.
One detail in particular struck him: Roger Scarberry's statement that as they entered Point Pleasant's city limits, the two couples had seen the body of a big dog by the side of the road. A few minutes later, on their way back out of town, the dog was gone. They and Deputy Halstead, who was following them in a separate car, had even stopped to look for the body. Partridge immediately thought of Bandit, who was never to be seen again. All that remained of him were his prints in the mud. "Those tracks were going in a circle, as if that dog had been chasing his tail-though he never did that," his master recalled. "There were no other tracks of any kind."
In another interesting point of correspondence between Partridge's experience and that of the Point Pleasant witnesses, Deputy Halstead experienced peculiar interference on his police radio when he visited the TNT area. It was loud and sounded something like a record or tape played at high speed, He finally had to turn the radio off.
The next day, after a press conference called by Sheriff George Johnson, the story hit the press wires. A reporter immediately dubbed the creature "Mothman" after a villain on the Bati?iaiz television series.
From that time to November 1967 a number of other sightings occurred. On the evening of November 16, 1966, for example, three adults, one carrying an infant, were walking back to their car after calling on friends. Suddenly something rose slowly up from the ground. One witness, Marcella Bennett, was so frightened that she dropped her baby. A "big gray thing, bigger than a man," it had no discernible head, but it did have two large glowing red circles at the top of its trunk. As huge wings unfolded from behind it, Raymond Wamsley snatched up the child and ushered the two women inside the house they had just left. The creature apparently followed them to the porch because they could hear sounds there and, worse, see its eyes peering through the window. By the time the police arrived, it was gone. Mrs. Bennett was traumatized for weeks afterwards and, like other Mothman witnesses, eventually sought medical attention.
Keel, the major chronicler of the Mothman episode, wrote that at least 100 persons saw the creature; from their accounts, he compiled a composite description. According to the reports, it stood between five and seven feet tall, was broader than a man, and walked in a halting, shuffling manner on humanlike legs. It emitted a squeaky sound. The eyes, which Keel said "seemed to have been more terrifying than the tremendous size of the creature," were set near the top of the shoulders; its wings were batlike but did not flap when it flew. It typically ascended, as one observer put it, "straight up, like a helicopter." Witnesses described its skin color as gray or brown. Two observers said they heard a mechanical humming as it flew above them.
After 1967 Mothman faded back into the twilight zone-only one subsequent report, from Elma, New York, in October 1974, is known-but Keel found a West Virginia woman who said she had encountered it on a highway one evening in 1961 at the edge of Chief Cornstalk Hunting Grounds on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River. She told Keel that "it was much larger than a man. A big gray figure. It stood in the middle of the road. Then a pair of wings unfolded from its back, and they practically filled thew hole road. It almost looked like a small airplane. Then it took off straight up ... disappearing out of sight in seconds."
Big bird?Whatever it may or may not have been, Mothman was no hoax, in the unanimous opinion of those who investigated the sightings. The most publicized conventional explanation came from West Virginia University biologist Robert Smith, who suggested the witnesses had seen sandhill cranes. Such cranes are not native to Ohio or West Virginia, but theoretically some could have migrated down from the plains of Canada. On November 26,1966, a small group of people near Lowell, Ohio (70 miles north of Point Pleasant), reported seeing a group of oversized birds in some trees. When approached, the birds flew away and settled on a nearby ridge. From the descriptions (four or five feet tall, with long necks, six-inch bills, and a "reddish cast" in the head area) these are, arguably, sandhill cranes, but they bear no resemblance to what the Mothman witnesses say they observed. All of them, in fact, rejected the sandhill crane identification.
On the other hand, Keel suspects that in a tiny minority of cases excitable observers, spooked by the stories they had heard, may have mistaken owls encountered briefly on dark country roads for something more extraordinary. Even so, Mothman, the most improbable of beasts, resists easy accounting. Unlike some other monsters this one has much going for it, most notably an impressive number of multiple-witness sightings by individuals whom investigators and police officers deemed reliable. Any "rational" explanation for Mothman must first disregard all the testimony as wildly in error. Only a radical revision of the witnesses' descriptions can transform Mothman into a respectable inhabitant of the consensus universe.
A Mothman abroadMothman's one known appearance outside Ohio and West Virginia was in England, along a rural road near Sandling Park, Hythe, Kent, on November 16, 1963. Four young people allegedly saw a "star" ascend from the night sky and disappear behind trees not far from them. Frightened, they took to their heels but stopped soon afterwards to watch a golden, oval-shaped light floating a few feet above a field 80 yards from them. The UFO moved into the wooded area and was lost to view.
Suddenly the witnesses saw a dark shape shambling toward them from across the field. It was black, human-sized, and headless, and it had wings that looked like a bat's. At this juncture the four chose not to linger further at the scene.
Other persons sighted a similar UFO over the next few nights. On the twenty-third, two men who had come to investigate found a "vast expanse of bracken that had been flattened." They also claimed to have seen three huge footprints, two feet long and nine inches wide, pressed an inch deep in the soil.