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Mothman festival commemorates creature's legacy

The Parthenon

Published: Monday, September 16, 2013

Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013 00:09

Mothman festival commemorates creature's legacy

Geoffrey Foster | The Parthenon

A statue of Chief Cornstalk, Shawnee warrior who cursed Point Pleasant, W. Va., stands as part of the town's history and Mothman's legacy.


The Mothman. Many people know the name, but how many know the story? Some might say that the story begins in the '60s, when two couples driving down a dark road encountered a creature that should not exist. Others say it began much earlier than that, before there was even a state called West Virginia.

In the year 1777, Chief Cornstalk, a formidable Shawnee warrior who fought for the land that our forefathers wished to own, grew tired of war. He decided to strike a peace treaty with his adversary, Captain Arbuckle, the commander of the garrison at Fort Randolph, which sat on the land that is now Point Pleasant, W.Va. Cornstalk arrived at the fort with two companions at his side, seeking an audience with the commander. Instead of discussing the prospect of peace, Arbuckle detained the three men.

After several days with no word, Cornstalk's son arrived at the fort and demanded to see his father. Arbuckle ordered the young man be taken prisoner as well.

On Nov. 8, 1777, a group of Arbuckle's men, enraged by the death of their compatriots at the hands of another Native American, redirected their rage at the prisoners. They burst into the room that the four Native Americans occupied and opened fire. It is said that as Chief Cornstalk lay dying, he cursed the region for 200 years. Many people believe that the Mothman was a manifestation of this curse.

One hundred and eighty nine years later, on Nov. 15, 1966, two couples were traveling down Route 60 in the desolate TNT area just outside Point Pleasant. Just before midnight, they saw what appeared to be two red reflectors on the side of the road, possibly affixed to a street sign. However, as the car approached the reflectors, it became apparent that they were actually eyes. The face of the creature was not clear, but it had gray skin, a muscular physique and folded wings on its back. It stood between 6 and 7 feet tall. The driver, Roger Scarberry, sped past the creature, desperate to leave the thing behind. Instead, it opened its wings and took flight. Scarberry stomped the gas, quickly accelerating to 100 mph. The creature followed, matching their speed with apparent ease. During the terrifying pursuit, the creature slammed its body against the roof of their car several times. Then, almost as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. Scarberry drove on. When they came closer to Point Pleasant, almost certain that the creature was gone, they saw it again on a small hill near the road. It seemed to be waiting for them. Its legs were pressed against its chest and its wings were wrapped around its body like a cocoon. As the headlights shone on its face, causing its red eyes to glow, it shot straight up in the air and flew off.

Once they were inside the city limits, the two couples informed the police of the incident. They were the first to report the creature, but they were not the last.

The Mothman had come to Point Pleasant.

Over the next year, eyewitness accounts of the cryptid came in with startling frequency. However, the Mothman sightings were not the only unusual occurrences in the area. During that time, residents reported strange lights hovering over the skies of the city on a regular basis. It happened so often that people would frequently drive to a hill in nearby Gallapolis Ferry to get a better view of the lights.  

Perhaps the strangest phenomenon during that time was the sudden appearance of the men in black. These men would show up at the houses of people who had claimed to see either the Mothman or UFOs. They drove black cars that looked fresh off the showroom floor. They were often described as having high cheekbones and olive colored skin. They apparently spoke with strange accents and tended to exhibit odd behavior. A few of them wore suits that didn’t appear to fit quite right, as if the bodies underneath were misshapen or their suits were poorly tailored. Their visits generally had a single purpose: to warn witnesses to keep quiet about the strange things they had seen.

One woman, a reporter named Mary Hyre, had frequent visits from a number of these men. One of them had “strange eyes” and kept his left hand in his pocket for the entire visit. Another one had abnormally long fingers and a prominent speech impediment. Only one feature among her visitors was consistent: They never blinked their eyes, arguably their most disturbing characteristic. Hyre later told a friend that she felt like she was speaking to aliens disguised as human beings.

Another aspect of the phenomenon, a notion posited by John Keel, author of “The Mothman Prophecies,” was that the creature’s appearance signaled the coming of an impending disaster.  

Precisely thirteen months after the Mothman's first sighting, on Dec. 15, 1967, disaster struck. The Silver Bridge — which crossed the Ohio River between Point Pleasant and Kanagua, Ohio — was crammed full of rush-hour traffic. The bridge’s suspension cables began to snap. Witnesses said that it sounded like a shotgun volley. Moments later, the bridge came crashing down, dumping cars, trucks and 18-wheelers into the river. Rescue teams were dispatched, but there was not enough time to save everybody, resulting in 46 deaths.

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