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The Mothman Mysteries

image It's hard to pin down exactly when the legend of Mothman begins

Every part of the U.S. has its local monster. The Pacific Northwest has its famous Bigfoot. The Jersey Devil prowls the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

In the depths of Vermont's Lake Champlain lurks a serpentine creature called Champ. And West Virginia is stalked by a creature known only as Mothman.

The best documented sighting was on November 15, 1966, but there were several alleged sightings before that going back to the early 1960s, with West Virginians claiming to have seen something that resembled "an angel," or at least a winged human being. On November 12, 1966, five gravediggers working near Clendenin, West Virginia, said they had seen "a brown human being" flying above the trees for over a minute before it went out of sight.

A few days later, on November 15, two couples, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette, were driving past an abandoned World War II explosives plant just north of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, when they noticed two red lights in the shadows of the buildings. Approaching, they discovered that the lights were the eyes, "like automobile reflectors" as Linda Scarberry later described them, of a huge creature. Roger Scarberry said that it was "shaped like a man, but bigger.... maybe six and a half or seven feet tall. And it had big wings folded against its back." Roger Scarberry, who was driving, panicked and drove away at "over 100 miles an hour," but the creature unfolded its wings and flew after them, matching their speed without apparent effort, making a squeaking sound "like a big mouse," according to Mary Mallette. However, it finally abandoned the chase, and the couples drove into town and told their story to deputy sheriff Millard Halstead, who returned with them to the site but found nothing. They did notice that a dead dog by the side of the road, which they had noticed during the escape, had disappeared by the time of their return.

The next night, several townspeople searched the area around the plant for signs of the creature, which had been dubbed "Mothman" by the local press, but found nothing. However, the same night, Ralph Thomas and his wife, who lived near the explosives plant, were entertaining guests when they saw a "big gray thing" with "terrible, glowing red eyes" rise up from the ground. Raymond Wamsley, one of the guests, called the police while the creature walked onto the porch of the Thomas home and peered through the window. Mrs. Marcella Bennett, another one of the visitors, said it made a sound like "a woman screaming."

After that, sightings came frequently through the rest of 1966 into 1967. Mothman was seen standing, taking off, or flying. It occasionally was reported to chase cars. Accounts regularly mentioned its glowing red eyes and the high-pitched noises it made. A rash of paranormal phenomena was also reported in the area, including UFO sightings, mysteriously mutilated animals, "Men in Black," and poltergeist activity.

Mothman's appearances came less and less often as 1967 went on. On December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge, which crossed the Ohio River, collapsed during rush hour, killing 46. After that, Mothman was seen only rarely, although sightings are still occasionally reported in the area. Naturally, there are rumors that Mothman had something to do with the collapse, but these have never been substantiated.

The mystery of who, or what, Mothman is has never been solved. John A. Keel, a paranormal investigator, wrote the best-known book on the subject, The Mothman Prophecies, in which he argued for a supernatural explanation, connecting Mothman with other unexplained events in the area. Others dismiss Mothman as a hoax, or a misidentified large bird, or a case of mass hysteria. Whatever it really is, a statue of Mothman now stands in Point Pleasant, and the area hosts a Mothman Festival every September.