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Exploring American Monsters: West Virginia

West Virginia has always been a rebel. During the American Civil War, fifty counties of the Confederate state Virginia split off to form their own state West Virginia. This was the only state admitted to the Union during the war, and is the only state to have separated from a Confederate state. The Appalachian Mountains make up two-thirds of West Virginia, covering most of its 24,230 square miles in forested peaks and valleys. Bordered by the northern states Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and the southern states Virginia, and Kentucky, West Virginia is simultaneously considered the northernmost Southern state, and the southernmost Northern state. It’s the ninth smallest state and has the twelfth smallest population, but West Virginia is scrappy. The state is known for coal mining and logging, as well as outdoor recreation like white-water rafting, and mountain biking. West Virginia is home to the first Mother’s Day (1908), and the first federal women’s penitentiary (1926). Famous West Virginians include actor Don Knotts, Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager (the man who broke the sound barrier), author Pearl Buck, and Olympic gold medal gymnast Mary Lou Retton. It’s also home to Mothman.

Mothman

A week starting on 12 November 1966 was busy in an area of western West Virginia near the Ohio border. Gravediggers near the small town of Clendenin reported a winged, man-sized creature swooped low over their heads. Three days later, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette of nearby Point Pleasant were parking at the TNT area, a 3,000-acre swatch of forests, wetland and farms that is home to an abandoned World War II munitions factory outside town, when they saw something that would haunt them for years. Their car headlights shown on a tall, black, man-like figure with glowing red eyes. As they sped away from the area, the creature opened wings and flew after them, its wingspan wider than the car. Steve Mallette told the Point Pleasant Register the creature “was like a man with wings. … It wasn’t anything like you’d seen on TV or in a monster movie.”

Over the next year the creature was seen by more than 100 people, including volunteer firefighters, in the area around Point Pleasant. Police and wildlife officials blamed the sightings on a rogue heron or Sandhill crane. Then a dog disappeared, and strange sounds began to come from people’s televisions sets. But when the Silver Bridge, connecting Point Pleasant with Gallipolis, Ohio, collapsed during rush hour on 15 December 1967 killing forty-six people, locals began to blame the Mothman for all their troubles.

A photograph of the alleged Mothman broadcast on WCHS-TV.

Although the most notable sightings occurred in the late 1960s, Mothman (named by a newspaper reporter in the 1960s who was a fan of the cartoonish “Batman” TV series) reports continue today across multiple states and countries. The most recent sighting was a 2016 report by an anonymous man driving on Route 2 in Virginia. A picture the man took was televised by WCHS-TV.

Sheepsquatch

The TNT area isn’t just the stomping ground of a black, man-sized terror. It’s also the home to a white, man-sized terror – the sheepsquatch. This beast is a bipedal creature covered in white wool with a pointed head, a fang-filled mouth, and the horns of a goat. In an interview with Modern Farmer Magazine, Kurt McCoy, author of “White Things: West Virginia’s Weird White Monsters,” said, “The TNT Area itself is just chock full of amazing weirdness.”

The weirdness began in the 1990s when a hunter saw a white, man-like, goat-headed beast break from a line of brush, and stop to drink at a creek. Not noticing the man, it casually rose, and continued through the forest.

That sighting was quickly followed by a family returning from a reunion seeing a tall goat-like creature step from the woods. “The witnesses described it as being seven to eight feet tall, covered in shaggy white hair with legs like a man,” McCoy told Modern Farmer. “And they described the face as looking a bit long like a sheep and having horns like a ram’s.”

That same decade, the monster was seen by children who claimed a white, horned bear on two feet watched them play in their yard, a motorist saw it sitting in a ditch, and campers claim the sheepsquatch threatened them at their campsite in the evening, but wouldn’t approach the fire.

Flatwoods Monster

Not all West Virginia’s monsters come from the TNT area, some come from space.

Three boys saw a bright light streak across the sky on 12 September 1952. When the light landed on a local farm, the children alerted adults who took everyone to see what it was. When the group arrived, they found a ball of “fire” atop a hill surrounded by a mist that irritated their eyes and burned their nostrils. One member of the group shouted, and pointed toward two lights that loomed over the object. Flashlight beams shot toward the lights, and struck a black creature at least seven feet tall with a head the shape of a “sideways diamond.” A cowl shaped like the ace of spaced sat behind the creature’s head; its eyes glowed green. Then the creature hissed, and moved toward the group, which sent them running.

They alerted the sheriff’s department, and the local newspaper. Although deputies and the reporter scoured the area, they found nothing that night. The next morning, however, the reporter discovered prints, and a black liquid at the sight of the alleged encounter.

Reports of encounters began to come in from all over the county, and the creature began to take another form. Witnesses described it as looking more like a mechanical device than a flesh-and-blood monster. Flying saucers, strange odours, and electronic disruptions were common during these sightings. Although the encounters were dynamic, they were brief, and the Flatwoods Monster vanished from West Virginia as quickly as it had come.

Totally not that Ogua.

Ogua

Legend has it a river monster the size of a bear but shaped like a turtle lurks in the Monongahela River in the northern part of West Virginia. Early European settlers to the area said the creature, the two-headed Ogua, lived beneath the river waters by day, but at night would come to the banks to feast on deer, striking the unsuspecting animals with its long, deadly tail, and dragging them into the water to feed.

Early stories tell of encounters with the creature, including the troubles of a family that lived alongside the Monongahela River in the mid-1700s. While fishing, an enormous turtle emerged from the water, and snatched a twelve-year-old boy from the shore. The family searched for the child, but he was never found. Days later, the family was awakened by the sound of a large animal rubbing against their cabin. One of the children dared a look, and saw a huge, dark, turtle-shaped bulk outside the home. The family moved soon after.

Appalachian Black Panther

Black panthers exist. Big cats that are usually spotted, such as jaguars, leopards, and bobcats, can be melanistic. This is when a greater than normal amount of dark pigment makes an animal appear black. The opposite is true in albinism. The bobcat, though, isn’t large enough to account for the puma-sized big cat seen in the mountains of West Virginia, leopards are native to Africa and Asia, and the jaguar is native to Central and South America (once native to the southern states, they are still reported in Texas and New Mexico, however sightings are quite rare). The black cats seen in West Virginia resemble black mountain lions, something our current science says doesn’t exist.

However, black panthers were reported in West Virginia as far back as the first settlers, and were taken seriously by science. An 1843 book by Sir William Jardine, “The Naturalist’s Library, Mammalia, Vol. 1, Cats,” featured a great cat named Felis Nigra – the black puma. The listing included a watercolour drawing of the feline by James Hope Stewart. Two of the beasts were supposedly displayed in London in the 1700s, although there is no record of what happened to the cats.

Although still reported to this day, the Appalachian black panther falls into the realm of cryptozoology.

Stone Man

Every state has its story of Bigfoot. Seriously. Every state except Hawaii. In West Virginia, it’s the legend of the Stone Man.

Early settlers to the area encountered enormous apes that would throw rocks at their camps, and later houses. The local Cherokee Indians called the tall human-like creatures Nun’Yunu’Wi, which means “Stone Man” because no weapon could pierce its skin. Adventurers and later timber men encountered the Stone Man much more often than they would like. Apparently, people still are encountering the Stone Man in West Virginia, to the tune of 100 reports per year.

Like this report investigated by the Bigfoot Field Research Organization.

In 2009, a timer worker was cutting down a tree when he noticed a black figure standing further back in the forest. Although he first through it was a bear standing on its hind legs, the creature raised its left arm to lean against a tree. After a few minutes, it turned and walked into the forest like a man. The timer man saw the creature a year later squatting over a puddle, scooping up water in its hand to drink.

Next up: Wisconsin.