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Mothman: From ’66 to the ’67 Bridge Collapse

In just a few days from now, it will be fifty years since the Silver Bridge of Point Pleasant, West Virginia crashed into the cold waters of the Ohio River, drowning dozens of people. It’s an event that many researchers and locals have suggested was connected to the presence of the legendary Mothman. There can be few people reading this who have not at least heard of the legendary Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, who so terrorized the town and the surrounding area between November 1966 and December 1967, and whose diabolical exploits were chronicled in John Keel’s 1975 book, The Mothman Prophecies.

A winged monster with red eyes, the Mothman appeared out of nowhere and, some say, provoked high tragedy and death. Others, however, suggest that the Mothman is a creature that warns of tragedy and disaster, rather than being the cause of it. But, what was the Mothman of Point Pleasant? How did the legend start? And, how did it all end? Has it even ended? To answer those questions we have to go back to the dark night of November 12, 1966. That was when five grave-diggers working in a cemetery, in the nearby town of Clendenin, were shocked to see what they described as a “brown human shape with wings” rise out of the thick, surrounding trees and soar off into the distance.

Three days later, the unearthly beast surfaced once again. It was late at night when Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette – two young couples from the area – were passing the time away by cruising around town in the Scarberrys’ car. After a while, the foursome decided to head out to the West Virginia Ordnance Works, which was basically an abandoned explosives factory that had been used to make TNT during the Second World War, and which was situated a few miles north of town in the McClintic Wildlife Management Area.

As they drove around the old area, the four were puzzled to see in the shadows what looked like two red lights pointing in their direction. These were no normal lights, however. Rather, all four were shocked and horrified to discover that, in reality, the “lights” were the red eyes of a huge animal that, as Roger Scarberry would later recall, was “shaped like a Mothman, but bigger, maybe six and a half or seven feet tall, with big wings folded against its back.”

They fled the area at high speed. Unfortunately for the four, however, the beast seemingly decided to follow them. As they sped off for the safety of Point Pleasant, the winged monster took to the skies and shadowed their vehicle’s every movement until it reached the city limits. The four raced to the sheriff’s office and told their astounding story to Deputy Millard Halstead, who later stated that: “I’ve known these kids all their lives. They’d never been in any trouble and they were really scared that night. I took them seriously.” And even though a search of the area by Halstead did not result in an answer to the mystery, the Mothman would soon return.

Early on the morning of November 25, yet another remarkable encounter with the mysterious beast took place, as John Keel noted: “Thomas Ury was driving along Route 62 just north of the TNT area when he noticed a tall, grey manlike figure standing in a field by the road. ‘Suddenly it spread a pair of wings,’ Ury said, ‘and took off straight up, like a helicopter. It veered over my convertible and began going in circles three telephone poles high.’”

Keel reported that Ury quickly hit the accelerator. Nevertheless, Ury added: “It kept flying right over my car even though I was doing about seventy-five.” Over the next few days more sightings surfaced, including that of Ruth Foster of nearby Charleston – who saw the winged monster late at night in her garden, and who said: “It was tall with big red eyes that popped out of its face. My husband is six feet one and this bird looked about the same height or a little shorter, maybe.”

Not surprisingly, the local media had a field day with the story. Tales of what were referred to as the “Bird-Monster” hit the headlines. Both the skeptics and the police ensured that their views and opinions on the matter were widely known. Dr. Robert L. Smith, Associate Professor of Wildlife Biology in the West Virginia University’s Division of Forestry, expressed his firm opinion that Mothman was nothing stranger than a large sandhill crane. This hardly satisfied the witnesses, however. In response to Dr. Smith’s assertion, Thomas Ury said: “I’ve seen big birds, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

As for the local police, they offered stern warnings to any and all would-be monster hunters contemplating seeking out the mysterious creature, as the Herald Dispatch newspaper noted: “Sheriff [George] Johnson said he would arrest anybody caught with a loaded gun in the area after dark [and] warned that the scores of persons searching the abandoned powerhouse in the TNT area after dark risked possible serious injury.”

In the months that followed, further encounters with the bizarre beast were reported; however, they were overshadowed by a tragic event that occurred on December 15, 1967. It was on that day that Point Pleasant’s Silver Bridge, which spanned the Ohio River and connected Point Pleasant to Gallipolis, Ohio, collapsed into the river. Tragically, the disaster claimed forty-six lives. And while a down-to-earth explanation most certainly circulated – namely, that a flaw in a single eye-bar in a suspension chain was the chief culprit – many saw, and still continue to see to this very day, the cause as being directly linked with the ominous and brooding presence of the accursed Mothman. Although there is an assumption that the Mothman was not seen again in Point Pleasant, the fact is that reports still surface; albeit not to the extent that they did back in the sixties.

Finally, for those who want to find out more about Point Pleasant’s Mothman, check out the newly-published book from Loren Coleman, Mothman: Evil Incarnate, which I will be reviewing here at Mysterious Universe in a few days.

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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