Few people reading this will not have not heard of the Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. It terrorized the small city and the surrounding areas between November 1966 and December 1967. Its diabolical exploits were chronicled in the 2002 hit Hollywood movie starring Richard Gere: The Mothman Prophecies, named after the 1975 book of the same title written by Mothman authority John Keel. A devil-like, winged monster with red eyes, Mothman appeared quite literally out of nowhere and, some say, culminated in high tragedy and death. But how did the legend begin? To answer those questions we have to go back to the dark night of November 12, 1966, 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 at the highly appropriate time of the witching-hour when Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette – two young, married couples from Point Pleasant - were passing the time away by cruising around town in the Scarberrys’ car. As they drove around the old factory, 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.”
Not surprisingly, they fled the area at high speed. Unfortunately for the Scarberry’s and the Mallette’s, 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.” The mystery of Mothman had well and truly begun. It still dominates Point Pleasant to this day.
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 (so named after its aluminum paint) that spanned the Ohio River and connected Point Pleasant to Gallipolis, Ohio, collapsed into the river. It tragically claimed forty-six lives. While a down-to-earth explanation most certainly circulated – namely, that a fatal 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.
In speaking with a group of friends and colleagues recently on the matter of the collapse of the bridge, I was very surprised at just how few people were aware that John Keel himself had a terrible prophecy concerning Point Pleasant. We know this, as Keel's own correspondence on the matter still exists. On November 3, 1967, Keel typed a letter to a woman named Mary Hyre; the pair were good friends. As The Demoniacal notes: "Mary Hyre was the Point Pleasant, WV, correspondent for the Athens, OH, newspaper titled, The Messenger. Hyre documented strange occurrences happening in Point Pleasant in 1966-1967 and was well loved by locals due to her professional and open-minded take on the subjects. In one weekend alone, Hyre received 500 reports of UFO sightings from locals. Hyre's fascination with flying saucers stemmed from her own sighting of a UFO which she claimed flew over her backyard."
As for that letter Keel sent to Hyre, it included the following words, which were typed around six weeks before the bridge collapse: "Mary, I have good reasons for suspecting that [there] may soon be a disaster in the Pt. Pleasant area which will not seem to be related to the UFO mystery. A plant along the river may either blow up or burn down. Possibly the Navy installation in Pt. Pleasant will be the center of such a disaster. A lot of people may be hurt. If this should happen, notify me as soon as you can, and write the story normally. Don't even hint to anybody anything about this."
Of course, the Navy installation was not the "center of such a disaster." And, a plant did not blow up or burn down. But, it's eerie to note that Keel was clearly very unsettled by thoughts of a then-looming catastrophe in Point Pleasant. One and a half months after writing to Mary, there was a terrible catastrophe.