Bring up the matter of Mothman and most people will think of John Keel’s classic 1975 book on the subject: The Mothman Prophecies. Five years earlier, however, there was Gray Barker’s book, The Silver Bridge. The two books, however, are very different in many ways. Before I get to the books, here’s a bit of background on the saga of 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 the 2002 hit Hollywood movie starring Richard Gere: The Mothman Prophecies, so named after the book of the same title written by Mothman authority John Keel. A winged monster with glowing, red eyes, Mothman’s appearance came quite literally out of nowhere and, some say, culminated in high tragedy and death. But what was the Mothman of Point Pleasant? And 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 glowing, self-illuminating 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.” Even though a search of the area by Halstead did not result in an answer to the mystery, the Mothman would soon return. And for those who haven’t read either The Silver Bridge or The Mothman Prophecies, I won’t reveal the rest of the story. Rather, I’m focusing on the authors of those books, the aforementioned Gray Barker and John Keel.
There’s no doubt that Gray Barker was a skilled writer, someone who wrote in an atmospheric style. There is, however, a problem with the Barker book. And the problem began in the early 1950s. That was when Barker really began to get into the UFO scene, writing articles and features on the subject. A look at Barker’s early writings show that he took a definitive, journalistic fashion; there’s no doubt about that. For example, his 1956 book, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, was – for a book on nothing less than the Men in Black – quite sober. In that book, there was nothing about the weirder side of the MIB mystery – such as those clearly non-human figures that prowled around Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the late 1960s and that Brad Steiger got his claws into. Rather, the MIB in Barker’s book were portrayed as nothing more than government agents. As time and Ufology progressed, however, Barker’s writings began to change. We could say that he decided to take a “Gonzo” approach to his writing. The time, however, came when Barker’s Gonzo style was replaced by outright lies. In other words, he totally crossed the line and in the worst way possible. And that is clearly reflected in the pages of The Silver Bridge.
I have to admit that Barker’s book reads very well. It’s a definitive page-turner; a book filled with intrigue, mystery, and a constant air of menace and suspense. And Barker handles that skillfully. But, we cannot (and we should not) forget how Barker chose to distort his writing to the point where trying to figure out the fact from the fiction (and from the downright lies) was not easy. It still isn’t. For that reason alone, The Silver Bridge will forever be a flawed book, even though Barker interviewed some of the very same people for his book that Keel did for The Mothman Prophecies. And, on the matter of the Keel book, well, that too is problematic. Not, of course, because of any faked material: Keel stuck to the facts. But, because of the jumping around that creates a somewhat chaotic approach. Keel’s book runs to more than 250 pages, but it could easily have been trimmed down to around 200 pages. Indeed, at times Keel jumps around, here and there, and giving the reader (this reader, at least) a sense of the author adding a fair amount of filler to his story.
Both books – The Mothman Prophecies and The Silver Bridge – have their flaws (Barker ‘s words cannot be accepted as the gospel truth due to his decision to go down paths filled with lies; and Keel goes off-course on more than a few times). If, however, you’re new to the world of Mothman, then I recommend you read both books. You can learn a lot about not just the Mothman mystery, but about the authors, too.