Ever taken a road-trip to somewhere that, almost immediately, creates an atmosphere of absolute menace, but adventure, too? Today, I'm going to share with you an example of how that can happen. I'm going to focus on nothing less than the lair of the Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. 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 Hollywood movie starring Richard Gere: The Mothman Prophecies, so named after the book of the same title written by Mothman authority John Keel. A devil-like, 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.” 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.” Needless to say, the local media had a field day with the story. Tales of what were referred to as the “Bird-Monster” hit the headlines; while 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 weeks and 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 (so named after its aluminum paint) that spanned the Ohio River and connected Point Pleasant to Gallipolis, Ohio, collapsed into the river, tragically claiming forty-six lives. Interestingly, after the disaster at the Silver Bridge, encounters with the Mothman largely came to a grinding halt. And 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. Now, with the Mothman story told - to a degree - it's time to take a look at that highly atmospheric area that puts chills in people. You're about to come to it.
It was the night of September 16, 2016. And we were deep in the darkness. There were about twenty of us there, including Mothman experts John Frick and Tim Frick, who I first met at the September 2014 Mothman gig. Not only do the Frick brothers know just about all of the Mothman intricacies inside out, but they also know the town itself very well, and particularly so the many and varied landmarks which are linked to the story of the famous, winged monster. To the extent that later that night, and around 8:00 p.m., they took us – along with other friends – to the old, so-called “TNT area,” that played such an integral role in the Mothman saga and that of the MIB, too. A large convoy of vehicles followed Tim and John, as we traveled along small, winding, tree-shrouded, roads to the scene of the old and eerie action. No surprise, there was an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation in the increasingly chilly air.
For those who may not know, the TNT area’s official title is the McClintic Wildlife Management Area. It’s situated around five miles north of the town of Point Pleasant and runs to more than 3,500 acres. At the height of the Second World War, a TNT processing plant was established in the area, with the volatile chemicals used to create it stored in a series of concrete, igloo-like buildings. It was the work of around 3,500 U.S. Army personnel and, at the time, was known as the West Virginia Ordnance Works. Today, the plant is no more. The only things left now are the crumbling foundations and a couple of sturdy, metal, perimeter-gates and a rusted metal fence. During daylight, it’s an inviting and picturesque area, filled with densely-packed trees, a plethora of wildlife – such as deer, raccoons and beavers – and numerous ponds, pools and small lakes. After dark, however, things are very different. The atmosphere of menace, that was so present back in the sixties, is still there – utterly refusing to relinquish its icy grip on the people of Point Pleasant.
Having checked out what was left of the old plant, we all followed John and Tim to a specific stretch of heavily wooded ground, parked our vehicles, and were given an excellent and atmospheric tour of the igloos and their surroundings. I have to say the whole thing reminded me of something straight out of The Walking Dead: a ruined, overgrown environment, a once bustling area now utterly dead and abandoned, and an almost apocalyptic air that one could practically cut with a knife. The military was nowhere in sight, and the igloos were decaying, covered in foliage, and splattered with graffiti, both old and new. Me and good friend Denise Rector broke off from the main group and checked out some of the igloos, that was a profoundly memorable experience: the size and shape of the igloos causes a person’s voice to echo loudly and very oddly within their dark confines. Plus, we felt a deep sense of malignancy in the old buildings – a sense which was as immediate as it was long-lasting. You could almost taste the menace, if such a thing were possible.
Notably, there was some evidence that supernatural rites and rituals had been undertaken in some of the igloos. I found that most intriguing. It was near these very same igloos that so many of the Mothman sightings occurred in 1966 and 1967 – involving, it should be noted, witnesses who soon found themselves in the cold clutches of the Men in Black. Denise and I walked around, in near-darkness, for a couple of hours, with little more than the bright Moon for illumination, taking in the atmosphere and imagining what it must have been like here fifty years earlier. A few scurrying animals and the cries of a handful of geese flying overhead were pretty much the only things that convinced us we hadn’t entered some strange portal – a doorway to an unsettling, dead world. After a while, we caught up with the rest of the gang. We hit the darkness-filled roads and headed back to our motels. It had been a cool night of high-strangeness. And an eerie adventure, too.