Mothman the scariest thing in West Virginia

... and that's saying something.

Published September 16, 2023

On Nov. 15, 1966, the Point Pleasant Register in Point Pleasant, West Virginia ran an unusual story on its front page. “ “Couples see man-sized bird…creature…something!” the headline read, and the paragraphs that followed described two local couples’ encounter with an oversized being while they were on a late-night drive. 

“It was like a man with wings,” Steve Mallette told the paper. “It wasn’t like anything you’d see on TV or in a monster movie.” Although the four of them had no idea what they’d seen, they all agreed that it was somewhere between six and seven feet tall, had a massive wingspan, and glowing red eyes. They also added that the thing “flew about 100 miles an hour” as it passed their car. 

In the days and weeks that followed, there were dozens of additional sightings — and additional news stories about them. Mary Hyre, a journalist at The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, wrote her first piece about the weird-ass creature (“Winged, Red-Eyed ‘Thing’ Chases Point Couples Across Countryside”) the day after the Register piece, and diligently worked the Moth-beat into the early part of the following year.

The Mothman attracted attention from around the world, and its huge wings and eerie red eyes were supposedly sighted as far away as Russia. But its most chilling potential appearance was on December 15, 1967, when some Point Pleasant residents said they saw it whizzing around the Silver Bridge, which connected the West Virginia town to Gallipolis, Ohio. Shortly after that sighting, the bridge collapsed, killing 46 people. 

That turned the Mothman from a frightening-but-maybe-harmless creature into a straight-up harbinger of doom. “I think probably most people see him as more of a villain, but honestly, he could be both, and in many ways, he is both,” West Virginia storyteller Jason Burns told WBOY. “Because there’s no actual proof that he caused the collapse. He could have just been saying, ‘Hey, it’s going to happen, lookout. I’m on the bridge pointing out the break.’”

The Mothman’s connection to the Silver Bridge disaster was further strengthened by the 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, written by UFOlogist John Keel. (The book was dedicated to journalist Mary Hyre, who died in 1970.) It was later adapted into a film starring Richard Gere and Laura “The Only Kindhearted Person in Love Actually” Linney. 

Fifty-five years later, there’s still no real explanation for the sightings. The Audubon Society has suggested that it could’ve been a large bird, or even a barn owl. And Point Pleasant has leaned hard into its local cryptid: there’s an unnecessarily thicc statue of the Mothman in the city center, and visitors can either spend a couple of hours in the Mothman Museum or an entire weekend at the annual Mothman Festival.  

But you still might want to avoid the back roads at night, you know, just in case.

A version of this story appeared on the news page of Questionist’s parent company, Geeks Who Drink.

Featured image: Tim Bertelink, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

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