In the world of cryptids, there are a few names that have enough notoriety behind them to gain international awareness. Bigfoot, Nessie and Chupacabra have all risen to fame over the past few hundred years, but even they cannot compare to The Mothman.
One sighting in 1966 was all it took to capture the imagination of people around the world. Other sightings would be reported later, but that initial sighting was the stand-out. Almost 60 years later, no one knows for sure what was seen on that cold, November, night, but the story is engrained in the very fabric of the town that calls The Mothman theirs.
Before we can talk about The Mothman though, we need to uncover the history of the place he was first seen, the TNT area.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This one action would pull the United States into World War II and set into motion a series of events that would lead to what would eventually happen on November 15, 1966. You see, as part of the war effort, the United States government would enlist private companies to help make things like vehicles, arms and ammunition to provide as much support as possible to the troops and allies. One of the companies they enlisted was the E.B. Badger Construction Co. out of Boston, Massachusetts. They were contracted to build several sites, including a project in Point Pleasant, West Virginia that would be led by J.D. Kirkland from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The Point Pleasant site would be known as the West Virginia Ordinance Works and would be tasked primarily with making TNT for the war effort. It would officially open in September of 1943 and would operate until August 15, 1945, the day Japan surrendered to the United States and the Allies, ostensibly ending World War II. Over the time it was operational, the facility would produce approximately 720,000 tons of TNT per day.
Following the end of the war, the plant would be slowly decommissioned, until it was completely shut down in November of 1949. Left behind would be the underground domes used to store the TNT and the tanks and lines used to store and drain the yellow and red wastewater that was created in the process of making the TNT. Though they were hazardous, the government determined the tanks and lines posed no threat to the local area. This would prove to be incorrect as the lines would leak over time, leading to a massive cleanup effort in the 1980's.
The McClintic Wildlife area today is a beautiful location with plenty of wildlife and a wide variety of plants.
The land that hosted the facility would be divided up between several parties over the years following the closure, with the Conservation Commission of West Virginia winding up with about 2400 acres that would become part of the 3655-acre McClintic Wildlife Management Area. Over the years, this would become a place that locals would hang out, dubbing it the "TNT area" and enjoying the location as a place to hunt, fish, hike, drag race and many other activities.
It was among those "other activities" that the story of The Mothman would begin.
Two young, married couples, Steve and Mary Mallett and Roger and Linda Scarberry, were out in the TNT area late on November 15, 1966, enjoying the night air and riding around. The night was going great, until they approached the old power plant. As they came over the hill just in front of the decommissioned power station, the group would spot something odd in the road. It was only in the headlights for a split second, but it looked like a man with wings and big, red eyes. Before they could even process the situation, the thing began moving toward the edge of the building. According to the later testimony from Linda Scarberry, "It didn't run but wobbled like it couldn't keep its balance. Its wings were spread just a little.".
The written statement of Linda Scarberry from a few days after the encounter in 1966
Roger, who was driving the car, didn't wait around to see if the creature came back. He hit the gas and started heading for US Route 62 and the relative safety of Point Pleasant. As they sped down the road, they would spot the thing again, this time it was hanging out on a hill along route 62. They would report that it would take off into the sky like a helicopter when the headlights shone upon it, and would proceed to chase them as they sped along the road at speeds reaching up to 100 MPH. It would back off briefly as they approached the lights of a small resort just outside of town, but it would come right back as soon as they passed the resort.
They would be chased the rest of the way back to town, with the creature only relenting when the vehicle approached the lights of the farm of C.C. Lewis. The couples would make it back into town, stopping when they reached the well-lit parking lot of Dairyland. Still not sure what they had seen, the teens would spend a few minutes regaining their composure and discussing what to do. Linda proposed going to the police, but Roger and Steve were against this idea, saying they would only be laughed at. Ultimately, the group decided to head back out to the C.C. Lewis farm area and see if the thing was still there.
Arriving at the gate to the farm, everything seemed quiet.
Assuming that the creature had left the area, Roger began turning the car around. As the headlights fell on the road back to town, the group saw what appeared to be a dead animal laying along the road. Before they could process this sight, something came running out from behind a nearby tree and jumped over the back of the car. Roger stepped on the gas and bolted back to town, this time going to Tiny's Drive-In where they would find the familiar face of a man named Gary.
Gary was in the process of taking a couple of boys home when the couples drove up and told him about what they had seen. His first inclination was to ask if they had been drinking, but they assured him they had not. He called the police to assist, and within a few minutes, Deputy Millard Halstead was on the scene. Deputy Halstead was also skeptical at first, but he knew the teens pretty well and was confident they were not making the story up. The couples would head up the road, back toward where they had seen the creature, and Gary would follow in his car with the deputy planning to join them in short order.
As they approached where they had last seen the creature, it appeared to be coming up behind them once more but disappeared when the lights of Gary's car illuminated the back of their vehicle. After driving around and not seeing it again, they headed back to town where they would reconnect with Deputy Halstead and head back out to the abandoned power plant.
Arriving at the power plant, they would look around for signs that something had been there. Aside from some dust or smoke that appeared to be rising from the coal yard near the plant, they didn't find anything concrete. After a few minutes they would head back into town, climb into Roger's car and head to the home of the Scarberry's. The couples would remain together for the rest of the night as Steve and Mary were afraid to go back to their house alone.
The days following this encounter would include several searches of the area by local residents and news crews, with many groups of armed men heading into the wildlife area to search for the creature. One news outlet would reach out to a professor at West Virginia University, Robert Smith, to get his opinion on what the creature could be based on the description the couples had given. Professor Smith would suggest the most likely culprit was a Sandhill Crane, which was not native to the area. Sandhill Crane's had not been officially sighted in West Virginia at the time, though they have since been confirmed to occasionally visit the state when migrating between Florida and Canada.
After the initial excitement had worn off, locals started to whisper about the couples, saying they had made up the story or that they were drunk or high and misreported the incident. Some residents still took the possibility of a creature living in the area serious, with at least one Snowy Owl being shot and killed when a farmer thought it was something else (Snowy Owls are not native to the area, so it is understandable in the panic that one could be mistaken as the creature), but for the most part life went back to normal. The teens were still convinced they had seen something abnormal, and that belief would be reinforced when a man by the name of John Keel showed up in Point Pleasant chasing UFO sightings.
John Keel was an avid UFOlogist who had spent his life chasing the unknown and was convinced that the government was covering up the truth of UFOs by using a group called the "Men in Black". He had also become convinced that the Mothman sightings were tied to recently reported UFO sightings in the area and had come to Point Pleasant to interview anyone who had a Mothman sighting. Based on those interviews, he would write a booked entitled "The Mothman Prophecies" in 1975 where he would tie the Mothman to UFOs and to the collapse of The Silver Bridge in December of 1967.
That book would be made into a movie by the same name in 2002, launching the Mothman to international fame and spinning off what would become a tourist boom in Point Pleasant. Later in 2002, the first annual Mothman Festival would be held, organized by locals Jeff Wamsley and Carol Harris. About 2000 people would show up for this inaugural festival, bringing with them a lot of money and high expectations. In 2003, the second Mothman Festival would include the unveiling of a brand-new statue, created out of metal by local sculptor Bob Roach and depicting the Mothman in his full glory. A couple of years later, in 2005, the Mothman Museum and Research Center would open up. This museum would wind up housing a host of items, including the original, hand-written, testimonies from the teens and props from the Mothman Prophecies movie.
A short video I captured during my visit to the Mothman Museum. This video is exclusive to this website and is only a small sample of what is in the museum. I would recommend visiting for yourself if you are ever in Point Pleasant!
The very first picture I ever took of the famous Mothman statue in Point Pleasant on my first trip there.
From looking at the whole picture, it seems to me that the most probable explanation here is that the couples did see a known animal of some kind, most likely a Sandhill Crane and/or maybe that Snowy Owl that was shot and killed not long after the first sighting. In the dark, they misidentified the animal as they weren't able to properly make out its features, and in the panic of the moment and being worried about what might be out there, they reacted as any normal person would and reached out to the police. Following the encounter, the town seemed to turn on them, laughing about it and making fun of them behind their backs, so when John Keel showed up and told them what he thought, they were primed to believe him and the legend got bigger and bigger in their minds, as it did for anyone who saw anything even remotely odd over the next year.
Whether the thing was a known animal, or something we haven't cataloged, one thing is for sure: Point Pleasant changed immensely following the events of November 15, 1966, and it would change even more the following year, on December 15, 1967. But that is a story for another day.