USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘mothman’
Legends
Narrative

Mothman (Urban legend)

Mothman is a cryptid (animal or plant whose existence has been suggested but has never been documented convincingly by the scientific community). The Mothman legend consists of several sightings of a creature in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, during the period of November 15, 1966 to December 15, 1967. The creature was described as being as tall as a man, but with bird-like ten-foot wings and eyes that glowed like “bicycle reflectors,” and multiple people saw it and even claimed it was following their cars or flying over the forest. The sightings of Mothman stopped after the Silver Bridge disaster, in which the aforementioned bridge collapsed on December 15, 1967 during rush hour traffic, resulting in the deaths of 46 people. Because sightings stopped after this point, it has been suggested that the Mothman frenzy had something to do with the bridge collapse.

INFORMANT: Many of the people who reported seeing the Mothman have been kept anonymous and are perhaps apocryphal, like the sources of many urban legends. However, some people did report it to the police, including Mr. and Mrs. Roger Scarberry and Mr. and Mrs. Steve Mallette, whose sighting is perhaps the most well-known. They were driving near the “TNT Area,” known for its historical usage as a place where munitions and explosives were built and stored in bunkers during WWII. They reported sighting to the police, as did others in the vicinity who claimed to see the cryptid over the coming year, but nothing came of it; the police were never able to view it themselves, nor was anyone ever able to convincingly document a sighting.

ANALYSIS: The Mothman legend is one of the more famous urban legends, having even been turned into a book and subsequent movie called The Mothman Prophecies. Noted folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand notes that “recountings of the 1966-67 Mothman reports usually state that at least 100 people saw Mothman with many more “afraid to report their sightings” but observed that written sources for such stories consisted of children’s books or sensationalized or undocumented accounts that fail to quote identifiable persons.” The most likely explanation for the Mothman is that it is a sandhill crane (which could easily grow to a size larger than a man) which had wandered from its typical migration route. Also, many speculated that the collapse of the Silver Bridge was connected to the Mothman. Infrasound is a phenomenon in which “exposure to low frequency sound vibrations which we cannot detect may also have considerable impact on humans.” Among the side effects are hallucinations. People have proposed the theory that in the year leading up to its collapse, the Silver Bridge may have been emitting these low-frequency vibrations and causing town-wide hallucinations (perhaps including the Mothman), but this has never been satisfactorily proven. Whatever did happen in Point Pleasant, during the time period of the so-called Mothman, the town has now commemorated it with a lovely statue.

 

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Legends
Narrative

Mothman

Mothman is a large creature that’s a cross between a man and a giant moth, and he supposedly lives somewhere on the East Coast. He has glowing red eyes and likes to fly at people’s car windshields when they’re driving. People claim that he was the cause of a collapsed bridge. Some news reports attribute Mothman sightings to large flying birds, however.

Informant is not American but knows a lot about contemporary American culture. He frequents Reddit, a “social network” very concerned with current events and urban legends. Mothman is an interesting piece of folklore because many have claimed to have seen it, like sightings of UFOs or Nessie, and the legends surrounding this creature are abound.

Myths
Signs

Miracle Mothman

Informant Bio

My informant grew up in Ohio in the 1960s and 1970s and lived there for much of her adult life. She attended college in Bowling Green, Ohio, and lived in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio for many years. Though she now lives in California, she retains a membership to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, and has great pride in her heritage.

My informant is also a spiritual woman, though not in the religious sense. Raised Lutheran, she stopped going to church in her early 30s. She instructed her children to study many world religions and choose their own faith. She actively meditates and finds comfort in the teachings of the Buddhists, though she claims no one faith or spiritual path. She believes in some kind of higher power or energy, yet she is also very practical in her views of supernatural phenomena.

My informant told me the myth of the Mothman that she had heard while recommending to me that I watch the film about the creature that was released in 2002. She had just seen it recently and liked comparing the film to the Mothman stories she knew.

The Mothman

The myth of the Mothman that my informant told me is connected to the collapse of a bridge that crossed the Ohio River between West Virginia and Ohio in the 1960s. (My informant did not know the name of the bridge, but she was referring to the Silver Bridge collapse of 1967.) Apparently days prior to the event in the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia where the bridge was located, sightings of a creature that looked like a man with wings and glowing red eyes were reported. According to my informant most of these sightings occurred in an off-limits area of town that had once housed a chemical plant where materials were made for the military. In spite of being cordoned off, this area was still a place where locals would go to hunt and fish. After the bridge collapse, reports of the winged man abruptly stopped.

After the fact the connection was made between the sightings and the bridge collapse. Some believed that the Mothman vision was a kind of warning. Others believe that the Mothman is a demonic creature that thrives on tragedy.

When I inquired if my informant believed the Mothman was a real creature she responded: “No, I think when there’s any great tragedy people look back and try to think of some way to explain it or learn from it.” She compared the Mothman phenomenon to belief in miracles. “People love to say, ‘oh, its a miracle that I forgot my keys and was ten minutes late to work, because otherwise I would have been in that accident on the freeway. Someone must be looking out for me.’ People like to make connections like that after the fact because it makes them feel safe somehow. Me, I kind of like to see engineers looking at the bridge and saying, ‘oh, maybe we should have replaced those rusty bolts.'” Personally, I agree with her thinking. However it is still fun to speculate about what the people of Point Pleasant were seeing in the days before the bridge collapse.

The population of Point Pleasant has embraced the Mothman myth, and now holds a Mothman festival each year.

Authored Versions

The story of the bridge collapse and Mothman sightings was recorded in a book entitled “The Mothman Prophecies” written in 1975 by John Keel. Keel’s book was published by a known publisher of pulp sci-fi novels, however Keel’s lengthy investigation in Point Pleasant resulted in a book that straddles the line between speculative fiction and non-fiction.

The book was made into a film with the same name in 2002 starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney. The film turns the event into a supernatural psychological thriller, and while it was hardly a blockbuster success, it has drawn new attention to the phenomenon. In 2011 a documentary called “Eyes of the Mothman” tracked sightings of the creature all over the world in yet another attempt to explain its appearances.

Cited

Keel, John. The Mothman Prophecies. London: Panther Books, 1975. Print.

Pellington, Mark, dir. The Mothman Prophecies. Perf. Richard Gere and Laura Linney. 2002. Columbia Tristar Home Video. DVD.

Pellowski, Matthew J., dir. Eyes of the Mothman. 2011. Payback Productions. DVD.

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