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.