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 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.
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.
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.