Sightings of cryptids, weird creatures defying any ordinary explanation, appear throughout history. Some, like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, seem to appear for decades or even centuries. Yet one weird winged beast is unusual for showing up in a very ordinary place for about a year. And then, after it seemed to foretell a local disaster, was never seen again in those parts.

Let’s meet the Mothman.

Weirdness With Wings In West Virginia

Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a small town along the Ohio River, was a pretty quiet place in the 1960s. Residents were mostly middle class workers in small chemical factories in the area. One peculiar nearby feature was an abandoned World War II vintage TNT factory. Its overgrown fields were dotted with concrete igloos used in wartime to store high explosives.

In late 1966 two couples driving in a car near the TNT plant late at night saw a freakish sight: a very tall man sporting a pair of large wings. In the darkness the weird creature seemed to be staring at them with a pair of large red glowing eyes. The witnesses reported the incident to the local police station.

A policeman, who had known the four witnesses for years, considered their report credible. He visited the TNT plant and looked around in the darkness. He found nothing unusual.

An illustration depicting the Mothman, a human-like creature with the features of a moth such as large wings, head antennae, and red glowing eyes. The Mothman is in the middle of a dark road in the woods. A small red car appears in the background.

Mothman Sightings Abound

Before long other creepy sightings of the creature were rumored in town. And on November 16, 1966, an Ohio newspaper with a bureau on the West Virginia side of the river, the Athens Messenger, put the story on the front page. The article detailed some of the claims made by people who had seen what was still referred to as the “monster.” 

The newspaper reporter, Mary Hyre, was soon fielding phone calls from local residents who had also seen something disturbing. Local accounts drew the attention of the wire services, and before long the tales were drawing the curious. A local college professor suggested that what people had been seeing was a wayward sandhill crane, a very large bird far from its normal habitat.

In time a newspaper copy editor, inspired by the extremely popular “Batman” television series, dubbed the creature Mothman in a headline. The name stuck.

A collage of newspaper clippings about the Mothman sightings in West Virginia in the 1960s. The clippings are black and white and have different headlines, illustrations, and stories about the mysterious creature that was reported to have red eyes, wings, and a humanoid shape. The clippings are arranged in a random and overlapping manner.
Mothman Newspaper Clippings, AestheticNiche

Things Stay Weird For a Year

As visitors began to show up in the area, they’d typically drive out to the abandoned TNT property and poke around, hoping to see the Mothman. One notable visitor was a writer who traveled from New York City, John Keel. His specialty was writing magazine articles about paranormal events, especially unidentified flying objects. Keel began collecting tales of the Mothman.

The sightings continued. Some people said the creature emitted a high-pitched sound, like a recording played too fast. Others saw something inexplicable flying high about the Ohio River. A news item in the New York Times in late November 1967 said the area’s “mysterious monster,” had buzzed an automobile in broad daylight. The newspaper dutifully included the sandhill crane explanation.

All the sightings in the small community abruptly ended when a shocking disaster killed dozens of local residents and seemed to slap everyone to their senses.

A moth-like creature with horns, large furry wings and white eyes stands on a tree stump in a dark forest.
Mothman illustration, ShawnLangleyArt

A Deadly Disaster

Point Pleasant, West Virginia, was linked to the town of Gallipolis, Ohio, by the Silver Bridge, a suspension bridge with a 700-foot span which opened in 1928. The structure carried routine daily traffic across the Ohio River until December 15, 1967. Late on that Friday, with the bridge crowded with Christmas shopping traffic, the roadway collapsed into the river.

The bridge disaster, which killed 46 local residents, became national news. In the local area, some people claimed to have seen a large winged creature atop the bridge before its collapse. But active sightings of the Mothman came to an end. Some people came to believe the weird creature had been in the area warning of imminent disaster. 

A federal investigation of the bridge collapse eventually pointed to a critical design flaw as well as poor maintenance. But to many, the disaster and the year of monster sightings preceding it were a single comprehensive phenomenon.

A 3D rendering of a collapsed suspension bridge over a river with trees and grass on both sides.
How West Virginia’s Silver Bridge Fell in 1967, PBS

Legends of Cryptids

The large animal with wings and glowing red eyes described by many witnesses was a cryptid, a term used to describe a beast believed to exist yet unproven by science. Tales of cryptids have always appeared, from ancient sea serpents and dragons to much more recent strange sightings such as the Chupacabra said to kill cattle while roaming the American Southwest.

Cryptids are often geographically specific, and the Mothman appearing in a relatively small and obscure part of West Virginia aligns with that pattern. But was it even real? Despite a number of witnesses claiming they saw a monster, no photographic evidence – or any other type of evidence – emerged. Some naturally question whether the Mothman was some strange form of mass delusion.

A number of those who said they saw the Mothman also reported suffering from nagging headaches and disturbing nightmares. Some witnesses reported habitually hearing strange sounds, or receiving odd telephone calls during which voices inexplicably recited random numbers.

An illustration of a furry humanoid black moth with red eyes and grayish wings standing upright on a beige background. Signed by JWS.
Mothman, Julian Callos

What John Keel Concluded. Or Didn’t.

The writer John Keel collected reams of material during his visits to West Virginia, and in 1975 he published a book, The Mothman Prophecies. He recounted detailed witness accounts of the beast with glowing red eyes. And he related the feelings of dread and intense fear he felt while visiting the abandoned TNT site that seemed connected to the Mothman.

Keel’s reporting went beyond the sightings of the Mothman, as he also related many instances of bizarre characters who turned up and presented themselves as officials investigating the weird happenings. Keel, who has been credited with coining the term “Men In Black,” noted many instances of apparently otherworldly investigators questioning or harassing those who’d encountered the Mothman.

No conclusive explanation appears in The Mothman Prophecies. Keel believed ordinary and credible people did see and sense something very odd, which arose from the supernatural. And it all defies logical explanation.

A black and white illustration of a man in a suit and hat standing next to a vintage car in front of a wooden house, with a giant moth-like creature looming in the sky. Signed by Braut.
“Men in Black” investigating the mysterious Mothman, Mothman Museum

Cinema Keeps the Legend Alive

Following the popularity of the TV program “The X-Files,” which often invoked motifs made popular by supernatural investigators like John Keel, Hollywood took an interest in the Mothman story. A screenwriter acquired the rights to The Mothman Prophecies, and a major studio film with A-List stars – Richard Gere and Laura Linney – appeared in 2002.

The cinematic treatment of John Keel’s book received mixed reviews and was moderately successful. The film gave a major boost to the Mothman legend, sparking a new wave of visitors to the corner of West Virginia where the strange beast had freaked out residents 35 years earlier. The major Hollywood production also seemed to inspire imitators.

Emulating the movie grindhouses of old, video streaming services currently host a number of films of questionable quality with Mothman in the title.

An abstract art piece consisting of multiple small paintings or sketches in black and white with some red and orange accents, arranged in a collage-like manner on a light green background.
Original artwork from the film “The Mothman Prophecies”

Take a Selfie With the Mothman Statue

The small town of Point Pleasant was the site of disturbing events and a very real disaster, but today the Mothman inspires civic pride. There is a large chromium statue of Mothman in the town, and even a Mothman museum. And there’s plenty of Mothman merch – books, t-shirts, buttons, stickers, mugs, and so on – for visitors to carry back home.

As for the Mothman, he moved on a long time ago. There have been people who have claimed to have seen a similar winged creature just before other calamities, including even the Chernobyl nuclear accident. But the Mothman is now a beloved bit of West Virginia folklore.

There’s a Mothman Festival held every September in Point Pleasant. Attendees can swap cryptid lore and indulge in cosplay. There’s even a convenient bus tour out to see the Mothman’s preferred hangout, the concrete TNT igloos, now graffitied but still utterly creepy.

A photo of a metal statue of a winged creature with a humanoid body and a dragon-like head, standing on a pedestal with a plaque that reads "Legend of the Mothman". The background is a street with trees and buildings and a blue sky with clouds.
Mothman statue in downtown Point Pleasant, West Virginia, Larry Syverson