The Mothman and The Silver Bridge

When we think about potentially supernatural cryptids, like Bigfoot or The Loch Ness Monster or that stupid gremlin who lives in your dishwasher that steals tupperware lids, they usually are little more than a side note of history (and maybe geography). 

We’ve all heard the legends where some people are out hiking and camping and come across a giant foot-like paw print in the mud, or maybe they see some large creature off in the distance walking on two legs. Or, how many people every year head off to a specific (and very deep) lake in Scotland to try to glimpse the water monster that is said to reside there?

Sometimes, as is the case of The Loch Ness Monster, the legends get told so often and by so many people that it almost seems as if the creature could be real. It’s impossible to travel to the Inverness region without someone asking, “Did you see Nessie?” Whether or not the monster actually exists isn’t the point – it’s real – even if not in flesh and bone.

These creatures exist on the sideline of history – they’re present, but not actually a part of the story. 

That cannot be said of the monsters that a bunch of people saw in Ohio and West Virginia starting in the mid-1960s.

The Mothman Cometh

In the evening of November 12, 1966, two Grave Diggers were, well, digging some graves at a cemetery  in Clendenin, West Virginia, just doing their job, when they saw something kind of scary. They described it as a huge bird-like brown man thing that was jump-flying from tree to tree. The creature didn’t interact with the guys, didn’t try to attack them – but if I was digging graves in a cemetery and saw something I couldn’t easily identify, I’d probably need to find clean underwear, too.

A few days later, in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, two different men, Roger Scarberry and Steve Mallett, also saw something strange. They described it as a bird-like beast with red eyes spaced about six inches apart, and standing somewhere between six and seven feet tall. The being chased them as they drove away and was able to keep up with them, at least to the outer limits of town where the thing flew off into a field and then disappeared.

Before long, the reporters at the town’s newspaper, The Point Pleasant Register, began hearing a number of similar stories of people seeing some kind of winged, flying, man-bird creature, usually with glowing red eyes. What’s more – these reports were coming in from prominent members of the local society, including a few members of the volunteer fire department and one of the local bank tellers. Even the town drunks were like, “I’ve only five beers had, and that sounds crazy to me.”

Newell Partridge lived in the nearby town of Salem, West Virginia (sorry, not the one with a history steeped in witchcraft). He was at home watching television when the reception on his television set started going wonky. Then he heard a strange noise outside, so of course he had to go investigate. As he shined his flashlight in the direction he thought the noises were coming from, he saw two glowing red eyes, possibly belonging to some large creature, staring back at him. 

According to legend, that was the same night that Newell’s dog disappeared and was never seen again. Some people say he became the bird-man’s dinner – but if I was that dog and saw The Mothman, I’d probably run as far as I could away and never come back.

The Possible TNT Connection

For the next year, the sightings continued. The vast majority of them seemed to come from inside or around the Point Pleasant, West Virginia area, but the creature had also been spotted in various places across The Ohio River, such as Gallipolis (which is directly across the river), even as far away as Centerville. 

The main question people seem to have is … Just what the heck is this thing?

While a few individuals used phrases along the lines of “Giant bird-like creature” or “Man-Bird”, the name that finally stuck to it was Mothman. Nobody is entirely certain where that name in particular came from – the best guess we have at the moment is a reference to Batman because the comic book Superhero was rather popular at the time. (Then again, when isn’t Batman popular?)

However, deciding on a name really didn’t do much to explain what the creature was to begin with. There are those who have tried to explain it away as being extraterrestrial in origin – calling on UFO sightings from that area as “proof”. Others have tried to equate it to one of a small handful of mythological creatures, or some rare hybrid interspecies concoction that science doesn’t seem to know about just yet.

Wildlife biologist Robert L. Smith from the West Virginia University in Morgantown came up with another theory: The Mothman is just a sandhill crane, on account of this bird’s description being nearest what people have reported seeing, and the behavior of both are somewhat similar. Yet, there are numerous differences as well, suggesting that the Mothman might be some form of mutated sandhill crane – however without biological proof, it’s hard to know for sure how accurate this claim might be.

Lending credence to this mutated sandhill crane theory is a place known locally as The TNT Area. 

Known officially as the Clifton F. McClintic Wildlife Management Area, a neutralized region consisting of 3,655 acres (located about five miles from Point Pleasant) which is now farmland, woodland, and wetland – however it was once the site of a rather large military industrial complex, where many tools of war and weapons of mass destruction had been built or stored. 

If the theory that The Mothman is just a mutated Sandhill Crane, the TNT Area’s history just might explain that fact. Many locals have stated radioactive materials were used and stored in the TNT area based on family lore, and if that’s true it could explain not just the mutant theory, but why this creature suddenly appeared … ,maybe?

The Mothman Motivation

The villain of every story needs some kind of motivation. In The Wizard of Oz, for example, The Wicked Witch of the West could have just been evil for evil’s sake – she was a Wicked Witch, after all. But, in the story she gets a little upset after Dorothy not only kills her sister when she drops a house on her, but she also steals her sister’s silver (Ruby red in the movies) shoes which is the main thing she wants back. (So, is the Wicked Witch of the West really the villain? Idina “Let It Go” Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth think not.) Either way, we know her motivation.

So, what’s the motivation for The Mothman?

That one is a bit trickier to answer because even though the thing did scare quite a few folks who were out minding their own business, it didn’t interact all that much with anybody, nor did it seem to want to cause anybody (with the exception, possibly, of Newell Partridge’s dog) any harm. It wasn’t trying to scare people away from the TNT area, and in fact it probably drove more people to that site hoping to get a glance at it than anything else. It never attacked anyone – it just made its presence known and flew away.

Therefore, in light of future events, some people think it wasn’t the villain of the story at all … maybe it was trying to help people, warning them of a danger to come?

The Silver Bridge

If you wanted to go from West Virginia to Ohio (or vice versa) anywhere near Point Pleasant (or Gallipolis) you would have had to cross The Silver Bridge. Originally built in 1928 and named after the aluminum paint they tried to make it look pretty with, it was the first eye-bar bridge of its type in the entire United States. 

Sadly, “traffic” in the 1960s was quite a bit different (to say the least) than “traffic” was in the 1920s when the bridge was planned, designed, and built – and new forms of stress were constantly being put on the bridge which it wasn’t engineered for and on December 15, 1967, The Silver Bridge collapsed. Thirty one cars fell into the river below. Forty-six lives were lost that day, and an additional nine required medical assistance. 

It is safe to say that it changed the lives of everyone who lived on either side of the river.

Today, the Silver Bridge collapse is a notable historical event for a couple of reasons, not just that it happened at the same time people were seeing the Mothman. Once engineers had fully investigated the incident and discovered what it was that made the bridge collapse (the over-stressed eye beams) they started to realize that many bridges in The United States were a disaster waiting to happen. When many of the bridges were built, cars weighed about a quarter of what they had become in the 1960s, and there were now a lot more of them on the roads. A large majority of the bridges at the time simply weren’t designed for modern traffic.

One thing they determined was that if the bridges had been properly inspected by engineers in the years before the bridge collapse, they likely would have discovered multiple issues that, when worsened, caused the bridge to collapse. Therefore, the logical thing for them to do was to urge Congress to update their procedures and policies on bridge inspections, so that they happened more often, and keeping in mind that the engineers who designed them had no way of predicting what traffic would be like in the near future. (So, I suppose if there is a silver lining to the Silver Bridge collapse, it’s that.)

The Mothman Prophecies (The Book)

In 1979, journalist John Keel released a book that detailed his “investigation” into the collapse of The Silver Bridge called The Mothman Prophecies. The book details his “investigation” into The Silver Bridge collapse and he “concluded” that the Mothmen were clearly responsible. As far as what the Mothmen were, exactly, he was somewhat divided. 

One of his theories was that the Mothmen were clearly Extraterrestrials of some form, and his book does contain examples of UFO sightings in the area around the time of the Mothmen. Ultraterrestrials (or, beings that are not from outer space, exactly, but from another dimension outside our own – I had to look it up) were another possibility. 

So, yeah – they were aliens (where is Giorgio A. Tsoukalos when you need him?) – he just didn’t know if they were from Outer Space or another Dimention.

The Mothman Prophecies (The Movie)

On January 25, 2002, Sony Pictures released a movie, sort of based on the John Keel book, also called The Mothman Prophecies (starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Debra Messing, and Miranda’s husband from Sex and The City). The movie sort of follows the same sort of general plotline from the book, a journalist has a car accident and then wants to look into The Mothman sightings and comes up with some pretty wild theories.

One of the main differences between the book and the movie is who the Mothmen are believed to be. Yes, both types of aliens are briefly mentioned, but the main culprit appears to be demons. Except, the Mothman isn’t a demon, they’re hallucinations caused by demons and their evil plot is to destroy a bridge in some small town for … reasons, I guess.

The movie isn’t too bad (Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 52% on their tomatometer). As a “psychological thriller” it really isn’t terrible, but some of the criticism around this film is how it is claimed to be “based on a true story” (in that a couple of the events featured in the film did occur, sort of) and many people felt that the film disrespected the people who lost their lives the day the bridge collapsed.

Thankfully it didn’t seem to ruin any careers, as Richard Gere starred in Chicago later that year, Laura Liney would go on to do The Life Of David Gale (which surprisingly didn’t ruin hers) and Debra Messing would continue her streak of 246 episodes of Will and Grace. And the man who played Miranda’s Husband in Sex and the City would, of course, go on to do such films as Sex and the City The Movie and Sex and the City 2 before joining the Chicago Fire (Med and PD) cast.

An Alternate Theory

I should also note here that there is yet another theory floating around the World Wide Web … that The Mothman wasn’t a demon or an evil-ish “being” from outer space or another dimension, or even a Sandhill Crane with some form of mutation – it’s that the Mothman was, actually, some kind of angelic-esque being.

While it is pretty clear that most people are scared by what they can’t exactly identify, which plays into the demonic or evil-being theories (I’d call the mutated Sandhill Crane theory more neutral than anything else) … some people believe that the Mothmen came here (from outer space or another dimension or Utah) to warn people about the bridge’s pending collapse. 

Mothman Today (From Villian to Hero)

Today, if you find yourself in the vicinity of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, there is one spot where you can definitely, without fail, see a mothman at any point in the day or night, rain or shine. He hangs out at the corner of 4th and Main Street, and is (in case you didn’t see this one coming) made entirely of metal and is there to help promote The Mothman Museum.

Inside the museum you’ll spot many more depictions of the mothmen, as well as collectable memorabilia and at least a little information on nearly all the theories. At the present time, the museum is open all year around and from what I hear it’s worth a visit.

Point Pleasant is also home to the yearly Mothman Festival, held every year in September. At this event, you can learn everything there is to know about The Mothman, as well as sign up for some bus tours, watch people (or participate yourself) in some cosplay, they even have some Mothman inspired bands playing on center stage.

Once again, I hear that if you are into Mothman (or, just into having a spot of fun) it’s well worth checking out.

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