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Credit: Tim Bertelink/Creative Commons

The Mothman: Harbinger of death, beloved pop-culture icon, and maybe your new boyfriend

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Oct 27, 2020, 11:13 AM EDT (Updated)

Why is the world so obsessed with Mothman? Is it the fuzzy antennae? The blood-red eyes peering out into the darkness? That allegedly his appearance is a sure sign of cataclysmic events and that’s just on-brand for 2020? Whatever it is, Mothman has found his way into many people’s hearts in the past few years, but it’s not just cryptid believers who have found him intriguing. No, he is appealing to all sorts, because Mothman — who shares a spotlight with other cryptids such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster — is eternal.

This is why the Mothman Museum in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, has become not only a pilgrimage for cryptid fans, but an intriguing tourist attraction in its own right. The museum was established 15 years ago in 2005 by Jeff Wamsley, a Point Pleasant native, in reaction to a growing interest in Mothman thanks to the Mothman Prophecies film starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney, as well as the boisterous Mothman Festival, an annual gathering celebrating the supposed existence of the creature.

If there was anything you needed to know about Mothman, chances are you will find it here. From original paper clippings to film props and costumes, The Mothman Museum is a celebration of everything that the cryptid stands for and has brought to this small West Virginian town on the banks of the Ohio River.

It's a town with quite a supernatural history.

Credit: The Mothman Museum

THE MOTH. THE MAN. THE MOTHMAN. 

It all started in November 1966 when five men, who happened to be digging a grave, said they saw a man-like figure soar over them. Three days later in Point Pleasant, a pair of couples claimed they were chased in their car by a figure with a 10-foot wingspan and glowing red eyes. Soon after, papers began to catch on and reported on the supposed sightings that occurred throughout the year.

Point Pleasant townspeople locked their doors in fear. Locals patrolled the streets and the nearby TNT Area, an old World War II ammunition and explosives manufacturing facility, where the creature had been spotted by numerous individuals, ready to fire if the monster showed himself. It was an Ohioan newspaper, which is just across the river from Point Pleasant, that ultimately dubbed the creature “Moth Man.”

“We lived four doors down from Linda Scarberry, who, along with three others, saw it on Nov. 15, 1966, the first official sighting here,” Wamsley tells SYFY WIRE. At the time, Wamsley was but a child, but in middle school he would remember Scarberry and her stories after he picked up John Kell’s book, The Mothman Prophecies, and realized he knew most of the people that were mentioned as witnesses. And thus spawned a lifelong interest in the cryptid.

As he matured, so did his means. Wamsley started gathering up all the archives and movie props he could find. But they needed a home, and thus the museum was born.

“I had all kinds of Mothman-related items,” he explains. This included alleged items from the mysterious "Men in Black" and things related to the Silver Bridge Incident of Dec. 15, 1967, often noted as the “moment” for Mothman. The bridge, which connects West Virginia and Ohio, collapsed under the weight of rush hour traffic, killing 46 people. Many people believed the Mothman sightings were a precursor to this tragedy, and thus started the association of the creature being a bad omen.

Wamsley was able to eventually interview and ask Scarberry questions about her experience. This and other interviews, as well as Wamsley’s own research, would eventually culminate in two books and multiple television appearances on the paranormal. Today the museum sees folks from all walks of life, some stopping by just for a laugh, others staying for hours and reading every bit of testimony on display.

“Our motto is that we provide the archives and evidence and you decide ... was it a bird or something more sinister? That's up to you to conclude,” Wamsley says. Regardless of whether people believe or not, people are paying attention to Mothman, and in a variety of ways. Including sightings.

Mothman has allegedly appeared to many prior to major disasters since the bridge collapse, with sightings claimed before 9/11 and the I-35W Minnesota bridge collapse, nearby Mason County, and even in Chicago, where it seems to have made its new home. At least, according to the most recently reported sighting on Oct. 16, 2020.

FROM TERROR TO POP-CULTURE ICON

A search for Mothman on Etsy yields over 2,000 results. You can find everything from mugs to enamel pins to even a Mothman-scented candle. What may have once been a very niche conspiracy theory topic has blown into a full-on pop culture icon in recent years. Mothman is cool. And sometimes fluffy.

Chances are you’ve seen the merch, the fanart, and even the odd cosplay. People are crazy for Mothman, and if they can squeeze him in plush form, all the better. Part of this has come from just a growing interest in cryptids over the years, creating an army of Mothman superfans and cryptid enthusiasts.

Cryptids are something that Alyssa Maynard has been fascinated with for years. Her interest in Mothman stemmed from renting The Mothman Prophecies one day as a pre-teen. Upon seeing that the film claimed it was based on true events, she quickly gobbled up every bit of information she could. Years later, her enthusiasm for cryptids would culminate in a library she created for a university project.

“I had to build a database from scratch for graduate school, but the professor made the mistake of allowing me complete freedom of topic,” she explains. The Cryptid Database lists cryptids, their locations, and when they were spotted, and by whom. It includes data like eyewitness testimonies and police reports, and it also allows submissions about more obscure or local creatures she may not have included.

“Seeing popular media like BuzzFeed Unsolved bring more cryptid tales into the light has been thrilling. It feels like cryptids have been dredged up from the dark sea bottom in a tidal wave of traditional spooky campfire tale resurgence,” she says. Maynard believes that the reason tales like Mothman and other cryptids are seeing a boom in interest is just human nature’s compulsion to retell legends. From email chains to subreddits, these “creepypasta” tales are now finding their way into audio dramas, television shows, and more casual media.

“More than ever people are gathering to tell and craft stories that make you feel that spark of nerve that says not all the mysteries of the earth have been solved or discovered, not even in the woods outside your window,” Maynard explains. “Cryptids walk hand in hand with those things that make you wonder.”

Credit: marada/Creative Commons

And people continue to wonder in large droves. Point Pleasant was sure to join in on the pop culture phenom as well, erecting a giant chrome statue of the Mothman in 2003 by artist and sculptor Bob Roach in the middle of town. The museum has a 24/7 Mothcam on the statue at all times, just in case you wanted to see how many people touch his butt. (Yes, that’s a thing. And to be honest, Mothman has quite the booty. Perhaps this is where the popular phrase “Mothman is my boyfriend” comes from. Or people just really love him and desire him as a life partner, who knows?)

Overall, Mothman finding his cult status online has been a huge boon to Point Pleasant tourism and the museum in particular.

“Social media and television exposure has been a big catalyst,” Wamsley says. “Mothman is a worldwide phenomenon now.”

Fallout 76, the latest entry in the popular post-apocalyptic video game series, proved to be another boon for Mothman. Ahead of the game’s October 2018 release, Wamsley was surprised to learn that his museum — and Mothman himself — were featured in the game, which was set in West Virginia.

“I was clueless at first, and a graphic design student of mine told me he had heard that the museum and Mothman were going to be included in the game,” Wamsley explains. “I contacted one of the artists at [Bethesda Game Studios] and confirmed it.” In turn, the studio offered the museum exclusive rights to some merchandise, which Wamsley says there is still a high demand for.

Credit: Bethesda

THE ENDURING LEGACY OF MOTHMAN

Considering that Mothman’s popularity and notoriety only continue to grow, it’s likely the cryptid’s story and reported reappearances will continue well into the future. Is that a bird in the sky, or is it Mothman? Are those red lights a car parked in the distance ... or is it Mothman?

As to whether he believes that Mothman is real, Wamsley is of an open and curious mind.

“People need to understand that when this all started, there were hundreds of people reporting weird sightings of a 7-foot-tall bird, too many witnesses describing the same thing to blow it off as a hoax,” Wamsley explains. “Prominent business people, teachers, housewives. There was something to it, and I don't think the Mothman story will ever be solved or fully explained, and that's the beauty of the story. What was it? I don't think we will ever really know.”

That’s what makes Mothman eternal and rather scary. It’s the unknown and the horror that brings. Let’s just hope there are no more sightings anytime soon — 2020 is pretty busy already.

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