That’s a front page headline from the November 19th, 1966 edition of the Stars and Stripes, the newspaper of the United States Armed Forces, only three days after the breaking story “Couples See Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something” appeared in the Point Pleasant Register.
We all know the story. On the night of November 15th, 1966, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette were out in the TNT Area in Roger’s ’57 Bel Air. As they were passing the old North Power Plant, they saw two monstrous glowing red eyes, and to their horror, those eyes belonged to a seven foot tall winged creature like nothing they’d ever seen. Like I think anyone would do, they got the heck out of there. The only problem? This thing was fast, able to keep up with their car all the way back to town.
Now, if it was me, a million dollars wouldn’t have made me to go back to the TNT Area. But before they told anybody, the Scarberrys and Mallettes wanted to make sure they weren’t crazy. They turned around and headed back up the road, and sure enough, they had only made it as far as the C.C. Lewis farm before they saw it again. That was enough for them, and they hurried to Tiny’s Drive-In to call the police. Deputy Sheriff Millard Halstead met them and could see that they weren’t drunk and were clearly terrified of something, so he went with them to the North Power Plant. Something there had knocked up a cloud of coal dust, but the creature didn’t appear.
The next morning, Sheriff George Johnson held a press conference, the result of which was that famous first headline in the Register. At first, the Scarberrys and Mallettes were ridiculed, and many people in town figured that they were just out for a joyride, drunk, high (this was 1966, after all), or even just made it all up. Halstead assured everyone that they were weren’t drunk or high when he met them at Tiny’s, but that still left the option that maybe it was all just a big joke. At least, until there were more sightings…
Over the next year, there were at least 100 sightings of this creature, dubbed the Mothman by local and national media. Several of these were reputable people with good reputations in the community, and a few were people trained to be observant (police officers and such). With that many sightings, it’s hard to completely discount the idea that ‘something’ was out in the TNT Area. What exactly it was remains up for debate.
Was it the Mothman? And if so, what even is the Mothman? Everything from a previously unknown creature, to a known creature mutated by the pollution in the TNT Area, to an interdimensional alien has been suggested.
Could it have been something even older, something from legend? Some have connected the story of the Mothman to Cornstalk’s Curse, in which it would be either the vengeful spirit animal of murdered chieftain Red Hawk or a manifestation of the Thunder Bird.
Or, is this a simple case of misidentification? Biologists and skeptics suggest that it could have been a large barn owl or a sandhill crane, a bird rarely seen in West Virginia but could end up here if it got off track during its migration. Fully grown, they stand a little over five feet tall and have a seven foot wingspan. They also have mostly grey feathers, with large red circles around the eyes. Surely though, one of the many hunters or outdoorsy types who reported seeing the Mothman would have recognized it as a crane? Right?….
Either way, whether you think there’s something to the story or not, or whether the Mothman was a cryptid or sandhill crane, it is certainly a major asset for Point Pleasant today! The Mothman legend brings nearly 100,000 people and well over $3 million a year into Point Pleasant. It’s unique, it’s weird, it’s different, and it gets people off the highway. Then while they’re here, we introduce them to Tu-Endie-Wei, the River Museum, Gallery 409, our shops and restaurants, the Riverfront Park and all of our outdoor opportunities, and more often than not, those visitors fall in love with Point Pleasant and come back time and time again.
Information from the Point Pleasant Register, Athens Messenger, and other 1966 news reports.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at [email protected]