(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared just prior to the 2016 Mothman Festival. It is the last interview done with the Point Pleasant Register by the late Carolin Harris who not only helped start the festival but was a staple in downtown Point Pleasant. With the festival returning this weekend, the article reappears here to reflect on Harris’ history with the event, and the Mothman legend. Harris died a few months after this interview, on Dec. 26, 2016. Her restaurant, Harris Steakhouse, closed after her death but pieces of it are on display, serving as a tribute to her, at The Mothman Museum.)
POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — For nearly 48 years, Harris Steakhouse has been a staple on Main Street and this weekend, tourists will flock to it in search of both the past, the Mothman and Carolin.
Carolin being Carolin Harris, owner of the steakhouse who also helped start the Mothman Festival along with Jeff Wamsley of the World’s Only Mothman Museum. Wamsley has often praised Harris’ efforts to start and grow the festival and she has become a recognizable face to visitors who want to learn more about the Mothman legend and Point Pleasant, in general.
Harris’ life intersects with the Mothman legend in many ways. Her sister was an eyewitness who reportedly saw the Mothman 50 years ago in the TNT area, and her then three-year old son James Timothy Meadows, was on the Silver Bridge with his father, James F. Meadows, when it collapsed in 1967. Both perished. Though the Mothman statue may be an inanimate representation of the history of the area, Harris is a living, breathing piece of it.
Whether people believe in the legend or not, Harris said: “He (the Mothman) is part of our history.”
That specific part of Point Pleasant’s history is expected to attract literally thousands of people from around the world this weekend and into downtown.
“We needed business downtown,” Harris spoke to the origins of the festival. “It was a way to bring people in and it helps everyone. Its been good for the area. When we started it, we were down to nearly nothing (on Main Street).”
She said the first festival began after locals had gotten their hands on props from the movie “The Mothman Prophecies.” Harris and Wamsley secured a place to display them and offered t-shirts and concessions for a day to see how the experiment went. Each year, the festival grew, as did the space required to offer it and in the last three years, Harris said it has “exploded” even beyond her expectations. Harris said if it wasn’t for the assistance of city officials and city workers to help with logistics, there was no way it could be handled with just volunteers, like in the early days of the event.
This year is the 15th anniversary of the festival which is expected to attract 5,000 to 8,000 people this weekend into a town with a population of roughly 4,300. Hotels are being booked with guests for the festival as far as 75 miles away, Harris said.
“It was shoulder to shoulder last year,” she said of the visitors, the majority of which will be from out of the area, though more and more locals are starting to embrace the festival.
“I love them to death,” Harris said when talking about the tourists. “They’re so glad to be here. It’s like a family reunion. They come in (to the restaurant) and holler, ‘we’re home!’”
Harris said though she sometimes can’t remember the names, she does remember their states and asks if anyone has seen “Georgia? Or California?”
She admits there’s an opinion held by some, that those who attend the festival from across the country and around the world, are, well, strange – or as she put it “they think the people who come (to the festival) are crazy.”
Harris disagrees with that assessment.
“They like to investigate what they don’t know,” she said when summarizing how she views those visitors who are fascinated with the Mothman legend and, she added, that includes everyone from paranormal investigators, to doctors and business professionals.
When asked if she believes the Mothman exists, Harris said: “Yes, I do, very much. There’s been too many people, too many encounters that are the same. They always tell you the same story.”
On whether or not Mothman gets a bad rap, Harris relayed a story she once heard from a person of faith, putting her own spin on it when supposing, we are often startled by things we don’t understand. Does this make them bad? Not necessarily.
One thing that is understood, the festival seems to have taken on wings. Harris thinks the festival will continue to grow as long as “we keep it exciting” and “offer something different each year.” Perhaps that “different” is simply a mix of past and present. Its worked so far.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.