POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. – The year was 1966. Two gravediggers in Clendenin, West Virginia saw a black figure fly over their heads while digging a grave in a cemetery. They didn’t know it then, but they are credited with being the first people to see the famous Mothman.
According to legend, Mothman is a black 10-foot creature with wings and red eyes. Shortly after the cemetery incident, residents of Point Pleasant, West Virginia–a few miles west of Clendenin–claim they saw the monster while driving at night. Articles in newspapers at the time were reporting that the monster was also commonly seen in the TNT area near town, with some locals speculating that perhaps people were really seeing cranes or owls and others wondering if the creature was created in some sort of mutation accident involving the chemicals associated with storing TNT. Regardless, legend has it that mysterious men in black suits began visiting the town shortly after the sighting reports.
The most infamous sighting of Mothman was on December 15th, 1967. Locals said they saw Mothman on top of–or flying over–the Silver Bridge, which was a suspension bridge over the Ohio River that connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia to Gallipolis, Ohio. According to Mothman lore, shortly after the creature was spotted on the bridge, the bridge collapsed, resulting in the deaths of 46 people. An investigation into the disaster found that a fracture in a suspension chain was the cause.
Mothman has been allegedly sighted at other disastrous events since the bridge collapse, with people claiming to have seen the creature before earthquakes, tsunamis, and even the 9/11 terrorist attack. This leaves locals and storytellers split on whether Mothman should be considered an evil or benevolent creature. Some say the creature is either bad luck or causing these disasters in some way, but others speculate Mothman may be able to see into the future, and that the monster appears to warn people of impending doom.
“I think probably most people see him as more of a villain, but honestly, he could be both, and in many ways, he is both,” said Jason Burns, a West Virginia storyteller. “Because there’s no actual proof that he caused the collapse. He could have just been saying, ‘Hey, it’s going to happen, lookout. I’m on the bridge pointing out the break.'”
Mothman’s impact on Point Pleasant
According to the 2019 Census, Point Pleasant has a population of 4,146 people, with the biggest share of jobs in the retail industry. The town has a number of stores and food items themed after Mothman which are available all year round, but the biggest tourism event for the town is the annual Mothman Festival, which has been on a hiatus due to the pandemic.
“When we have the festival, it can be upwards of 10,000 people visiting,” said Brittany Sayre, an employee at the Mothman Museum. “You’ll be on Main Street, and it is packed…you cannot move on the street.”
According to Sayre, visitors come from just about everywhere to see if they can catch a glimpse of the monster, even from other countries. Sometimes Point Pleasant is their primary destination, but sometimes people stop if they see a road sign or are on the way to another place.
“We have people go two or three hours out of their way just to stop here,” said Sayre. “So, that’s really cool. For most people, [Mothman] is their main reason for visiting.”
As far as how locals feel about the Mothman theme, Sayre said most people are all for it.
“There’s always going to be the ones who aren’t really into it, but I mean, that’s anywhere,” Sayre explained. “Before Mothman things took off around here, it was pretty much dead. Even when I was growing up, Main Street was empty, and now, we’ve got shops in the buildings and people are coming in and it’s thriving again, thank goodness. So, a lot of people are glad about that.”