Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 15th, 2006
Today is the symbolic 40th anniversary of the beginning of the modern era of Mothman sightings. On this date, I am happy to pass along the news (from Doug Skinner) that John A. Keel, 76, uncomfortable but very much alive, has been released from the rehab facility to his home. My very best wishes to Keel for a speedy recovery.
Four decades ago, Keel did not know his life was going to take him down this road to Mothman. Intriguingly in 1966, a new book of his, The Fickle Finger of Fate, had just been published. Events were unfolding in Appalachia that would draw him in and change his life forever. The story would eventually produce a couple books, then a 2002 motion picture, The Mothman Prophecies, which ended up bringing the winged weirdie, the TNT area, a collapsed bridge, and other bizarreness to the attention of a broader audience.
It all began 40 years ago in a little Ohio River community, Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
The invasion began on the night of November 15, 1966, when two young couples, Roger and Linda Scarberry, and Steve and Mary Mallette, were joyriding through the TNT area late at night. They were passing through the maze of dirt roads that connect the bunkers and had just driven past an old generator plant when they spotted a huge figure lurking in the darkness at the side of the road.
Its two huge red eyes got their attention immediately. It terrified them. The figure was quite a sight. Linda Scarberry [who it must be noted is the former Linda McDaniel, an important "name game" detail (discussed elsewhere)] subsequently explained to investigators that its eyes were blood red. The creature seemed totally oblivious to its earthly viewers, however, and merely walked toward the generator plant. But by this time the four witnesses really weren’t interested in where the thing was headed.
They just wanted to get out of there —and fast. Roger slammed on the gas and tried to maneuver his ’57 Chevy out of the dump area as quickly as possible. But their mystery encounter was far from over. As they were speeding away, they saw the birdman standing on a hill by the side of the road. This second sighting revealed the most prominent detail of the manlike creature. It stood over six feet tall, its wings protruding from the center of its back, they said, "like an angel."
"It was shaped like a man, but bigger," explained Scarberry in his report on the hair-raising encounter. "Maybe six and a half or seven feet tall. And it had big wings folded against its back."
Its torso resembled a human being’s except that it had no arms and its face was hard to distinguish, as if it was headless. It walked clumsily, like a penguin, and when it raised its wings to a 10-foot spread, it looked enormous.
It then took off straight into the air, and headed right after the car.
"We were driving one hundred miles per hour," Roger later told investigators, "and that bird kept right up with us. It wasn’t even flapping its wings."
Yet it did make some sort of noise, which the witnesses described as sounding like the "squeak" of a huge mouse. Both young women were now crying hysterically. On the trip back to Point Pleasant, the huge thing cast a dark shadow over the rear window. The creature followed them all the way into town. Emitting its screeching sound like "a big mouse," at the Point Pleasant town limits, the creature turned away and was not seen again.
Still unnerved by their encounter, the two couples went directly to the Mason County Courthouse, where they excitedly sought out law enforcement authorities to make a report. The four witnesses proceeded to Deputy Sheriff Mallard Halstead’s office, where they recounted their experience. Officers went to the scene at the TNT area, but they found nothing unusual. However, they experienced some scary moments. The two couples were there when a deputy saw "shadows circling" the old power plant. And Halstead admitted he saw a cloud of dust kick up from an adjacent coal yard that may have been the creature’s doing. The sheriff’s deputy took their testimony seriously when he saw how terrified the witnesses were. Mallette, Scarberry, and deputies returned Wednesday during the daylight and said they saw something fly up inside a boiler when a door was kicked open. No one stayed around long enough to see what it was, however.
The story about the Point Pleasant birdman was soon carried over the local news media, and "Mothman" became the hot topic of the Ohio Valley. When the first TNT sighting reached print, the four young people were the laughing stock of the town. But they had expected that. Steve Mallette told the local newspaper: "We understand people are laughing at us. But we wouldn’t make up all this to make us look like fools."
But that attitude would soon change, as old stories and new ones began to surface. Posses were even assembled at night to seek out the monster, though those armed groups would never manage to kill or capture the Mothman. People began to see the Mothman and talk openly about their encounters.
In what seems to have been a related incident about 90 miles away in Salem, West Virginia, Newell Partridge reported that, at about 10:30 PM that same evening, November 15, 1966, he had been watching television when suddenly his TV began flickering, then shut down. Bandit, Partridge’s three-year old, pure-breed German Shepherd, began howling. Going outside with a flashlight, the Doddridge County farmer saw two large red eyes staring at him. Bandit took off towards the eyes, which then vanished. Partridge reported that he heard Bandit screech. He never saw his dog again.
Partridge’s description of what he called the "red reflectors" matched the reports of the four young Mason County people who had had their TNT encounter about 90 minutes after Partridge’s experience occurred. And in a detail that has often been overlooked in the chronicling of these two incidents, Partridge’s report has a strange link with the Scarberrys and Mallettes account: the couples reported to the authorities that they had seen a dead dog on the roadside as they were being chased by the "thing." The four Point Pleasant residents noticed that when they returned to the TNT area with the sheriff’s deputies, less an hour later, the dog’s carcass was gone.
Today, Theo Paijmans has asked elsewhere, in reaction to the above, about the change during the last forty years, in the descriptions of Mothman – from a a headless, grey creature with wings to a thing that is humanoid with a head, arms, and very humanlike – only with wings. Good question.
From what I have found, the eyewitnesses have changed their descriptions, down through the years, to fit the popular cultural concepts.
News articles and the earliest descriptive John A. Keel writings in FSR and Strange Creatures From Time and Space discuss a “large bird” – with the mention of “an angel,” used more in reference to the wings, not the body.
In Keel’s myth-making The Mothman Prophecies , the more human view of the creature begins to be reinforced.
By the time Scarberry and others are re-interviewed in the 21st century (especially since 2002), for books, documentaries, and news clips, the Mothman has become a fully humanized creature with a head, arms, and legs that were not there in the first reports.
These representations – Frazetta’s cover, that stature in Point Pleasant, “moths” in the movies – have all grown to be mirrors of myths based on the thoughts of insects, aliens, and authors. This creature has little or nothing to do with the real Mothman of 1966 – truly an avian mystery – now mostly seen through Keel’s demonological glasses. Unfortunately.
The above extraction (about the initial sightings) is from Mothman and Other Curious Encounters (NY: Paraview, 2002).