Popular legend holds that the Mothman is a supernatural being who only shows himself to warn people of an impending disaster. Despite his status as a harbinger of doom, many people go to Point Pleasant, West Virginia specifically to look for Mothman—which might be asking for trouble.
In the late 1960s, Mothman hysteria gripped the tiny Ohio River town as dozens of people reported seeing a tall, winged, red-eyed monster. It’s thought that the sightings foreshadowed the 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge, which once connected Gallipolis, Ohio to Point Pleasant. Forty-six people died in the disaster, which was eventually found to be the result of a faulty eyebar.
After the bridge collapse, the Mothman disappeared from Point Pleasant.
The stuff of legend
The Mothman didn’t disappear from the media, however. In 1975, writer and ufologist John Keel published The Mothman Prophecies, a book about his time spent studying the Mothman’s appearance in Point Pleasant in the 1960s. He came up with the theory that the Mothman shows himself to warn people of impending doom. In 2002, a heavily-fictionalized film adaptation of The Mothman Prophecies starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, and Debra Messing was released.
I don’t remember the first time I heard the legend of the Mothman, but there’s something about the Mothman’s time in Point Pleasant that keeps holding people’s interest, including mine.
A week before Point Pleasant’s annual Mothman Festival, I took a weekend trip from Cincinnati to visit the curious little town. As if the prospect of an encounter with the Mothman wasn’t terrifying enough, I booked a room at the town’s historic—and allegedly haunted—Lowe Hotel.
A loving tribute
Point Pleasant is a quaint, Appalachian town reminiscent of a smaller Twin Peaks. The entire town is about three square miles in size, with a population of just over 4,000 people.
To get to Point Pleasant, I drove across the Silver Memorial Bridge, the structure that replaced the bridge that famously collapsed. My first stop was the Mothman Museum. It’s small, but it packs in a lot of local lore, including a documentary playing on a loop, John Keel memorabilia, props from the Mothman Prophecies film, and newspaper clippings.
The Mothman sightings were covered heavily in the local papers. Each time someone sighted the creature, there was an article detailing the incident. If it had been a while since the last appearance, there would often be a piece speculating on what he was up to. The internet may have made it easier to spread sensationalized stories, but humans have always been drawn to tales of the unknown.
The Mothman Museum is the heart and soul of the Mothman Festival. During the third weekend in September, thousands of people flock to the town to commemorate and celebrate the hometown monster. The event has everything you would expect of a small town festival—including live music, a parade, a 5K, and a craft fair—with a quirky twist. Vendors hawk Mothman-shaped desserts and paranormal experts give talks.
Next to the museum is a Mothman statue. The monster was described by witnesses as being shaped like a man, but with 10-foot wings and red eyes. The statue, made by Bob Roach, has six-pack abs, sharp fangs, a hairy chest, and huge, red eyes. It’s the perfect photo op, and a surprisingly loving tribute from the town to the monster.
An explosive adventure
A lot of Mothman sightings have reportedly occurred around the so-called “TNT domes,” part of an abandoned, World War II-era dynamite storage facility. So, if I was going to try and spot the creature, this was a good place to start.
My late afternoon trip to the domes, which once housed dynamite manufactured at the top-secret West Virginia Ordnance Works facility in Port Pleasant, added a layer of government conspiracy to the adventure. While the operation has been declassified—there are even bus tours to the domes during the Mothman Festival—there’s something eerie and vaguely threatening about this place, hidden in the woods of West Virginia.
The domes are not easy to find, but with the help of GPS, I ended up on a narrow road at the edge of town. Every few yards, gated-off gravel roads lead off from the road, and I decided to venture down one of them.
The scene was almost too perfect: The sky was gray with a steady drizzle of rain. I was surrounded by trees and greenery, and there were very few signs of life. When I finally encountered one of the domes—rusted out, covered in graffiti, and locked—I almost walked right past it. It was so overgrown that it was difficult to recognize.
A sign on the door read “High Explosives, Keep Away.” In 2010, one of these rooms filled with unstable materials exploded, something I only found out about later. Had I known about it in advance, maybe I would have been a bit less cavalier about exploring the location—but ignorance, as they say, is bliss.
As I explored other gravel paths, I encountered a storage dome with open doors. I instantly regretted my decision to step inside. The concrete igloo lacked windows and my cell phone flashlight was an inadequate light source. When a bat took flight inside, I screamed and immediately ran outside. Relieved, I realized that I’d been hugging the walls, terrified that the door would somehow slam shut and trap me inside. Once my heartbeat slowed back down to a normal pace, I decided to head back to my room—yes, the one in the haunted hotel—and call it a night.
At the end of the day, if not seeing the Mothman in the flesh is a good omen, I consider the trip a success.