While the word “Mothman” should strike fear into the hearts of anyone who knows the urban legend, it makes me feel nostalgic and comforted. Allow me to explain.
I grew up about an hour away from Point Pleasant, W.Va., the mecca of Mothman, if you will. Discussing the Mothman legend immediately floods my head with memories of warm summer day trips to the small and very pleasant, town of Point Pleasant.
For anyone not familiar with this Appalachian urban legend, in West Virginia folklore, the Mothman is a creature reportedly seen in the Point Pleasant area from November 15, 1966, to December 15, 1967. The first newspaper report was published in the Point Pleasant Register dated November 16, 1966, titled “Couples See Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something.” The national press soon picked up the reports and helped spread the story across the United States. Many believe the Mothman, a red-eyed, winged beast, is a harbinger of doom because of the famous sightings that occurred right before the Silver Bridge collapse in 1967. That tragedy would shape the town irrevocably. 31 vehicles went into the Ohio River that day, sending 64 people into its 44-degree waters. Of the 64 who went in, 46 died. The collapse remains the deadliest bridge disaster in United States history.
As a child, I was fascinated by the story of the Silver Bridge Collapse. I chose to cover the disaster as my social studies project in the seventh grade. My parents, always supportive, took me on a day-trip to Point Pleasant to visit The Point Pleasant River Museum and do some hands-on research for my project. I was elated as the museum workers showed me original documents reporting the disaster, covered in protective plastic sheets for their preservation. The museum also houses hundreds of models, some of the Silver Bridge and its eventual collapse. I remember studying the model bridge, searching for the single eye-bar that had fractured, causing the pin holding it to fall, sending the bridge into the water and wishing I could go back to 1967 and point out the fracture before the disaster.
As the legend goes, the Mothman was a harbinger of doom, warning the small town of Point Pleasant of the impending disaster that would take 46 of its own just ten days before Christmas. This theory came about, in large part, because of the lack of sightings of the winged beast after the bridge collapse.
Of course, the entire story is a tragedy. Even if the Silver Bridge hadn’t collapsed, a town lived in fear and turmoil for two years of paranormal activity. Now, the town wears the legend as a badge of honor, shaping its identity around the creature. A 12 foot statue of the Mothman overlooks downtown, which is full of Mothman-themed museums, restaurants and retail shops. This is the Point Pleasant that brings back my childhood memories; a quirky little town, on the edge of a state that has adopted its fascinating history as a part of its own.
As I chatted with Seth Breedlove, the director of the most recent documentary about the Mothman, “The Mothman Legacy,” he mentioned his first Mothman-based film, “The Mothman of Point Pleasant,” had premiered in 2017. I abandoned my list of questions and quickly asked if his movie had premiered on the second floor of a the Lowe Hotel. He answered yes, and we figured out that I had attended the premiere of that film with my Dad.
Always the problem-fixer, my Dad had suggested we take a trip to Point Pleasant after a particularly devastation breakup of mine. I’ll admit that I was not doing great with the heartbreak but Point Pleasant helped. Before the movie, we walked the familiar streets and visited my favorite museum. I laughed and smiled for the first time in at least a month as we posed for photos with the statue of Mothman. Soon, it was time for the film to start and we joined the queue. As we sat there, snacking on popcorn and watching a spooky documentary, my heart healed a bit. I kept glancing at my Dad, grateful for his efforts to cheer me up and wondering if I would ever find a man to love me as much as he does. But, in that moment, all was well; I was in Point Pleasant, watching a new movie about the Mothman. I rested my head on my Dad’s shoulder and sank into the childhood memories that always flood my head when the Mothman legend is mentioned.
— Contact Emily Rice at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @BDTrice