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Cryptid Petting Zoo
|Hiding with Schrödinger's cat|
The story of Mothman is even weirder than that of Spring Heeled Jack. The events described in John A Keel's The Mothman Prophecies run, briefly, as follows: in 1966, a foursome of young lovers out for a drive in West Virginia claimed to see an extremely strange flying
creature animal [note 1] that swooped over their car, frightening them. Over the following year, dozens of people in the area also claimed to have seen the creature; there were also reports of UFOs, men in black, a contactee or two and bizarre telephone messages from unknown persons. The events apparently ended with the collapse of the local bridge in 1967, which killed dozens of people.
Keel and another writer, Gray Barker, wrote this all up in a couple of exceedingly strange books. Keel's book was adapted into a 2002 film starring Richard Gere.[note 2] Whether it is the book or the film that most resemble what actually happened is probably moot.
Origin of the legend
The initial report came from two 18 year-old married [note 3] couples in a '57 Chevy who'd been cruising woodsy spots where bored local kids gathered to drink, make out, and raise Hell (think American Graffiti with wedding rings). The grounds of an abandoned warehouse once used to store munitions in the 1940s was one of the more popular hangouts. There, they told the local Sheriff, "a bird as big as a man" chased their car, its eyes reflecting the glow of their headlights. The press picked up the Sheriff's report prompting widespread hysteria and a number of pranks; one local man blasted an owl to bits with his shotgun after being frightened by its "glowing eyes" and a gang of construction workers tied flashlights to a balloon in hopes of inciting a UFO scare.
A few nights later, members of the local fire department investigated the warehouse area and reported observing a large creature which they definitely identified as a bird. A wildlife biologist guessed that a Sandhill Crane - featuring a seven foot wingspan and reddish coloring around the eyes - may have wandered out of its migration route. Others blamed the hysteria on sightings of various types of owls with large wingspans that were common to the area. But rational explanations quickly took a back seat to sensational media coverage. A press conference was held in the county courthouse where the teens were encouraged to repeat their story for reporters. The creature was dubbed "Mothman" (a nod at Batman's enemy "Killer Moth" in the then-popular TV series Batman) by a local newscaster, and the national press spread the story across the country.
Keel and Barker
Enter two UFOlogist writers who specialized in spinning woo into cash: John Keel and Gray Barker. Keel was demonstrably better at his craft, having sold articles to Science Digest, Saga and Playboy, while Barker labored mostly on the fringes cranking out a mimeographed newsletter he called Saucer News. Both recognized the Mothman reports coming out of West Virginia as the basis for a potentially profitable enterprise. Keel took up residence at a Point Pleasant motel to gather details and interview locals. The two men discussed the idea of jointly authoring a "nonfiction" (wink wink) book on the subject, and Keel agreed to share his notes. Barker drafted a few sample chapters that featured Keel as a "mysterious character" and fabricated a mythical connection between Mothman and the tragic but unrelated collapse of a local bridge.
Keel later revamped and polished the story into a first-person narrative that cast him in the role of a "journalist", liberally salted with his own paranoid fantasies about UFOs, men in black conspiracies, and other paranormal weirdness. Barker's habit of "drunk dialing" Keel's motel room at odd hours to mumble incoherent messages was subsequently re-imagined by Keel as a series of "mysterious phone calls" from mysterious, extradimensional beings. Predictably, when their loose partnership fell apart, it was Keel's mass market book The Mothman Prophecies and not Barker's self-published The Silver Bridge that would go on to generate the most impact (and dollars).
Curse of Mothman
There are a couple of odd developments stemming from this weirdness. One is a meme running through the Mothman literature that the creature is a harbinger of disaster; it was said to have appeared before the 1985 Mexico City earthquake and the Chernobyl disaster. Therefore, anywhere that gets a visit from this thing is DOOOOMED!!!ZOMG!!!11!... except for the places that had disasters without preceding Mothman reports, or reports with no ensuing disaster.
A more personalised service is the "Mothman death list", a supposed curse that befalls anyone who sees it—you'll be dead in a year, apparently. Like, say, Linda Scarberry, who was one of the original quartet in the car, and, um, oh, here she is alive and well in 2002. Oops. Of course, many people have died over the years; after all it was over 50 years ago, and natural causes take their toll.
Despite no sighting reports for over fifty years the Mothman is still a considerable tourist attraction. They may be weirdos but they're still spending dollars; the town of Point Pleasant even has a Mothman Festival (3rd weekend in September, Mothfans). 
The Mothman Prophecies was made into a feature film in 2002, albeit not one based strictly on Keel's book. The bearded, pipe-smoking freelance scribbler Keel was recast as a super attractive Washington Post staff reporter named Klein (Richard Gere) who's happily married to a super-attractive wife (Debra Messing) who can't wait to have sex with him at every opportunity (did we mention this is science fiction?). Then one day the Kleins crash their car and the wife dies, but not before she tells him it was Mothman's fault.
A bunch of strange experiences follow; Klein inexplicably finds himself in West Virginia, is mistaken for a stalker, gets funny phone calls, and hooks up with sexy female cop Connie Mills (Laura Linney) who he heroically rescues in the inevitable bridge collapse. Through it all, the shadowy figure of Mothman is seen flying around in a manner that suggests he/it is responsible for all this weirdness.
For example, before the bridge collapse, Connie Mills had super weird dreams. She was floating in water surrounded by presents as a voice called to her, "Come back No. 37".[note 4] The movie strongly hints that Connie would surely have been bridge collapse drowning victim #37 if Keel/Gere wasn't there to save her, and that Mothman (don't ask how) somehow enabled it all.
The pair promptly realize their recent experiences have been fantasmagorically significant, and it confirms for them that Mothman is real (and apparently dedicated to helping rescue people during bridge collapses in West Virginia). The two main characters stare in horror into the night as menacing music plays on the soundtrack. The film ends with the terrifying conclusion that the Mothman (who they already knew to be real) is real! And he's apparently a good guy! Duh-duh-DUUUHHHH!!!!
The end credits ominously state the fact that "the collapse of the Silver Bridge was never explained". However this is not true. The incident was found to be caused by the failure of an eye-bar in a suspension chain.[note 5]
As of writing, the Nostalgia Critic has yet to review this film.
- Pro Tip: just substitute the more accurate term "animal" for "creature" found in many over-dramatized reports and suddenly the silliness of the whole episode becomes apparent.
- We would be remiss in failing to mention the 2011 'documentary' film Eyes of the Mothman.
- 1966. Rural West Virginia. Nuff' said.
- The movie dialogue mentions that 36 people died in the collapse of the Silver Bridge, but in reality it was 46 which is actually scarier.
- Yes, we know, it's absolutely astounding that a movie would make facts up and pass them off as true. What's next, actual news reporting that isn't true?
- Associated Press (Dec 1, 1966). "Monster Bird With Red Eyes May Be Crane". Gettysburg Times. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=LG0mAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Rf8FAAAAIBAJ&pg=620,2790721&dq=point+pleasant+roger+scarberry&hl=en. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
- Joe Nickell (April 2004). The Mystery Chronicles: More Real-Life X-Files. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 93–. http://books.google.com/books?id=sComGoDFJZ4C&pg=PA93. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
- Cassandra Eason. Fabulous Creatures, Mythical Monsters, and Animal Power Symbols: A Handbook. Greenwood Publishing Group; 2008. p. 15–.
- Mark Moran; Mark Sceurman (5 May 2009). Weird U.S.: Your Travel Guide to America's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.. http://books.google.com/books?id=dXtBIvwPN84C&pg=PA108. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
- Sherwood, John (May/June 2002). Gray Barker’s Book of Bunk Mothman, Saucers, and MIB. retrieved Feb 20 2013, from Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Web Site: http://www.csicop.org/si/show/gray_barkers_book_of_bunk_mothman_saucers_and_mib/
- Ancient Myths - The Mothman Prophecies
- http://www.thestar.com/life/travel/2008/01/19/mothman_still_a_frighteningly_big_draw_for_tourists.html Star.com: 'Mothman' still a frighteningly big draw for tourists
- http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20020125/REVIEWS/201250305/1023 The Mothman Prophecies, RogerEbert.com / January 25, 2002
- "The Collapse of the Silver Bridge-by Chris LeRose". Wvculture.org. http://www.wvculture.org/history/wvhs1504.html. Retrieved 2013-02-20.