The Devils Footprints


Ghost Lights


Many of the sightings of the mysterious winged creature called Mothman who stalked the Point Pleasant area of West Virginia in 1966-67, were in November. Its most celebrated appearances coincided with a series of UFO reports and other strange events including Men in Black encounters, poltergeist activity and animal mutilations. Just outside Point Pleasant is an abandoned World War II munitions dump known as the TNT area. After the war, parts of the area were leased to various companies to store chemical products. TNT is adjacent to the 2,500 acre McClintock Wildlife Station. This remote plant became the lair of Mothman, and it could not have picked a better hiding place. The entire area is covered with dense forest, ponds, ridges and steep hills and honeycombed with tunnels, which enabled the creature to move about unseen. Much of it was almost inaccessible and Mothman could have hid for months. Because of its remote location, it was a popular hangout for the local youth, who used the dirt roads as "lover’s lanes".

On November 12th 1966, five gravediggers saw a "brown human shape with wings" fly out of the trees near Clendenin. They watched it for almost a minute. On November 14th 1966, Merle Partridge a building contractor, was watching TV at his home outside Salem, W. Virginia. At about 10:30, the TV blanked out - "a fine herringbone pattern appeared on the screen, and at the same time the set started a loud whining noise, winding up to a high pitch, peaking and breaking off, as if you were on a musical scale and you went as high as you could and came back down and repeated it. It sounded like a generator winding up". Partridges' dog Bandit began to howl on the porch, even after they turned the set off. Partridge stepped outside. Bandit was facing the barn. "I shined the light in that direction and it picked up two red circles, or eyes, which looked like bicycle reflectors." he said. Something about them frightened him. "I certainly know what animal eyes look like - these were much larger - It's a good length of a football field to that hay barn -still those eyes showed up huge for that distance -It was an eerie feeling. I have never had this sort of feeling before. It was as if you knew something was wrong, but couldn't place just what it was." Bandit, an experienced hunting dog, snarled and ran toward the eyes, ignoring Partridge’s calls. He hurried inside to get a gun but then decided not to go out again. He described the intense, morbid fear that swept over him as a "cold chill". He slept that night with his shotgun by his side. The next day, he searched for Bandit, a large German Shepherd, but found only his prints in the mud. "Those tracks were going in a circle as if that dog had been chasing his tail - though he never did that," he said. "There were no other tracks of any kind." Bandit was never seen again.

At 11:30 the following night (Nov 15th), two young married couples, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette, were driving through the TNT area. They noticed two red lights by an old generator plant near the factory gate. They stopped the car, and saw a tall figure standing by the roadside. The "light"’ 2" wide and 6" apart, were actually its large glowing red eyes! "It was shaped like a man, but bigger," said Mr. Scarberry "Maybe 6 ½ or 7 feet tall. And it had big wings folded against its back." His wife added "But it was those eyes that got us. It had two big eyes like automobile reflectors. They were hypnotic. For a minute, we could only stare at it. I couldn't take my eyes off it." Then it slowly turned toward the door of the generator plant, which they could now see had apparently been ripped off its hinges. They panicked, Mr. Scarberry hit the accelerator and they made a run for the highway. They saw the creature on a small hill near the road. It spread its bat-like wings, rose straight up into the air, and flew after the car as it skidded out of the exit road onto Route 62. "My God, it's following us! We were doing 100 mph and that bird kept right up with us. It wasn't even flapping its wings." Roger Scarberry said. Its wingspan was over 10 feet and the witnesses said it made a sound like a "record played at high speed or the squeak of a mouse." It followed the car to the Point Pleasant City limits where it broke its pursuit. They immediately went to the Mason County sheriff offices. Deputy Millard Halstead was on duty. "I've known these kids all their lives. They'd never been in any trouble and they were really scared that night. I took them seriously." He followed them back to the TNT area, but found no sign of the creature. Near the spot where they’d seen the figure, Halstead switched on his police radio to call in, but it wouldn’t work. Instead it emitted a loud screech - a garble, like a tape being played at very high speed. Shaken, the deputy turned off the radio and left.

There were other sightings that night - "on the highway, it came down near a car. And just flew over top of the car." Another group of four claimed to have seen it three times - and in one case it came right up to a car window. "Nearly scared the life out of 'em. They met me up there and we looked around. Now, I couldn't see anything at the time - it was dark." The next morning (Nov 16th), Sheriff George Johnson held a press conference and the witnesses were interviewed. The news story went out that day. Mrs. Mary Hyre, editor of the Point Pleasant register, put it on the Associated Press wire and the copy editor named the creature "Mothman" after a villain on the Batman TV series. Mr Partridge (Bandit’s owner) read the newspaper report and noted that Roger Scarberry said they’d seen the body of a big dog by the road side as they entered the city limits. On their way back out, the dog was gone.

Ralph Thomas lived in the TNT area. On the evening of November 16, 1966, at about 9:00 p.m., Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Wamsley, Mrs. Marcella Bennett, and her infant daughter, Tina, were visiting the Thomases. On the way they watched a "funny red light" circling and hovering over the area. "It wasn’t an airplane", Mrs. Bennett said, "but we couldn’t figure out what it was." They were walking back to their car after the visit when they disturbed something, which had been lying down in the grass. "It rose slowly up from the ground behind the parked car." recalled Mrs. Bennett, who was so frightened that she dropped little Tina! A "big gray thing, bigger than a man, with terrible glowing red eyes" It had no real head - the eyes were set at the top of its trunk. As huge wings unfolded from behind it, Mr. Wamsley snatched up the child and they all ran into the house and locked the door. The figure shuffled after them to the porch. They could hear it there and see it peering through the windows. By the time the police arrived, it had gone. Mrs. Bennett, who lives at the edge of Point Pleasant, was traumatized for weeks afterwards and eventually sought medical help. She says she has heard sounds -like a woman screaming on several occasions near her isolated home.

More sightings were reported around Point Pleasant. Paul Yoder and Ben Enochs, two firemen, saw Mothman on the 18th. Richard West, of Charleston saw a winged figure was sitting on the roof of his neighbor's house on Nov 21. The 6-foot tall figure had a wingspan of 6 or 8 feet and red eyes. It took off straight up, "like a helicopter." On Nov 24th, two adults and two children, driving past TNT spotted Mothman in flight.

Thousands of researchers, investigators and monster hunters, streamed into the area. It became a media event as TV crews set up at the old generator plant. John Keel, a famous UFO investigator became the major chronicler of the Mothman case and has written extensively on the subject. On the morning of Nov 25th Tom Ury, driving along Route 62, near the TNT area, saw a large, gray figure standing in a field. It spread two big wings, lifted straight into the air, and flew over Ury's car at about “three telephone poles high"- (50 -60 feet). The next day, Nov 26th, Mrs. Ruth Foster of St. Albans saw the creature on her front lawn, near her porch, but it was gone by the time her brother-in-law went to look. On the morning of Nov 27, coming home from church, Connie Carpenter saw a gray figure on the golf course near Mason. It took off and flew straight at her car. She was one of few who saw is face, but her description-"It was horrible"- doesn't help. That same night in St. Albans, two girls saw the creature near a junkyard. It flew after them.

Mothman wasn’t the only thing going on in the area. Several UFOs were seen near Point Pleasant, an unusually large amount of dogs disappeared and animals were mutilated in surrounding areas. Lights were seen in the skies, particularly around the TNT plant, and cars passing along the nearby road sometimes stalled inexplicably. There was also some local poltergeist activity. Locked doors opened and closed, and strange thumps and voices were heard. There were some reports of "men in black" phenomena. Mary Hyre, the local correspondent for the Athens, Ohio newspaper The Messenger, wrote about local events. After one very active weekend, she was deluged with over 500 phone calls from people who saw strange lights. One night in January 1967, she was working late in her office in the county courthouse and a man walked in. He was short and had strange eyes and thick glasses. His long, black hair that was cut “like a bowl haircut”. In a low, halting voice, he asked for directions to Welsh, W.Va. Hyre thought that he had some sort of speech impediment and for some reason, he terrified her. "He kept getting closer and closer to me, " she said, "and his funny eyes were staring at me almost hypnotically" She summoned the newspaper’s circulation manager to her office and together, they spoke to the strange man. As she answered the telephone, the man picked up a pen from her desk. He looked at it "as if he had never seen a pen before." Then, he grabbed it, laughed loudly and ran out. Some weeks later, Hyre saw him on the street near her office. When he realized she’d seen him, he turned away quickly and ran to a big black car that suddenly came around the corner. He climbed in and it quickly sped away.

For nearly a year, strange events continued in the area. Researchers have speculated on a connection between Mothman and UFOs. It has also been suggested that "some secret magical ritual by some unknown local warlock," brought the creature into being. Others theorized that the chemicals routinely moved around in TNT had leaked and caused a bio-chemical mutation. Still others brought up the Curse of Chief Cornstalk, placed on Point Pleasant in the 1770's. Had his 200-year spell conjured up a winged nightmare to extract Shawnee revenge? There was no shortage of stories. From that time to November 1967 there were over 100 sightings. Mabel McDaniel (coincidentally, Linda Scarberry’s mother) saw Mothman on Jan 11, 1967 and said that at first it looked like "an airplane, then I realized it was flying much too low. It was brown and had a wingspread of at least 10 feet." In March, a flying creature chased an Ohio man, riding in his car. On November 2nd 1967, shortly after noon, Mrs. Ralph Thomas heard a "squeaky fan belt" outside her home and saw a "tall gray figure" moving among the domes in the TNT.

The tragedy of the Silver Bridge was the biggest disaster ever to hit Point Pleasant. The bridge, built in 1928 and named for its aluminum paint, was an eye-bar chain suspension bridge that connected Point Pleasant, W.Va. with Gallipolis, Ohio over the Ohio River. At around 5:00 on the evening of December 15, 1967, the 700-foot bridge collapsed in rush-hour traffic. Dozens of vehicles plunged into the waters of the Ohio River and 46 people were killed. It seems that a single eye-bar had failed due to a small manufacturing flaw. On that same tragic night, the James Lilley family, who lived near the TNT plant counted more than 12 lights that flashed above their home and vanished into the forest. Many said Mothman was responsible for the fall of the Silver Bridge. Others said he was trying to warn people about it. One Point Pleasant resident, who was a very young girl at the time, saw Mothman hovering outside her bedroom window on the night before the catastrophe. He seemed to study her. On the day of the tragedy, the family was supposed to leave on a trip, which would involve crossing the bridge. As they started out, her father suddenly had a headache, and went back to lie down. He recovered a little later and they heard news of the disaster they had so narrowly avoided. Was Mothman protecting the child? Did he cause her father's headache? The collapse of the Silver Bridge put an end to most of the Mothman sightings. It made headlines all over the country and as reporters and TV crews descended on the town, Mothman faded back into the twilight zone - though there have been a few scattered sightings since then.

So who or what was Mothman? Is there a logical explanation for the sightings? Even John Keel suspected that in a very few cases observers, spooked by the stories might have mistaken owls on dark country roads for something more. Even so, any rational explanation of Mothman must regard all the testimony as wildly in error. It was not a hoax - there were simply too many credible witnesses. Explanations range from conspiracy theories to misidentification. The most usual is that the witnesses saw Sandhill Cranes, which, though not native to the region, could have migrated from Canada. They have red patches on their heads (Mothman's red eyes) and a large one may have a wingspan of 10 feet. They glide for long distances without flapping, and have an unusual shriek. All the witnesses rejected this, saying that the birds bear no resemblance to what they observed.

Most questions about Mothman will probably never be answered. Descriptions of the creature were consistent and Keel compiled a composite description. All reported the same basic build and features. Communications devices squealed and whined. The same red, glowing, hypnotic eyes, and an uncontrollable, indescribable terror "A weird kind of fear. That fear gripped you and held you." According to eyewitnesses, it stood about 7 feet tall, wider than a man, with murky grey or brown, scaly skin and large, red, glowing eyes. Many said there was no head - the eyes were set near the top of the shoulders where a neck and head ‘should’ be. It walked in a shuffling manner on humanlike legs but no one could recall the presence of or details of any feet. It had massive bat-like wings spanning 10 feet; typically ascended "straight up, like a helicopter." and could fly up to 100 mph. The creature never seemed to flap its wings - even when rising - it rose and glided with little or no effort, and no sound, though two people heard a mechanical humming as it flew above them. Some reported patches of feathers on the body and wings; others said that the wings were featherless. Mothman emitted a screech or squeal like a rodent or electric motor, favoured remote, unpopulated areas, and liked to chase cars, cause radio and TV interference and mutilate or eat dogs. It was apparently protective of children and may have had some mind control powers. Nobody knows what haunted those dark West Virginia nights, but for those who saw the strange creature life was never the same. Some got divorced. Many moved far away. Several suffered nervous breakdowns or had long hospitalizations A few committed suicide, and many died within six months of the sightings.

Mothman's one known appearance outside Ohio and West Virginia was in England, along a road near Hythe, Kent, on November 16, 1963. Four young people saw a “star" ascend from the night sky and disappear behind trees. Then they watched a golden, oval light floating a few feet above a nearby field. It moved into a wooded area and was lost to view. A dark shape shambled toward them across the field. It was black, headless, human-sized, and had wings like a bat's. They did not linger. Others saw a similar UFO over the next few nights. On the 23rd, two investigators found a "vast expanse of bracken that had been flattened." They also found 3 footprints, 2 feet long and 9 inches wide, pressed an inch deep in the soil.

Mothman is still being seen today. If such things can happen in West Virginia, then why not elsewhere? Where will the next sighting be?

Sylvia Richards October 2009