Graphic by: Vincentia Thatcher
Graphic by: Vincentia Thatcher

The Myth of Mothman

May 11, 2023

The United States is no stranger to the dark and mysterious. Many urban legends have popped up over the centuries. Some of these urban legends are Area 51, The Jersey Devil, Annabelle, and many more. There, of course, are going to be some tales that become more popular and are more talked about than others. One such tale is the legend of the Mothman.

First Sighting

The myth of Mothman begins in West Virginia on November 15, 1966. Two young couples from the town Point Pleasant reported to police that they saw a large, gray creature with glowing red eyes, which they saw with their car’s headlights. They added that the creature was a large man with wings spanning ten feet. Over the next year, more people claimed to have seen the creature as well. Officials nearby tried to disprove the existence of the creature by saying that it was a bird.

At the time a name was needed for the creature, the Batman TV series was quite popular. One of the Dark Knight villains from the comics was a character by the name of Killer Moth. It is believed that this character and Batman were influenced when the creature was given the name Mothman by local newspapers.

On December 15, 1967, the nearby Silver Bridge collapsed, causing the death of 46 people by either drowning or being crushed. Wanting an explanation, people started to bring up Mothman and his appearances in the area from the previous year. They began to speculate that he may have had prior knowledge of the disaster. Perhaps, he was trying to warn them.

The Harbinger of Doom

After the collapse of the Silver Bridge soon after the first sightings, residents of Point Pleasant began to wonder if the Mothman had been trying to warn them about something. This sparked the idea that Mothman was a supernatural force using his powers of clairvoyance to warn people about upcoming disasters.

Since the initial encounters of the 1960s, people from all over the world have reported seeing Mothman and similar creatures before disaster strikes. Miners in Germany were reportedly chased out of a mine by a Mothman-like creature before its collapse, and it is said that the same being haunted the grounds of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant shortly before its famous meltdown. Decades later, people would claim to see Mothman flying through New York City on the day of the 9/11 attacks, with photographic evidence later surfacing. And in 2007, Mothman would be seen in Minneapolis, Minnesota nearly a month before the collapse of another bridge, this one being a part of Interstate 35. And in 2009, residents of La Junta, Mexico described seeing, hearing, and being chased by a large creature that matches most descriptions of Mothman. Soon after these encounters, the area experienced a surge of swine flu cases.

Mothman Moves to Chicago

More recently, Mothman has apparently been frequenting lakes in the Chicago area. Throughout the 2010s, dozens of Chicagoans would report seeing the creature. During one of the more famous Chicago sightings, Mothman was seen flying low over docks and screeching during the 2017 solar eclipse. Chicago Mothman encounters would peak in 2017, inspiring a series of comics by artist Sarah Becan depicting the cryptid visiting Chicago landmarks.

The reason why the beast has chosen the Windy City as its new home is still unknown, but the continued sightings of the creature could suggest that whatever great disaster he is trying to warn us of has yet to pass.

Moth or Bird

Like all other urban legends, Mothman has skeptics with their own theories of what Mothman truly is, if not a giant man-moth. One popular theory is that Mothman is actually a sandhill crane, due to its size and bright red head, which would be mistaken for giant eyes. However, sandhill cranes are not native to West Virginia, where Mothman was first spotted, and its distinctive, long neck contrasts with the eyewitness accounts claiming that Mothman has no neck. 

Another theory is that Mothman is an owl, a barred owl, to be specific. One reason for this was that barred owls are considered eerie and have a similar appearance to the first sighting of Mothman. Unfortunately, this theory was shut down because of one thing –  the eyes. When Mothman was first spotted, he was reported to have huge red eyes that were seen clearly with car headlights, and some descriptions have compared them to reflectors on bicycles. There are nocturnal animals that have eyeshines, which happens when light reflects off the pupil making the eye look like it’s glowing, such as cats, dogs, and owls. However, a barred owl’s eyeshine is so weak that it couldn’t have been the eerie red eyes that Mothman is known for. 

From Myth to Media

In 1975, nearly a decade after the initial Mothman encounters, author John Keel published his book The Mothman Prophecies. The book detailed his investigations into the first sightings that would lead him to make a connection between Mothman and the Silver Bridge collapse. The book popularized the idea of Mothman warning the town of the upcoming disaster. Though the accuracy of the events recounted in the book has been called into question, it played a vital role in introducing Mothman to the rest of the United States.

Many years later the book would go on to inspire a movie by the same name. Directed by Mark Pellington and starring Richard Gere, the film depicts a fictionalized version of Keel’s investigations. Despite receiving mixed reviews, the film went on to make over $90 million worldwide. Since his film debut in 2002, Mothman has been the subject of several documentaries and has also been featured in TV shows on multiple occasions.

With Mothman’s booming popularity after the release of the movie, the people of Pleasant Point created the annual Mothman Festival as a celebration of the creature’s legacy in their town. It is held in the third week of September, and more than ten thousand people attend every year to enjoy the festivities and learn more about this mysterious being at the town’s Mothman Museum.

The Mysterious Protector

With so many disasters and accidents that have happened over the course of human history, it’s possible that Mothman has been around for longer than we originally thought. Has he always been around, trying to save people from accidents before they can take place? In all of his sightings, none of his actions have been malicious. All he has been trying to do so far is protect people by warning them of terrible events yet to come.

But what will happen if Mothman gives up his noble quest of trying to save people? What if instead of saving people from accidents, he chooses to cause them or hunt innocent people wandering in the woods? What would happen to us then? The only thing we know for sure is that as of right now, we are safe, because rather than a guardian angel, we have our guardian moth watching over us, doing his best to protect us from perils we have no way of stopping.

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