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Gallipolis’s Mothman

Mothman, the creature made famous in the 2001 Richard Gere movie, The Mothman Prophecies, has clear Ohio connections. While the story itself was fictionalized for the film, it is based on true events that occurred in the 1960s in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Point Pleasant is located on the Ohio River, right across from Gallipolis, Ohio, and Mothman was as much an inhabitant of that Ohio town as it was of the West Virginian one.

After the November 15, 1966 sighting of what locals were calling a “Big Bird” began getting media attention, it was an Ohio copyeditor who dubbed the thing “Mothman.” While most people remember the sightings from the Point Pleasant side, the record clearly shows Ohio was a hotbed too. On November 17, 1966, a teenage boy said he saw a gray man-shaped ten-feet tall creature with red eyes, while he was driving on Route 7, near Cheshire, .

The Mothman spread its wings and pursued the eyewitness’s car. Then on December 4, 1966, five pilots at the Gallipolis airport saw what they thought, at first, was an airplane, going 70 mph. Then all five clearly said it appeared to be a giant bird, with a long neck. On December 7, 1966, four adult women were driving along Route 33, in Ohio, when they spied a brownish-silver man-shaped flying creature with glowing red eyes.

But the history of Ohio’s links to these avian wonders go back deeper into the past. In Mark A. Hall’s 2004 book, Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds, he finds old Ohio cases. Hall uncovered this entry by William Connelly in this entry among the Wyandot Indians from Ohio: “The Flying Heads plagued the Wyandots. They were more dangerous and troublesome during rainy, foggy, or misty weather. They could enter a cloud of fog, or mist, or rime, and in it approach a Wyandot village unseen. They were cruel and wicked hooh-kehs and cannibals. They caused sickness; they were vampires, and lay in wait for people, whom they caught and devoured. They carried away children; they blighted the tobacco and other crops; they stole and devoured the game after the hunter had killed it.” 

Hall also discovered report from the early 1900s, of large birds with wingspans of 12 feet across flying up and down the Ohio River Valley. During World War I, there were accounts of “Birdman” with glistening dark reddish feathers seen in the same area, around Gallipolis. Children were kept inside. After World War II, people said they were chased by a huge bird while traveling on the highways near the Ohio River.

Cryptozoologist Mark Hall writes that these Ohio River Valley Mothmen may have developed a protective mimicry that was used “to disguise themselves as upright trees and logs lying on the ground…An example of this mimicry in action comes in a report from a woman in Ohio who observed something she could not understand. She saw this thing at Rocky Fork Lake in southern Ohio in August of 1982. About a year later she saw a similar sight at the same lake.” The witness said that “…while fishing in Rocky Fork Lake in Ohio we drifted into a pristine cove on the southwest side and noted with utter disbelief an old tall topless tree truck approx 9-10 feet high, 112 inches around, move about 4 ft. sideways. (This was on shore about 20 ft. inland among like-looking trees and underbrush.) Again it moved, only this time there was a partial twisting or rotation from the top 18-24 inches. It slowly maneuvered backward (keeping erect like a tree) into the woods, with NO NOISES from it or the underbrush, as graceful as a bird thru a tree. It stopped in the middle of a sunlight clearing…” She then writes the “wings unfolded with a span greater than most small airplanes.” After a while she reports it returned to its “tree appearance.” She saw the “semblance of two eyes” and thought it was watching them.

The sun went down and the sight was lost to view. Then: “One year later, same lake and a half mile or so from that first cove this figure appeared near the shoreline again. (It seemed taller or leaner.) This time [I] got a look at its legs and feet —yellowish grainy like chicken legs…they were so thin and short for its height. Three long slender toes with a hooked toe or nail on the lower leg.” The legacy of the Mothman, hiding in plain sight, is still circulating in the communities on the Ohio side of the river.

Some speculate that the thirteen months of Mothman sightings in were a warning sign that something tragic was going to happen. They believe that the dark prophecy was realized when key bar #13 of the Silver Bridge broke on December 15, 1967, and the bridge between Point Pleasant, West Virginia, Gallipolis, Ohio collapsed, taking cars and people to their death. Tragically, a state-by-state breakdown of the dead from the bridge reveals that two were from Virginia, three from North Carolina, 19 from West Virginia, and the greatest number, 22 victims, were from Ohio.

What the Mothman Witnesses Saw

A reporter named Mary Hyre, who was the Point Pleasant correspondent for the Athens, Ohio newspaper The Messenger during the 1966-67 Mothman flap, wrote extensively about the local sightings. In fact, after one very active weekend, she was deluged with over 500 phone calls from people who saw strange lights in the skies.

John Keel, who has written extensively about Mothman and other unexplained anomalies, became the major chronicler of the Mothman case and wrote that at least 100 people personally witnessed the creature between November 1966 and November 1967. According to their reports, the creature stood between five and seven feet tall, was wider than a man and shuffled on human-like legs. Its eyes were set near the top of the shoulders and had bat-like wings that glided, rather than flapped, when it flew. Strangely though, it was able to ascend straight up “like a helicopter.” Witnesses also described its murky skin as being either gray or brown and it emitted a humming sound when it flew. The Mothman was apparently incapable of speech and gave off a screeching sound.

Whatever the creature may have been, it seems clear that Mothman was no hoax. There were simply too many credible witnesses who saw “something.” It was suggested at the time that the creature may have been a sandhill crane, which while they are not native to the area, could have migrated south from Canada. That was one explanation anyway, although it was one that was rejected by Mothman witnesses, who stated that what they saw looked nothing like a crane.

But there could have been a logical explanation for some of the sightings. Even John Keel (who believed the creature was genuine) suspected that a few of the cases involved people who were spooked by recent reports and saw owls flying along deserted roads at night. Even so, Mothman remains hard to easily dismiss. The case is filled with an impressive number of multiple-witness sightings by individuals that were deemed reliable, even by law enforcement officials’ standards.  –Troy Taylor

Weird Ohio


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