Mothman: A West Virginia Folklore

Starting on November 15, 1966, the people of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, an otherwise quiet town along the Ohio River, began seeing something strange in there community. That night was the first widely reported sighting of a creature known as the Mothman, described as “flying man with 10 foot wings” and “seven feet tall with large eyes” (“Monster Bird”). In the sighting that started the town’s belief in the creature, two young couples were out for a drive late at night when they saw the creature. Terrified, they left the scene and reportedly were chased by it at speeds of “about 100 miles an hour” (“Couples See”). From here, many in the town began to report sightings of the Mothman, as well as other extraordinary phenomena, such as UFOs and even the men in black (Posey 2017). The belief in the Mothman became important to these people, as they began to blame bad happenings from disappearing dogs (“Eight People”) all the way up to the collapse of the Silver Bridge in 1967 on the creature. However, like Bigfoot and other cryptids, belief in the Mothman defies any animal we have ever documented, and the presence of some other precognitive and psionic abilities brings the creature even further from the reality we know.

To start, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette had their encounter on November 15, 1966. They reported their sighting immediately and even said that they wouldn’t report it alone, “ but there were four of us who saw it” (“Couple See”). From here, all evidence for the existence in mothman remains anecdotal and circumstantial, such as weird footprints or clouds of dust, though these sightings remained widespread in the community until the supposed sightings at the collapse of the Silver Bridge on December 15, 1967. Arguments against the belief typically state that the creature was actually simply a large bird, such as an owl, heron or even a sandhill crane. The sandhill crane is a bird that “stands almost as high as a man and has a wingspan of more than seven feet,” and even has “large circles of bare reddish flesh around the crane’s eyes” (“Monster Bird”), possibly explaining both the creatures stature and the red eyes, although the crane was not typically seen in the area during the time period of the sightings. Additionally, both couples reported that the eyes only glowed red “only when their lights shined on it,” (“Couples See”) a fact that strongly suggests the red eyes were simply a result of the “red eye effect” that is so common to flash photography.

Once the belief began, many cognitive errors could have come into play to reinforce it. While investigating the sighting, Deputy Millard Halstead found a cloud of dust the “could have been caused by the bird,” as well as finding strange footprints (“Couples See”). These would be examples of post hoc reasonings since they attribute the observed phenomena to a wholly cause that they hadn’t even directly observed. Confirmation bias may be present in the sandhill crane theory as well. The crane is likely the most plausible cause, but many would dismiss it since it wasn’t native to the region. They cherrypick that detail to dismiss the theory, and since no other good explanation exists, this dismissal strengthens their own belief in the creature. Third, because the sighting was so memorable and widely reported, the availability heuristic would come into play. People would began to just associate any “strange” occurences to the creature because it was much easier for them to remember. Additionally, many signs of a pseudoscientific belief are present here, such as the retreat to the supernatural, the abundance of anecdotal evidence, and even the appeal to authority caused by police actively investigating the sightings.

Of course, the society of Point Pleasant would lend itself to a folktale like this. Even today, Point Pleasant only has a population of slightly over 4,000 people, according to the 2010 census. It was a small city, and such an event was huge for the community at the time. Everyone knew the Scarburrys and Mallettes, so they would be more likely to believe them, and when weird things happened to others, the Mothman became an easy scapegoat. Jan Harold Brunvand noted that recountings state at least 100 people saw the Mothman, with many unreported sightings occurring as well. Basically, the size of the community allowed for everyone to either have a story or know someone with one, further reinforcing the belief the town had. This social support for the belief was probably what really drove the Mothman stories to become so famous.

Regardless of the social aspect, the dismissal of plausible explanations, the presence of supernatural abilities and even the little mental mistakes that made believing easier, the Mothman remains important to West Virginia folklore.


Works Cited

“Couples See Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something.” Point Pleasant Register, 16 Nov. 1966.

Cryptid. “Mothman Sightings and the Point Pleasant Silver Bridge Collapse.” Exemplore, Exemplore, 2 Nov. 2018,

“Eight People Say They Saw the Creature.” Williamson Daily News, 18 Nov. 1966.

“Monster Bird with Red Eyes May Be Crane.” Gettysburg Times, 1 Dec. 1966.

“Mothman.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Feb. 2019,

“Mothman Museum.”,

Posey, Aaron. “50 Years Later: Point Pleasant, Silver Bridge Collapse and the Mothman.” 1428 Elm, FanSided, 28 Dec. 2017,

“Scarberry and Mallette’s Mothman Sighting.” TheMothMan Wikia,’s_Mothman_Sighting.


12 thoughts on “Mothman: A West Virginia Folklore

  1. It’s interesting to see how different regions/cultures create different mythical beings. What do you think is unique about West Virginian/Appalachian culture that would cause their mythical being to be a moth-like being?

  2. One thing that I found interesting, compared to other cryptid theories, is how the sightings occurred in a particular small town and thus it has become a big event. I’m curious, has the town attempted to profit off the legend in any way, such as the Loch Ness case?

    • The town has definitely attempted to profit off the legend (and they’ve succeeded in nabbing my cash). There is a Mothman Museum downtown that has artifacts from the events, merchandise, and props from the movie (The Mothman Prophecies starring Richard Gere – it’s horrible, no need to watch). Additionally, the second weekend in September brings the annual Mothman Festival to Point Pleasant. I went to it this past fall with my boyfriend and it was really interesting how commercialized everything was. It seemed like any other summer festival, except the crafts and food were all themed around this folklorist moth.

  3. When I read the title I recalled mothman. I think it was thriller and is about the same mothman in the blog. It came out in 2002. I am also curious about why this extraordinary belief came up in west verginia? Do you think there were specific reasons for this or was it just a coincidence?

  4. The mothman is such an interesting theory to me. I also have some questions about the couple in the first paragraph who described the mothman as chasing them at speed of 100 miles an hour. If their account was true, wouldn’t the mothman have caught them if it was going that fast? I would love to see an artist sketch the creature with the couple alongside to help describe the being, it would definitely be an interesting image.

  5. I LOVE reading about the mothman theory. I think its so interesting how many people truly believe they’ve seen this giant man-moth hybrid, and how convinced they are. Reminds me a lot of alien citings. I’d love to see an included picture of the man himself or of the statue or drawings of him.

  6. I just love cryptids and the mystery surrounding them. Mothman specifically is one to note, for it has a high chance of becoming more fact than fiction- due to the high likelihood of it being the large crane you spoke of. Throughout the history of cryptids, a few notable creatures have in fact been discovered due to the stories and encounters of cryptid believers. Take for example the platypus! Would you believe people if they were talking nonsense about an egg-laying mammal with a duck bill for a mouth and the tail of a beaver? Most certainly not! But upon the discovery, I do believe the gentleman was reported trying to remove what he thought was a fake duck bill!

  7. Mothman seems to be a really popular theory that I was unaware of. Assuming many people have tried searching for this creature, someone should have captured photographic evidence of it by now. I looked up pictures of it and there is one dominant picture showing a dark figure with red eyes and wings, but it is not very detailed. The pictures online make me think that someone’s depth perception was off and that they confused an owl as a giant man with wings on accident.

  8. The Mothman should be the most famous monster as the slender man and the Nessie. In the 19th century, more and more people claim that they have witnessed the Mothman and they have the photograph to support them. But none of these photographs are clear. It is interesting that when the camera becomes advanced and can take a clear photograph from a long distance, nobody gives more photographic evidence anymore. But I cannot say the Mothman doesn’t exist. Maybe the Mothman notices the activity of human, and they decide to hide in the forest.

  9. When I read this and think about what the witnesses claim to have seen, I cannot help but think back to Trish’s lecture on optical illusions. I think about the man who thought he saw an UFO soaring across his yard, but in reality, it was merely a drop of water running down a spider’s web. I believe it is very possible that these people had a relatively similar experience to this where the perceived depth was meddled.

  10. It’s a very interesting post, I really love to hear stories about monster sightseeing. However, although people have their fantasy for monsters for thousands of years, most of description are mainly exaggeration base on vague witness or completely rely on imagination. Just like this Bird Monster, according to the article, a “flying man with 10 foot wings” and “seven feet tall with large eyes”. Even this kind creatures was existed, they could not survive for a long time. As we all know, all organisms have wings would not be to big. For example, they could not be too heavy because they need lot of energy to keep them flying in the sky. To do this, they need to excrete all the time. In this way, we must find their excretion in the place they’ve appeared.

  11. I know this has nothing to do with the post but Mothman kind of sounds like a lame superhero who kind of got the wrong end up the stick unlike Spiderman. Anyway, it’s interesting how some people say that it is a sandhill crane and not a creature but its obvious why people wouldn’t not believe in this since it’s not common to the region. Since it is a small town, its obvious how this belief spread and was kept alive since everyone just increased the belief. I also find it interesting that even today people still associate the red eye effect from flash photography as proof of the supernatural so its interesting to see it date so late.

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