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The legend of the Mothman


Sooner or later, the exception had to come. A first-person article? Yes, that’s right. What I’m going to talk about is a modern story that mixes folklore and mystery, a contemporary urban legend that sees as its protagonist a strange creature, a dark and disturbing presence. An urban legend that arouses curiosity and it will for a long time to come. Icon of a territory, of people, of cities. Synonymous with misfortune. Unexplained, inscrutable.

The legend of Mothman is part of those stories always able to tickle me, to intrigue me, to worry me like few others. The origin of the passion for the legend of Mothman is simple: “The Mothman Prophecies”, a 2002 movie directed by Mark Pellington whose protagonist – Richard Gere in the role of John Klein, journalist of the “Washington Post” – is dealing with the mystery of Mothman.

The film is based on the novel of the same name “The Mothman Prophecies” (1975), the work of the American journalist and writer John Alva Keel (New York, March 25, 1930-New York, July 3, 2009), passionate about ufology, paranormal and mysteries. He was also active in the investigative events related to the Mothman.

It is thanks to this wonderful film that the story of the Mothman hooked me. More than other mystery stories, more than so many macabre stories of human madness, more than so many horror movies in which blood and violence follow one another with a predictable plot, often unnecessarily screamed and therefore ineffective. It hit me like a storm, I have to admit. I still remember the first time I saw it: at night, alone, glued to the screen, as frightened as attracted by a not at all banal narrative. A “rite” that I repeat and perpetrate every time the movie is broadcast on TV.

A film that arouses doubt, restlessness, anguish, charm, pathos. The director and all the technical staff involved in the making of the film did a wonderful job, able to carry on the big screen – with shiver and tension worthy of the best horror – an urban legend born and developed in our times, in our days, in modern society. Every scene, every dialogue empower the moods described above, which are kept alive with every viewing.

Here, then, is the story of Mothman.

The first sightings: the legend of Mothman is born

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West Virginia, second half of the ’60s. Small towns and communities suddenly find themselves at the heart of national news.

November 12, 1966, Clendenin, a small town in Kanawha County. While they are setting up a grave in a cemetery, five men become the protagonists of what is, in essence, the first official and documented sighting of the contemporary age of Mothman. A seemingly human creature, dark, with wings, very tall, who can fly. The report, although quite unusual, is ignored by the local press. It is believed that the people who saw this creature are mythomaniacs. But a few days later, the Mothman reappears.

November 15, 1966. The site of the sighting is the town of Point Pleasant, Mason County, West Virginia. The alleged Mothman is spotted by two couples: Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette. They are in a car near a former ammunition factory, the so-called “TNT area”. The four people involved in the “close encounter” describe to the police the bizarre creature: apparently human, very tall, red eyes, long wings. Terrified, the two couples get back into the car and take State Road 62. Here, they see the creature, standing, following the car for a few miles.

The description matches what the five men had seen just a few days earlier. And, as you will know, with what other people saw days, months, years before. The voices around the Mothman, in fact, have their roots in times well before that 1966.

A moth. An anthropomorphic giant moth. Mothman, precisely.

The sightings follow one another, incessant. The phenomenon seems unstoppable. And immediately public opinion splits: hoax or truth? Scientists try to give a plausible face and name to the being who terrorizes West Virginia. A rare sandhill crane that has lost its way? A night bird of some kind? A sort of collective imagination? A popular feeling that has regained momentum? Or a hoax, artfully crafted for profit? Zoologists, cryptozoologists, ufologists, simple enthusiasts provide the most disparate conjectures, today as yesterday. The hypotheses multiply, as well as the sightings. Unceasing. In the two-month period November-December 1966, there are at least twenty reports worthy of note.

The sightings of the Mothman cover a time span which goes, approximately, from September 1966 to November 1967. Twenty-six of the most significant sightings, including the important reports of 12 and 15 November 1966. The so-called “TNT area” and the areas around Point Pleasant, in particular, occur more often and in a decisive way. Everyone can see and can spot the Mothman, without distinction of sex, profession, age, social class. And all come across the same creature: a sort of anthropomorphic being about 6’5, very bright and red eyes, able to move in an upright position but with dragging feet, wings similar to those of a moth (hence the name Mothman) but it doesn’t flaps them when it flies (at least this is how eyewitnesses perceive and report), ability to hover in the air at high speeds (it can follow cars), it makes metallic buzzes.

The Mothman: between science, prophecies and conspiracy theories


The phenomenon of Mothman spreads like wildfire, although it remains limited – in particular – to West Virginia and the areas around Point Pleasant. The State of Ohio – bordering with West Virginia – is also the scene of sightings of Mothman.

The phenomenon certainly exists, but the point is: what is Mothman or who is it? Is it possible to ascertain the exact and concrete nature of this creature?

We know: building an urban legend – today, these horror and paranormal legends are called creepypasta – is relatively simple. Even easier to raise it. The purpose of the investigations around the Mothman is, therefore, to try to wade through legend, collective suggestion, mythomaniacs, false testimonies and a presumed, possible reality that would tell us of an anthropomorphic being unknown to us, which vanished into thin air (at least in the area under examination) after the long trail of sightings between 1966 and 1967.

The scientific and rational theses, obviously, exclude the paranormal component. Large specimens of owls and barn owls are the most accredited and plausible suspects. Not a mysterious creature halfway between a moth and a man, but the most classic nocturnal birds, characterized by peculiarities related to Mothman. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly known as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) supports the thesis of the large owl mistaken for a sort of “Mothman”.

In 2016, WCHS-TV (local West Virginia TV in the Charleston-Huntington area) published a photo of the alleged Mothman, again spotted by an anonymous witness on West Virginia Route 2. The photo arouses curiosity and clamour but it seems to be an owl. In short, science, in-depth knowledge of zoology and rational thinking lead us to equally rational explanations. There are, then, purely cultural explanations related to those territories. Folklore stories about the Mothman well before it appeared between 1966 and 1967. Legends, folklore, local mythology: it is enough to mix pre-existing popular elements with new “terrifying” sightings of local animals – little known or never seen before – to produce terror, fear and to make the myth of Mothman come back to life and feed on new life.

Then there is the thesis of the hoax, jokes well done and performed by pranksters. Jokes and hoax became, very soon, viral.

The scientific explanation, cold and rational, is, without doubt, the most likely. But why put aside and disdain in a preventative way more daring explanations and hypotheses? Moreover, our society accepts, for example, visions linked to the Christian Faith, even though they are otherworldly and cannot be demonstrated through rigorous scientific investigations. We accepts them as possible, indeed, as existing. Why, then, discard a priori the existence of “alien” entities and supernatural phenomena not linked to the Faith?

Cryptozoology is still considered a pseudo-science, a castle of theories and hypotheses often as imaginative as they are dreaming of demonstrating the existence of “mysterious” and mythological animals. In this sense, the Mothman would be a crypto-creature: an animal still unknown but that would reveal links with other creatures of human mythology: the Native American Thunderbird (Wakinyan for the Lakotas, Hohoq for the Kwakiutis, Kw-Uhnx-Wa for the Nootkas or Nuu-chah-nulths), Garuḍa in Eastern culture. However, probably not a direct link: in fact, the “thunder bird” typical of the Native American culture can probably be identified with some birds of prey other than owls and barn owls (animals identified as the alleged Mothaman), such as, for example, eagles, condors or some birds now extinct, whose memory, however, has been handed down from generation to generation through myths and tales. After all, every culture tells of extraordinary, enormous birds with divine characteristics, from the Roc (or Rok) to the Mothman. And there is also a connection to another mythological figure, the Spring-heeled Jack – an English folkloric creature of the Victorian Era, whose sightings are located, especially in London, between 1837 and the early twentieth century – which, in some places, closely resembles the Mothman.

The already mentioned John Alva Keel, author of the book “The Mothman Prophecies”, develops a completely new and personal cosmological-paraphysical-philosophical thought about the real nature of UFOs and the sightings of unidentified beings; beings that the writer effectively defines as “otherworldly”.

No longer, therefore, visitors from other planets (this is the classic representation of UFOs supported by ufologists in the strict sense, ie unidentified flying objects from outer space, other galaxies and other planets), but “otherworldly” from parallel dimensions.

Keel will therefore be able to hypothesize a correlation between paranormal phenomena and the existence of “otherworldly” phenomena coming from the above mentioned parallel dimensions. No longer extraterrestrial beings (citing the typical ufological expression), but extradimensional.

The theory of parallel dimensions, however, is surpassed and modified by Keel himself.  Paranormal phenomena and “ultra-terrestrial” beings, then, are both an emanation of the so-called “superspectrum”, an electromagnetic energy-reality situated, however, in a different frequency than that which we humans can perceive. No longer parallel dimensions, no longer parallel universes, but a frequency situated in our own Universe but not perceivable with and by our senses and not measurable by our instruments. A theory at the same time complex and fascinating, which paints this “superspectrum” as a place-entity from which paranormal phenomena and all kinds of “otherworldly” creatures are born, including Mothman. The “superspectrum”, therefore, would manipulate and condition human reality and human life through its influence. A rather personal conspiracy theory, there is no doubt.

The collapse of the Silver Bridge

The Mothman, according to the most elaborate theories, is not only a creature unknown to us, but an “otherworldly” entity whose purpose is to warn humanity about something. An entity in charge of warning humanity about an imminent danger or itself a carrier of misfortune? In this sense, the collapse of the Silver Bridge fits into this paraphysical scenario.

The Silver Bridge is a bridge over the Ohio River, connecting – through the passage of the U.S. Route 35 – the cities of Point Pleasant (West Virginia) and Gallipolis, in Ohio (the Memorial Sign indicates Kanauga, County Gaul, Ohio, community bordering Gallipolis). Built in 1928, this bridge suddenly collapsed on December 15, 1967, killing 46 people. 31 cars crashed into the river, 9 people were injured. A tragedy. It is a few minutes past 5 p.m.. The bodies of two victims will never be found again: they are both citizens of Point Pleasant, Kathy Byus and Maxine Turner.

Technical reports and investigations have shown that structural failure due to heavy loads (far greater than calculated at the origin of the project), a defect in one of the eyebars and poor maintenance decreed the tragic collapse of the bridge.

The misfortune of the Silver Bridge occurs at the end of the months, between 1966 and 1967, characterized by repeated sightings of the Mothman. What, then, is the link between the Mothman and the collapse of the Silver Bridge? Well, according to very bold theories, the Mothman shows itself on the occasion of particular misfortunes. A sort of premonitory entity. A real demon, according to some. Not by chance, the Mothman is spotted in the moments before and after the collapse of the bridge. Sightings also accompanied – according to eyewitness accounts – by an intense phenomenology of red lights in the sky, at the “TNT area” and Point Pleasant.

Theories, as you can see, overlap without interruption. And when one enters the myth, the paranormal, the supernatural, every hypothesis has reason to exist: there is, in fact, one theory more valid than the other, because all are not scientifically verifiable.

In this sea of hypotheses, the curse could not be missing. In this case, Hokoleskwa (Cornstalk), born around 1720, charismatic Native American chief of the Shawnee tribe (or Shawano), originally from Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, would have launched the ill omen. Cornstalk, however, is buried right at Point Pleasant (here stands his tombstone). There are no historical sources that ascertain and certify the curse thrown in his deathbed by the Native American chief, but his death was enough to trigger this process that oscillates between history and legend. Cornstalk, in fact, was assassinated on November 10, 1777 by soldiers of the Militia of the United States of Fort Randolph (West Virginia, where it will be built Point Pleasant, place already protagonist, October 10, 1774, of the so-called “Battle of Point Pleasant”), on the occasion of a diplomatic visit. The soldiers kill Cornstalk, his son Elinipsico and two other Shawnee as a sign of revenge: Native Americans, in fact, had previously killed American soldiers. The episode, although harshly criticized by the American authorities, does not lead to any condemnation: all the soldiers involved in the murder, in fact, are acquitted. The wrath of the Native Americans is furious.

Exactly 190 years after the death of Cornstalk (1777-1967), that same territory is the victim of a disaster – the collapse of the Silver Bridge – and the Mothman rages between Ohio and West Virginia, terrorizing innocent citizens and demonstrating its anguished presence with poltergeist phenomena, UFOs, the presence of unidentified men. Coincidences worthy of a powerful and obscure curse.

The movie, “The Mothman Prophecies “: who is Indrid Cold?

The events linked to the appearences of Mothman find in the movie “The Mothman Prophecies” not only a congenial film transposition – which sets and readapts the events of 1967 to the present day – but also a formidable opportunity to bring back to the fore such an interesting story.

In the film, John Klein (the journalist played by Richard Gere) receives a call by Indrid Cold (curiosity: Indrid Cold’s voice is that of the director, Mark Pellington). A non-human character, an “otherworldly” entity, a metallic and distorted voice. This omniscient entity with supernatural powers seems to warn John Klein about the dramatic events that are about to upset Point Pleasant, the collapse of the Silver Bridge. Well, Indrid Cold is not an invention of the movie director, but an unknown identity really “existed”. Woodrow Derenberger tells us about Indrid Cold.

November 2, 1966, at about 7:30 p.m. Woodrow Derenberger – a salesman from Mineralwells, West Virginia – is driving from Marietta, Ohio, to his home. Suddenly, while on Route 77 near Parkersburg (West Virginia), he sees a strange flying object, an unusually elongated UFO. It fly down, flanks Woodrow’s car, then a man descends from the vehicle. Apparently a man of about 1.85 m, olive complexion, dark brown hair, a dark metallic blue jacket. The man doesn’t speak with his mouth, but communicates with Woodrow through telepathy. The man says his name is “Cold”, Indrid Cold. Indrid appears courteous, friendly: he has no intention of doing any harm. Woodrow, frightened, interacts with Indrid Cold for about ten minutes, before he disappears. A bizarre conversation, in which Indrid Cold asks strange questions to which Woodrow answers with astonishment and terror.

Soon, the story becomes public knowledge. Media and industry experts, including Keel, are interested in Woodrow Derenberger’s story.

Woodrow Derenberger’s life, however, is forever marked, in both psyche and body, by his encounter with Indrid Cold. The latter contacts Woodrow several times: strange anonymous phone calls, metallic buzzes, distorted sounds or just silence. There’s no point in changing the phone number: the calls don’t stop.

Woodrow Derenberger’s wife and children also claim to have come into contact with Indrid Cold and other “men”, beings who are able to “camouflage” themselves daily among men.

“Men” who, increasingly overbearingly, enter the life of Woodrow Derenberger’s family: the proverbials, the infamous “Men in Black”, a terminology coined by John Keel himself. Men in Black, whose presence is recorded and documented at least since the 1950s.

Men in Black: are they human beings (government agents, very special and “unofficial” secret services) interested in the sightings of Mothman or are they too “otherworldly” beings, trying to “camouflage” – often in a funny and anachronistic way, according to numerous testimonies – in human daily life? Humans trying to cover up UFOs and paranormal phenomena or aliens acting for the same purpose? The various ufological currents have been split and clashing for decades. In any case, they are characters who frighten the people with whom they come into contact. And during the days of the sightings of Mothman, many are approached by these Men in Black: the journalist Mary Hyre (involved in the chronicles of Mothman and who will die on February 15, 1970) Linda Scarberry, the same Steve and Mary Mallette to Faye Dewitt-Leport, from Marcella Bennett to Connie Carpenter, all witnesses of the appearance of Mothman. “Men” driving black Cadillacs and Volkswagens with unregistered plates, often dressed in anachronistic and outdated clothes, described as not aware of trivial customs and human habits, for example, shaking hands as a sign of greeting. Men who never blink and that swallow food without chewing it. They control houses, telephones, people, often threatening them. Men, then, only in appearance. John Keel himself, at first wary of those who told of these curious and menacing men, comes into contact with the MIBs.

MIBs, according to Keel’s thought, are also part of that world unknown to us which, however, constantly interacts with our reality. The Men in Black, therefore, denounce a paraphysical origin.

In the film “The Mothman Prophecies”, the character of Gordon Smallwood (played by Will Patton) evokes in a clear and evident way the story of Woodrow Derenberger: he too, in fact, is repeatedly contacted by Indrid Cold, he too has a life compromised as a result of repeated contacts by Indrid Cold himself. An incurable physical and psychological suffering that will lead Gordon to his death by hypothermia, on a cold night.

Well, Indrid Cold would identify with Mothman, a creature able to condition humanity and to reveal itself in particular circumstances, close to imminent disasters. A creature capable of admonishing and warning humanity through cryptic and often indecipherable signals? Or would Mothman-Indrid Cold materialize on the occasion of luttuous events, not to warn us – and thus help us – but as a kind of demon? And, apparently, Mothman and Indrid Cold come into contact with many people: countless, in fact, sightings of Mothman and disturbing men. All accompanied by sightings of strange flying objects and poltergeist phenomena.

Warning: spoiler

In the film, in fact, even agent Connie Mills (played by Laura Linney) feels the presence of Mothman-Indrid Cold in a dream: “Wake up, number 37”, tells her in a dream. 37, in the movie, is the amount of victims of the collapse of the bridge (in reality, remember, there are 46 dead).

Gordon, on the other hand, reveals to John Klein that “99 will die”, as previously reported by Indrid Cold. A few days later, a plane crash will claim 99 victims.

Klein’s life itself, in fact, has already been disrupted and marked by the presence of Mothman. Together with his wife, Mary (played by Debra Messing), he is the victim of a car accident. The accident is caused by the sudden appearance, in the darkness of the night, of a disturbing figure, who makes the woman lose control of the car. It is the woman, in fact, the only one who has seen the strange being. When she is in the hospital, she will be diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour. John Klein, afflicted by the death of his beloved wife, learns of some strange drawings made by his wife. The drawings portray the strange figure spotted that evening: the Mothman. From that moment on, John Klein’s life will be conditioned by the obscure presence of the Moth Man, an energetic entity that will lead the journalist – in an unequivocally paranormal way – to Point Pleasant and its inhabitants: paranormal phenomena, incomprehensible events and malignant energies, luptuous events that have punctually occurred.

End of spoiler

The Mothman: has it always been among us?

Who or what is the Mothman? If it is impossible to establish what it really and physically is, it is certainly plausible to evaluate and decree what it represents and embodies in popular culture. The Mothman is a sort of metaphor for life, a warning, a dark presence ready to make its legendary, deadly weight felt during tragic events. There are those who say, for example, that they saw the Mothman in the days of the tragedy of Chernobyl and during other tragic events, from America to Asia. A list has even been drawn up (the author is Loren Coleman) of deaths connected, in some way, to Mothman: not only deaths attributable to events dated 1966-1967 (above all, the collapse of the Silver Bridge), but also deaths that occurred following the release and viewing of the film. Deaths that also affected people who worked on the film itself. Simple coincidences of the passing of the years or is there really something supernatural that we can’t perceive, that we can’t grasp?

UFO, Men in Black, malignant and tangible expression of human misfortunes, umpteenth representation of Death. The Mothman is all this and much more.

Dark omens and precognition accompany and characterize the legend of the Moth Man.

A story that – like other supernatural events – makes even a skeptic and a rational mind like mine question the reality. Its disturbing and dark depiction, the stories and events that revolve around its appearances: disturbing elements, whether we believe or not in the physical presence and “in the flesh” of a so-called Moth Man. It is impossible not to feel at least a shiver of anguish, of primitive anxiety. The inexplicable, after all, frightens.

Pure restlessness: that this is the real legacy, the raw essence of Mothman?


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