By JIM ROSS ∙ firstname.lastname@example.org
POINT PLEASANT — For something that was seen over 13 months many years ago, the Mothman has had a long life in paranormal history.
From November 1966 to December 1967, dozens if not hundreds of people in Mason County reported seeing a large winged creature with glowing red eyes. Most of the sightings were in the area north of town where a factory made DNT, a feedstock for TNT, during World War II.
But when the Silver Bridge fell, the Mothman disappeared.
Interest in the creature was revived with the 2002 Richard Gere movie, "The Mothman Prophecies." The unveiling of a large Mothman statue and the beginning of the annual Mothman Festival in downtown Point Pleasant brought the creature back to life.
Denny Bellamy, director of the Mason County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he and Richard Wamlsey, director of the Mothman Museum, have had the Mothman in their lives for years.
"Richard and I grew up on 30th Street," Bellamy said. "It was our neighbors who originally saw the Mothman."
There were many theories of what the Mothman was. It could have been a large owl that migrated out of its normal range. It could have been a large bird known as a sandhill crane. Some residents of Point Pleasant say it could have been one or more of a group of three people dressed in a Mothman suit who wanted to scare teenagers in a popular place for parking, as it was known in those days.
Whatever it was, interest in the Mothman disappeared, and so did the sightings, on Dec. 15, 1967, when the Silver Bridge collapsed into the Ohio River, killing 46 people and bringing a shock the town had not known before.
"No one was talking about it anymore," Bellamy said.
And it stayed that way for 35 years.
"It wasn't until the movie, ‘The Mothman Prophecies,' came out that it became popular again," Bellamy said. "None of us had any idea what effect it would have on this town."
In the movie, Gere plays a person who comes to Point Pleasant to solve the mystery of the Mothman. The movie contains a scene — largely inaccurate — depicting the Silver Bridge collapse.
The statue is popular with visitors, Bellamy said.
"We've had a Japanese couple get married there. People from Australia and London were here in one day," he said. "It's just amazing. The local people still can't believe the interest in it.
"If you're into paranormal, Point Pleasant and Roswell, New Mexico are the places to go."
Mason County residents realized the Mothman legend was a big deal the day of the dedication when a CBS News crew showed up, Bellamy said. Since then, the statue and the legend have been featured on a number of shows on cable channels, including History and Travel, he said.
"I had one film crew say, ‘People on Main Street tell me how to film my movie,'" because they have seen so many films being made, Bellamy said.
The biggest single draw into town from the Mothman is the annual Mothman Festival each September.
"It started out with two tables and two people out in the street selling books, and it's evolved into the biggest retail event here in Point Pleasant," Bellamy said.
Although maybe hundreds of people claim to have seen the Mothman, no photos of it exist.
"It could be on video or YouTube today," Bellamy said. "We have all kinds of stuff besides the Mothman. We have so much history.
"We have the nicest riverfront park along the river. We've got a nice river museum and Tu-Endie-Wei Park. We've got Fort Randolph and the State Farm Museum. The Mothman is just part of what we have here."
But the Mothman is most likely to be found on the T-shirts, coffee mugs and other items people buy in Point Pleasant.
"People in town say we don't know if we believe in the Mothman," Bellamy said, "but we believe in Mothman money."