Reality Checking—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, October 2015
The Mothman Festival: Family Friendly Mardi Gras of the Paranormal
by: Brent Raynes
It was Saturday, September 19th and Sunday the 20th, this year (2015). My wife Joan, our daughter Chandra, her husband Scott, and their 8-year-old son Conner made our way to the 14th annual Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a small town of less than 5,000 located along the Ohio River. Since 2001, thousands have come to converge annually on this otherwise sleepy little river town made famous by the late New York journalist John A. Keel’s book The Mothman Prophecies (1975), which later (2002) became a movie by the same name, starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney. Of course, be forewarned, if you don’t already know this, but many details of the movie have been changed and fictionalized somewhat from the book’s original narrative.
Back on the night of November 15, 1966, two young couples (Linda and Roger Scarberry, and Mary and Steve Mallette) claimed that they had seen a tall, human-like figure with wings and red eyes. They claimed that it went airborne and chased them out of what is known locally as the TNT area (an old World War II manufacturing and ammunition storage facility) several miles north of Point Pleasant. The driver, Roger Scarberry, allegedly floored it, accelerating his ’57 Chevy up to 100 miles an hour down Route 62 as the thing pursued them to the city limits. They soon burst into the sheriff’s office at the Mason County courthouse, where they described their terrifying encounter to one Deputy Millard Halstead. Keel made several trips to the area, beginning with his first visit on December 7, 1966, to investigate the Scarberry/Mallette case, and claimed in his book Strange Creatures from Time and Space (1970) that in time, after five lengthy visits to the Point Pleasant area, that he came to interview over a hundred “monster” witnesses. However, it appeared that “Mothman” wasn’t the only monster in the region; there was also a Bigfoot-type “monster’ and a giant hairy headless looking critter with broad shoulders. He found that thousands up and down the Ohio Valley were seeing UFOs but often seemed reluctant to report their sightings. He found too that about half of the “Mothman” witnesses seemed to have active or latent psychic abilities. He also saw a fair number of UFOs himself, including one that really shook him up early one morning as he was staked out skywatching alone on a hilltop outside of Pt. Pleasant. It appeared to land nearby. I recently tracked down a film maker living in California now, who had accompanied Keel to Point Pleasant, also back in 1967, hoping to do a documentary for PBS on the matter (but for some reason they decided against it). The film maker, Dan Drasin, shared with me some of his own interesting sightings that he had while there; some with Keel. (Go to: http://www.apmagazine.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=713)
I originally visited Point Pleasant myself back in May 1976, ten years after it all began, with some ‘monster hunters’ from the Cincinnati area, including one Ron Schaffner who once edited a newsletter called Creature Chronicles. He had also been a big Keel fan. I got to talk with a number of witnesses myself, including one of the original witnesses (Linda Scarberry) to that initial 1966 sighting that came to make worldwide news. Authorities quickly tried to dismiss it as an owl or sandhill crane, but the witnesses angrily declared and insisted no way. At the time, Batman was a popular TV series and a news person was responsible for calling the creature “Mothman.” The name stuck. Locals had simply been calling it the “Bird.”
Linda Scarberry, along with her parents (her mother Mabel McDaniel later had her own Mothman-type sighting too on January 11, 1967) have now all passed away. But during my attendance at the Mothman Festival I found Faye Dewitt sitting at a booth, willing to share her own experience, also from back in November 1966, when she was only 14. Her brother Carlisle, then around 16, had just gotten his drivers permit, and they went to the TNT area because he wanted to prove there was nothing to it (it hadn’t come out in the papers yet, but they had heard about it at school). He felt in the beginning that it was just someone in a Halloween costume. However, he and Faye found out otherwise, as it chased alongside their car at impossible speeds for a human on foot, had non-glowing, perhaps reflective red eyes, but otherwise had human like facial features, with a nose and mouth, but appeared to be covered in feathers! Her sighting is described by her in great detail in an interview in Jeff Wamsley’s book, Mothman…behind the red eyes (2005). Jeff is the owner of the local Mothman store/museum at 400 Main Street in Point Pleasant, and the principle organizer of the annual Mothman Festival. (His website: www.mothmanmuseum.com). My son-in-law Scott Harrison and I ducked into the nearby Harris Steak House (the diner some say depicted and was recreated in the movie The Mothman Prophecies) to hear her story firsthand, and film it for a documentary we hope to produce later. Her account was absolutely riveting!
There is a core group of researchers who return to Point Pleasant again and again, year after year, and believe, or at least strongly suspect, that Mothman (and other anomalies of the paranormal) may come and go through an interdimensional portal. Rosemary Ellen Guiley, a prolific writer on the paranormal and a popular speaker, is one of them. She hasn’t missed a single festival since 2004! “This is one of the most energetic, vibrant events that I go to,” she told us. “I will never miss Mothman unless something dire happens. It’s the energies that the attendees bring, with top notch researchers in the paranormal and cryptozoology. You’re always getting the latest perspective on things and it’s just a lot of fun on top of that.”
When I asked Rosemary about her own personal experiences there, she said, “How many days do you have?” Then she laughed and offered a few details. “Out in the TNT area, I’ve seen shadow people quite frequently in the igloo area,” she stated. “They walk along the trails there and sometimes they actually lurk around the igloos themselves.” (old dome shaped concrete storage buildings that had once housed explosives). “Shadow people look humanoid but they’re not. They’re entities that take on like a very dark silhouette of a person.”
Recalling Rosemary’s research into the Moslem entities known as the Djinn, I interjected, “You say they look human but they’re not. So you’re saying they may be like the Djinn?”
“I do believe them to be forms of Djinn,” she continued. “They’re drawn to areas of intense energies; especially if there’s been a lot of negative energy. The TNT area, very contaminated because of the explosives and the things that have leached into the ground. And then that often creates or enhances the natural portal area that opens the window for a lot of strange things.”
“This part of the Ohio River Valley has always been heavily haunted,” she added. “It goes way back, with generation after generation of stories of people having encounters with ghosts and mysterious creatures. This is a portal area.”
I asked Rosemary how much John Keel’s work had influenced her own. “I think that John influenced just about everybody in this field, regardless of what area of the paranormal you’re interested in,” she stated. “He was way ahead of his time with his ideas and theories, that now many people are coming around to and seeing.”
“John was a friend of mine. I got to know him back in the 1980s. I was a member of his New York Fortean group. I attended that. We met in the city many times for dinner. We saw each other at events. I admired his work tremendously. John left a tremendous legacy for all of us.”
I also got to meet and interview many other awesome and fascinating folks, like Texan writer/researcher Ken Gerhard, the author of the thought-provoking book Encounters with Flying Humanoids (2013). He’s naturally a big Mothman fan too and called Keel “a huge influence” in this field. “It’s an iconic story,” he told us. “Probably Mothman is one of the most well known beings/apparitions in the annals of the unexplained and the community embraces the whole mystery, which is really awesome.” Ken has recently appeared in his own TV series now appearing on the History 2 Channel entitled Missing in Alaska. “I’m always a bit skeptical,” he says, but adds: “I’ve interviewed hundreds of eyewitnesses, many of them very credible and sincere people who claimed remarkable experiences.”
Ken told me how his interest in cryptozoology began when he was a young boy and he watched something on television about Bigfoot. After that, he began going to the library and searching for more information. Meanwhile, his mother was a travel agent, and a rather adventurous person at that, and she took him on vacations throughout the world, to places like the Amazon jungle, Australia, and Africa. Wherever he went he says he inquired of the locals about any unusual legends about mysterious creatures. At age 15, he visited Scotland’s Loch Ness. “I attempted my first field research with a little movie camera and interviewed people,” Ken explained. “So it’s just been a life long passion.”
I also ran into another well-known researcher/author Stan Gordon, from Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He just came out with a new book (his third) entitled Astonishing Encounters: Pennsylvania’s Unknown Creatures. He’s been chasing “monsters” and UFOs since 1965. I visited him at his home back in August 1975, and so here we were 40 years later reunited at the Mothman Festival! We used to both have solid black hair on our heads! (See what UFO and “monster” hunting can do to ya?)
Anyways, he gave me a copy of his newest book and told me to check out the many creature stories, including the one, he said, with a “Mothman type event that happened in the Pittsburgh area at the same time it was happening down here in West Virginia, but nobody knew about it.” He added, “This year has been very, very active in my part of Pennsylvania.”
Perhaps Stan has a portal in his neck of the woods too? Who knows. Either way, I told him we were going to have to do better next time and not wait another 40 years before we saw each other again. That just might be too long! My daughter Chandra and her husband Scott have already called and inquired about rooms at the downtown Lowe Hotel in Point Pleasant for next year, so hopefully Stan and I will get to see each other then, along with all of the other informative and awesome new friends we made, and more we hope to meet and make yet.
By the way, that hotel is said to be pretty haunted, which is an added bonus for us. “I’ve seen apparitions there, disembodied voices, mysterious lights moving around, so that’s a very active area as well,” Rosemary had told us.
As they say at the conclusion of each Ghost Hunters episode, “On to the next.”