What constitutes a great American myth? Is it something where a Google search can’t help you find its origins? Maybe it’s something that permeates that minds of the inflicted and the communities that are built from them. It could be something that shows up time and time again and lingers around, jostling the memories of the people who first experienced it out of unknown origins.
The Mothman is one of those modern myths. It was first documented in the late 1960s. While it seems to have its origins in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, the Mothman has been spotted in numerous states. There are some who believe that spotting this creature warns of cataclysmic events to come, while other believe it is some type of alien life form with connections to Men in Black and UFOs. Then there are those who just claim it to be a hoax, or a product of mass hysteria.
No matter what it is, the Mothman has continued to pop up, and it is one of the most intriguing American folklore stories. Let’s take a look at how this creature saw its start.
As mentioned, the first Mothman appearance was in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966. On November 12th, five men from nearby Clendenin were digging a grave when they saw a shadowy, man-like figure fly over their heads from a tree. November 15th, three days later, two young couples Steve and Mary Mallette, and Roger and Linda Scarberry, told the police that they had been chased in their car by a black figure with a 10-foot wingspan and glowing red eyes. This occurred new Point Pleasant as well, and the World War II munitions site called “TNT Area.”
Over the next year, more reports of this mysterious creature rolled in. This thing was first mentioned in the newspaper Point Pleasant Register on November 16, 1966, and was headlined “Couples See Man-Sized Bird… Creature… Something.” Later on, an Ohio newspaper copy editor dubbed the creature “Mothman.”
The locals believed that this creature lived in a vacant nuclear power plant that was located on the outskirts of town, in what used to a top-secret government facility where the tested nuclear weapons. Could Mothman have been the product of government tampering? Was he some winged manifestation of weapons testing? Imaginations started to run wild as this legend was created.
Others had some less exciting theories. The Mason County Sheriff George Johnson, said that he thought the sightings were caused by an unusually large heron. Newel Partridge, a contractor, told Johnson that when he shined a flashlight at a creature in a nearby field, its eyes glowed like bicycle reflectors, and he blamed all of the buzzing noises from his television set and the disappearance of his dog on this Mothman creature. Robert L Smith, a wildlife biologist, said that the sightings and descriptions fit the sandhill crane, a large American crane nearly as tall as a man with a seven-foot wingspan that had circles of reddish coloring around its eyes. He said that the bird could have wandered out of its normal migration route.
The sightings seemed to stop in 1967 after an unfortunate even took place in Point Pleasant. The Silver Bridge, which was where US Route 35 crossed over the Ohio River and connected Point Pleasant to Gallipoli, Ohio, collapsed on December 15th under the weight of rush hour traffic. This killed 46 people, and two of the bodies were never recovered.
While the tragedy was caused by a faulty eyebar suspension chain and poor maintenance, that didn’t stop people from having some theories. John Keel, a writer interested in extraterrestrials and paranormal activity, wrote The Mothman Prophecies that linked the bridge collapse with the Mothman sightings. It did seem as though the Mothman was no longer active in the area after the December 15th tragedy
Keel didn’t think that this was just mere coincidence. In his book, he explained that the Mothman sightings in the area were likely premonitions about the bridge collapse. While some of his other explanations were quite fanciful, if it were not for Keel, the legacy of the Mothman might have remained a local legend. When he published his book in 1975, it brought renewed attention to this creature. The book was even turned into a movie in 2002, which brought the Mothman back into the mainstream.
With The Mothman Prophecies, Point Pleasant saw a lot more attention, and their tourism boomed after the film was released. Their annual Mothman Festival started in 2002 and draws around ten to 12,000 people each year. They erected a 12-foot metallic statue of the creature in 2003. In 2005, they opened the Mothman Museum and Research Center.
But sightings of this creature has happen in other places as well. In fact, Mothman sightings have occurred all over the world. There are some people who believe that this creature was at Chernobyl before that disaster; or it was present when the planes struck the World Trade Center on 9/11. Between 2011 and 2017, there were at least 55 people who reported seeing the Mothman in Chicago. In 2020, a petition was started to replace confederate statues with Mothman statues.
Mothman has started to solidify itself as a legend, but does this creature truly exist, and if not, what’s the reason behind our fixation with this shadowy creature?
There are several possible explanations for the Point Pleasant sightings. One is the idea that it was a large Sandhill crane, as mentioned earlier. However, the bird isn’t native to West Virginia, but it is said to sometimes make its way into the state. In the PBS web series Storied, the host said that 28 Sandhill cranes had been spotted in West Virginia from January 2017 to August 2019. While not a lot, it does make it possible that is what the people of Point Pleasant may have seen all those years ago.
Others took this idea another step further, speculating that toxins from a TNT area mutated the crane. This could account for the glowing appearance and large size.
It’s also possible that another bird with glowing red eyes could be the culprit. This bird would be an owl. These night birds can have larger-than-expected wingspans for such a tiny creature, and their eyes will glow red when caught in the light. It could be that an owl spooked some residents one night, and the legend was born.
If the Mothman truly isn’t real, the more likely explanation is mass hysteria. This phenomena occurs when a cohesive group experiences a disturbance in the nervous system that creates an unconscious response. There are numerous cases of bizarre mass hysteria recorded throughout history. The most well-known case of mass hysteria is the Salem Witch Trials. It all started when two young girls experienced seizures that could not be explained by their contemporary medical science. After their seizures, the girls said that that they had been assaulted by some entity conjured up by local women. Soon after, more girls became afflicted and more and more women in the town were being accused of witchcraft.
But mass hysteria tends to be attributed to the growth of folklore. A person experiences some bizarre event, and other people start to play into it. This a typical psychological reaction. It very well could be possible that some big bird scared a few people in West Virginia, and then the entire town freaked out and created the Mothman to explain something that they couldn’t explain. But why have we stayed so obsessed over this creature? For the same reason. It is a simple explanation for some shadowy figure we think we saw out of the corner of our eye. We love a good mystery, and we will push away reasonable explanations in favor of fun hypothesizing.
Or maybe that is just what the Mothman would like us to think.
While the Mothman may foretell bad fortune, this next creature is what nightmares are made of. The chupacabra is a legendary creature that was first sighted in Puerto Rico in 1995. Its name translates to goat sucker, and it earned its name from its insatiable thirst for animal blood.
The creature has been described as a bipedal creature that stands four to five feet tall with large eyes, spikes down its back, and long claws. People claimed that the beast was responsible for killing and draining the blood of livestock. The woman who first saw the chupacabra is Madelyne Tolentino. She saw the alien-like creature from her window.
The more remarkable thing is how fast her story travelled. After several other sightings, and connections to stories of livestock being found “drained of blood,” the legend of the chupacabra began to spiral out of control. It first made its rounds in Puerto Rice, and then spread throughout the rest of Latin America before moving up into the US.
The origin of the chupacabra goes something like this. Eight sheep had been found dead. Each of them had three puncture wounds in the chest and had been drained of blood. A few months later, Madelyne Tolentino saw the creature in Canovanas, where around 150 farm animals and pets had been killed. The Mayo, Jose “Chemo” Soto, gathered a posse of volunteers who hunted for the chupacabra each week for almost a year. They came armed with a caged goat and rifles. The chupacabra was not caught, but he did get re-elected.
Back in 1975, similar killings had taken place in Moca that were attributed to el vampiro de Moca, or the vampire of Moca. They first thought that these killings were caused by a Satanic cult. More killings were reported on the island, and a number of farms reported they had loss several animals. Each animal had been said to have had their body bled dry through a series of small circular incisions.
In Guanica, 44-year-old Osvaldo Claudio Rosada said that he had been grabbed from behind by a gorilla. Puerto Rico is not home to gorillas. After he fought off the creature, he had to be treated for cuts and scratches around the torso. Cows and chickens died nearby after that from puncture wounds to the neck, and the blood drained.
Silverio Perez, a Puerto Rican comedian and entrepreneur, coined the term chupacabra soon after the first incidents were reported.
When the creature made the leap to the mainland, it killed 69 chickens, goats, and ducks in Florida, all with their blood drained. Oregon and Michigan had similar attacks. Then, there was a rash of attacks in Mexico.
In October and December 2018, people reported suspected chupacabras in Manipur, India. Several domestic animals and poultry had been killed in a suspicious manner that was similar to previous chupacabra attacks. Several people had said they had seen chupcabras.
With the arrival of the 2000s, a new chupacabra came with it. This chupacabra has similaries to the earlier sightings, but it was a bit less alien. Now, it was a hairless, dog-like creature that walked on four legs.
At this point, the beast had never made it to Chile. While attacks on livestock aren’t unheard of in Calama, a rural town near a wilderness filled with pumas and other such predators, the violent mystery caught the countries interest. After a few days of the first reports, the attacks were a media sensation. Headlines dominated their national press, and amateur video footage of the killed livestock was played on the local news each night. In May 2000, a Santiago citizen rented an alligator mask and a gorilla suit, and hung a sign around his neck with “chupacabra” written on it. He spent a couple of afternoons lurking around a downtown paseo, leaping and biting at commuters. The Clinic, a humor magazine, even proposed that they replace two popular players on their national soccer team with the Calama Chupacabra and ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet.
In Calama, however, the chupacabra wasn’t a joke. Livestock had died, and the unlucky farmers had lost a large chunk of their livelihood. The Calama officials were quick to call in the national guard. Hundreds of soldiers undertook a massive search of the area. They found nothing, neither the beast nor the puma that the skeptics believed to be the real killer.
When there was no results with local efforts, the federal government stepped in. Back in Santiago, the Justice Ministry, started an investigation. Two months later, the national guard nor the Chilean ministry had found the chupacabra. They also hadn’t found anything else that could have killed the livestock. Nobody knew what had killed the Calama livestock. By late June, the government blamed the attacks on wild dogs. The Chilean Chupacabra watchers have remained suspicious
Unlike many other cryptids, the chupacabra is not based solely on sightings. There have been chupacabra bodies found.
A man, Benjamin Radford, decided to investigate these bodies. Most of the bodies have turned up in Texas and other South-Western US states. About a dozen have been recorded by Radford. They are horrific-looking. They are hairless, have a gaunt appearance, and burnt-looking skin. However, the DNA test performed on them came back with mundane reports. The bodies have come back has dogs, coyotes, or raccoons, and one of them was actually a fish.
Despite the fact that we have DNA evidence of what those bodies actually were, the events of their discovery still seem a bit off. The people who found them, and often killed them, were rural folk or ranchers who should be able to spot a coyote. So why were they confused?
Radford had an answer to this. The animals that people thought were chupacabras had lost their fur due to sarcoptic mange. Sarcoptic mange is mites that burrow under their skin. It is a very common problem. When left untreated, it can produce some monster-looking animals.
But the story of the chupacabra does not end there. The bodies of the so-called chupacabras aren’t the only bodies we have. We also have the bodies of the dead livestock. Something has been attacking the livestock that leaves puncture marks on the neck and drains them of their blood. What can explain that?
The explanation scientists have given is quite mundane. They blame it on natural predators of these animals. People were quick to ask why the predator hadn’t eaten their kill. They explained that sometimes that happens. This could be due to the inexperience of the predator or because their victim fought back and harmed them.
While the chupacabra may simply be a myth, people aren’t willing to write off all of these livestock deaths as caused by simple predators. There are lots of animals out there, and who’s to say that there isn’t a creature like the chupacabra that has yet to be truly discovered.