Flying Humanoid or Big Bird of Ohio and West Virginia.
Etymology: Coined by a journalist on November 16, 1966, supposedly after the Killer Moth character in the Batman comics series.
Variant name: Birdman.
Physical description: Height, 5-7 feet. Gray or brown. No head. Luminous, bright-red eyes, apparently set in the shoulders. No arms. Broader than a man. Wingspan of 10 feet. Wings are folded against the back when not in use. Humanlike legs.
Behavior: Walks with a shuffle. Very swift flight (up to 100 miles per hour). Wings make a squeaking noise but do not flap when in flight.
Distribution: The Ohio River valley centering on Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and Gallipo-lis, Ohio. Also Salem and St. Albans, West Virginia; Lowell, Ohio; Maysville, Kentucky.
Significant sightings: In the first half of the twentieth century, a large bird with a wingspan of 12 feet and dark-red feathers was seen occasionally around the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers in West Virginia.
Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette were driving near the TNT area, a World War II-era munitions dump north of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, on November 15, 1966, when they encountered a 7-foot, humanoid figure with glowing red eyes. Scarberry floored his Chevy, but the creature took wing and pursued them, at speeds up to 100 miles an hour, all the way to the city limits. It flew without flapping its wings.
Two Point Pleasant firemen, Paul Yoder and Benjamin Enochs, were in the TNT area on November 18, 1966, when they encountered a giant bird with red eyes.
On November 26, 1966, Marvin Shock and Ewing Tilton watched four large birds for several hours in daylight as they flew around and
perched in trees near Lowell, Ohio. They were 4-5 feet long with wingspans of 10 feet. Their breasts were charcoal gray, their backs were dark brown with light flecks, their heads were reddish, and their bills were straight and about 6 inches long.
On November 28, 1966, Richard West of Charleston, West Virginia, saw what looked like Batman on the roof next door. It was about 6 feet tall with wings 6-8 feet wide and big red eyes.
Present status: The Mothman Prophecies was released in 2002 as a feature film starring Richard Gere as the investigator. Possible explanations:
(1) The Sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) is about the size of a great blue heron but is gray, mottled with rust stains. It has a wingspan up to 6 feet 5 inches. Its migration route is not through West Virginia, but strays sometimes are reported.
(2) A Snowy owl (Nyctea scandiaca) was shot by a farmer in Gallipolis Ferry, West Virginia, in December 1966. This nearly pure-white bird is 2 feet long, with a 4-foot wingspread. Normally found no farther south than Michigan, individual owls are occasionally seen as far south as Louisiana, though usually in a feeble condition.
(3) A Barn owl (Tyto alba), suggested by Joe Nickell, can have a wingspan of 3 feet 6 inches and sometimes appears deceptively large.
(4) The Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) is common throughout Ohio and West Virginia in the summer. A red-headed carrion-feeder with a wingspan of nearly 6 feet, it is more than 2 feet long and has a distinctive, bare, red head.
(5) A Giant Owl has sometimes been reported in the area.
(6) An extraterrestrial entity, because unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and other odd phenomena were frequently reported in the vicinity at the time. Sources: John A. Keel, "North America 1966:
Development of a Great Wave," Flying Saucer Review 13 (March-April 1967): 3, 6-7; Helen M. White, "Do Birds Come This Big?" Fate 20
(August 1967): 74-77; John A. Keel, "West Virginia's Enigmatic 'Bird,'" Flying Saucer Review 14 (July-August 1968): 7-14; John A. Keel, Strange Creatures from Time and Space (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1970), pp. 11, 195, 203-237; John A. Keel, The Mothman Prophecies (New York: Saturday Review, 1975); James Gay Jones, Haunted Valley, and More Folk Tales (Parsons, W. Va.: McClain, 1979), pp. 31-32; John A. Keel, "UFOs, Mothman, and Me," High Times, no. 57 (May 1980): 42-45, 72-75; Robert A. Goerman, "Mothmania," Fate 54 (June 2001): 8-12; Loren Coleman, "Why Mothman Belongs in Cryptozoology," Fortean Times Online, 2001, at http://www.forteantimes.com/exclusive/ lcreplies.shtml; Loren Coleman, Mothman and Other Curious Encounters (New York: Paraview, 2002), pp. 38-64; Joe Nickell, "'Mothman' Solved!" Skeptical Inquirer 26 (March-April 2002): 20-21; Donnie Sergent Jr. and Jeff Wamsley, Mothman: The Facts behind the Legend (Point Pleasant, W. Va.: Mothman Lives Publishing, 2002); Bob Rickard, Rick Moran, Doug Skinner, Colin Bennett, Jerome Clark, and Loren Coleman, "The Mothman Special," Fortean Times, no. 156 (April 2002): 26-53.
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