Trump tweeted about the Mothman Festival. Here's why West Virginia celebrates a winged humanoid cryptid.

Kat Tenbarge
trump mothman

AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Yelp/Dave H.


  • On Sunday, President Donald Trump quote-tweeted Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia and wrote "I go along with Joe!" Manchin had tweeted a photo of himself posing in front of the Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, wishing Mason County residents a happy Mothman Festival.
  • The annual festival that Trump endorsed in his retweet celebrates a West Virginia urban legend about a winged, humanoid cryptid with glowing red eyes that terrorized residents in the Point Pleasant area in 1966 and 1967.
  • The annual Mothman Festival started in 2002, and the 12-foot-tall metallic statue Manchin posed with was installed in 2003. It is held on the third weekend of September, and draws upward of 2,000 people to the town of 4,500.
  • Here's how the legend of the Mothman started, and why it continues today.
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A Saturday tweet posted by Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia wishing Mason County residents a happy Mothman Festival caught the eye of President Donald Trump – possibly because the tweet included a photo of the senator standing in front of the creepy, metallic 12-foot-tall statue of the moth-human hybrid.

Whether he was aware of the Mothman legend or not, Trump quote-tweeted Manchin on Sunday and wrote, "I go along with Joe!" That may have been more of a nod to Manchin, a Democrat, continuing to support coal production and mining jobs for his Appalachian constituency.

But even if Trump wasn't endorsing the Mothman Festival specifically, the presidential nod toward a creature that terrorized the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the 60s, and brings upward of 2,000 tourists a year to its annual festival, begs the question – what is the Mothman? And why do people celebrate him?

Here's how a local legend became a phenomenon that attracted national attention.

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The Mothman is described as a six- or seven-foot-tall, dark humanoid figure with wings and bright red glowing eyes.

Screen Gems/IMDb

The legend of the Mothman began on November 12, 1966, is said to have began when a group of five men preparing for a burial in a graveyard near Clendenin, West Virginia saw something that looked like a "brown human being" take off from a nearby tree and fly over their heads.

Three days later, two young married couples were driving past an abandoned TNT plant near Point Pleasant described seeing a six- or seven-foot-tall creature with wings folded against its back, according to American Hauntings. They sped away once they sighted it, but the creature reappeared on a nearby hillside, then started flying behind the car, which the couples said was driving over 100 mph.

That same night, another group of four people, along with the two couples, reported seeing a similar creature to the police. Each group spotted the same creature in at least two spots near Point Pleasant, but the creature disappeared upon reaching the city limits.

In a town about 90 miles from Point Pleasant, another man reported an equally strange occurrence that night. His dog started barking at the barn behind his house, and when he went outside with a flashlight to check and spotted two red eyes the size of bicycle reflectors.

The man ran back inside to get his gun, but was too afraid to go back out, and his dog disappeared – although, one of the men who spotted the creature outside the TNT plant said he also spotted a dead dog lying on the side of the road. 

On November 16, a press conference was held in Point Pleasant to discuss the sightings, and the reporters dubbed the creature the "Mothman" after a Batman TV character. 



Mothman sightings in the late 60s around Point Pleasant, West Virginia preceded a bridge collapse that killed 46 people.

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In the months that followed, as legend has it, the Mothman continued to terrorize residents. One family that lived near the abandoned TNT plant reported seeing a red light in the sky above the plant that they could not identify. After seeing the red light, the mother of the family drove to a neighbor's house.

As she got out of her car, a figure who had been lying on the ground next to it stood up. She described it as a gray creature that was bigger than a man, with glowing eyes. The woman ran into her neighbor's house, and the creature followed her onto the porch and peered in through the window. The police were called, but it vanished before they arrived.

The woman said that, months later, she would hear what sounded like a woman keening outside her home, and she believed it was the Mothman. 

The Mothman sightings, along with alleged UFO sightings and run-ins with strange men dressed in black in the area led to a swarm of "monster hunters" descending on the area. One famous paranormal writer, John Keel, visited Point Pleasant, bringing more widespread attention to the phenomenon along with him.

Keel was convinced that all the strange happenings, which included a number of cases of alleged poltergeist activity in the Ohio Valley, were linked. He wrote that over 100 people observed the Mothman in West Virginia between 1966 and 1967. 

On December 15, 1967, a 700-foot bridge linking Point Pleasant to Ohio collapsed during rush hour, killing 46 people. On the same night, families who lived near the TNT factory reported seeing strange lights above the facility. Keel wrote that a "window" of supernatural activity had been opened in the area, leading to above-average paranormal sightings and tragic events.



There may be some explanations for the Mothman phenomenon rooted in science.

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At the time the Mothman sightings occurred, the Mason County Sheriff said he believed the sightings were due to an unusually large heron bird living in the area. A wildlife biologist at West Virginia University told reporters it could also be a sandhill crane that had flown away from its regular migration path.

Joe Nickell, a paranormal investigator and skeptic, says several of the Mothman sightings were hoaxes that followed media buzz, including a group of construction workers who tied flashlights to red helium balloons. He suggests the phenomenon was comprised of pranks, misidentified planes, and owls sighted with flashlights. 

Nickell said a red-eye effect could have occurred when flashlights were shone into the eyes of barred owls or albino owls, with the light reflecting back to the individual as reddish. 

Even Keel wrote that, while he believed Mothman accounts were genuine – and too many to be a coincidence – he felt that the media attention and general hysteria among residents of the small towns led to more sightings from those eager to believe in the supernatural.

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The Mothman legend was further popularized by paranormal writers, and a book called "The Mothman Prophecies" was published in 1975.

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Keel took his findings and published them in a book called "The Mothman Prophecies," which alleged that Point Pleasant residents experienced precognitive thoughts related to the collapse of the bridge before it happened. 

He also noted that local reporters, including one woman who worked for the nearby Athens Messenger at the time, were visited by strange men dressed in black who asked questions about the Mothman.

When the Athens Messenger reporter interacted with the two men who visited her, they acted suspiciously unaware of their surroundings and often fled the scene upon being pressed for more information about their identities. 

Since the publication of Keel's book, Mothman sightings have rarely made it into the news. However, in 2016, a local news outlet published photos taken by a Point Pleasant man who claimed he spotted the Mothman flying above his car at night.

The photos are blurry and could easily be fictitious, and a science writer suggested that, even if they are genuine, they're likely of an owl carrying its prey. 



Later, a 2002 movie adaptation of "The Mothman Prophecies" starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney made $23 million at the box office.

Screen Gems/IMDb

A movie based on Keel's book hit theaters in 2002, and it starred Gere, Linney, and Debra Messing. The film received mixed reviews, with critics praising the director but disliking the script. It made $55.1 million on a budget of $32 million.

The plot of the film draws elements from the real-life happenings in Point Pleasant, including the bridge collapse. The collapse was found to be the result of an eye-bar failure in the bridge's suspension. 

"The Mothman Prophecies" was filmed in Pennsylvania, not West Virginia, but attention generated by the film ended up directing a lot of foot traffic to the town of Point Pleasant. 

 

 

 



That year, the first Mothman Festival was held, and the town of 4,500 later installed its Mothman statue and opened a Mothman Museum.

Twitter/@Sen_JoeManchin

In 2002, a woman named Carolin Harris helped start the Mothman Festival, which continued annually. Harris' young son and husband were two of the people killed in the bridge collapse in 1967. Two years later, she opened the Harris Steakhouse, which became known as the "Mothman Diner," and was portrayed in the film "The Mothman Prophecies."

Harris' restaurant served Mothman-themed food, and the festival featured a Mothman pancake contest. Harris told reporters that she believes in elements of the Mothman legend, thanks to the numerous personal accounts of people who claim to have seen the creature.

Other locals believe it, too, according to interviews with those who live in the area. And the festival brings in thousands of people to the town each year, contributing to the local economy. 

In 2003, an artist was commissioned to build the Mothman statue that showed up in Manchin's tweet and Trump's retweet. In 2005, the Mothman Museum opened, and it collects newspaper clippings, props, drawings, and other memorabilia and research dedicated to the local legend.