In the late 1960s, something strange was unfolding in Point Pleasant, an event that would later inspire several films, books and a local museum.
The Mothman legend began with a series of sightings, which eventually came to an end with the collapse of the Silver Bridge in 1967. Forty-six people died as a result, and the tragedy has been incorporated into the legend after some people reported seeing the Mothman before the bridge fell.
Some say the Mothman was a result of government experiments; some say he was the last creature left of an otherwise extinct species; others say it’s all just urban legend. Regardless, thousands of people with their own thoughts and understandings of the legend gather every year in Point Pleasant for the Mothman Festival.
“The original reason we started the festival back in 2003 was to get people just to come to Main Street,” said Jeff Wamsley, director of the one-and-only Mothman Museum, located in Point Pleasant. “Now, it's like the whole country comes to Main Street.”
A Point Pleasant native, Wamsley has written books about the legend and mans the festival each year, bringing in local bands, speakers and vendors. This year, he said he anticipates the event will have brought in 10,000 to 12,000 people from across the country.
“Well, the legend as I know it -- I was five years old when it happened -- in November of 1966, you had two young couples, seeing what they thought was a large bird at first, but as they got closer, they described it as a six, seven-foot-tall, gray and white colored thing with red eyes, that chased them in their car.”
Wamsley said Point Pleasant and the surrounding area had more than a hundred sightings after that, despite skepticism from federal officials and others outside the town.
“I believe they saw something. I can't tell you exactly what it was,” Wamsley said. “But I believe that they saw something. There were too many people describing the same thing.”
“It's such a big mystery, as to what people were actually seeing, that I think it invites a lot of curiosity as far as like what might have happened,” said Seth Breedlove. He directed a documentary on the Mothman legend in 2017, produced through Small Town Monsters.
“Mothman has become strangely almost like a pop culture icon in the last couple years -- It's just been strange to watch that, as well,” Breedlove said.
Emily Ahmuty, a West Virginia University student from Maryland, said she first learned about the Mothman legend after a speaker came to her school’s campus.
“Whether it's real or not real, I think it's really cool that this big urban legend brings people from all over together,” Ahmuty said. “I'm not even from West Virginia, and I'm here, so it's just nice that there's something that can unite people and bring a lot of fun.”