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#MOTHMAN and the CUTE Factor


Negating time travel, what is the best way to examine the original Mothman situation without corrupted memories that are now decades old or the contaminated writings of author John Keel? The definitive answer is to study the newspaper articles of that time period.

How did this Mothman “presence” impact the residents of Point Pleasant, West Virginia and environs? Were details of the sightings reported accurately? How might ridicule and the CUTE Factor have affected everyone? Barely a handful of individuals encountered Mothman in any serious proximity. Everyone else “only knew what they read in the papers” when it came to understanding this enigma. Newspapers played a huge role in delivering local news and information. News articles could be shared and read again and again. These artifacts of local journalism offer us a glimpse into the mindset of folks living in that place and time. Contrary to popular belief, this newspaper “love affair” with “Mothmania” only lasted for a single week in November of 1966. Here is a summary of each day's news...

(Wednesday, November 16): 
Two Point Pleasant couples said today they encountered a man-sized, bird-like creature in the TNT area last night. Steve Mallette and Roger Scarberry and their wives described the thing as being about six or seven feet tall, having a wing span of ten feet and red eyes about two inches in diameter and six inches apart. “The young men said they saw the creature's eyes, which glowed red, only when their lights shined on it. And it seemed to want to get away from the lights.” This clearly refers to “eyeshine” exhibited by a creature sensitive to bright lights at night. 


It had the body and legs of a man and wings on its back like an angel. No head or arms were reported. The creature could take off vertically and fly along at one hundred miles per hour, but was reported to be a clumsy runner. 


The Wednesday newspaper articles were fairly straightforward and objective.

(Thursday, November 17): 
As was customary with monster sightings, the local villagers swarmed the area last night in torch-and-pitchfork mode, replacing the medieval tools with flashlights and firearms. Sightseers clogged the roads as they flocked to the desolate TNT area to join in a search for the "Monster Moth Man.” The fire department was called out to assist in traffic duty. One fireman commented, "It looks like Mason County fair time." Civil Defense and National Guardsmen were patrolling the area along with the sheriff and deputies.

A sheriff’s deputy pointed out that “Despite the confusion, the reports are amusing.” He added that nearly everyone has voiced an opinion as to what they believed the eyewitnesses actually saw. These notions included an owl or goose or boys playing pranks with some type of rigged device.

Wednesday night’s traumatic multiple witness creature encounter by Marcella Bennett, Raymond and Cathy  Wamsley, and Ricky Thomas in the yard of Ralph Thomas was reduced to “They said the bird-like creature came around the car and stared at them and then soared away.”

In other news, a UPI dispatch reported that "something with red-reflecting eyes" was spotted in a meadow on a Doddridge County farm Tuesday night shortly before the owner's expensive dog vanished. Newell Partridge, a building contractor, was quoted as saying that “Bandit,” his three-year-old German Shepherd, went into the darkness after the "thing" and never returned. Some believe that Bandit was the dead dog seen later that night in the TNT area?

(Friday, November 18): 
Kenneth Duncan of Blue Creek came forward to report that he and four other men were digging a grave on Saturday, November 12, when something that "looked like a brown human being" flew past in a wooded area at Reamer near Clendenin. "It was gliding through the trees and was in sight for about a minute," Duncan said. The other men helping to dig the grave did not see it. Even at that, all five men got their names in the newspaper.

Mason County Sheriff George Johnson said he did not discount the stories of Steve Mallette and Roger Scarberry and their wives. Linda Scarberry was medically treated for shock. All four said they would take lie detector tests. Johnson said he felt what was seen was nothing more than a "freak shitepoke.” Herons were sometimes colloquially known as “shitepokes” due to their habit of “lightening their load” or defecating when they were flushed into flight. For instance, the stocky Black-crowned Night-Heron was nocturnal and had bright red eyes and pale gray wings. It was also an imposing 23-28 inches long.


More details were revealed about the horrifying ordeal of Marcella Bennett that Wednesday night. “Mrs. Bennett, carrying her baby in her arms, started to her car and was suddenly confronted with the ‘Bird of Paradise.’ She screamed, and panic-stricken, dropped her baby and fell to the ground. She described the ‘thing’ as a huge, gray winged creature with large red eyes.”

Thursday night the TNT area was once again ablaze from headlights and flashlights as the curious traveled up and down the labyrinth of dirt roads. Police officials estimated more than one thousand persons, many with guns, were searching the area prior to midnight. One officer heard a rapid-fire rifle behind one of the buildings. Roger Bennett, Assistant News Editor for The Athens Messenger, added that, “The sightseers know there isn't such a thing, but they aren't about to miss a chance seeing it.” 

Another “news” article began with "He flies through the air with the greatest of ease, with bloodshot eyes and wings as big as you please.”

Heaven help those innocents who stumble across "monsters." There will always be “experts” who just know that these sightings are delusions or alcohol/drug-related and act accordingly. They demand a logical and rational explanation for every claim and occurrence. Where no explanation is available, they invent one, with neither investigation nor specific cause. I have dubbed this perpetual reaction by some individuals to the unexplained and unknown as the CUTE (Compulsive Urge To Explain) Factor.

A Fairland High School teacher for the Proctorville, Ohio school's Science Interest Club volunteered a CUTE scientific explanation for the Mothman seen flying over the TNT area. Edward Prichard believed the "monster" could be an experimental weather balloon that measured some four-by-seven feet when inflated. A balloon was released Tuesday night by his students to study air currents.

"The prevailing winds would carry them over Mason County," Prichard said. "Light catches these things in strange ways at some angles. Imagination can do the rest."

 A similar balloon was released on Tuesday, November 1st and apparently triggered several regional UFO reports before it came to earth. A capsule inside the balloon asked the finder to return it to the school.


(Saturday, November 19):

Dr. Robert L. Smith, associate professor of wildlife biology in WVU's division of forestry, believed the "thing" which had been frightening people in the Point Pleasant area since Tuesday was a large bird which stopped off while migrating south. "From all the descriptions I have read about this ‘thing,’ it perfectly matches the sandhill crane,” said the professor. "I definitely believe that's what these people are seeing."

Many who scoffed at the very idea of Mothman eagerly embraced this theory.

Were witnesses actually confusing this anorexic, long-necked, pencil-legged, ten-pound bundle of feathers with a “headless” man-sized creature with stocky legs and huge wings? The sandhill crane was seldom seen east of the Mississippi River.

Monster hunters were warned that migratory birds of all kinds were protected by federal and state wildlife laws.

The wildlife station was clogged again on Friday night with the curious searching for the "thing." Sheriff George Johnson said he would arrest any persons caught in the TNT area with a loaded gun after dark. There were earlier reports of armed people roaming the area. He also warned that the scores of persons searching the abandoned powerhouse in the TNT area after dark risked possible serious injury.

The latest reported sighting came from two Point Pleasant Volunteer firemen, Captain Paul Yoder and Benjamin Enochs. "As we were going into the picnic area in the TNT area, Paul and I saw this white shadow go across the car," Mr. Enochs reported. "This was about 1:30 a. m. Paul stopped the car and I went into the field, but couldn't see anything. I'd say this definitely was a large bird of some kind." Other newspaper accounts would say that the two definitely witnessed a very large bird with large red eyes.

(Sunday, November 20):
The weekend came to a close with “Is Mysterious Creature Balloon Or Crane?” in The Athens  Messenger. This article was a powerful journalistic shotgun loaded with double-aught ridicule. The sandhill crane theory by Dr. Robert Smith was discounted by Ohio University Department of Zoology officials. The weather balloon explanation was barely mentioned before the real “fun” began.


Maybe the creature was only one of the geese which lived on the ponds in the wildlife sanctuary. After all, they stood about two and a half to three feet tall. One man said the description fit his “mother-in-law exactly, especially the red eyes, six inches apart.” Another Point Pleasant man said the creature was something from the moon, chased down to earth by recent moon launches. The article ended with “One thing for certain, the remote, lonely roads in the TNT area aren't suited for late night astronomy studies now and the sweethearts of the area are up in arms.”

(Monday, November 21):
The Mothman story was in its death throes. Mundane explanations for the “monster” had reached a stalemate. Henry J. Frey, of Silver Springs, 
Maryland, contacted Point Pleasant Deputy Sheriff Millard Halstead. Frey had read about the encounters in the Washington Daily News and said he was “an authority on many subjects.” It was his conclusion that this creature was a Great Blue Heron.

Another vague encounter by four local youths offered nothing of substance. In “Bird Echoes Still,” published by The Point Pleasant Register, the repetitive nature of this “old news” grew tiresome.


Even the number of lookie-loos cruising the TNT area tapered off after the sandhill crane explanation.


Someone had to step up and put this Mothman debacle out of its misery.

(Tuesday, November 22):
The task of executioner fell to Ralph Turner from The Herald-Dispatch. In “Mason Bird-Monster Presumed Gone Now,” his death knell for Mothman began. 


“Authorities here have concluded that the so-called Mason County monster was a large bird of some kind and either has been or soon will be frightened out of the McClintic Wildlife Station area by hunters.” End of story.

Ralph Turner had the distinction of creating the only Mothman "prophecy" to ever come true. He concluded this article with, “Just what was seen in the dark of the night may never be firmly established. The Mason County monster may become a legend. Maybe a new tourist attraction has been born.”


Truer words were never written.

FINAL NOTE: We found textbook CUTE Factor and stinging ridicule posing as journalism. Hindsight tells us that the dwindling trickle of occasional Mothman articles would soon be buried and forgotten under an avalanche of newspaper accounts dutifully reporting an “invasion” of UFO sightings. Thanks to John Keel, the Mothman mystery would one day begin as flawed folklore. It would evolve into weapons-grade “balonium” thanks to The Mothman Prophecies movie.

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