Skip to comments.The Mothman Craze Erupts in Point Pleasant
Posted on 11/14/2002 5:35:04 PM PST by ex-Texan
The Mothman Craze Erupts in Point Pleasant
Mason County takes its claim to fame a step further with the first Mothman fe
[Or a whole region goes bonkers searching for the paranormal -- my comment, ex-Texan]
Chris Stirewalt, Daily Mail Staff
POINT PLEASANT -- The Mothman has returned to this sleepy river town, but this time residents hope he will portend economic growth rather than disaster.
Town merchants are hoping to cash in on a national trend, called crypto-tourism by some, that has seen tens of thousands drawn to places where unexplained or paranormal events occurred.
"There's a hunger out there for answers or even just a connection," local Mothman expert, author and entrepreneur Jeff Wamsley said. "People want to see something or touch something that was part of the whole mystery. We've got to find a way to tap into that."
From the site of alleged alien abductions in Roswell, N.M., to the home of purported prehistoric underwater creatures in upstate New York, Americans are willing to travel far and spend big to be part of the excitement.
This weekend, Point Pleasant will host the first Mothman Festival in its downtown with rides for children, props from last year's hit movie "The Mothman Prophecies" and even a hayride out to the old explosives storage area where the ghastly, winged being allegedly was first seen 36 years ago on Nov. 15.
In the 13 months that followed, the town, all of Mason County and much of the state were gripped with fear as more and more people came forward to say they had seen a gray creature, standing 7 feet tall, with bright red eyes and wings like a bird.
Witnesses reported being visited by the creature, being pursued by air at high speeds as they drove along country roads and experiencing interruptions in radio and television signals by an unearthly squeal.
The sightings abruptly ended on Dec. 15, 1967, when the Silver Bridge that connected Point Pleasant to Kanauga, Ohio, collapsed under the weight of a holiday shopping traffic jam, killing 45 and injuring many others.
The Mothman legend faded into the background and Point Pleasant slipped into relative anonymity over the next 30 years, with the scars of the Silver Bridge disaster and the terror caused by the Mothman gradually receding.
When John A. Keel, a journalist who came to town to report on the bizarre occurrences of 1967, published his book "The Mothman Prophecies" in 1975, it caused only a minor stir but offered a more benign explanation of what had occurred.
In Keel's telling, the possibility was raised that the Mothman came to warn people about the impending disaster. Keel found other incidents around the world where similar sightings were reported before disasters.
As the book circulated and the stories became part of local legend, the Mothman became less of a sinister character and more of a local celebrity -- a claim to fame for a town that had seen little else in recent years to celebrate.
By the time the movie based on Keel's book starring Richard Gere premiered in 2001, most Point Pleasant residents were ready to embrace the connection to the paranormal.
"I started keeping a guest book after a while because I wanted some kind of a record to show people at the chamber of commerce how much interest there was in this," said Carolyn Harris, the owner of the diner that was recreated in the movie. "We've got people from all over who see the sign for Point Pleasant as they're driving along and pull off to see where it all happened."
Wamsley and Harris are leading the charge to make Point Pleasant Mothman country. They hope a new river museum, a refurbished waterfront and other unrelated projects will add to the experience.
"We have a chance to do something here," said Wamsley, who owns a record store that is also a Mothman gift shop and center for paranormal studies in town. "There's still some people in town who just dismiss what we're trying to do. But you have to remember that they dismiss everything. It's a lot easier for them just to shoot down every idea than to get out and do something."
This weekend's festival is intended to show businesses and city leaders that the Mothman need not be simply a curiosity. Wamsley and Harris think he can become an economic engine.
"Even if we just had a few hundred people show up," Harris said, "that would really say something."
Point Pleasant has some examples to follow when it comes to crypto-tourism, including the leader in the field, Roswell, N.M.
Julie Shuster, director of the UFO Museum in Roswell, said their annual festival held over the 4th of July holiday, the anniversary of the 1947 UFO sightings, has been a hit for years. She said the museum itself draws more than 200,000 visitors each year.
Shuster said the UFO Festival draws more than 10,000 visitors to Roswell each year with a mixture of fantasy and serious study.
"If they want to dress up as Klingons, they can," Shuster said. "Or if they want to come down and hear a free lecture from the leaders in the field, they can do that, too."
Roswell officials credit the fascination with aliens for creating a tourism boom in their town and eagerly cooperate with any effort to bring in alien hunters.
Locals in Willow Creek, Calif., also have learned to embrace their unexplained resident -- Bigfoot.
The Bigfoot Days Festival, held every summer since 1960, draws as many as 2,000 people every year to the tiny town in the northern part of the state that bills itself at the "Gateway to Bigfoot Country" and features a huge statue of a sasquatch.
The festival features fun for believers and non-believers alike, with costumes, parades and ice cream socials.
"It's just a real hometown kind of festival," Nita Rowley of the Willow Creek Chamber of Commerce said. "Tourists like it because it has that homey feel to it. They pour in. And there's the museum and the like for the more serious folks."
On Lake Champlain in the Adirondack region of New York, locals love their local paranormal resident, Champ, the Lake Champlain Monster. Think of him as a smaller and more lovable Loch Ness Monster.
While there is much disagreement over the actual existence of Champ, many locals are adamant in their belief that the creature exists and even assists stranded fishermen. It is considered something of an honor to have your name listed on a board listing confirmed sightings.
"The Champ Day celebration is always great fun," event organizer Teresa Huestis said. "And there is generally a pretty positive response from local merchants. Everyone sort of gets involved. We have a townwide yard sale and crafts."
Now that Point Pleasant can claim a creature that may have been a protector rather than a ghoul, perhaps Wamsley and Harris can get their town to get behind a festival celebrating the Mothman.
"We need to try something here," Harris said. "We can't just all sit around on our hands and complain. We'll have to leave that to them that have been doing it for years around here."
Writer Chris Stirewalt can be reached at 348-4824.
That being said, calm down and rent the "Mothman" video. If any Freepers live near Point Pleasant, I expect you to drop in tomorrow and send us all a full report.
Elvis is still alive and living at the mall, if witnesses are to be believed.
By the way, I know a guy who is about 6' 5" tall who is deathly afraid of "little, teeny, tiny, itty bitty moths."
I have several relatives that live in or near Point Pleasant. But I have never held that against the town.
Back in the depression my father contracted to paint the bridge over the Ohio at Point Pleasant. A local came up looking for a job. Dad asked him if he could climb. The local said like squirrel. Dad sent him topside and when he looked in few minutes the local was frozen at the top of the bridge tower with his eyes closed. Dad had to rig a bosons seat. It took 5 guys to pry this local off the bridge tower and get him on the ground.
When dad got him on the ground, he said to the local, " I thought you told me you could climb like a squirrel." The local replied, "That must have been a ground squirrel."
For decades in our family the excuse for failing to do some task was, "That must have been a ground squirrel."
"Hit movie?" Like heck it was a hit!
According to the Internet Movie Database, Mothman was a flop, opening in January 2002 (not 2001) with an $11 million weekend. That was only good enough for third behind pop star Mandy Moore's A Walk To Remember and a whiz-bang remake of The Count of Monte Cristo.
By the end of March 2002, word of mouth had killed Mothman, and it was yanked from US theaters after a paltry $49,000 weekend brought the gross to only $35 million domestically. The film's budget was $42 million.
No. Read the book. John Keel could use the money. They certainly didn't pay him for the movie.
It's all bogus, of course.
Keel is an interesting writer. He also invented or at least popularized the Men In Black as MIB. I'm sure he never got any money for that either.
He's a pulp writer who had a huge but essentially invisible impact on pop culture or society.
I believe it was actually Albert K. Bender who came up with the Men In Black. Keel was only a popularizer.
"We advise those engaged in saucer work to please be very cautious."
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