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from Los Angeles Times

Based on a True-Life Story, but Was That Story for Real?

A West Virginia town's encounter with the unexplained inspires "The Mothman Prophecies."

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Times Staff Writer

Mothman sketch
A sketch of Mothman, made by an eyewitness in rural West Virginia. In all, more than 100 people reported seeing the creature.--Courtesy Linda Scarberry,
in "Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend"

The local headlines screamed: "Couples See Man-Sized Bird ... Creature ... Something!" "Monster No Joke for Those Who Saw It," "Gigantic, Fuzzy Bird Chases Auto in Storm."

     No, this was not a Samuel Arkoff B-horror production. This was real--or possibly real anyway.

     The time was 1966 in Point Pleasant, W.Va., and something very strange was happening. More than 100 people reported seeing a 9-foot-tall, black, winged creature with glowing red eyes. Some said it spoke to them and forewarned of an impending disaster in their town, a small farming community at the intersection of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers. One year later, their worst fears were realized when the bridge over the Ohio River, connecting Point Pleasant to Ohio, collapsed and 47 people died.

     "Mothman"--as the beast was known by locals--was never seen or heard from again.

     "There are a lot of people who just don't want to talk about it anymore, either because they are traumatized or they don't want the press attention," said Jeff Wamsley, a Point Pleasant native and author of "Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend." "People were pretty much scared out of their wits."

 The story of this strange season in Point Pleasant was chronicled by journalist John A. Keel in his 1975 book "The Mothman Prophecies."

     The book is now a movie.

     "The Mothman Prophecies," a $42-million Sony Screen Gems release that opens Friday, stars Richard Gere as a crusading Washington Post journalist named John Klein who, through a personal tragedy, finds himself in Point Pleasant. He gradually becomes embroiled in the town's strange sightings until he reaches a point of obsession and near lunacy. Although the real story occurred in the 1960s, the movie is set in contemporary times. The film also stars Laura Linney (who was paired with Gere in the 1996 thriller "Primal Fear") and "Will & Grace's" Debra Messing.

     Screenwriter Richard Hatem ("Under Siege 2: Dark Territory") had been fascinated by science fiction and the paranormal since childhood. But it was not until one night in the spring of 1997 that he was pulled into the Mothman world.

     During a bout with insomnia, he found himself in a Pasadena bookstore. He saw "The Mothman Prophecies" on the shelf, picked it up and soon enough was sitting cross-legged on the floor reading the book. He read through the night. By the next day, he was on the phone with author Keel and began writing the screenplay.

     Hatem based two characters on Keel. Gere plays the younger, cockier journalist, while Alan Bates plays an older, wiser and spooked professor who at one time also witnessed a paranormal event.

     By 1998, Lakeshore Entertainment (producers of "The Gift," "Runaway Bride") bought the rights to the script and began a two-year development process. But Hatem's vision for the film remained intact.

     "Most Hollywood movie ghosts make their presence known to help us get back together with our girlfriends," said Hatem. "I wanted to write a story that said you can ask questions about why things happen, but they are the sort of things that we are never going to get an answer to. This was a movie about dealing with something that human beings will never be equipped to understand."

     Director Mark Pellington ("Arlington Road") was not interested in making a "monster movie." Rather, he wanted a film about the psychology of belief.

     "Could this be a man? A voice? A light or a monster?" Pellington said. "Many of these things we don't answer. That was the appeal to me, the ambiguity and the unanswered questions. We wanted to play it straight and strip out any melodrama or kookiness."

Keel, who has seen the movie, said he thought "Richard Gere does a great job of gradually going nuts." Now 72 and still writing books and articles from his home in New York City, he says: "I didn't go nuts, but I was very upset. When the bridge collapsed, it was pretty distressing.... I was determined I was going to find the answers to this. As it progressed, I became more and more baffled. It took a long time for me to realize that I was dealing with something that the human mind could not understand. There are many things that we will never know."

     Indeed, nobody knows what those people saw on those dark West Virginia nights. But for the folks who say they saw the strange, malevolent creature--whatever it was--their lives were never the same.

     It began in mid-November 1966, when two couples, parked at an old World War II munitions dump site that the locals called TNT, say they were chased by a large creature. They reported the incident to the police, and the sightings continued from there. Some said the creature chased them to the ground. Others suffered from bleeding eyes after reportedly seeing it. Many never slept well again. It did not help to calm fears when the town's investigative reporter Mary Hyre, who had devoted much ink to the Mothman, died suddenly.

     One theory is that people saw a huge sandhill crane that veered off course. Another is that it was a giant, mutated owl. And others say the people in Point Pleasant succumbed to mass hysteria.

     "I believe that some people saw something. It was probably a bird," said Hilda Austin, 58, who lived through the Mothman sightings and is currently the head of the Point Pleasant Chamber of Commerce. "Some of it was just hoax. It could have been something spawned by the toxic ground from the TNT area. Some of the eyewitnesses were on drugs. I thought it was a hoot [when this happened]; everyone just sort of laughed at this. They just thought it was preposterous."

     But others, like cryptozoologist and author Loren Coleman, said there is a history of this kind of lore in the Ohio River Valley. The Native American tribes of the area had a long history of chronicling stories about Thunderbirds--large "bird-man" figures that were always harbingers of woe.

     "A lot of people want to make fun of Mothman because it's poor, white Appalachia people [talking about it], but I try to put it into context," said Coleman, who wrote the book "Mothman and Other Curious Encounters." "The Iroquois and the Tuscarora and the Wyandot tribes called them flying heads and big heads. They were exactly like the Mothman--headless creatures with big red eyes."

     David Grabias, who was hired by the studio to make a Mothman documentary that will air on the FX channel today, said he was convinced the locals saw something frightful.

     "When I first heard about it, I thought, 'Oh, it's West Virginia and these are a bunch of hicks drinking too much hooch in the mountains,'" said Grabias, who produced the Emmy-nominated documentary "Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry."

     "But the more people we talked to, the more we felt a sense that there was a feeling of something strange and to let sleeping dogs lie. The people were very believable."

     Pellington says that Mothman follows a pattern of the unexplained, which makes rational, modern society ill at ease.
     "I believe in things greater than us that are unexplained," he said. "The mysteries of life are so profound; that is why this legend and other kinds of mythology exist. I feel it keeps us human."

     Many locals were upset that the movie was not filmed in Point Pleasant itself. It was shot in Kittanning, Penn., because it was a large enough town to accommodate cast and crew. In addition, Pellington needed to shut down the local bridge for two months during filming--something the economy in Point Pleasant could not sustain.

     Instead of running from the Mothman legacy, Point Pleasant locals are embracing it. A thriving port city at the turn of the century, Point Pleasant has been suffering from a slow economy for many years. Without jobs, most of the young people leave to find a better way of life.

     Mothman, they are hoping, will bring them better fortunes.

     The Chamber of Commerce sold Mothman Christmas ornaments this year. Another local created Mothman beanbag toys, which sold like hotcakes, according to Austin.

     They don't seem to fear being placed in the pantheon of strange places like Roswell, N.M., or Loch Ness, Scotland.

     "We are hoping that it will do something that will help our economy," said Austin.

     "We don't understand what the fascination is. This new popularity of the Mothman started before the movie.... We don't care, we just hope it will help us out."

Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times


The Selling of Mothman

A Small Town Hopes to Make Big
Bucks Off a Winged Monster

By Buck Wolf
The Selling of Mothman

Jan. 22
÷ Move over, Bigfoot. See ya, Sasquatch. America's new No. 1 monster this year is destined to be Mothman.

The flying, blood-eyed, 7-foot-tall monster that once terrorized Point Pleasant, W.Va., chasing cars and mutilating animals, is making a comeback. He's out to fill Bigfoot's big shoes ÷ especially at the cash register.

The Mothman Prophecies, starring Richard Gere, opens in theaters Jan. 25, and that might be the best thing in the paranormal tourism business since the Loch Ness Monster backstroked to Scotland.

Get ready for Mothman Beanie Babies, T-shirts and Christmas ornaments. One West Virginia man has already sold Sony Pictures on a Mothman Internet game.

'He's Our Monster'

"He's our monster, so we want to make money off him," says Hilda Austin, executive director of the Point Pleasant Chamber of Commerce. "We don't want anyone stealing our thunder."

People used to run from ghosts. But these days, people run to ghosts. Monsters are good for business, and if your hotel is haunted, all the better.

Only a few years ago, The Blair Witch Project had folks flocking to Burkittsville, Md., where the hit horror film is set. Local officials complained that thrill-seekers were snatching up road signs and vandalizing tombstones.

The obsession reached such heights that the mayor offered this exasperated message on her voice mail: "This is the town office, Burkittsville, Maryland. · If this is in regards to The Blair Witch Project, it is fiction."

But Burkittsville, a tiny hamlet of 200 people, wised up to the fast-buck mentality. Previously unemployed locals quickly found a place in a burgeoning tourist business, selling "witch-chaser" bags filled with smooth stones, garlic cloves and lavender sprigs.

Now, Point Pleasant, an Appalachian town of 6,000 near the Ohio border, is looking for an unlikely hero in the form of a huge, hideous moth. That's pretty amazing, considering the legend.

Between 1966 and 1967, dozens of people came forward to claim they'd seen a giant man-bird with red, hypnotic eyes.

The first reports were from two young couples. Almost immediately, others came forward. Authorities found it harder to slough off each new monster sighting, and a media sensation was born.

Batman Inspires Mothman

The Batman TV show inspired a local newspaper copy editor to dub the creature "Mothman." Had this come a few years later, the creature may have been called "Big Bird," although a flying Bigfoot spotted on Washington state's Mount Rainier has been dubbed "Batsquatch" (not Batboy).

Writer John A. Keel later speculated that the sightings might even point to an alien visitation. His book, upon which the movie is based, documents a rash of UFO reports, alleged poltergeist activities, Men-in-Black harassments, unexplained animal slaughters, and other strange activity.

"There were so many unusual occurrences in a short, 13-month burst," says Loren Coleman, author of Mothman and Other Curious Encounters (Paraview Press). "What's amazing is, if you speak to the people today, their lives have changed. Some changed jobs. Some moved. Some got divorced.

"Whatever happened to these people, they were terrified."

The last time people saw Mothman was when Point Pleasant's Silver Bridge collapsed on Dec. 15, 1967, killing 46 people. Some even say the strange creature sounded a rodent-like squeal to warn of the disaster.

Even today, Mothman isn't a joke in Point Pleasant.

But we all must come to terms with the past. And now, the monster is fodder for local souvenirs.

"Let's face it, if we don't do it, someone else will," says Austin. "We're the home of Mothman, and we're proud."

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays.

Copyright © 2001 ABC News Internet Ventures.

from USA Today

'Mothman' sightings will continue
By Stephen Schaefer, USA TODAY
Melissa Moseley, AP
Dan Callahan, left, and Richard Gere in The Mothman Prophecies, opening in theaters Friday.

Until now, the Mothman has been known only to a devoted, cultlike few. That's certain to change with The Mothman Prophecies, out Friday and starring Richard Gere. The otherworldly 7-foot, red-eyed, winged apparition known as Mothman might even become a pop-culture totem, like Big Foot.

John A. Keel's The Mothman Prophecies is based on paranormal events the author experienced and studied in Point Pleasant, W.Va., in 1966-67, while writing about UFOs for Playboy. It's not giving away too much to say the residents were hearing and seeing things, culminating in a bridge collapse that cost 46 lives.

Because the thriller is advertised as "based on true events," Keel, Mothman director Mark Pellington and Mothman expert Loren Coleman (featured at 10 ET/PT Wednesday night on the FX channel documentary Searching for the Mothman) reveal the "truths" behind the film.

"Maybe we should have said 'inspired by true events,' " a cheerful Pellington says.

Says Coleman, who has published a book on the "dark and sinister" subject: "Pellington's made it a psychological thriller and not a monster movie. With this movie, Point Pleasant will become like Roswell and explode with tourism."

In the film, Washington Post reporter John Klein, played by Gere, investigates the strange goings-on.

"That's fiction," Pellington says.

But a few truths are out there:

* Frightened teens. "That came right out of the book," Pellington says. "Keel describes two kids who had sex who felt this thing attack them."

Says Coleman, who interviewed one of them: "A huge creature about 7 feet tall with huge wings and red eyes shuffled toward them, they ran to the car, and at 100 mph drove back to Point Pleasant. They could see the creature flapping right behind them."

* Sad sack. Will Patton (TV's The Agency) plays a man going nuts from his encounters with the Mothman, who takes the form of Gere's Klein. "He's invented, a composite of two of the major witnesses who had intense Mothman manifestations," Pellington says. "Like Alan Bates says to Klein in the film, 'It's perception, John. They appear differently to everybody. A man, a voice, a light, a monster.' That I wrote."

* The scientist. Bates (Gosford Park) plays Alexander Leek, driven mad by his Mothman encounter. Leek is fictional, but the name is a clue: It's Keel spelled backward.

Says Keel, 72: "The book tells what happened to me. Alan Bates gives a Keel speech, almost word for word, of what I've been saying for years."

* The tragedy. As for the Silver Bridge collapse, "that happened in 1967," Pellington says. "It was explained as metal fatigue. Once the bridge came down, the phone calls and sightings stopped. That's why it became legendary and why people blamed a force."

Coleman says that is fiction. "Sightings continue."

The real Keel, unlike Gere's Klein, was nowhere near the bridge that day. "I knew the exact time it was going to happen, but you couldn't warn anyone because it might cause a panic, and it might not be true."

He knew because "I was getting these damned mysterious phone calls, just like in the movie."

The film has 36 people dying, not 46, but the studio didn't "want to kill too many," Pellington says. "My father's football number was 36, and 40 was too many."
from Wireless Flash Weird News

West Virginia Town Buzzing About `Mothman'

January 22, 2002

POINT PLEASANT, W.V. (Wireless Flash) -- Local merchants in the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, are seeing a rise in tourism thanks to the new Richard Gere movie "The Mothman Prophecies" -- opening Friday (Jan. 25).

The town is home to the legendary Mothman, and Ruth Finley, owner of the Lowe Hotel, says a lot more tourists are visiting specifically to search for the strange creature that's haunted the town for centuries.

She says town leaders are selling Mothman beanie babies, and there are plans to erect a Mothman museum and fudge shops.

But not everyone is thrilled about the Mothman tourist frenzy, according to Loren Coleman, who documented Mothman sightings for his book "Mothman and Other Curious Encounters" (Paraview Press).

Coleman claims many Mothman eyewitnesses who spoke out about the creature in the past are now so afraid of being further ridiculed that they have either moved or shut off phone service.
from Suite

The Mothman Cometh!
by Florence U. Cardinal
January 20, 2002

Yes, the Mothman is coming - The Mothman movie, I mean. It will be out January 25, 2002, and I, for one, can hardly wait. "The Mothman Prophecies' is loosely based on events that took place in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966. Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman stated in an interview: "These two couples saw two giant red eyes, and it very much scared them...they didn't know what to make of it." The creature was tall, perhaps as tall as seven feet. It had no head. The eyes shone from the breast of the creature and it sported huge wings. The couples fled, but the creature followed them until they reached Point Pleasant.

The local sheriff investigated the area but found nothing. The media made light of the account, but that wasn't the end of it. Over the next year, over 200 people reported abnormal phenomena in and around the Point Pleasant area, and there were more sightings of the weird, moth-like creature.

Then other strange events began to take place in the West Virginia town. It seemed Point Pleasant had become a center for paranormal occurrences. As well as sightings of the Mothman creature, people reported increased UFO activity. Others reported finding the bodies of mutilated dogs. It was a strange time indeed for the residents of the city.

Into the picture came news reporter John Keel. He became deeply involved with the reports and the entire mysterious situation. He seemed to be receiving psychic messages, prophecies, of dire events to come. He became positive that on December 15 the northeast region of the United States would suffer a severe power outage and a total blackout.

This didn't occur, but something else did. A bridge collapsed - the Silver Bridge between Kanauga, Ohio and Point Pleasant, West Virginia. 67 people plunged into the icy waters; 46 people died. Was this the prophecy the psychic messages attempted to send to John Keel? Was the Mothman a part of the message?

The result of all this was a book: "The Mothman Prophecies" published in 1975 and now out-of-print, and, incidentally, worth a nice bit of cash if you happen to won a copy. Amazon, as I write this, has one used book available for over $100. EBay, however, has some for less than that.

And this brings us to the movie. "The Mothman Prophecies" starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney, promises to be a real creeper. Director Mark Pellington has attempted to recreate the town of Point Pleasant and the pervading atmosphere that surrounded the town at the time of the Mothman Prophecies. Pellington states that he wasn't interested in creating a "creature movie." He prefers to call it a "psychological mystery with naturally surreal overtones."

Whatever you want to call it, it's a movie I want to see. If you enjoy thrills and shivers in your movie fare, I'm sure you're just as eager for the release of the movie as I am.

from Portland Press Herald

Who Is That Mothman Expert?
Sunday, January 20, 2002

Portland Press Herald Writer  

Loren Coleman was just 12 when he was drawn to his life's work. It happened when he saw a schlocky 1958 horror movie called "Half Human," about an abominable snowman terrorizing the Japanese countryside.

The movie was a certified flop, but it started Coleman down a 40-year path of trying to document and analyze the many human sightings of things as weird as, or weirder, than abominable snowmen. While most of us scoff or snicker at such things, the premise of "Half-Human" caused Coleman to make a serious study of such reported creatures as the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch and Mothman.

So maybe it's appropriate that Coleman, who is 54 and lives in Portland, is getting a heavy dose of national attention these days. It turns out that after years of studying things that most of us laugh about, Coleman's expertise is being sought after by the mainstream media including radio stations, magazines, documentary film crews and movie producers.

"The Mothman Prophecies," a Sony/Screen Gems film starring Richard Gere and set for national release Friday, is based on sightings of a 6 1/2 to 7-foot-high winged creature in Point Pleasant, W. Va., in 1966 and 1967. The sightings came just before a bridge collapse in that town, which killed 47 people and led to speculation about paranormal activity.

The producers and the media have turned to Coleman repeatedly as one of the few experts on Point Pleasant's Mothman and other Mothman-like sightings in recent history. It helps that his latest book, "Mothman and Other Curious Encounters," (Paraview Press, $14.95) was released earlier this month.

"In researching the subject, his was a name that kept coming up," said David Grabias, the maker of the documentary "Search for Mothman," which premieres Wednesday on the FX cable network, and will likely be shown again. "It's a story where it's hard to find people who are authoritative and credible and somewhat objective, and that's why I turned to Loren."

Coleman lives a sort of double life. He's known in Maine for his work as a consultant to school systems and health care organizations in the areas of teen suicide and youth violence. He did research in those areas for the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine until recently, and now does his work as a private consultant. It's this work that pays his bills.

But Coleman is also a nationally-known researcher and author in the field of cryptozoology, the study of unknown or undiscovered animals. Outside of other people who are interested in cryptozoology, not many people are familiar with Coleman's work, or cryptozoology itself, for that matter.

Enter "The Mothman Prophecies," which has been advertised on TV, in magazines and at the movie theaters. Because the media has a huge appetite for movie hype, Coleman has gone from an investigator of fables (in the minds of many) to a bona fide expert - all in a Hollywood minute.

Coleman, while not formally hired by Sony/Screen Gems, has done more than 40 radio and magazine interviews as part of the current "Mothman" publicity frenzy. He appeared at a news conference in Hollywood, and is featured prominently in the documentary, which Sony helped to make.

The movie is actually based on a book of the same name by John Keel, a friend of Coleman's who went to Point Pleasant shortly after the first Mothman sightings. Keel has been interviewed as well for various "Mothman Prophecies" publicity pieces.

Coleman's book differs from Keel's in that Coleman is not as interested as Keel in theories of UFOs or paranormal activity. Coleman says he he is first and foremost a cryptozoologist, so his book is more about the earthly possibilities behind what people saw, or might have seen, in Point Pleasant.

He has documented the facts of the sightings, and interviewed the people who saw something, in a methodical, journalistic way.

"He's really the foremost expert on Mothman next to John Keel," said Marc Weinstock, vice president of marketing for Sony/Screen Gems. "He knows the story and he can speak to it well. Because of that, he's being sought out for interviews."

So what exactly is Mothman? Well, from talking to people who say they saw it in Point Pleasant, it is a black creature with red eyes, the size of a large man, with wings. The drawing on Coleman's "Mothman" book, made from witness descriptions, looks like a giant black owl with cape-like wings.

Coleman says he had been working on a Mothman book for years, but decided to finish it when the movie publicity started coming out. The book, "Mothman and Other Curious Encounters" came out in early January and is available only by ordering at book stores or online.

In the book, Coleman writes about the Point Pleasant sightings, which began in November of 1966 and lasted for 13 months. Some people in the small town on the Ohio border simply said they saw it, either standing still or flying. Others say they felt its presence. Others reported premonitions of some impending disaster. In his book, Coleman lists the details of 26 specific sightings of Mothman or a similar creature during 1966 and 1967 in the small town.

Then on Dec. 15, 1967, Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant collapsed during end of the day rush-hour, and 47 people were killed. The bridge collapse happened at a time when bridges were not inspected regularly, and Coleman said there were engineers who explained structurally what had worn out inside the bridge (an eye-bar pin) and why it had collapsed. So the bridge collapse itself isn't that mysterious, though the Mothman sightings leading up to it are.

Coleman concentrated his book on putting Mothman in context, such as talking about other sightings of giant winged creatures over the years. These so-called Mothman sightings, Native American sightings of "thunderbirds" and other evidence may point to some giant bird that hasn't been discovered yet, Coleman thinks.

What Coleman doesn't do in his book is to focus on the UFO and paranormal speculation that plays a large part in the "Mothman" movie.

"In all my investigations over the years I've found that 80 percent of these are misidentifications or hoaxes, but there are some with at least a kernel of truth," said Coleman, sitting in the work room of his apartment, just a few blocks from USM. The room is filled with skulls, monster models and other creature clutter. "What I try to do with any of these is present data, and if you present enough data, there might be some acceptance of what happened."

As for Mothman, all Coleman can say for sure is that many people say they saw something like a large winged creature. And that there are at least some similarities between their descriptions and various descriptions of other sightings recorded in newspaper accounts over the years, as well as descriptions from people Coleman has interviewed.

"This is only the second book on Mothman, and what I wanted to do is reclaim him for cryptozoology," Coleman said.

That being said, Coleman lacks hard proof that Mothman exists, which is the basic knock many scientists have on cryptozoology.

In the field of cryptozoology however, Coleman is well respected for his meticulous research of sightings and for his analysis and perspective.

He has written several other books on the subject, including "Mysterious America" (Paraview, 2001) and "Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature" (Simon & Schuster) 1999, with Jerome Clark.

"I think everyone has to read a Loren Coleman book if they are going to be involved in cryptozoology. He's very well respected," said George Eberhart, senior editor of American Libraries Magazine and the author of a forthcoming book on cryptozoology.

Coleman admits that he spends more time on cryptozoology, which doesn't exactly pay much, than he does on his consulting work. Being regarded as a Mothman expert hasn't made him richer, but it has gotten some publicity for his book.

It also has made his cryptozoology seem cooler to his sons - Malcolm, 15, and Caleb, 11. After all, their dad has now written a book about something that is being made into a Hollywood movie.

But for Coleman, the best thing about the "Mothman Prophecies" movies is that it may do for others what the horrible John Carradine movie "Half Human" did for him.

"I hope that because of the movie and my book, Mothman will resurface as an important cryptozoological subject," said Coleman. "Like Big Foot or Loch Ness."

Copyright © 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

from FilmForce

The Real Story of The Mothman Prophecies

IGN FilmForce talks with cryptozoologist Loren Coleman about the spooky true-life events that inspired the upcoming Richard Gere film.
by Scott B.

If you've been following news on films to be released in 2002, you have probably heard about a movie called The Mothman Prophecies starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney, and directed by Mark Pellington (Arlington Road). You might even have seen a poster or a trailer for the film, due out January 25, 2002, which comes with the ominous warning "Based on true events." But what are those true events? And what the heck is a "Mothman," anyway? IGN FilmForce recently had the opportunity to talk with Loren Coleman, famed "cryptozoologist" (literally "the study of unknown animals") and author of fifteen books, including the upcoming Mothman and Other Curious Encounters, about the whole Mothman story.

"On November 15, 1966, four individuals ö two married couples ö were at what was essentially a lovers lane in Point Pleasant, West Virginia," explains Coleman, who has been researching so-called "Fortean Phenomena" (from Charles Fort) since 1960. "These two couples saw two giant red eyes, and it very much scared them...they didn't know what to make of it."

This, then, was the first reported sighting of the "Mothman," which Coleman goes on to say "was described as 6-to-7 feet tall with red eyes and no head, as if the eyes were in the breast area, and with huge wings." The creature "came toward them. They took off and the creature followed them right up to the city limits of Point Pleasant." The incident was reported to the local sheriff, who went to the lovers lane and "searches around, sees a puff of smoke in a nearby area from possibly this creature taking off and landing again."

While Coleman reports that the account was "ridiculed in the local press," something very strange began to happen: "More and more people started seeing this creature. For the next thirteen months, over 200 individuals had some interaction with some strange phenomena ö and about a hundred of those said they actually saw Mothman."

And why that bizarre name ö Mothman? Apparently, it was the work of "some copyeditor at the local newspaper. At the time, the "Batman" series was on TV, so they didn't want to call it 'Batman,' but it did have wings, so the copyeditor called it 'Mothman.' We have no other information than that ö I've been trying to track that copyeditor down for twenty years."

But the creepy events in Point Pleasant during 1966-67 weren't limited to appearances of the Mothman. "There were [also] mutilated dogs, UFO sightings, and other things going on," says Coleman. And that's where John Keel, a longtime friend of Coleman's and author of the book The Mothman Prophecies, came in.

"About a month after [the initial sightings], John Keel got an assignment to go there as a news reporter," explains Coleman. "He sort of showed up, had a very low kind of profile; John was on a contract to write a book about UFOs."

As Keel began to talk to people and gather information, the journalist found himself getting more deeply involved in the events, to the extent that "There were entities that communicated with John by phone." Coleman explains that as Keel analyzed the events, he found Point Pleasant to be "a vortex of phenomena, and couldn't really tell one from the other. It was a scary situation for John."

Whatever one thinks of the validity of Keel's claims, there's no arguing the horror of what happened next. Keel had begun to be given "prophecies" by the entities he was dealing with in Point Pleasant, one in particular that said that "when President Johnson turned on the Christmas lights at the White House, the whole northeast was going to go into a blackout." However, by that point, Coleman says that Keel had "started to get fooled by the phenomena.

"On December 15, John Keel is in his apartment in Manhattan," Coleman continues. "[Waiting for the blackout] with his bottled water and his batteries, and nothing happens. About six minutes later, on the TV set across the bottom: 'Bridge collapses across Ohio River.' And he just freaks out."

Keel "freaked out" because the bridge in question was the Silver Bridge, which crossed the Ohio River between Gallipolis, Ohio, and ö you guessed it ö Point Pleasant, West Virginia. "67 people fell into the river. 46 died. They found 44 bodies," says Coleman. "Several people who died were related to witnesses of Mothman."

The collapse of the Silver Bridge has been seen as the climax of Keel's Mothman experience, but Coleman is quick to say "I don't think it stopped. What I think is that it has continued on but people did not report it. It never got to the fever pitch of, say, a Roswell."
John Keel published his account of these events in 1975 ö interestingly, until Coleman's upcoming book, "Keel's had been the only book. There have been chapters and mentions, but there's never been a movie or a documentary. Mothman is a case that has almost been too scary for people to get close to. At the time, everyone knew about Mothman but it was so bizarre no one could characterize it."

And, apparently, neither does the upcoming film version, of which Coleman has seen footage as well as consulting with the director. "My understanding is that Mothman is described and talked about but not seen in the movie," he says. "But I don't know ö it's 95% done and they could always change their mind."

As discussion turns to the movie, a natural question comes up: Does this kind of exposure help or hurt the work done by Coleman, who considers himself "an investigative reporter" who "comes into these things very skeptically." After all, this relatively obscure story is about to become very famous due to the film. Does Coleman worry that the movie will encourage a rash of "Mothman" sightings or hoaxes? "I'm a professor of documentary film back in Portland, Maine, and a lot of my work deals with Behavior Contagion and the media effect, so that's a very interesting question to me," explains Coleman. "After Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out, everybody was predicting that we'd have this rush of fake UFO reports and all of that. It doesn't happen. What happens is that people get more interested in the subject, dig up old reports, or ö if they have seen things ö they talk about it."

For those interested in "Mothman" lore, the film's official website is up and running, presenting a detailed chronology of the events in Point Pleasant. Also, Coleman himself maintains the website The Cryptozoologist, which has information on his own research into the Mothman and other phenomena.
from Wireless News Flash


28 December 2001

POINT PLEASANT, W.V. (Wireless Flash) -- A hideous creature called the "Mothman" may soon be as well-known as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

The Mothman is a 6-foot-tall creature with wings that haunts the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia -- usually appearing just before a major disaster, such as a bridge collapse that killed 46 people in 1967.

Locals are afraid to discuss the Mothman, but they may not be able to avoid it starting next month, when a new movie, "The Mothman Prophecies," opens in theaters.

Mothman expert Loren Coleman fears media attention will turn Point Pleasant into a paranormal tourist trap "a la" Roswell, New Mexico, and create more myths than facts.

As a result, he's trying to get Point Pleasant locals to spill the beans about the Mothman now, before tourism changes everything.
from 13th Street

Mothman Interview: Loren Coleman, 
Part 1

by Smilin' Jack Ruby

Mothman Interview

Not too long ago on the Sony lot, the L.A. genre press (woo-hoo!) were rounded up to meet with author Loren Coleman, a cryptozoologist who specializes in natural history and evolutionary anomalies such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and...

The Mothman. 

This January, Screen Gems is releasing a new movie called The Mothman Prophecies, a film about the mysterious goings-on in Point Pleasant, West Virginia where a certain being dubbed "the Mothman" appeared to various people and foretelling tragic events, including a major bridge collapse that killed dozens of people. 

Coleman, who has been a consultant for television shows like Unsolved Mysteries, Ancient Mysteries, In Search Of... and In the Unknown, is a college professor in Maine whose primary field is social anthropology, though he's done a great deal of work into psychiatry as well. Coleman has just published a new book entitled Mothman and Other Curious Encounters and spoke with us about the truths behind the movie and what really happened back in 1966 in the small town of Point Pleasant. 

13th Street: Who did the artwork for the cover of the book? 

Loren: A guy named Bill Rebsamen - he's an Arkansas artist who is really good at this kind of stuff. 

13th Street: How did he come up with that as the design for the Mothman? 

Loren: I don't know if you've seen the drawings from the 1960's - actual eyewitness drawings and then he used those as a base. 

13th Street: How did you get into writing this kind of stuff? What interested you to get into this field? 

Loren: Well, believe it or not, a science fiction film. In 1960, I watched a film called Half Human (Smilin' Jack Note: Full title: Half Human: The Story of the Abominable Snowman from Toho) - it's the same folks that brought you Rodan and all those other films. I think the film came out in '56 in Japan and was shown on TV over here in the sixties. It was a movie about the yeti in the Himalayas - wait, it wasn't the Himalayas, it was in Japan - and I went to school at the time and asked my teachers, 'is there a yeti?' and everybody said, 'no, no.' So, I started reading, I started digging, and I started corresponding. By the end of the year, I had four hundred correspondents around the world - even though I was twelve. I just started gathering all this information and wrote my first article by the mid-sixties. One thing after another until I wrote eight books on this subject. 

13th Street: Is the yeti your fave still? 

Loren: Yeah. The abominable snowman will always be the most important thing. 

We talked for a moment about how people can get in touch with Coleman as his e-mail address is published prominently on his website: , and yes, he will answer y'er questions

Loren: I get about five hundred e-mails a day and I'm online all the time. I'm on forty-three e-lists. I'm really out there exchanging information with people. 

13th Street: What sort of creatures are you looking into right now? 

Loren: Well, the Mothman is certainly consuming a lot of my time... 

13th Street: What about "rods?" 

Loren: I have not been convinced that rods are cryptozoological creatures. 

13th Street: You think they're real and should be studied as such? 

Loren: (laughs) No, I didn't say that either. All the (tapes) I've seen have not been convincing thus far. So, I'm waiting for more convincing evidence. 

13th Street: It's like the Loch Ness Monster, only better. When you go look for it - you see it! 

Loren: Well, I've gone to look for the Loch Ness Monster and I've never seen it. (laughs

13th Street: With depth sonar or what? 

Loren: No, I mean, I understand what you're saying. In my experience as a cryptozoologist and with cryptids in general is that the more you look for them - it's almost only randomly that you see them. If you go looking for them, sometimes you don't see them, because you're looking so hard you're actually putting out a lot of energy. Some of the people going out trying to find Bigfoot right now are so overwhelmed with trying to find him that they bring in large groups of people, all this camera equipment with all the EM energy from the equipment. These cryptids seem to work on different levels of perception. Human beings are so ethnocentric in some ways that they forget that and they go in thinking they can take all the equipment they want in and the creatures will reveal themselves. Actually, they're working on different wave bands. People don't think about the perfumes that are all over their body and how a lot of these creatures will naturally avoid different areas where they sense human perfumes. 

13th Street: What about the idea of olfactory bait and finding out what draws a creature out? 

Loren: That's true, but people have tried things like sides of beef and sanitary napkins and things like that, but they forget how they're delivering those baits to the area with their clothed, perfumed body. I'll be open-minded about (rods), but so far all I've seen are flashes of light. The thing I'm interested in about Mothman is that it seems to be something that just dropped in 1966, but there's a long history there of Mothman-type creatures back to the 15th century. Any cryptid that I look at, I look for native traditions, history, for rods, I haven't seen that. Anglos were saying that about chupacabras - that chupacabras just kind of showed up in 1995, but that's not true. If you go back to the native accounts, you'll find stuff dating back to the 16th century that are chupacabra-like and you find chupacabra-like creatures in other countries. So, if there's a source background, it gives me the sense that this isn't just something aberrant. We have to be realistic and with my graduate background in psychiatry, I know that people do have hallucinations - auditory hallucinations are more often than visual, but you have to really look at where most of these cases are coming from - they're coming from witnesses. Human beings have psychological problems some times, so I look to see if there's a history that crosses any kind of psychological diagnostic category. 

13th Street: So, you're saying that mostly imbalanced people are witnesses? 

Loren: Even imbalanced people see creatures, but if there's credible people, the "credible housewife," etc., it's better. 

13th Street: Maybe I'm on the outside, but what exactly are "rods?" 

Loren: There are certain people that are taking these video cameras and they're seeing these white lights that look like a rod - a white light that goes through the air. So, a lot of people in the UFO field or the paranormal field are trying to move these into cryptozoology and saying they're animals. I'm not convinced yet. 

At this point, we watched a video documentary about the Mothman that features Coleman telling the story of the creature as well as some clips from the movie The Mothman Prophecies. A lot of the people who claim to have seen the mysterious red-eyed "Mothman" so long ago are still alive and added their testimony. We were told that Sony is currently looking for a home for the documentary and may have it air on 48 Hours, in fact

Loren then showed us a small toy figure of the Mothman 

Loren: This is the "entity" that John Klein saw (the character played by Richard Gere in the film). These are all very true events that are coming out in this movie. What happened right before the Mothman sightings - this man Woodrow Derenberger, who became a contactee - but Derenberger saw this entity, which he thought looked very strange and essentially it was a man in black - five foot nine, very dark, and then right after - I think it was five days later - the Mothman was seen and it got all the publicity. 

13th Street: For those readers who know nothing about this whatsoever, can you quickly summarize what this was all about? 

Loren: I've been interested in unexplained phenomena, which is generally called "Fortean" phenomena from Charles Fort since 1960 and have written quite a few books and about three hundred articles on the subject. I've been interested in what I call "winged weirdies" for some time. So, when I started hearing about the movie and talking to Sony, I had an idea in place about a book for a long time. My new book, which is coming out in December is Mothman and Other Curious Encounters. In 1966, the country was experiencing a lot of UFO sightings, but not that many to create a major flap. On November 15th, four individuals - four twenty-somethings, they were 17 to 24, two married couples - were going in this TNT area, which is an old munitions area in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. It is essentially a lover's lane and a lot of us in Fortean phenomena investigations know that trailers, lover's lane areas, rural areas - those places on the edge of society gets a lot of interactions with these kinds of creatures. So, these two couples were going around the TNT area and all of a sudden, they saw these two giant red eyes. It very much scared them and they didn't know what to make of it. Then the creature, as they described it, (was) six to seven feet tall, red eyes with no head as if the eyes were more in the breast area and with huge wings - came towards them...and they took off at a hundred miles an hour. This creature followed the back of their car. They could see it out the back window almost not flapping almost as if riding the draft of their car - right up to the city limits of Point Pleasant. They go into town and describe to the local sheriff what was going on. The local sheriff comes back, searches around, sees a puff of smoke in a nearby area possibly from this creature landing and taking off again. They get ridiculed in the local press. I looked up all the old articles, I've talked to the old people there. There's a lot of ridicule in the beginning because people didn't believe this was real. But what started happening was, more and more people started seeing this creature... 

Dun dun DUH!!! 

Figured that was a good place to end Part 1 of our two-part yakking with esteemed cryptozoologist Loren Coleman as he explains to us the scientific and real-life backstory to the upcoming Screen Gems movie, The Mothman Prophecies. Tune back in tomorrow for more real-life-to-feature-film comparisons! 

from 13th Street

Mothman Interview: Loren Coleman, Part 2

by Smilin' Jack Ruby

Picking up RIGHT where we left off , author Loren Coleman, writer of Mothman and other Curious Encounters as well as a large number of other books on Fortean topics, was just about to start telling us all about the story behind the Mothman, the mysterious creature that descended on Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the 1960s that was investigated by a young reporter named John Keel.  This series of incidents is being dramatized (and updated) in a new film from Screen Gems entitled The Mothman Prophecies, hitting theaters on January 25th.

Without further ado, back to Loren Coleman!

Loren:  ...for the next thirteen months, over two hundred individuals had some interactions with some strange phenomena.  About a hundred of those individuals said they actually saw Mothman.  Now, I believe Because I usually come into these things very skeptically C(at some mundane birds were seen C(e sandhill crane for instance or turkey vultures.  But that was in minority of these reports because these reports tended to definitely show something that was totally new to the area, unexplained, had a side to it that you don't find in a barn owl - Skeptical Inquirer tried to explain this as a barn owl.  A lot of the skeptical debunkers try to put this aside and say this was local "hilllbilly hysteria," and it doesn't seem to show that.  John Keel, about a month after this happened, got an assignment to go there as a regular news reporter.  He showed up and had a very low-level profile, which John Keel was on a big contract to write a book about UFO's Cï he really was interested and he tells the story that he was supposed to go to West Virginia to look into whether or not there was a local freak of nature B`winged cat, because there have been these reports Bnd write a newspaper article in Point Pleasant.  So, he went over there, got in touch with the newspaper editor, and found that he became a lightning rod.  People were finding that they were having interactions and paranormal situations and they started talking to John about it.  I've known John since 1968 and I talked to him about Mothman then and I've been to New York and I've been on the phone with him for an ungodly number of hours talking about Mothman and he became one with the phenomenon, so I think the movie seems to be capturing that.

13th Street: What do you mean that he became one with the phenomenon?

Loren: Well, the phenomena C(is (IngridCole person and there was another entity that would communicate with John Keel by phone and tell him prophecies, tell him about the Pope going to be assassinated or a bridge collapsing B% didn't tell him about the bridge collapsing, but he told him about other disasters.  John Keel also got fooled by the phenomenon.  He started believing in these prophecies so much that he was sitting in his apartment Bnd I talk about John a lot in the book.  John's book came out in '75, so there's this huge gap of things that have happened since then, so my book really takes you up to date on what's happened with John, movies, and all of that stuff.

13th Street: So, he went to Point Pleasant to investigate these winged creatures and they started calling him on the telephone?

Loren: Well, the creature never talked.  What happens whenever you go to any area and you're an investigator, there's a thing called the "ridicule curtain."  The ridicule curtain is always up there and the normal, societal status quo is to not believe in these things and not open yourself up.  In Point Pleasant, the curtain really parted and John Keel and other people Bven the sheriff's department B¥came the point at which began to have contact in a very real way.  In addition to Mothman, there were "men in black" sightings, there were mutilated dogs, there were UFO sightings, and on the phone separate from that, which I don't think the movie...what the movie seems to have done is there was an entity called "Apol" and Apol would call John Keel.  I think what it's trying to show there is a situation that happened to John Keel in which Apol would give him predictions of disasters that were going to happen.

13th Street: Who was that person?  Was it a person?  An entity?

Loren: An entity from outer space.  That was the presentation.

13th Street: But Mothman and Apol aren't the same, right?

Loren: No.  I think we as rational human beings say they're not the same because we try to put everything in little categories.  To John Keel down there, it was a vortex of phenomena and he couldn't really tell one from another.  Mothman was sort of the personification of what was going on and yet all these other things were going on so much he just didn't know what.  I think the movie's doing a pretty good job of that.  It was a scary situation for John and for those individuals.  I know that Linda Scarberry who is interviewed on there Bïnsider that she was seventeen at the time B5ring the filming of this documentary, she started getting post-traumatic stress syndrome situations, so she only allowed the taping to go on for ten minutes, because these people are really right back there and they re-live it in a frighteningly scary way.  And that's the whole thing about Mothman.  In terms of Fortean phenomena or paranormal phenomena, if a case is almost too scary for people to get close to...  I mean, consider that since 1966, John Keel's book has been the only book.  There's been chapters, there's been mentions in my book, (but) there's never been a science fiction movie before, there's never been a documentary really.

13th Street: When you think of how big Roswell became, why wasn't this bigger in 1966?

Loren: Well, Roswell wasn't big in '47.  Remember that.  It's only when Roswell was rediscovered by the Area 51 people and I find that at the time, everybody knew about Mothman, but it was so bizarre C%ople couldn't categorize it.  A few of us know about and John Keel made a big deal out of it.  His book did very well...

13th Street: But it wasn't in the news all across the country...

Loren: It was, but it wasn't the kind of wasn't O.J. Simpson.

13th Street: Going back to this, the thing culminated with a bridge collapse?

Loren: On December 15th, John Keel was waiting in his apartment in Manhattan and the prophecy that he was given was that when President (LyndonJohnson turned on the Christmas lights at the White House, the whole northwest would go into a black out.  So, here's John Keel with his bottled water and his batteries on December 15, 1967...and nothing happens.  The lights are turned on, nothing happens, about six minutes later on the TV across the bottom B¢ridge collapses across Ohio River."  And he just freaks out.  He's been there for five different visits over the past thirteen months as recently as Thanksgiving of 1967 he'd been there and so he starts trying to call Mary Bnd call her and call her and call her and finally gets ahold of her and finds out that she was on the edge of the road on the way to the bridge Bµt she didn't go across the bridge.  The bridge collapsed and sixty-seven people fell into the river.  Forty-six died.  They found forty-four bodies.  Several of the people that died were related to witnesses of Mothman Cïme minor witnesses of Mothman that never showed up in the book died.  There's lots of names that overlap.  And then Mothman just sort of disappeared.  It so frightened the people there that really they repressed any reports that they saw and it got very quiet.

13th Street: And when did Keel's book come out?

Loren: '75.  

13th Street: What do you think actually happened?  If there was this vortex of activity and it just suddenly stopped...

Loren: Well, I don't think it stopped.  What I think is that it continued on and people didn't report it.  The media weren't interested in reporting it and the local people were scared to death.  It never got to the fever pitch of a Roswell kind of thing to carry this on, but people still see UFO's there.  As my book looks at, this part of West Virginia has an incredibly long history of strange phenomena.  So, there's a lot of precursors to Mothman and there's a lot of ones that continue up.  In my book, I talk about as recently as November 4th of this year there was a large bird-like creature, mechanical sounds, the wings did flap.  It was seen over the Beale Community Center in Bristol, Connecticut.  So, these kinds of Mothman-like cases are still going on in a very real way.

13th Street: Do you believe in this stuff?

Loren: For myself, in the book and in my life really, I look at these as different levels.  I think that starting with any research or author, you have to really understand what happens when they go into an area and they do become the lightening rod.  Or for John Keel, he became the anthropologist there.  And people came to him to become the informant and they were seeing all kinds of bizarre things.  So, is it an unknown, large giant owl like some theorists think?  Is it UFO's from outer space?  I don't get bogged down in this area.  I'm a reporter like you and say, 'something really happened here.'  I've talked to witnesses in forty-eight states that have talked to me about creatures like this from the bat-man type creatures in Houston, Texas in '53 to 1990's Washington State where they've seen a new creature.  They're seeing these kinds of things all over.

So there you go. Author Loren Coleman, scribe of Mothman and other Curious Encounters takes us through the story of the Mothman.  

from The Scotsman
7 February 2002

Hit or myth?

The Mothman Prophecies, a stylish new psychological thriller starring Richard Gere, has all the elements of a particularly sophisticated episode of The X-Files - a frightening red-eyed monster, sinister telepaths, disturbing dreams, phantoms, paranoia and creeping madness. Yet the film is based on real events that occurred over a 13-month period in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, between 1966 and 1967. 'It was like a man, but bigger. We were driving 100 miles per hour and it kept up with us. It wasn't even flapping its wings. It sounded like a big mouse' West Virginia is a strange state. According to colonists, Native Americans avoided settling in it because they believed the "devil" lived there; consequently, it was reserved for hunting and sacred rites. Perhaps the bizarre creatures that have been reported there over the years, such as Bigfoot and the Flatwood monster, frightened them off. Even today, according to Loren Coleman, author of a new book, Mothman and Other Curious Encounters, "people feel very strange going there".

On the night of 15 November, 1966, Linda and Roger Scarberry, and Steve and Mary Mallette, were driving their "57" Chevy through a disused TNT dump in Point Pleasant, when they noticed a huge figure with large blood-red eyes lurking in the shadows. Panic-stricken, Roger gunned the accelerator and tried to drive out of the dump as quickly as possible.

The creature flew after them, revealing a 10ft wing-span. "It was shaped like a man, but bigger," Roger later told investigators. "We were driving 100 miles per hour and that bird kept right up with us. It wasn't even flapping its wings." It was, however, making a squeaking noise, he said, like "a big mouse".

Inspired by the popularity of the Batman TV series, a mischievous newspaper copywriter dubbed the strange beast "Mothman". For 13 months, writer and investigator John Keel (the model for Gere's Washington Post journalist, John Klein) repeatedly visited Point Pleasant and spoke to many people who claimed to have encountered Mothman. He chronicled his experiences in a book, The Mothman Prophecies (also published as Visitors From Space: The Astonishing, True Story of the Mothman Prophecies), a headily baroque mixture of the intriguing and the crackpot, in which the author appears to be steadily losing his mind.

According to Keel, Mothman was an ultra-terrestrial - a transmogrification of paranormal energy from a dimension outside the space-time continuum. So, too, he claims, were the UFOs, the Men in Black, and the telepathic humanoids he also stumbled across in Point Pleasant. By the end of the book, entities are contacting him directly, reading his mind and prophesying doom in half-baked predictions, designed, Keel believes, to madden and discredit the recipient. The paranoia level had truly shot up to 11.

What was going on? "I would never diagnose John psychiatrically," says Coleman, who is also a close friend of the New York writer. "But I do know that auditory hallucinations are more prominent than visual ones. But who's to say that there wasn't some kind of phenomenal interaction with John?" he adds, with Fortean open-mindedness. As well as a writer, Coleman is a Fortean and cryptozoologist - a person who investigates the possible zoological existence of new animals.

One chilling prediction Keel received was of a disaster on the Ohio River - many would die. On 15 December, 1967, the Silver Bridge into Point Pleasant collapsed, killing 46 people and scarring the town forever. Mothman flew the coop, leaving some, Keel included, to wonder whether Mothman had caused the disaster.

Playing up the gloomier underpinning of the Mothman saga, the website for the Mothman Prophecies film also links the creature with other catastrophes, including the Mexico City earthquake of 1985 and the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. Coleman, who says he has never heard of a sighting before Chernobyl, is suspicious of - if not closed to - claims that creatures of Mothman's ilk are harbingers of doom.

"People wrote to me saying there were creatures being seen after 11 September," he reveals. "With a little digging, I found that a black panther was seen in Indiana before 11 September and a giant monkey was seen in New Hampshire before 11 September. Were they banshees trying to warn people about 11 September? No, I don't think so. I think they were coincidences. I just think it's part of the human condition that if something bizarre shakes our consciousness of reality or our safety, we try to make these links. But I've never directly seen a connection."

Nevertheless, bad luck does seem to attach itself to people who delve into the Mothman story, and Coleman concedes that he had more, personally and professionally, while working on his latest book, than at any other time.

"I could be really depressed and commit suicide, if I didn't write about it [his background is in suicide prevention], just because if anything could go bad it will go bad right now around Mothman," he says candidly. "Right now, I'm just holding my breath to get through this time and everything will be OK. But if I was a different kind of personality, like John, I could see myself really going into the doldrums. I do not blame Mothman, it's just the way people put these things together in their head sometimes. If the economy goes down the drain, it's not because the Mothman movie's coming out."

Keel went through a dramatic psychological change in Point Pleasant. He started out by making daily telephone calls to the late Scottish zoologist, Ivan T Sanderson, asking if Mothman could be this or that bird, and ended up formulating theories that were more demonological than biological.

While director Mark Pellington's film does a chilling job of recreating Keel's inner journey, Coleman's lucid Mothman and Other Curious Encounters takes a step backwards and presents a sympathetic but critical overview of Keel's theories, as well as trying to place Mothman in the context of sightings of other so-called "winged weirdies" in West Virginia.

"I think that what was originally seen, and what is the core of what was going on, is probably a large unknown bird," he suggests. "I'd be in favour of some large owl that hasn't been identified yet." Hysteria, he adds, probably played a large part in what happened.

"People really start jumping on the bandwagon, they start seeing lights in the sky, they start seeing reflective light, they start seeing sandhill cranes ... it is mundane explanations of regular birds and strange lights that are not really strange, they're aeroplanes and other things, and that gets all whipped up into a vortex. You then have someone like John Keel come in and it all gets inter-related in a way that I don't think it's related."

Whatever it was that people saw, or think they saw, there is no doubt that Mothman has left a lasting impression on witnesses. Linda Scarberry displayed signs of post-traumatic stress when Coleman interviewed her about her experiences during a visit to Point Pleasant recently. Meanwhile, many other witnesses have gone to ground, changing their names, their addresses, and disconnecting their telephones, scared that the movie will send a bunch of "crazies" in their direction.

Ironically, Mothman could eventually emerge as the town's saviour. Badly hit by economic depression, and an outflow of young people who see no future for themselves if they stay, Point Pleasant is dying. Now, with the imminent release of the Mothman film, a documentary, a video game, a music CD and, of course, Coleman's book, Point Pleasant has an opportunity to become the new Roswell. However, when Roswell opened its museum about the alien craft that supposedly crashed there in 1947, it did not have the associations with a local tragedy to contend with that Mothman has. And there's the rub.

"I think that's part of why people have failed to take advantage of Mothman in general," confirms Coleman. "So here you have a little town trying to figure out how to capitalise on Mothman and still take into consideration the 46 people who died and their relatives. I think the connection is mostly in people's minds. It isn't true that Mothman wasn't seen after the bridge collapsed, it was just that people didn't talk about him. The town went into shock."

Time will tell if Mothman can save Point Pleasant. What is certain, however, is that this curious creature, which was spotted as recently as last November, looks set to make an impact like never before. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The Mothman Prophecies is released on 1 March.

from the North Bay Bohemian [California]
February 7-13, 2002

"Talking Pictures"
Mystery Man
Real-life monster hunter takes on 'The Mothman Prophecies'

By David Templeton

Loren Coleman wasn't all that frightened by The Mothman Prophecies, the freaky new creep show starring Richard Gere as a journalist on the trail of an eerie supernatural being.

To Coleman, the fact that his 16-year-old son is getting his driver's license this week is a whole lot scarier. Were he any other moviegoer, however, The Mothman Prophecies might have had Coleman shaking in his well-worn boots. But Loren Coleman is a different breed of man.

A professional cryptozoologist (that's a person who tracks and studies unknown critters), Coleman has authored numerous books (Cryptozoology A to Z, Mysterious America) exploring a plethora of hard-to-fathom phenomena, from Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster to the goat-sucking chupacabra.

Then there's Mothman, described in detail in Coleman's popular book Mothman and Other Curious Encounters. Mothman is a big, shadowy shape with giant wings and glowing red eyes, supposedly sighted by dozens of folks near Point Pleasant, West Virginia, over a 13-month period beginning in 1966. The sightings stopped after the mysterious collapse of the Silver Bridge on the Ohio River, a tragedy that killed 46 people. These events were also chronicled in John Keel's book The Mothman Prophecies, on which the film is based.

In the movie, Gere plays a tense investigative reporter trying to connect the Mothman sightings to his wife's death. With the help of a local sheriff (Laura Linney), Gere talks to the locals, sees a bunch of supernatural things, and gets a lot of very strange phone calls.

Coleman, who has studied the phenomenon for years, has a much less mystical view of Mothman than does Keel. As a cryptozoologist, Coleman suspects that the so-called Mothman--named, he says, by a newspaper copywriter with a fondness for Batman--was a bird. Not the skinny sandhill crane that some theorists have pointed to, but a very large, very secretive creature that may be a descendant of what some South American Indians called the Thunderbird. Or maybe it was just a big owl.

"Either way," he says, "I think there might be some overlap between the Mothman and these other big bird cryptids--'cryptid' means unknown--that are talked about in Native American tradition."

Coleman, who lives in Maine, liked the movie. "When I go to things like The Mothman Prophecies, where I know the book so well and know the phenomenon so well," he says, "I realize that it's a fictionalized version of the real story. So I can just sit back and enjoy myself."

Sounds reasonable enough.

"What's interesting about Mothman," Coleman continues, "is that there are so many peripheral phenomena around this story--more than just the creature itself--that have impacted my own life."

"Really? What, for example?" I ask.

"Well, I was in Point Pleasant a month ago," he says. "While I was there, I sat in my hotel room and talked to John Keel about what I was doing and who I was interviewing, and while I was talking to him, I had telephone trouble.

"Then I go on these radio shows," Coleman continues. "I was doing a phone interview on this one show in Toronto last Saturday night, and five times throughout the interview the phone would start blasting and echoing, and then I'd be thrown off the line. A couple seconds later the technician from the show would call back and apologize, and he said, 'We've been having telephone problems ever since we started talking about Mothman.' So that's kind of spooky, I suppose."

"It could be a coincidence," I suggest.

"Definitely. Sure, it could be a coincidence," Coleman replies. "The fact that I then went upstairs and a light bulb blew out over my head could have been a coincidence, too."

Hard to argue with that.

"It's just that when they're all happening so close to each other," he goes on, "right around the time we're all talking about Mothman, people start putting these events together and saying, 'Hmmmmm. This is pretty weird.'

"I mean, even the collapse of the Silver Bridge after 13 months of Mothman activity--for all of those sightings to end in that way--it spooks people out enough that they may start drawing conclusions where there are none."

Mothman Sight-Seeing Map
from the Point Pleasant Chamber of Commerce
Published Jan. 15, 2002

Mothman Central

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