Occupation: Mothman

The Mothman Prophecies, to most of us, was a movie from 2001 with Richard Gere. But to Point Pleasant, West Virginia- where the Silver Bridge collapsed in 1967, and two couples were confronted by a beast unknown in one evening on a country road- it is a legend of the unexplained. As fans of the movie- if not Mr. Gere’s acting- and bizarre tales of the supernatural, Milky and I made a long detour from Gettysburg to visit the Mothman Museum (Luckily, Hillbilly Hotdogs was nearby to fuel us).
The Mothman Museum is around the corner from the Mothman statue, tucked on a boulevard that leads to a scenic park and amphitheater overlooking the bridge that replaced the fallen one. The statue itself is very memorable, a shiny steel representation of the beast that reportedly haunted the town in the late ’60s. It has glassy amber eyes that reflect the light, and especially camera flashes, which approximates the “glowing red eyes” that the witnesses described as it chased them through the “TNT area,” a woodsy road near a World War 2 ordnance factory.
The story goes, two young married couples- the Scarberrys and the Mallettes- were driving near that factory when they saw two glowing red lights near it. The lights seemed to be the eyes of a creature “shaped like a man, but bigger, maybe six and a half or seven feet tall, with big wings folded against its back.” It gave chase, and followed their car “at speeds over 100 miles an hour,” until finally it disappeared. The Mothman has been written off as a sandhill crane or barn owl that spooked them, to a paranormal harbinger of disaster that was warning the town of the impending bridge collapse. After the first sighting, others saw it. Whether this was real or mass delusion, I leave you to decide.
The history of the area is undisputed; the Battle of Point Pleasant, where Virginia militia fought off Shawnee and Mingo Indians led by Chief Cornstalk in 1774, killed over 100 men. And in 1967, Forty-six people died in the bridge disaster. In our grief we struggle to find reason. Our brains are pattern recognition machines, seeking order out of chaos. Was there a link between the sightings and the tragedy? John A. Keel’s book The Mothman Prophecies claimed there was. John has passed away recently, but the museum has photos of him, and mementos of his research. It’s one of the best museums concerning such a narrow subject that I’ve been to- they have quite a bit to see. Compared to the L.A. County Coroner’s museum, which was a dilapidated office selling t-shirts when I visited, this is the Smithsonian of Mothmaniana.
I haven’t read the book, but I have seen the movie. Starring Richard Gere and directed by Mark Pellington, I found it interesting but not all that compelling. I ought to watch it again. Gere is not one of my favorite actors in his later years, and while the visuals of the film are quite good, the story itself was the same old song and dance when Hollywood gets a great idea from someone else. They dilute the creativity out of it until it’s become dull as dishwater. To reference Roger Ebert, “the human characters are, I believe, based not on facts but on an ancient tradition in horror movies, in which attractive people have unspeakable experiences.” And that’s what’s wrong with the film; it takes the unique creature and the tales of the people who saw it, and moves them to Generica, U.S.A. It’s unfortunate that Laura Linney- who plays a local cop that Gere befriends after his wife is killed in a car accident- and Pellington got saddled with sad sack Gere and the boring, vague script.
The Mothman is barely glimpsed, and the best I can tell is that it is a harbinger of death only seen when people close to you die. One of so many movies where we see between the layers of reality and are faced with things we cannot comprehend, it fails to be as creepy as it should be. If they had studied the classic “weird shit be happenin’!” film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, they wouldn’t have started us off with Gere’s wife dying. Why, because you want to believe him. You feel bad for him. How much better would it be if we thought he was a little crazy, and chuckled, and then shat our pants when there were two glowing red eyes on the bridge, and nothing there when he got there? I admire the movie’s restraint in not making this a monster film, but it was almost too ambiguous.
And it’s a damn shame. The movie isn’t terrible, it’s just a bit on the bland side due to its lead and a script that goes for mysterious but delivers apathy. However, the reenactment of the bridge collapse is excellent and terrifying. It really makes you think about how the denizens of Point Pleasant felt when they saw the unthinkable happening on the Ohio river. They still have a friendly town of about five thousand, and the guy running the Mothman Museum chatted us up about the Jersey Devil for a while, and spoke volumes about the mystery of his home town. Much friendlier than Pennsylvania folks, who couldn’t be bothered to tell us where to find Whoopie Pies. West Virginny is on my good list.
So if you’re in the area- perhaps for snowboarding at Snowshoe, or to get some Hillbilly Hotdogs- stop by this friendly town and remember a tragic and mysterious part of American history.

I tried to ride the Mothman subway but my Metrocard wasn’t working.

4 thoughts on “Occupation: Mothman

  1. I actually quite liked THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. The film has a kind of X-FILES vibe which I dig and altho, I'm not a big fan of Richard Gere, he was pretty good in it. But, for my money, Will Patton stole the show. love that guy!

  2. I got to see The Mothman Prophecies at a test screening in Orange, CA. A girl friend I took with me was screaming so loud that she became much more fun to watch than anything really happening on screen.I saw Pellington in the lobby (recognized him from his cameo in Jerry Maguire) but what could I say to him? That Lucinda Jenney was good? Pellington is a talent who hasn't worked enough to recover from weak sister material like Arlington Road or this.The atmosphere was good, but you're right Tommy, the film is just too vague. It shoots right down into lukewarm junk, actually. It's okay, but I'll take a cheap B-movie like Creature From Black Lake over this any day.

  3. heads up guys, you have a film "fact" a little wrong. after the auto accident, it is discovered that (Gere) Klein's wife has a rare type of brain cancer, so she dies from that, not the accident itself. The auto accident itself was the result of her being so near death she warranted a personal visit by ole mothballs himself. (She had been seeing him prior to the accident. no wonder gere is obsessed…i mean…she was seeing another moth, man!) imo, best way to watch the film is to keep an eye open for the hidden little bits-o-moth and see if you can spot them all.

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