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.

Hillbilly Hotdogs

You might think hot dogs are for city folk, being popularized by Nathan’s in New York City all those years ago. But let me tell you, Sonny & Sharie of Hillbilly Hot Dogs in Lesage, West Virginia have a thing or two to show us city slickers about making hot dogs. They make some of the best in this here country of ours!
Tucked away on a country road about a half hour south of Point Pleasant, home of the Mothman and the tragic collapse of the Silver Bridge in 1969, Hillbilly Hot Dogs is immediately recognizable by the rusty Tin Lizzy parked on the front lawn with the scrawled sign proclaiming their name. Park on the gravel and mosey on up to see the ramshackle place they’ve pieced together from all sorts of junk, goodies and gewgaws.
Don’t let the state of disarray fool you. There’s some good cooking going on inside. If you can get past the prank door, come inside and try not to ogle the names of everyone who’s scrawled their moniker in marker on everything from the furniture to the stuffed deer heads mounted on the walls. They make some great hot dogs, but a lot of what makes them unique is the atmosphere and the attitude, so let me linger on just how cool this place is.
They have cats roaming outside, license plates nailed to an old tree, and picnic tables for outdoor dining. If you love hillbilly humor, you’ll spend as much time peering around at the little gags, like “Hillbilly Bubble Bath” – a package of dried beans- than you will at the large menu. But let’s get on to the food, which was really worth writing about.
I’ve said it before, you can add bacon or whatever how many toppings you like on a hot dog, but if it’s a bland frank, you don’t have a winner. Here they have a couple of options- one is a standard frank, deep fried, another is a real winner- a Mettwurst dog. This one is bigger and gets sliced down the middle for searing, and tastes pretty darn good. I was really impressed with this one. I had it on the Rahall’s Red Hot Weenie, named for a local politician Nick Rahall, who was very particular about his toppings. Representative Rahall’s dog has “nacho cheese piled high with sauteed peppers & onions, jalapenos, hot mustard, then topped with sauerkraut,” and let me tell you, it was the star of the show.
I also had a standard Hillbilly dog, a smaller deep fried frank with their homemade chili sauce, mustard and onions, that rivals any Texas Wiener I’ve had. I prefer chili sauce to real chili, and these give the Clifton Hot Grill a run for their money. The dog had some good spice to it, which made a real difference. Lastly I had the Junkyard Dog- and be careful because they put everything including the kitchen sink into this one! Homemade chili sauce, mustard, onions, ketchup, mayo, relish, slaw, kraut, nacho cheese, jalapenos and BBQ sauce for extra measure. Mine also had a wood screw in it. I’m not sure if that was a mistake or a gag on a Jersey city boy, but careful if you order this one!
Milky had 3 dogs as well- a pizza dog, since he loves pizza burgers more than any man should- and a Hound Dog, which has BBQ sauce instead of chili. He also had a plain one for balance, to see what they were like unadorned, and he approved. Now we also got fries, and the hillbilly brand are crinkle cuts made golden and crispy. I expect they bake or broil these, since they serve them flat in a steel tray. Whatever they do, I loved them. I like mine crispy but not burnt, and these were perfection. I had the garlic ranch variety, and Milky went for the chili cheese. Neither of us were disappointed, and it was clean plates all around.
Truly a memorable hot dog experience, and a new entry into my Top 5 Dogs (see that and the burger list on the right sidebar). Hillbilly Hot Dogs can’t be mentioned without their challenge- the Hillbilly Homewrecker, so big it has its own webpage. It’s a 15″ one-pounder topping with another 2 1/2 pounds of bun and toppings, including cole slaw, jalapenos and lots of hot sauce. Guy Ferry of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives- my nemesis- made this one famous, and I will begrudgingly thank him for introducing me to these awesome hot dogs. And of course, though I didn’t get to meet Sharie & Sonny, thank you for running a hot dog stand that really stands out.

Two thumbs up! I’m not in a wheelchair, but it looks like it.

Their customers are friendly too. And before you joke, they all had their teeth! I spoke with a fella named Brian who runs a tobacco farm up the road, and we talked about how our states have bad reputations. But let me say this- we never got the stink-eye or any rude treatment in West Virginia. In Breezewood, PA if looks could kill we’d be blogging from heaven now, but in West Virginny we made lots of small talk with people. It’s a beautiful state, and don’t neglect to visit it.

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It still has mustard on it!