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Mothman and Other Curious Encounters [Secure eReader]
eBook by Loren L. Coleman

eBook Category: Horror
eBook Description: A New Hollywood Blockbuster, an amazing companion documentary, and thousands of web pages in its honor--what's all the fuss about? In a word--Mothman! On November 15, 1966, this huge, red-eyed creature with wings appeared over Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Thus began thirteen months of otherworldly mystery, madness, and mayhem for the people of Point Pleasant, culminating in the collapse of the Silver Bridge, which left 46 dead. But contrary to popular belief, Mothman is not unique. Here for the first time, investigator Loren Coleman looks at the precursors of Mothamn, like the Flatwoods Monster of 1952, then brings the story up to date, detailing the sightings of the spawn of Mothman, some as recent as November 2001. Coleman also examines the impact on investigations in the unknown by John Keel, the newsman who spent a year in Point Pleasant looking into the Mothman story and lived to write about it. Mothman and Other Curious Encounters is certain to jolt your placid preconceived notion of the nature of the physical universe.

eBook Publisher: Paraview Press/Paraview Special Editions
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2004

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It looked worse than Frankenstein.
It couldn't have been human.

The smell was like oil on hot metal. You know, that greasy, sweet, slippery odor, slightly burnt and perhaps even appealing. But then more and more of it seemed to be saturating the molecules all around. It filled your nose. It permeated your pores. It made you sick to your stomach. It wouldn't go away. The creepy feeling was close, something beyond the knowing, beyond understanding.

The dog was sick; the boys ran down the hill and vomited. In two days, the dog was dead, and no one thereabouts would ever be the same.

It all began innocently enough. The autumn air clued in the kids to what they might want to do that day. How about a friendly pickup game of football, they asked each other? The date was September 12, 1952. The place, Flatwoods, West Virginia.

Weird West Virginia

West Virginia has always had an aura about it, even before it was a state. Colonists mumbled that American Indians avoided the area because the "devil" haunted the region. Certainly if any myth-making existed in such a statement, it was helped along by the fact that Lewis Wetzel who was born in what is today West Virginia killed every Indian he could and drove others westward from the countryside. Having a very dark complexion, wild black eyes, extremely broad shoulders, an expansive chest, and muscular arms and legs, Wetzel was a striking man, even if only five feet ten inches tall. His hair was raven and lavish, reaching below his knees. It is said he grew his hair so long so as to be a superior scalp for any Indian. Perhaps it is fitting that he is buried at the spooky spot that is Moundsville. Today his ethnic cleansing would not be tolerated, and modern analysts would classify him as a serial killer. But few think of that as they travel through today's Wetzel County on their way to our first stop in weird West Virginia.

Centered in the middle of the state, with Wetzel County north, Mason to the West, Fayette to the south, and Webster next door to the East, the 513 square miles of Braxton County are some of the most rural of the state. The county has been a focal area of strange incidents, and there are even signposts to acknowledge it nowadays. Highway markers at the town limits read "Flatwoods, Home of the Flatwoods Monster." A few local people remain who remember the night a "Monster" landed.

The Thing on the Hill

On the evening of that September 12th, as it grew dark, lights began flashing across the sky. Around the same time, four local boys were playing football, when they saw what they said was a "shooting star" fall to earth on the top of the hill adjacent to the playground, on the ole Bailey Fisher property. Actually, they said it had just gone around the corner of the hill. With the curiosity that kids had during the 1950s, they decided to check it out. On the way up the hill, they yelled out their excitement at the Kathleen May home. One of the boys, Ronald Shaver shouted: "A flying saucer has landed on the hill and we are going to look at it." Mrs. May, along with her two sons, accompanied the group up the hill, with Tommy Hyer joining them along the way.

Here in the foothills of Appalachia, going up the incline, over 850 yards to the crest of the ridge, was no easy task. When the group, Eugene Lemon, 17, Neal Nunley, 14, Mrs. May, her sons Eddie, 13, and Teddie, 14, Ronald Shaver, 10, Teddie Neal, 10, and Tommy Hyer, 10, reached the top, they immediately noticed the smell, sighted the rolling unnatural fog, and saw a strange bright light ahead. Their eyes began to water. Lemon's big old dog had run ahead, barking out a racket. The thing on the hill was glowing and hissing, ten feet long, and appeared to have a solid enough form, from their vantage point about 100 yards away. Following the path on the Bailey Fisher property that lead to the light, the group proceeded slowly but steadily. All of a sudden, Lemon's dog streaked back by, tongue out and tail between its legs. British zoologist/reporter Ivan T. Sanderson, who went on assignment to Flatwoods immediately after the incident, picks up the story from there:

As they rounded the last bend, Mrs. May called out to Eugene Lemon that she saw a pair of eyes in an oak tree to the left ahead, saying there was either an opossum or a raccoon in the tree. She asked Neal Nunley, who said that he was carrying the torch, to flash it in that direction. When he did so, its light disclosed what one and all affirm -- despite any published reports to the contrary -- answers to the following description. Each person added individual details, but the group was never in conflict.

The entity's top was level with a branch of the tree, and it seemed to end about some six feet below. It was about the size of an enormous man down to the waist. It did not have any arms or anything else sticking out of it, but it had a distinct "head." This was shaped like an "ace of spades" (they all repeated this). However, this "head" had a large circular window in it through which they could see (a) "darkness" and (b) two "things like eyes, which stayed fixed and shone straight out." When further questioned about the latter, the witnesses agreed that these were two objects behind a translucent panel, that emitted light, pale blue in color, in the form of direct, fixed beams of about the dimensions of a standard three-cell flashlight. These, they all said, were focused way above their heads and to the south, and only moved with the entity as it began to glide around. This it finally did, first toward them, and then in the direction of an object which was still lying pulsing in the tall grass nearby.

As the creature seemed to float on air toward them, the group all ran from the hill back to the May home to call the sheriff. As John Keel noted when he talked about the case: "Eugene Lemon did the rational thing. He fainted dead away... Lemon's dog was stretched out at the foot of the hill, vomiting."

Grabbing the limp boy, the group took off in a dead run trying to distance themselves from the creature. Although the entity did not follow the group, all of them ran for their lives -- doing something the dog had done much earlier. Little Tommy Hyer would later tell Ivan T. Sanderson, that he crawled under the fence in the field to get away, but that Kathleen cleared the six foot gate without opening it.

The sheriff, Robert Carr, and deputy Burnell Long, were investigating a report of a burning object thought to be a downed airplane, below Gassaway on the Elk River, near Sugar Creek. By the time they got to the Flatwoods scene, people who had heard the story and had gone to see the "Monster" for themselves had unintentionally destroyed much of the evidence. Nevertheless, Sheriff Carr, and later West Virginia UFO investigator Gary Barker, Sanderson, and others found gummy residue in the area, but were not overly concerned by this substance. Sanderson felt some of the smell and sticky substance on vegetation might have been from a special type of grass in the area, "tar-grass." Researchers would sense the vomiting and fainting that did occur after the sighting were purely from fright. Recently, in discussing the Flatwoods case, however, John Keel asked, if there was nothing to the horrible toxic smell, why then did the dog die? Keel recommended that if the grave of that dog could ever be found, perhaps modern DNA tests could unlock the mystery of what had killed this dog.

Little Owls, Giant Owls, and Aliens

What was the Flatwoods UFO Monster? Those with ideas of what it was have spanned a wide horizon. Gary Barker was interested in viewing the entity as a visitor from outer space. In 2000, debunker Joe Nickell, in The Skeptic magazine, has been very critical of the incident, and how others have reported it. For example, Nickell wrote: "Recent accounts have garbled details, with Brookesmith (1995), for example, incorrectly reporting five of the children as belonging to Mrs. May, and Ritchie (1994) referring to the monster's hoodlike feature as a 'halo,' which he compared with those in Japanese Buddhist art." But it is Nickell who has attempted to diminish the incident the most.

As Nickell writes: "There remains to be explained 'the Flatwoods Monster,' a.k.a. 'the Phantom of Flatwoods,' 'the Braxton County Monster,' 'the Visitor from Outer Space,' and other appellations... I agree with most previous investigators that the monster sighting was not a hoax.... Clearly, something they saw frightened them, but what?"

Nickell reached back to a comment retired Air Force major Donald Keyhoe had made in 1953, when he reported that locals had concluded the "monster" was probably "a large owl perched on a limb" with underbrush beneath it having "given the impression of a giant figure" and the excited witnesses having "imagined the rest."

"I believe," Nickell writes, "this generic solution is correct, but that the owl was not from the family of 'typical owls' (Strigidae, which includes the familiar great horned owl) but the other family (Tytonidae) which comprises the barn owls. Several elements in the witnesses' descriptions help identify the Flatwoods creature specifically as Tyto alba, the common barn owl, known almost worldwide....Considering all of the characteristics of the described monster, and making small allowances for misperceptions and other distorting factors, we may conclude (adapting an old adage) that if it looked like a barn owl, acted like a barn owl, and hissed, then it was most likely a barn owl."

Fortean author and cryptozoologist Mark A. Hall, however, noted in 2001 that Nickell never correctly mentions how big the Flatwoods Monster was reported to be. Estimates from the witnesses ranged from six feet for just the body of the floating monster to ten feet if it was measured from the ground to the top of its cape. But Nickell's reconstructive drawing shows a monster of half that height compared with an owl. As Hall writes: "That would mean an owl three feel tall at the lowest estimate and five feet tall for a standing monster. They don't get that big. The barn owl measures only in a range of fourteen to twenty inches from bill to tail."

Mark Hall makes the point that this creature might have more to do with flying saucers, or aliens from other globes of lights which landed elsewhere in Braxton County that night, than it has to do with giant owls.

Braxton Invaders

Indeed, there were others who saw things that night and the next. A Birch River resident claimed to have seen a bright orange object circling the Flatwoods area. James Knob, a location, not a person's name, was said to have been hit by one. Some kind of glowing light came down near Sugar Creek. Remember the "crashed airplane" the sheriff was investigating that night? Woodrow Eagle who called the sheriff in Sutton had reported that crash. There are rumors that a woman and her mother came forward and said that they had seen the same creature at a spot eleven miles away.

Mark Hall has discovered another piece of the puzzle in professor James Gay Jones' Appalachian Ghost Stories and Other Tales. Jones relates that on September 12th, the same night as the Flatwoods encounter, two eyewitnesses, George and Edith Snitowsky of New York, were driving on the road between Gassaway and Frametown, West Virginia, just north of an oddly named place -- Strange Creek. Their car, equipped with a brand new battery, stalled, mirroring what happens when a UFO is around and disrupts the electromagnetic system of the automobile. A nauseating smell then made their baby gag. George got out of the car and searched for what smelled so badly. Looking down the slope of the highway, he saw a large globe moving slowly back and forth, hovering over the ground, and giving off a soft, violet light. George moved closer and felt the "sensation of thousands of needle-like vibrations" on his skin. Then he got sick and staggered back to the car.

Edith Snitowsky screamed, and yelled that something was behind him. He turned to see "a figure about eight or nine feet tall with a big head, bloated body, and long, spindly arms gliding rapidly" toward him.

The couple, safely inside the car, locked it quickly. Terrified, they watched as one of those long, spindly arms stretched across their windshield. The end was forked. Creepy, indeed. The couple crouched in horror. When George looked up, he saw the monster gliding away.

Waiting and waiting, finally they saw a glowing globe, swaying back and forth, lift above the trees, and take off into the sky, leaving a light trail.

They found a motel in Sutton, tried to sleep, and were startled the next morning when a gas station attendant showed them a V-burnt brown spot on their hood. Though John A. Keel, in The Eighth Tower, briefly mentioned this encounter occurred on September 13, 1952, not the 12th, and spells the witnesses' name, Snitowski, with an "i" not a "y," clearly the Flatwoods-Sugar Creek-Frametown incidents did occur. Even debunkers admit that. What happened in West Virginia that night in September, with several UFOs landing all over the rural countryside and unloading weird creatures, almost seems like a scene from War of the Worlds. But it really happened in 1952. Perhaps it was the first wave, before Mothman "visited" Point Pleasant. But exactly what the entities were, or what their purpose was in Braxton County, remains a mystery.

Bakery Trucks and Balls of Fire

A mere eight years later, Braxton County was involved in what John Keel calls today a "classic" monster case. It began around 11:00 PM on Friday, December 30, 1960, when, Charles Stover, driving a bakery truck, rounded a curve on a deserted, backwoods road near Hickory Flats, West Virginia, between Braxton and Webster Counties. Like the Sugar Creek witnesses, Stover almost hit a monster, which stood upright, hair all over its body. Pulling his truck to a sharp stop, Stover looked back to see a six foot tall, human-shaped, hairy figure right next to the road, staring at him. Being a little scared, he stepped on the gas, and raced along until he reached a truck stop where he related his story to a group of men. They immediately armed themselves and went to the spot where they found strange marks on the ground. They also noticed that large rocks had been overturned by something. But they couldn't find any trace of the monster.

West Virginia, in general, was in the middle of a flap in 1960. Besides the Braxton County creature of December 30th, several significant Monongahela Forest encounters happened that summer. In one extraordinary incident, W. C. "Doc" Priestly was driving near Marlington, about 55 miles southeast of Flatwoods, when his car malfunctioned and stalled. All of a sudden, next to the road, Priestly saw a giant hominid creature with all of its long hair standing on end. His companions, ahead of him, became worried, and backed up their bus. When this happened, the beast's hairs dropped down and it disappeared into the forest. Priestly's car started up again, and he drove along. The thing then appeared again at the side of the road. And again, his friends came back to find Priestly, and the creature vanished for the last time into the trees.

In another summer 1960 incident, this one near Davis, 75 miles northeast of the Priestly encounter, at the extreme northern end of the Monongahela Forest, a group of campers saw a "horrible monster." The witnesses said it "had two huge eyes that shone like big balls of fire .... It stood every bit of eight feet tall and had shaggy long hair all over the body." The creature shuffled off into the night, and the campers packed up the next morning as quickly as they could. Around the same time, according to Fortean researcher John Lutz, when he was working at WFBR Radio, he and his boss, Lou Corbin, investigated the Pocahontas County "Apple Devil," a creature that would take bites out of apples in the orchards around the town of Marlington.

Meanwhile, an eight-foot-tall Bigfoot-type creature with "balls-of-fire" eyes was seen by many people, around Parsons, also in the northern part of the Monongahela Forest during that weird summer of 1960.

Five years later, 30 miles northwest of Davis, just outside of the Monongahela Forest, a secluded area near the Tygart River at Grafton was the scene of a series of creature sightings. In 1995, Mark A. Hall discovered, while digging into the Gray Barker Collection in West Virginia, the unpublished details of what was called locally the "Grafton Monster." Robert Cockrell, a newsman at the Grafton Sentinel, first spied the creature around 11 PM, on June 16, 1965. Cockrell was motoring along Riverside Drive, on the wild west side of Grafton, when he came around a wide curve. He told interviewer Gray Barker: "I know the road well, the night was clear... As I glanced up, my high beams picked up a huge white obstruction on the right side of the road standing between the road and the river bank on a cleared off section of grass. After glimpsing the Thing, I speeded up to get off that road as soon as possible. My impressions of the beast were: It was between seven and nine feet tall, it was approximately four feet wide, and has a seal like skin or covering which had a sheen to it. It had no discernible head and did not move as I passed by." Cockrell returned with the police to no avail. Others reported seeing it after his sighting, and Cockrell wrote up two articles that were highly censored by the paper's editor. And then it disappeared into the monster lore of West Virginia.

The headlessness of this Grafton Monster, the balls-of-fire eyes of the Monongahela creatures, and the glowing eyes and cape-like "ace-of-spades halo" of the Flatwoods Monster serve as weird elements foreshadowing what people would describe when confronted with Mothman during 1966-1967. The ingredient of wings, of course, is another matter.

Copyright © 2002 by Loren Coleman

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