Event goers at this year’s Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, WV, gaze at the Mothman statue near the Main Street of the town. (WOUB/Joe Votaw)

Legend, History and Phenomena: Mothman Festival 2016

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There are many things to examine while traveling the windy roads that lead to Point Pleasant, WV.

As one approaches the Ohio River, the landscape grows untamed, swallowing up the ramshackle homes that cling to the messy, sloping hillsides. Hand-wrought signs with red letters on plywood slates are tacked onto the trees next to the highway, declaring “ALL KNEES SHALL BEND,” and “HE HAS RISEN.”

If there is a prime habitat for the truly unknowable, it very well may be the lush, dark, forested crevices surrounding the Ohio River.

Starting in 1966 a series of phenomena that would eventually be referred to as the “Mothman legend” occurred near the sleepy riverside town of Point Pleasant. Typically stoic, working class people began reporting a large, shadowy, red-eyed winged creature. The sightings climaxed with the collapse of the Silver Bridge in December 1967, a tragedy that took the lives of 46 people during rush-hour traffic on the bridge, which connected Point Pleasant and Gallipolis, OH.

Speculation about the mysterious cryptid has continued to this day; most notably with parapsychologist and Fortean author John Keel’s 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies and the 2002 movie of the same name.

This weekend marked the 15th celebration of the Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, which brings together paranormal enthusiasts and community members of the surrounding areas alike. The festival is truly unique, starring everything from vendors selling books on topics like alien abduction and theories on crop circles to teams of paranormal investigators from far and wide displaying their work, all planted among more light-hearted fare, like fair food trucks hocking treats such as “Mothman cupcakes” and meatball sandwiches re-named “Mothball sandwiches.”

A couple of costumed folks amuse event goers at this year's Motorman Festival in Point Pleasant, WV. (WOUB/Joe Votaw)
A couple of costumed folks amuse children at this year’s Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, WV. (WOUB/Joe Votaw)

“When I first saw The Mothman Prophecies, I was shocked that I had never heard about the legend,” said Matthew Pellowski, paranormal journalist and director of the 2010 documentary The Eyes of the Mothman, during an interview at this year’s festival. “When I found out that no one had really done anything on the legend in about 30 years, it seemed like it would be the perfect topic for a documentary.”

The Eyes of the Mothman was re-released this year by Destination America, which drove Pellowski back to the Point Pleasant festival to promote the movie.

“When I first came down here, it was very hard to get people to talk about the legend,” said Pellowski. “One thing that I had to assure people of, when I was asked to interview them for the film, was that it wasn’t going to be a hokey documentary, that it was going to focus on the history of the town in a fact-driven sort of way. “

While Pellowski said that the film is definitely a “paranormal documentary,” he emphasizes the fact that Point Pleasant and the surrounding region has been a hotbed for strange phenomena for many years, which he examines in detail with the film.

“We wanted to keep the movie as grounded as possible, because when you’re dealing with subject matter like this, it’s pretty easy to get a very conspiracy theory heavy and a little weird,” said Pellowski. “It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, Mothman was an alien from outer space,’ but what is more interesting is when you look at the ties that the legend has to local history and culture.”

Matthew Pellowski, director of "The Eyes of the Motorman" speaks with WOUB's Emily Votaw at this year's Motorman Festival. (WOUB/Joe Votaw)
Matthew Pellowski, director of “The Eyes of the Mothman” speaks with WOUB’s Emily Votaw at this year’s Mothman Festival. (WOUB/Joe Votaw)

Pellowski said that he sees Mothman as more than the singular mysterious being that spooked an Appalachian city for a little over a year in the late ‘60s.

“I think that the Mothman legend is a sort of reflective thing, it’s religion and myth and history all intertwined, which makes for a good story because you don’t know where the line gets blurred between fact and fiction,” said Pellowski. “There are not too many things left out there that are truly unproven, with technology and Google and the fact that everything is searchable. But the paranormal – that’s something that is still truly a mystery.”