Man-Sized Bird or Something: An Orbit Primer on The Mothman of Point Pleasant

statue of The Mothman in Point Pleasant, WV

Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something. Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, WV. [photo: Candice Northcut Tomon]

When Candice Northcut Tomon told us she was headed to Point Pleasant, West Virginia for the 18th annual Mothman Festival we were initially both jealous and irate she was scooping us on this important regional event–so we put her on the payroll. Here’s Candice’s first story for Pittsburgh Orbit.


Couples see Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something

This was the front-page headline readers of the Point Pleasant Register woke up to on November 16, 1966. Over the course of the following year, many residents of the greater Ohio River Valley reported seeing this same ominous creature, said to have glowing red eyes, a sculpted, helmet-like cranium, and the tattered wings of a giant moth. Other news outlets picked up on the story and the legend grew.

sandhill crane with its wings spread

A red-crested sandhill crane–possible dupe for the Mothman? [photo: Omaha World-Herald]

What was messing with the television reception and causing dogs to disappear in and around Point Pleasant? Was it a large sandhill crane–a bird described as the size of a grown man with red eyes–out of its migration pattern? Or possibly an otherworldly moth-like creature? During that year, over a hundred reports were logged and paranoia ran rampant in the small town.

postcard image of the former Silver Bridge connecting Point Pleasant, WV to Ohio

old postcard showing a pre-collapse Silver Bridge

On December 15, 1967 the Silver Bridge that connected Point Pleasant, WV to Gallipolis, OH, collapsed during rush hour traffic. A single eye-bar in a suspension chain failed and the Silver Bridge fell into the Ohio River, killing 46 people that evening. Two of the bodies have never been found. After the tragedy, for the most part, the Mothman seemed to disappear from the area. But there have been reported sightings in other parts of the world. In 1975, John A. Keel wrote the book The Mothman Prophecies which later spawned the 2002 movie of the same name starring Laura Linney and Richard Gere.

book cover for "The Mothman Prophecies" by John A. Keel

book cover for John A. Keel’s “The Mothman Prophecies” (Saturday Review Press, 1975)

The book has led many to believe the Mothman was a prophet of doom, a figure arriving in Point Pleasant to warn residents that harm was to come their way. Fifty-two years later, the Mothman is a cottage industry, but now he is a harbinger of cotton candy and curly fries. Every September for the last 18 years, the town has hosted a festival to honor this spooky doom-predicting winged creature. Even though the event is light-hearted, after speaking to a few residents, I get the feeling they do not find humor in the myth.

One local antique shop owner described to us the feeling of isolation that was felt in the town after the bridge collapsed. You were stuck here until they finally borrowed a ferry boat from a neighboring town, he said. For better or worse, they seem to believe their fellow townspeople saw something that petrified them. However, if they did not take this marketing opportunity someone else surely would. Thus, the Mothman Museum and festival were born.

storefront window display featuring novelty items associated with the Mothman, Bigfoot, and zombies

Keep on Squatchin’. Mothman souvenirs in Point Pleasant. [photo: Tim Tomon]

At the festival, you’ll find no shortage of t-shirts, mugs, stickers, badges, taxidermized gewgaws, and sweet treats. There are also local enthusiasts costumed as superheroes, Ghostbusters, and Star Wars characters. One can mingle with an elected court of royals, musicians, and expert speakers in all things paranormal. You want to know more about Sasquatch and eat your weight in ice cream? Come to Point Pleasant and enjoy the sites.

stuffed toys of Flatwoods Monster and Moonlight Mothman for sale at the 2019 Mothman Festival, Point Pleasant, WV

The Flatwoods Monster meets Moonlight Mothman [photo: Tim Tomon]

Point Pleasant is a throwback to a different time with its functioning Main Street, a Piggly Wiggly grocery store and an old timey hotel, the Lowe, which is said to be haunted (of course). If you’re staying, ask for room 314, “the Pi Room,” a local shop owner advised. The town also offers the opportunity to take in the history of the region at nearby Tu-Endie-Wei State Park. The location is integral to the tragic story of Shawnee Leader Chief Cornstalk, as the place where he was both defeated in battle in 1774, murdered in 1777, and interred for at least the third time in 1954.

sign for Tu-Endie-Wei State Park in Point Pleasant, WV featuring large cut-out model of stone monument

You can say that again: Tu-Endie-Wei State Park, Point Pleasant [photo: Candice Northcut Tomon]

I have to say that while I wish I were a Mulder, I am a Scully. I did not see anything that would make me believe that the Mothman was real, however, I do believe that the people who reported seeing the creature believed. If possible, the residents of Point Pleasant have managed to find a silver lining in such a sad event. Overall, I thought it was a perfect weekend road trip and I recommend the festival to anyone who wants a touch of the weird in their street fair.


Getting there: Point Pleasant is around three-and-a-half hours drive from metro Pittsburgh, so yes–it’s debatable whether this counts as “in orbit.” The Mothman Festival is held annually on the third weekend of September.

Out of Orbit: Falling to Earth at the Kecksburg UFO Festival

The truth is out there … but it’s probably not here at the Kecksburg UFO Festival

There is a lot of green in Kecksburg this time of year. The deep, multi-hued leaves on trees, rich with heavy spring and summer rainfall, are present in all directions as are rich earthy greens found in grasses and flower stems, corn fields and vegetable gardens bursting with life in summer’s thick humidity. The local volunteer fire department has painted their cinderblock-and-wood plank buildings in muted emerald shades and you’ll find dark, military-issue greens in the small set of U.S. Army Jeeps and troop-transports brought in for the weekend.

With all this, the green that stays with you is an electric, iridescent lime color. Like a fluorescent safety sign come to life or the inside of one of those light sticks, the eye-popping Day-Glo green wiggles in spring-mounted antennae on the heads of youths, graces noggins in the form of synthetic costume wigs, and gently flutters as inflatable figures dance in the wind. It glows in the bright sunlight on a 10-foot pneumatic carnival saucer and struts through the midway in novelty full-body costumes.

The Kecksburg “space acorn” monument, created for “Unsolved Mysteries” in 1990

Little Kecksburg, a rural community 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, was the perfect spot for a UFO to crash land. Far enough in the country to have few eyewitnesses but close enough to city resources for federal authorities to swoop in and make off with the evidence before anyone could figure out what had happened.

Exactly what occurred on the evening of December 9, 1965 is still in question. Theories range from a stray meteor and fallen Russian satellite to a time-traveling Nazi war machine and, yes, alien spacecraft.

It is this last possibility–amazingly, not the weirdest option in the list–that has kept dogged UFO hunters and seekers of truth in the unexplained coming back to “Pennsylvania’s Roswell” for the last 54 years. The continued interest brought the TV series Unexplained Mysteries to town in 1990, bringing a custom-built, scaled-to-life facsimile of the flying object with them. The hieroglyphics-engraved, acorn-shaped replica lives in permanent display elevated atop a tall pole on a hillside near the VFD hall. (See photo, above.) It’s also one of the things that brought us here. That, and the 14th annual Kecksburg UFO Festival.

The Orbit wasn’t the only news outlet on the scene. TV crews interview Kecksburg incident expert Stan Gordon.

Stan Gordon is the self-declared “primary investigator” of the 1965 Kecksburg incident and a lifelong researcher of the unexplained. Mr. Gordon operates a “radio command center” from his home in nearby Greensburg and regularly attends the UFO Festival. He was busy signing books and DVD documentaries at a corner table that included numerous fuzzy photo enlargements of mysterious lights in the night sky and enormous ape-like footprints in both mud and snow.

Gordon has spent a lifetime looking for the truth about Kecksburg and the description of the event and summary of his findings on his web site are without parallel. We encourage our readers to visit stangordon.info for his full rundown of the event and subsequent investigations.

Yes: the tinfoil hats were there

Stan Gordon wasn’t alone. Appearing at the annual UFO festival is both de rigueur and a no braineur for the region’s experts on the unexplained–and there are a lot more of these than you may think.

Why, there was Raymond Keller, author of Cosmic Ray and Tony Lavorgne of the Legends & Lore podcast. Bilco Productions, the team behind the film Paranormal Bigfoot, was there, as was Ed Kelemen, author of a half dozen books of haunted Pennsylvania lore. Saucers Over Appalachia! author William B. Van Huss had books to sell as did “Mr. UFO” Timothy Green Beckley.

Carried away. This parade-goer may or may not have made it to the main event.

Of course, not every attendee of the Kecksburg UFO Festival takes the event quite so seriously. The costume du jour was clearly this one that effectively makes the illusion an alien is hoisting a child-sized version of the person within (see photos above and below). After seeing a bunch of these–both at the event and then reviewing the pictures afterward–I can tell you neither is the deception obvious nor does the joke get old.

The Leeper Meats crew in the festival parade

The three-day festival is paced with a number of marquee events. Some of these–lectures from UFO and paranormal experts–stay firmly on-message. Others–a corn hole tournament, country band, and the “UFO hot dog-eating contest”–not so much.

Saturday afternoon features a parade down a half-mile of Kecksburg Road, alongside the VFD grounds where the main event takes place. The fancy term bifurcated comes to mind as there were really only two unconnected parties involved here: a handful of old-school military vehicles, with riders playing along dressed-up as the 1960s-era G-men and -women that whisked E.T. away, and then what felt like every fire truck in Westmoreland County.

That’s it. No high school marching bands dressed in coordinated alien costumes and no pre-teen dance troupes shimmying to “Outta Space”; no local politicians waving from tinfoil-covered convertibles and no flatbed hay bale dioramas. Just army play-actors, fire trucks, and Leeper Meats.

U.S. Army truck with replica of cloaked UFO remains

Yes, the parade was a disappointment. Luckily The Kecksburg UFO Festival redeems itself in its many other offerings.

The best of the lot were a number of artisans who brought chainsaw-hewn sculptures of big-eyed aliens and models of Big Foot. (Big Feet?) Among the latter were some extremely impressive life-size (around 7-feet tall) carved-from-a-tree-trunk Sasquatches–any one of which would look great in the backyard of Chez Orbit.

Sasquatch chainsaw sculptures

alien chainsaw art

It’s unclear who comes to the Kecksburg UFO Festival and why they’re there. If I had to put money on it, I’d guess the dressing up/having-a-laugh group outnumbers the relatively small contingent of true believers. Both sets are likely dwarfed by the soft pretzel-and-corn hole crowd, for whom this is the nearby summer fair benefiting their local fire department.

These numbers don’t work in the favor of a researcher who’s given his or her life (it’s pretty much always his) to studying alien contact and Big Foot sightings. Visibly annoyed at having to answer the same old questions from funnel cake-wielding skeptics and won’t-stop-talking over-enthusiasts, a number of the authors and filmmakers came with an arms-crossed, scowl and furrowed brow body language that pretty much told the world, just buy the damn book and get out of my face. No one said ghost hunting was easy.

little green man, big soft pretzel

The story of the Kecksburg incident and its supposed cover-up is even getting the big-screen treatment courtesy of a new, feature-length independent film by SW PA local Cody Knotts. Representatives from the team were there to sell t-shirts and offer advance tickets to the world premier and “red carpet screening” this September in Uniontown.

A couple trailers for the movie are already out. While it’s clear the filmmakers are working on a budget and you won’t recognize any of the local actors (at least, you know, not from acting), they managed to get the period look of mid-’60s America right and shot in a creepy, stylized Twilight Zone way that should satisfy the Creature Feature audience. Judging from the preview clips alone, I doubt we’ll see Kecksburg during Oscar season, but hats off to anyone who can produce a full-length dramatic period piece–even if the actor portraying  L.B.J. had to be shot from behind.

Alas, a real journalist would have bunked-down for the full UFO conference on Sunday–or at least stayed later on Saturday to catch the bed race and Renegade Ridge Band! But it was just too damn hot and your fair-skinned, not-watching-his-figure-enough author didn’t need any more time around the deep-fried pierogies and Helltown beers.

So … we headed home early, content that whether or not the truth is out there, it could wait for another day.

Kecksburg V.F.D., home of the 14th annual UFO Festival