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.

Photo Grab Bag: Ghost Sign Roundup

ghost sign with layered text, McKeesport, PA

(unknown), McKeesport

Longtime readers know The Orbit is in the business of making dreams come true–and business is good. It was pointed out by super fan/sometime contributor Lee that probably a lot of folks don’t see the loose photos that end up on The Orbit‘s artsy dark and/or snarky narc pages and maybe we should roll them up into an actual blog post once in a while.

So here you go. Like Cheech and/or Chong, we’ve pulled out the gatefold copy of Fragile and are rounding up and rolling out a first collection of non-specific pictures from the last year or so. Here, they’re grouped on the pseudo-theme of ghost signs. Don’t inhale too deeply.

ghost sign/advertisement for Hipco Batteries, Pittsburgh, PA

Hipco Batteries, Manchester

It’s a bold claim, but the Hipco Batteries ad has to be the city’s greatest ghost sign. The incredible painted image has some classic “vernacular typography”, one giant old school No. 6 dry cell battery, and a sadistic, grinning red devil, his tongue wagging like a pervert from his open, fanged mouth. He’s very excited, with one hand reaching out, palm up, and the other employing a Hipwell flashlight to no doubt look for trouble in the dark.

This begs the question: do devils really need flashlights? Well, we know this one does. Unlike the subjects of every other photo in this post, the Hipwell Manufacturing Company, founded in 1887, amazingly still exists and continues to manufacture a line of flashlights (but no longer batteries) right in this big old brick building on West North Avenue[1].

ghost sign for former La Salle Electric, Pittsburgh, PA

La Salle Electric, Manchester

The pair of conjoined industrial buildings that once housed La Salle Electric, just off Brighton Road in Manchester, were torn down earlier this year. Now there’s just a re-grassed vacant lot where they used to be. Whatever prompted that action, it’s sad for a lot of reasons–mainly that we’ve got a limited supply of this kind of late 19th century industrial buildings out there and it’s a bummer to lose two of them in one fell swoop.

Here, we can only focus on the relatively minor loss of this great ghost sign, painted across the point where the two buildings met. You can see the red brick side appears to have shifted ever so slightly, distorting the alignment of the white background and breaking the A in “Salle”. And what a great pair of arrows! The office is that way, you can pick up your stuff on the other side. Ugh. I mean, the office used to be that way…

ghost sign for former Regent Sportswear Shop, Pittsburgh, PA

Regent Sportswear (and Wig Shop?), East Liberty

The rear entrance to the former Regent Sportswear Shop doesn’t have what we usually consider “ghost signs”, but still seems like it ought to count. Regent’s 3-D sign, the typeface in Wigs, and the multi-color blue/gray/white brick treatment all suggest a 1960s/70s makeover to a building that probably goes back to the very early 1900s. Somewhere out there is a person who bought a terrycloth track suit or tried on someone else’s hair at Regent’s and we sure hope this last reminder in the Kirkwood Street alley makes him or her feel something. Hopefully that feeling is not, you know, “itchy”.

ghost sign reading "Sal's Meats Since 1921", Ambridge, PA

Sal’s Meats, Ambridge

Sadly, Sal’s Meats, like most of the businesses in Ambridge, ain’t there any more. But at least we’ve still got this great ghost sign. Painted signs don’t get any graphically stronger than bold red text on a white background, painted fifteen feet across on a deep red brick wall. Sal’s Meats, since 1921. ‘Nuf sed.

ghost sign for former Penn Bowling Lanes, Pittsburgh, PA

Penn Bowling Lanes, Downtown

What a time when the downtown worker could bowl ten frames over a lunch break! This literal back alley entrance on Exchange Way (between Liberty and Penn, downtown) suggests the bowling may have taken place in the basement, but who knows? Heck, maybe those wooden lanes, pin-setters, ball returns, and beer taps are all still down there, covered in forty years of dust. Either way, we’re glad no one felt the need to paint over this incredible patchwork wall with its reminder of old Pittsburgh.

ghost sign for Dr. D.E. Earley, Optometrist, New Martinsville, W. Va.

Dr. D.E. Earley, Optometrist, New Martinsville, W. Va.

Last winter, we made a special stop for the mind-boggling buffet at Quinets Court in the fine little West Virginia town of New Martinsville (about 90 minutes from Pittsburgh–and well worth the trip)[2]. The inevitable post-gorge belt-loosening constitutional yielded some fine views of the Ohio River and a bunch of great little oddities in the four-block downtown stretch. This ghost sign for Dr. D.E. Earley, Optometrist looks like it could go back a hundred years. That’s a long time to wait to get your eyes examined and glasses fitted, but then again, you’ve got a steam tray full of Quinets cobbler two blocks away. I can think of worse ways to spend a century.

Former storefront for G's Restaurant and Pizzeria, Pittsburgh, PA

G’s Restaurant and Pizzeria, Downtown

Bathed in low winter sunlight, made awkwardly diffuse by scaffolding and construction fence, this photo of the former G’s Restaurant and Pizzeria on Forbes Ave. got shoehorned into an update story on the last remaining Toynbee Tile on Smithfield Street and the face of a rapidly changing downtown Pittsburgh. But we felt like there was a little more to say here.

G’s Restaurant, along with the former Honus Wagner Sports building next door, were razed earlier this year. Point Park University is building a big new performance arts building/theater on the property. This will no doubt be a great cultural asset, but The Orbit‘s going to miss this pair of early 1900s terra cotta storefronts, each with their own goofy mid-century add-ons.


[1] See article: In The Spotlight: Hipwell Manufacturing (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 10, 2002) for the full story.
[2] The Orbit actually needs to make the trip to Quinets again for a full review–or even if just for that eggplant parm, and the kielbasa and kraut, and the fried chicken, and the haluski, and the brown sugar sweet potatoes, and the butterscotch pie, and the…

Up in Smoke: Ex-Snack Shops

mural of soft-serve ice cream cones in colorful silhouette, former Tastee Queen, Ambridge, PA

Tastee Queen, Ambridge

Scene: The freezer aisle at the Lawrenceville Shop’n’Save, 9:30 on a recent Sunday evening. An enormous man is paused, his buggy half-full with potato chips, Cheez Doodles, canned chili, two-liter pop bottles, the makings for deli sandwiches–there’s not a fruit or vegetable in sight. He’s dressed in the kind of long short pants that big men often wear and a t-shirt in the Rastafarian red/green/black/gold color scheme featuring a prominent marijuana leaf and the single word STONED. The man is engaged in a cell phone conversation communicating ice cream flavors to an associate: “They got rocky road, they got butter pecan, they got moose tracks, they got strawberry, they got double chocolate…”

former Coney Island Convenience store, McKeesport, PA

Coney Island Convenience, McKeesport

As fascinating as this was (would this guy keep naming flavors all the way down to the Ben & Jerry’s section? would the team consider sherbet, ice milk, and/or frozen yogurt? how about the add-ons: chocolate sauce, nuts, whipped-cream? what would the final decision be?) this eves-dropper can only pretend to peruse the Stouffer’s frozen dinners for so long–we needed to move along.

former Howze Corner Store, Wilkinsburg, PA

Howze Corner Store, Wilkinsburg

What’s a doobie smoker to do? Gone (for the most part) are the mom & pop corner convenience stores, replaced almost entirely by the one-two punch of supermarkets and gas & sips. Good luck finding a retailer with only one brand of potato chips or a single freezer for the ice cream. It’s a wonder we’re not all standing confused and on the help line right now trying to make an informed, intelligent decision on Funyuns vs. Fritos, Cheetos vs. Cheese Puffs, ridges vs. kettle-cooked. Somehow, we must all dig deep and make these most difficult of life’s decisions.

snack trailer with cartoon images and sign "Temporarily closed for remodeling"

unknown (snack trailer), Hill District

In central Lawrenceville, we lost our independent snack shop three or four years ago. Mrs. The Orbit always cites Star Discount* as the place where ladies of the evening could purchase undergarments and bingo freaks could stock up on daubers. Lottery tickets and cigarettes were likely paying the bills, but “Star’s” also carried Herr’s and Snyder’s chips and pretzels as well as Cotton Club pop. Everyone behind the counter was always smoking.

Star Discount was replaced by the trifecta of Row House Cinema, Smoke BBQ, and Bierport (née Atlas Beer)–all of which we’ve patronized and enjoyed–but even if they let you in the door, try getting a $1.99 bag of cheese puffs from Smoke!

former Haley's Market, Pittsburgh, PA

Haley’s Market, Lincoln

Growing up in southwest Virginia, the peaceful, gentle climb to Cascade Falls in the nearby national forest, followed by a celebratory post-hike soft-serve at Dairy Princess made for a fine afternoon. In collecting images for this story, it was nice to see the tradition of knock-off ice cream shops perpetuated in both Tastee Queen (Ambridge) and Tasty Queen (Bruceton Mills, West Virginia). Unfortunately, all three businesses seem to have met a similar fate**. At least we still have Tastee Queen’s glorious technicolor soft-serve silhouettes.

former Tasty Queen ice cream shop, Bruceton Mills, WV

Tasty Queen, Bruceton Mills, WV


* Star Discount would make a great Orbit obit, but we sadly never took the photographic record to do it justice.
** This blogger almost met an even more violent version of the same fate taking this photo of Tasty Queen.