Monday, November 14, 2005

'Mothman' Expert To Discuss Newest Research Tonight in Athens

Mothman Drawing
By Nick Claussen
The Athens News

Jeff Wamsley Sml     This may sound odd, but it wasn't that long ago that the people of the region were gripped with fear over the hundreds of sightings of UFOs, the "Men in Black" and the Mothman.

     It sounds like something out of a movie (and indeed a movie has been made based on the story), but it all happened close to Athens in the late 1960s.

     Gallipolis resident Jeff Wamsley grew up in Pt. Pleasant W.Va., just a few doors down from one of the first couples who reported spotting the Mothman. Wamsley has researched the Mothman story extensively over the years, and has written two books on the subject.

     Tonight, Wamsley is speaking at the Athens Public Library at 7:30. He will tell the story of the Mothman, including new information gleaned from his research. In addition to writing two books on the subject, Wamsley built a Web site devoted to the Mothman (, curates the Mothman Museum in Pt. Pleasant, and helps coordinate the annual Mothman Festival, also in Pt. Pleasant.

     Over a 13-month period in the late 1960s, the Gallipolis-Pt. Pleasant region, a short drive south of Athens, had hundreds of reported sightings of the Mothman, as well as other strange things. According to Wamsley's Web site, the first report of the Mothman's red eyes came in on Nov. 14, 1966 in Salem, W.Va. On that night, a man was watching television at home when his screen blanked out and he heard a strange noise outside. When he went outside, he saw two red circles, or red eyes, near his barn, according to the Web site. The man went inside and got his gun, but his dog ran toward the eyes and was never seen again.

     The next evening, two young couples riding in a car near an old, abandoned power plant saw something shaped like a man, but taller with large wings folded against its back, according to the Web site. The couples also reported seeing the big red eyes, which they said were hypnotic. The thing then flew up into the air and flew after the car, according to the Web site. The couples managed to drive away from the creature, and they later returned to the property with a police officer. The officer didn't see anything, but he had problems with his radio and reported strange sounds coming over it. The next day, other sightings of the creature were reported, and the police department held a press conference to discuss the situation.

     Wamsley has spoken to many people over the years who claim to have seen the Mothman up close, and on his Web site he gives the general description of a creature 7 feet tall, with a 10-foot wingspan. Some people said what they saw had feathers, while other say it did not. Most people reported seeing the red glowing eyes on a featureless face, while some reported not actually seeing a head, according to the Web site. The witnesses claim that the creature could fly without flapping its wings and that it could match the speed of a car driving 100 miles per hour.

     WAMSLEY SAID FRIDAY that the people who gave their reports to the police, did so in different rooms and at different times, but their descriptions generally matched.

     Many people who have seen the Mothman won't talk about what they saw, and many are still scared by it, he said.

     The reporter who actually broke the story worked for The Athens Messenger, which had an office in Pt. Pleasant at the time, Wamsley said. In addition to reporting on the story and talking to people who said they saw the Mothman, the reporter was visited by strange individuals who some believe were the "Men in Black," Wamsley said.

     "These guys would show up at her office," he said. Some people thought the Men in Black worked for the government, while others thought they were not from this world, he said.

     At the same time as people were seeing the Mothman and these Men in Black, there were numerous UFO sightings in the area, Wamsley said. All of these sightings went on regularly for a 13-month period.

     In 1967, the Silver Bridge, which spans the Ohio River from Gallipolis to Pt. Pleasant, collapsed, killing 46 people. Also during that night, reports came in of strange lights and other objects. After that night, reports of the Mothman and other strange phenomena became much less frequent, according to the Web site.

     Wamsley said that some people still report seeing the Mothman today, and that he gets reports from people all over the world who say they are seeing strange things. The sightings in the region died down after the 13-month period in 1966 and 1967, but many still remember the legend of the Mothman and the way people were frightened of it during that time, Wamsley said.

     "The elementary schools wouldn't let the kids out at recess because of fear of something flying overhead and picking them up," Wamsley said. "People in Pt. Pleasant were definitely kind of freaked out about the whole thing."

     Wamsley has talked to many people who claim to have seen the Mothman, including one woman who said it was in her yard right beside her.

     "I spent a lot of time talking about the real story, compared to the Hollywood story," Wamsley said. "The real story is to me a lot more interesting, and it's a lot more scary too."

     While he has talked to many people about the Mothman, Wamsley admitted that he's not sure what to think about the legend.

     "I've never really been able to come to a conclusion on what it was," he said. "All the people I've sat down and talked to, they're pretty honest and pure about what they are talking about. They're not looking for any publicity."

     Also, the stories have not changed over the years, and many different people all reported seeing the same thing, he said.

     "I just don't think that all of those people were liars," he said.

     Some people believe the Mothman was a diversion from something else going on in the region at the same time, whether that something else had to do with the UFO sightings or something the government was doing, Wamsley said. Others think that it may have something to do with an federal Environmental Protection Agency clean-up site in the region, while others have their own theories. Some people also theorized that area residents who thought they were seeing the Mothman were actually seeing a very large and rare crane that was living in the area.

     "I doubt if it will ever be solved," he said.

     Wamsley and many others are still fascinated by the story of the Mothman, though, and he said the sale of his second book (which is currently on sale in Athens) is going well.

     Wamsley's first book, "Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend," was published in 2002, and his second book, "Mothman: Behind The Red Eyes," came out in April. Several other Web sites have information on the Mothman, other books have been written on the legend, and a major motion picture, "The Mothman Prophesies," was released in 2001.

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