A to Z: Mothman

Published April 14, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Doing something slightly different today, in that today’s selection isn’t a figure from ancient myth or folklore, but from modern…um…well, if the exact same stories were being told a couple hundred years ago, they’d be called folkloric, but I have a feeling that people don’t usually extend the same courtesy to modern tales.

Regardless of what category one wants to put him in, today’s post is on the Mothman.

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

Look how cute that little guy is with his crazily spindly legs!  I’ve got two versions of compendium text for him.  First, from the Devil Survivors and Shin Megami Tensei IV/IV Apocalypse:

A cryptid sighted in West Virginia from the 1960s to the 1980s.

It has red, shining eyes and was known for the finlike appendages on the sides of its body.  It’s said to walk on two feet and fly without moving its appendages.  It can keenly sense blood to track its source and feed on it.  Eyewitnesses say that a UFO was sighted when Mothman appeared, so some believe that it is actually an alien.

And second, from Persona Q:

A cryptid sighted in West Virginia from the 60s-80s, named for the finlike appendages on the sides of his body.  Said to keenly sense blood, so as to track the source and feed on it.

Admittedly, that was just an abbreviated form of the other one, but…

So, who or what is the Mothman outside of Shin Megami Tensei?  Probably the most commonly applied word for him is “cryptid,” a catch-all term for strange beasts that some modern people believe in and most don’t.  Cryptids include the Loch Ness monster, yetis and Sasquatches, jackalopes, chupacabras, all that kind of thing.

Rather than try to paraphrase it, I’m going to just quote the story from Wikipedia:

On November 12, 1966, five men who were digging a grave at a cemetery near Clendenin, West Virginia, claimed to see a man-like figure fly low from the trees over their heads.[5] This is often identified as the first known sighting of what became known as the Mothman.

Shortly thereafter, on November 15, 1966, two young couples from Point Pleasant, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette, told police they saw a large grey creature whose eyes “glowed red” when the car’s headlights picked it up. They described it as a “large flying man with ten-foot wings”, following their car while they were driving in an area outside of town known as “the TNT area“, the site of a former World War II munitions plant.[6][7]

During the next few days, other people reported similar sightings. Two volunteer firemen who saw it said it was a “large bird with red eyes”. Mason County Sheriff George Johnson commented that he believed the sightings were due to an unusually large heron he termed a “shitepoke”. Contractor Newell Partridge told Johnson that when he aimed a flashlight at a creature in a nearby field its eyes glowed “like bicycle reflectors”, and blamed buzzing noises from his television set and the disappearance of his German Shepherd dog on the creature.[8]

Of course, rational explanations were offered, most in the form of large birds that had strayed outside of their usual territory.  A lost sandhill crane (7-foot wingspan) seems to be the accepted “best fit” explanation, but of course many prefer the cryptid to a mere bird.  In 1967, a bridge in the area collapsed, killing almost fifty people, an incident that became tied to the legend of the Mothman, giving him the reputation as a harbinger of disaster.  But after that, there weren’t any significant sightings until 2016 (of course that had nothing to do with the 50th anniversary of the original), when a man took photos of something large hopping from tree to tree above the road, and sent them in to the local television station.  The TV station has its news story on the subject posted online, and I had a look at it.  The photos don’t look very convincing to me, but that’s irrelevant.

Regardless of the short duration of the original sightings and the way they were quickly and easily explained away by the scientific community, the Mothman seems popular in his hometown of Point Pleasant.  They started a Mothman Festival in 2002 and erected a statue of him in 2003:

Personally, I think the statue looks like an Ultraman monster.  Or maybe what Arthur from The Tick wishes his costume looked like.  I’ll always prefer this statue(ette):

Mothman has been popular outside of West Virginia, too.  There was a novel in 1975 called The Mothman Prophecies that was adapted into a(n evidently lackluster) movie in 2002.  A search on Etsy will turn up plenty of Mothman-themed works.  And Shin Megami Tensei isn’t the only Japanese game series to incorporate him:  the Castlevania series has also included him, though he didn’t appear in the series until there was a game set after 1966.

Image copyright Konami. From Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow.

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