The manuscript, Mothman at 50: Debunking the Debunking, is nearly finished. Getting very excited as the publication date nears.
Cornstalk’s Curse: Not the Source of Mothman
Fifty years ago, Mothman flew into the imaginations of the residents of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a small town in the western part of the state. For 13 months, eyewitnesses recall seeing a 7’ tall, red-eyed winged creature. Though it never threatened anyone, its size was menacing. Mothman may have snatched a German Shepard. Other than that, it did not kill or maim. It merely fascinated. To understand the Mothman phenomena, one must look at the possible explanations as to why a creature would appear in an isolated part of a small state. One such explanation is Cornstalk’s Curse.
One local legend states that a chief of the Shawnee Indians placed a curse on the area as he lay dying from multiple gunshot wounds. Keightughqua, loosely translated as “maize plant” or “Cornstalk,” was gunned down at Fort Randolph in 1777. Some claim that his last words were to place a curse upon the land where murdered. Mothman is not a consequence of a curse. Indeed, it is doubtful Cornstalk cast a curse at all.
Keightughqua, Hokolesqua, and Colesqua are all the same man. His colloquial name translates to “maze plant” or “blade of corn.” Today, he is referred to as Cornstalk. Records of Cornstalk’s birth do not exist. His birth is estimated to be between 1720-1735, possibly in Ohio. Eventually he ascended to Chief and led raids to keep the British out of Ohio. Fort Randolph was built as an outpost near Tu-Endie-Wei, “Mingling of the Waters” or “Where Two Rivers Meet.” The Battle of Point Pleasant commenced on October 10, 1774, between the militia of Virginia and the Shawnee and Mingo tribes. A peace treaty was signed and the battle ended. The Revolutionary War impeded peace. Three years later, Cornstalk returned to the fort to alert soldiers of an impending raid. Soldiers held Cornstalk, his son, and other Indians from the Shawnee tribe. After a Virginia soldier was killed, soldiers inside the fort turned on Cornstalk and his entourage. He was murdered on November 10, 1777. In 1794 the town was officially chartered as Point Pleasant. Initially he was buried at the fort. In 1840 his grave was unearthed for a street. The few artifacts, mostly 3 teeth and 15 bone fragments, were interred in an aluminum tin can at the county courthouse. Finally, in 1954 the Mason County courthouse was razed and the remains were re-interred at the Tu-Endie-Wei Park. None of the credible historic accounts of Cornstalk’s life and tragic death mention a curse. Was there a curse? Highly doubtful. However, this does not deter people.
Supposedly the curse was to last 200 years, thereby ending in 1977. Believers identify several unique events as proof of the curse’s existence. These include floods, airline crashes, and Mothman.
Disaster records only show events beginning in 1907. Did the curse lay dormant for 130 years? Doubtful. In fact, the events are not truly unique.
West Virginia sits in coal country. Coal was discovered in West Virginia in 1742. The first commercial coal mine opened in 1810. Fifty-three of 55 West Virginia counties have coal deposits. Of those, 43 have “mineable coal.” Today, coal is mined in 28 counties. In 1907 Monongahela coal mining accident claimed 361 lives. It remains the deadliest US coal mining accident. Unfortunately, Monongahela is 3 hours away from Point Pleasant. It’s not remotely close to the land where Cornstalk was murdered. Therefore, this accident was not caused by the curse.
Few people point to a couple of floods in West Virginia as being the direct result of the curse. They specifically cite the floods of 1913 and 1937. West Virginia has experienced large-scale flooding. However, the floods in 1913 and 1937 were neither the largest nor the deadliest within the 200 year period that the curse supposedly covered.
According to a ranking of the “Deadliest Floods in West Virginia, Ranked by Fatalities,” the deadliest flood occurred in 1972. The Buffalo Creek flood killed 125 people and injured more than 1,100 people. It left nearly 4,000 people homeless. Heavy rainfall, though not extraordinary, was to blame for the dam breaching; however, the fatalities could have been considerably less had the Buffalo Mining Company not turned away sheriff deputies and begun evacuations. Most importantly, though, is that this dam is located in the 2outhern part of the state, 2 hours away from Point Pleasant. The curse was not responsible for this flood. It was an act of nature.
The second deadliest flood occurred on August 9, 1916 at the Cabin Creek and Coal River valleys. Early reports claimed the number of deaths may reach as high as 150 people. Sadly, the deaths numbered between 40-60 people. The monetary damage totaled $5 million dollars. A heavy downpour was responsible for this flood. According to Google Maps, Cabin Creek is an hour and 15 minutes away from Point Pleasant. It is nowhere near where Cornstalk “cursed” the land.
On the contrary, proponents of this turn to the floods of 1913 and 1937. The Parkersburg Flood of 1913 was a flood closest to Point Pleasant. It was hardly the deadliest. This flood was caused by the accumulated snowmelt. Although it was an inconvenience for local residents, the flood was not deadly. There was a larger flood that year. It occurred a few days prior to this flood; however, it did not impact or affect the area. There may be some confusion about the two floods among people who believe in the curse.
The other flood cited as related to the curse is the flood of 1937. This was a flood that affected a large area and numerous states. In West Virginia, it was centered around Huntington. Five people died locally of the 400 people in the entire valley. Although 25,000 people were affected and economic damages totaled $17 million, this flood did not cause the most damage in West Virginia. Further, West Virginia fared much better than the other states.
Neither of these floods can be considered devastating to West Virginia generally or Point Pleasant specifically. They do not support a curse. In fact, they discount it when one considers all of the other natural disasters in the state.
On June 23, 1944, the deadliest tornado to strike the state landed in Shinnston, West Virginia. One hundred and fifty-three people were killed in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Nine miles from the Monongah mine, the Shinnston tornado formed at 8:30 PM. The F4 tornado killed 66 people in Shinnston and surrounding area. Several tornadoes spawned from severe storms across the Appalachian region. To date, this remains the deadliest tornado to hit the state. Shinnston is 2 ½ hours from Point Pleasant on the other side of the state. Although this was a tragic natural disaster, it was not the consequence of Cornstalk’s curse.
A tragedy did occur in Point Pleasant. On December 22, 1953, a petroleum barge exploded killing 6 men and injuring 22 others. The barge was empty and docked for cleaning. One would presume that a curse would affect a fully loaded barge with full of employees.
Only one event directly relates to Point Pleasant and includes Mothman. In 1967 the Silver Bridge connecting West Virginia with Ohio collapsed. Witnesses claim to have seen Mothman lingering by the bridge prior to the collapse.
Cornstalk may or may not have cast a curse. However, the curse is not the basis for Mothman. But that’s okay since there are many, many more possible reasons for Mothman sightings.
Note: This piece is part of a larger manuscript Mothman: Debunking the Debunking written by Lesia Miller Schnur. If citing this paper, please remember to cite the author, title, and blog site. Thank you!
Mothman: Debunking the Debunking
This summer I’m busy finishing my manuscript: Mothman: Debunking the Debunking. The book takes a look at Mothman, the sightings in 1966, the explanations that were proffered, and finally, how these explanations don’t pan out. Here’s a teaser:
Mothman: Debunking the Debunking
Fifty years ago, Mothman flew into the imaginations of the residents of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a small town in the western part of the state. For 13 months, eyewitnesses recall seeing a 7’ tall, red-eyed winged creature. Though it never threatened anyone, its size was menacing. Mothman may have snatched a German Shepard. Other than that, it did not kill or maim. It merely fascinated.
An Urban Legend Is Born
Couples Steve and Mary Mallette and Roger and Linda Scarberry were looking for a good time. The abandoned ammunitions factory was perfect for night exploration. On the evening of November 15, 1966, they drove out on West Virginia Route 62 with Lonnie Button. Their destination was the McClintic Wildlife Management Area, a vast wildlife preserve in Mason County, 5 miles outside Point Pleasant. The area included an ordinance works housing a TNT factory from World War II.
The party of five reached the shackled chain-linked fencing. As the car’s engine ran, the young adults spotted something: a 7’ tall, red-eyed winged creature.
Quickly, they turned the car around and sped off reaching speeds upwards of 100 mph. The creature pursued, flying alongside. The car screeched to a halt at the Point Pleasant Courthouse, located in downtown. The courthouse housed the local police department. The five adults ran inside to alert Deputy Millard Halstead of the frightening flying creature that followed them into town. The deputy went outside; however, the creature was gone.
Roger Scarberry attempted to capture the image of the creature onto paper. He drew an overly simplistic blob-like shape with glowing eyes. He shared it with Deputy Halstead, who filed a police report. Mothman was born.
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Mothman Was a … Green Beret?
The February 2014 issue of Soldiers of Fortune ran an incredibly thin article claiming that Mothman was a Green Beret. Titled “UFO Mystery Solved “Mothmen” Were Actually Green Berets,” author Harold Hutchison theorized that the 7-foot, red-eyed creature being spotted around Point Pleasant, West Virginia from November 15, 1966-December 15, 1967 was a specially trained US Army soldier wearing temporary glow-in-the-dark reflective paint practicing HALO (high-altitude, low-opening) parachute maneuvers. Unfortunately, the article lacked any evidence supporting his claim.
First, he misrepresented the second reported sighting. Hutchison wrote that it was “a couple” seeking “an intimate moment” who spotted the creature. However, nearly every writing on the topic credits Steve and Mary Mallette and Roger and Linda Scarberry as the first ones to report an encounter with Mothman. It wasn’t one couple; it was two couples who were together in a car. In addition, the author conveniently left out the part about the couples being chased at 100 M.P.H. By incompletely discussing the sighting, he reduced his credibility in his claim.
Hutchison innocuously wrote that the first reported sighting was made by 5 men digging a grave. This is troublesome. According to the Williamson Daily News, Kenneth Duncan, one of the men digging the grave, recalled seeing a “brown man … gliding through the trees … [with] eyes like red reflectors.” Duncan was describing one man—not several. Further, men parachuting down do not cut through trees. The parachute would restrict this. Moreover, reflective paint differs from glowing red eyes. All of the witness accounts described red eyes—not glowing war paint.
Hutchison based his theory on military training here in the US to assist troops abroad in Vietnam. Unfortunately, he didn’t name one unit training in West Virginia. Nor did he supply any evidence that HALO training took place for 13 months around Point Pleasant and then abruptly stopped. Instead, he included a picture from the Utah National Guard completing “[s]imilar jumps.” This isn’t evidence.
He ended the short article reassuring his readers that the Department of Defense remained silent to protect the HALO program but now it was okay to openly discuss and to reveal the “secret.” This argument is flawed. It assumes that the HALO jumps only occurred at night, when in fact jumps also occur during daylight hours. If the Green Berets were in West Virginia practicing HALO jumps, more people, especially the newspaper reporters, would have reported it.
While Hutchison’s theory is interesting and places a patriotic spin on Mothman, a truly Americana urban legend, it doesn’t make sense. So, no, Mothman was not a wayward Green Beret.
Debunking Mothman: Not a Greater Sandhill Crane
This summer I’m heading to West Virginia. In between visiting the family church and cemetery while gathering genealogy information, I’ll be stopping in on some special paranormal destinations. Two are related to Mothman: The Mothman Museum and The McClintic Wildlife Management Area. In doing some preliminary research, I am debunking some of the explanations. Consider it debunking the debunked. In this first installment, Mothman was not a Greater Sandhill Crane.
Mothman was a paranormal event that lasted 13 months, from November 15, 1966-December 15, 1967. Over that span, numerous witnesses in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia, reported seeing a 7-foot tall creature with glowing red eyes and a 10-foot wingspan. Some of the sightings coincided with U.F.O. sightings and talks about visits from the “Men in Black.” All sightings ceased the day after the December 15, 1967, Silver Bridge collapse, killing 46 people. Several theories have been proffered over the years. An early one was that people saw wayward Greater Sandhill Cranes.
The Greater Sandhill Crane is the larger form of Sandhill Crane species. They are tall grey birds. Adults have red markings on the head. They are between 3-5 feet in height, weighing 6.5-14 pounds. They “form large flocks” and are migratory. Although they can be found in the Northern United States, they migrate to the Southern US and Mexico during the winter months. The Greater Sandhill Crane was previously spotted within the McClintic Wildlife Management Area, where the first Mothman sighting occurred. However, these people did not mistake a crane for the creature.
There are several reasons as to why the bird was not Mothman. The Greater Sandhill Crane does not have red eyes, a key feature to the witness reports. Further, the bird is too small. Witnesses stated that Mothman was 7-feet tall. That is 2 feet taller than the largest Greater Sandhill Crane. Not one witness reported seeing multiple Mothmen—only the solitary Mothman. The birds live in groups. A wayward single bird may be spotted once, maybe twice, however, not for 13 months. Finally, Greater Sandhill Cranes migrate to warmer climates during the winter. The average temperature in November in Point Pleasant is 14°F. December’s average is 9°F, with January at -2°F, February -4°F, and March rising to 9°F. It’s just too cold in West Virginia for these birds to remain throughout the winter.
In this segment of “Debunking the Debunked,” I believe that Mothman could not have been a Greater Sandhill Crane. More soon.