Picture this: It’s the middle of the night you’re walking through the woods, or you’re driving up a curvy road. The light is dim, you’re ready to enjoy your evening. Out of the shadows, you spot something. Maybe it’s far too tall, or looks like it has too many limbs, or a tail. Sounds like the opening scene of a horror movie, right?
For a fair number of people, that’s just Tuesday, at least a Tuesday when they saw a cryptid.
Okay, okay, bear with me. I’m aware that was quite an intense setup for something that may just conjure up ideas of bad bigfoot footage. But let’s be honest, cryptids are so much cooler than that. Society has always told stories about creatures that go bump in the night. Is it any wonder we mythologize them now? I mean, according to a 2005 Gallup survey, 73% of American adults believe in at least one paranormal idea. Soit’s safe to assume that at least a few of you probably believe.
And what a spot we live in, for those that want to believe (no X-Files joke intended). When I was recently in Chicago, a friend lamented to me how unfair it was that “West Virginia gets all the good cryptids.” They were kind of right, West Virginia, it would seem, is a hotspot for cryptids. In the spirit of spooky season, we’re diving into West Virginia’s most beloved cryptids, including one that made an appearance right here in Wheeling!
The Man, The Myth, The Moth
The Mothman is perhaps one of West Virginia’s most well-known cryptids, but for those who aren’t familiar with its backstory, here’s a refresher. The Mothman lore starts on November 15, 1966, in Point Pleasant. Two couples, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette, were driving near the TNT area. They weren’t looking for trouble, but it found them near an old munitions dump. They saw it, slouched by the roadside, in dim light. “It” was a six or seven-foot tall form, with glowing red eyes. Reports differ on whether it was gray or flesh-colored. One thing there was consensus on – it had ashen-colored, bat-like wings.
As they sat there trying to figure out what, exactly, they were looking at, it flew straight up in the air, wailing a high-pitched squeak. Well, that was enough to scare them into action. They peeled off. As they watched the speedometer rise, they realized the thing was following behind them, keeping pace even when they reached 100 mph. As they approached city limits, it banged on the car three times. Then, it vanished. The four raced to the police station to report what had happened.
The story spread. An unnamed headline writer for a local paper coined the name Mothman, as a riff on the Batman TV show, and thus, a cryptid was born.
The sightings didn’t stop with the two couples. It’s reported to have chased the Wamsley family into a friend’s house, one mile from the old munitions dump. A group of teenagers saw it perched near a quarry. Thomas Ury, a shoe salesman, drove past it on Route 62. He watched it fly straight up and circle his car. It chased him for miles. All in all, there were more than 100 reported sightings of the winged creature. All of which culminated in the Silver Bridge collapse.
My first trip to the Mothman museum.
Me and a friend, Meg Moore, who traveled all the way from New Jersey just to visit Mothman.
The Silver Bridge collapse was a horrific tragedy. December 15, 1967, during rush hour the bridge connecting Point Pleasant, WV to Gallipolis, OH buckled and fell into the Ohio River. In total, 46 people perished.
It seems strange to connect this tragedy to the modern idea of Mothman, but at the time, many people made a connection between the increase in sightings and the disaster. Especially because they seemed to drop off sharply after the tragedy. People believed that Mothman appeared as some sort of warning.
The modern idea of Mothman has moved away from the more serious idea of an omen of disaster. He’s almost…cute now. You can find him on tote bags and pins and, heck, I even have a stuffed animal version! There’s a whole museum dedicated to the ‘monster’, complete with a ‘life size’ statue. Every year there is even a festival hosted in his honor. It’s all a very adorable tourist attraction. A far cry from terrifying people on late-night drives.
A Howl From The Blue Devil
While Mothman is the most well-known cryptid in West Virginia, there are plenty of lesser-known cryptids too. There are reports of a scarily-named Blue Devil in Webster County, in the hills between Jumbo and Grassy Creek. Reports of Blue Devil encounters date back to 1939-1940. John Clevenger is the man who supposedly saw it. He was a former lumber employee in the area, but at the time of the sighting was a farmer. He claimed the beast killed his prized hunting dog. The beast was a blue-colored thing, doglike, but larger than a pony. It did its prowling late at night, which leads us to the second person to encounter the Blye Devil, Ernst Cogar. Ernst claimed his livestock had been stalked and scared for several nights, culminating in the deaths of his cattle and sheep. The creature certainly was capable of causing fear. One Mrs. V.S. Cunlip heard a “wild, inhuman scream” outside her home, while H.A. Anderson heard something that “sounded like a panther.” These disjointed stores add up to one nightmarish period for the town.
What’s Going on In Grafton?
An even stranger sort of sight comes out of Taylor County. June 16, 1964, a reporter for the Grafton Sentinel, Robert Cockrell was driving home after a shift that ran late. He was driving the curves, on a road that stretched along the side of the Tygart River, going a cool 50 mph. Suddenly, along the side of the road, he saw…something. A large white shape obstructed the usually direct view of the river. It looked to be nine feet tall and four feet wide. Its skin was slick, like a seal, and it had no head. That was more than enough to scare the spirit out of Robert and he hit the gas, speeding off. When he returned later that same night, backed up by a friend, they found nothing but trampled grass where the creature had appeared. A low whistling sound, with no definable source, played in the air.
Robert wrote about what he saw for the Grafton Sentinel. Monster hunters descended on the area, appearing from all over. No one found anything. The Grafton Monster retreaded into mystery. However, one local kid suggested it may have been an escaped polar bear. How a polar bear got to Grafton County and where it was supposed to have escaped from was not a part of the kid’s answer.
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It Came From Outer Space…Maybe
The unusual made its way to Flatwoods, in Braxton County on September 12, 1952. It’s said that five young boys witnessed a great fiery streak across the night sky, disappearing with a crash onto a neighboring farm. What could they do, but explore it? Not alone, of course. They went and fetched the mother of two of the boys, Kathleen May, before setting off. They trekked a quarter mile to the farm where they were surrounded by an odd, encroaching mist that made their eyes and noses sting. A red light was strobing from a fire-singed pit. The air was heavy with a metallic scent. Then, at the edge of the light cast from their lanterns, they saw it. Ten feet tall with long, thin claws and round, glowing yellow eyes. It appeared to be metal, almost robotic. Its hood (or head) was shaped like a spade and bright red. The body of it was deep green and seemed to flare out like a pleated skirt. It let out an inhuman hiss and started to float toward them. They fled in terror.
Kathleen May said “It looked worse than Frankenstein. It couldn’t have been human.” For days after, the group was nauseous, possibly from the fog. The Statesville Daily called it “Frankenstein’s Monster with BO.”
Flatwoods Monster lantern (courtesy of nefasth.)
The Raleigh Register, Sept. 21, 1952.
The national guard was sent to look for this ‘downed airplane’ but found neither hide nor hair of it.
While its been more than 70 years since the first sighting of the Flatwoods Monster, people are still keeping an eye out to this day. They are encouraged by the Flatwoods Monster Museum, which has become a tourist hotspot. They even sell little lamp versions of the monster, so you can have your own version of the glowing yellow eyes in your home.
It is possible the creature was seen once more, as this piece from The Raleigh Register, states:
“‘Tis said that the Flatwood monster has moved on to Raleigh County – to the vicinity of the Greenbrier Dairy at that.
Mrs. Earl Hutchinson, of Skelton, called to inform Bug Dust that she had seen a ‘shiny something’ hovering in the sky some distance from her home.
At first she thought it was a man in a parachute, but when it kept swinging back and forth and jumping up and down, she figured the Faltwoods monster was en route to Beckley – for a rendezvous with other monsters, no doubt.
‘Twas a big white thing, resembling a washtub, but not being Monday Mrs. Hutchinson knew Ole Sol wasn’t hanging out his dirty linen.”
Wheeling’s Own Cryptid
A Weelunk article about cryptids would be remiss if it did not mention the cryptid from our own Friendly City. September 15, 1952, just three days after the creature touched down in Flatwoods, something landed near the Vineyard Hill Housing Development (now Wheeling/Grandview Heights). Residents claimed a flying saucer, streaking bright lights and emitting a foul metallic odor, had touched down. Calls came into both The Intelleger and the police, but no one ever quite found out what exactly had landed that night. The Intelligencer ran a piece the next day, describing the events and mocking up a depiction of the creature they dubbed “Bashful Billy.”
As we inch closer to Halloween, keep your eyes peeled for strange shapes lurking on the side of the road. Who knows, you could be the next person to tell the tale of a West Virginia creature. The cryptids of our state certainly put the wild in Wild and Wonderful.
• Makayla Carney, a Wheeling native, is the 2023-2024 AmeriCorps member for Wheeling Heritage, where she will get to write all about the history and culture of her hometown. She has a B.F.A. in Film and Television from DePaul University in Chicago. She adores all kinds of art, a lavender latte, and the occasional performance on the Towngate Theatre stage.
1 Guiley, Rosemary. Monsters of West Virginia. Stackpole Books, 2012.
2 Loxton, Daniel, and Donald R. Prothero. Abominable Science. Columbia University Press, 2013
3 Newton, Michael. Strange West Virginia Monsters. Schiffer Publishing, 2015.
4 Ocker, J. W. The United States of Cryptids. Quirk Books, 2022.
5Stafford, Thomas F. “Bug Dust.” The Raleigh Register, 21 Sept. 1952.
6Williams, Dent. “‘Monster’ Form Outer Space Arrives Here via ‘Saucer.’” Wheeling Intelligencer, 16 Sept. 1952.