Seth Breedlove’s new documentary, “The Mothman of Point Pleasant,” currently streaming on Amazon, is a refreshingly low-keyed examination of the truth and lore about the birdman-like creature that haunted the area around Point Pleasant a half-century ago.
Unlike the more sideshow-level productions dealing with ghost-or-monster-ridden sites all over the U.S. (a decade-old and rather garish TV program dealing with the one-time lunatic asylum in Athens comes immediately to mind), “The Mothman of Point Pleasant” offers a more rational approach, leaving room for skepticism as well as belief in the occurrences linked to Mothman. The documentarians’ understanding of the subject was explored by Ohio Valley Publishing Editor Beth Sergent in a May 7 feature of this publication.
More importantly, as part of the “Small Town Monsters” series created by Breedlove and his associates, the film succeeds in spurring some thought about how Mothman has become integral to the history and culture of our corner of the world. Not just as a tourist attraction or item of interest in the realm of the fantastic, but in how a community takes the attention in stride and can support a museum dedicated to the possibly other-worldly visitor to our shores of the Ohio River. There are some folks who think the Mothman sightings are a hoax or a result of mass hysteria connected to reports of UFO activity in the Ohio Valley during the mid-1960s, but what is impressive is how the sincerity of the people who experienced encounters with Mothman plays with the curiousity of those discovering the Mothman story for the first time.
Bill Geist of CBS-TV’s “Sunday Morning” was one whose journalistic tendency to scoff at such stories was tempered after he met some of the witnesses during his visit to the second Mothman Festival in 2004. These were not people who made up stuff just to get attention or try to cash in on the phenomenon in some way, Geist indicated, so therefore their credibility was unquestionable. And another, of course, was author John A. Keel, whose investigation of the being with wings and red eyes resulted in his famous account “The Mothman Prophecies,” first published in 1975. My first inkling of Mothman came around Halloween in 1978 through a story in The Post, Ohio University’s student newspaper. The article was written by Frank Stanley, whom I later discovered had been an OVP reporting intern that summer.
Because the interns worked at all three of the company’s papers at one point or another, usually when someone was on vacation, Frank might have picked up on Mothman while sojourning at the Register. He may also have gotten wind of it through then-OU journalism faculty member Roger Bennett, who as an assistant editor at The Athens Messenger, wrote some of the early accounts of the Mothman sightings.
Like Keel, who confessed in his book to an enduring “childish sense of wonder” at all things strange and unusual, I was fascinated by Frank’s credulous and carefully-presented story and by subsequent accounts I read before I walked the streets of Point Pleasant the following summer and asked myself, how could anything so incredible have happened here? And while I have yet to arrive at an answer, I have concluded that Mason County has come to accept the strange occurrences and encounters that commenced in November 1966 and continued for the next 13 months. Perhaps the greatest manifestation of that detente between the people and the legend of Mothman exists in the statue in Point Pleasant’s downtown created by the late Bob Roach of Letart and unveiled in 2004.
“For me, this story is a piece of Point Pleasant’s history whether or not they (people) want to believe (in Mothman) or not is totally up to them,” Breedlove told Sergent for her feature. “You can’t deny it was a part of the town’s history.” Indeed, as then-OVP staffer Bryan Long concluded in his review of the film version of “The Mothman Prophecies” at its local (and, need I add, sold out) showing in 2002, the film meant something to us “because it is about US.” (I thought the movie was terrible and a disservice to Keel’s book, but that’s just my opinion). The point is, the legacy of Mothman is part and parcel of this area and of our understanding of such a phenomenon, whether you’re born, raised and resided here all of your life, or a newcomer such as myself.
So while the mystery of Mothman continues to intrigue us, films like “The Mothman of Point Pleasant” help us understand our curiosity all the more through facts, statements and re-creations of events leading up to its first appearance and afterward. As the film’s creator has said, there’s no doubt something happened all that time ago. It’s what we make of the evidence at hand that carries more significant weight when making up our own minds.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.