Cryptomundo Reviews MQ’s Mothman

Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 12th, 2010

On February 10, 2010, MonsterQuest broadcast their new program on Mothman. Here are some initial thoughts.

Considering that the History channel frequently calls forth frame-of-reference moments about history in their programming, I was a little surprised that more historical tidbits about the Mothman were not included in this episode.  It was rather striking, actually, that the History network would use a program divider to give a factoid about Valentine’s Day, and ignore the symbolic historical events that tie into the Mothman legacy.  

Why was there no concern for the importance of this location in the Revolutionary War, no mention of the Curse of Cornstalk, no reflection on the context of the Vietnam War during the time of the Mothman reports, no tip of the cap to John A. Keel’s significant research as the sightings were unfolding, and no reference points about the 1975 book or the 2002 movie?  Surely, this History program did not mean to indicate that all the historical timeline moments should have been excluded from this episode, did it?

Next, what are we to think of the Wisconsin field excusion?  Nick Redfern is a good writer on anomalist events in general and a friend. The fact that Nick and his wildlife-aware companion spotlighted two deer seemed a bit anti-climatic, after showing them hiking around all day.  I would be interested to know what Nick thinks of how his “expedition” was portrayed.

The Ohio segment about owl eyes reflecting red might have been more in context if that wasn’t the punchline to a Joe Nickell article of a few years ago in Skeptical Inquirer.  Were the repeated images of an owl with red eyes in infrared or merely created special effects? Were we told?  We appear to have not been shown human range light imagery of an owl with red eyeshine, within the comparable lighting of how the 1966-1967 eyewitnesses reported Mothman.  Why not? Do they actually show red, in the dark, in car lights, to the human eye?

And guess who shows up in this episode? Joe Nickell.  He is not here to defend his too-short owl theory, but to test eyewitness sightings of Mothman cutouts regarding height estimates.  While I agree with his thesis that eyewitnesses do not estimate size well, as a scientific proof, I would ask for full methods, protocols, and results being revealed more fully about this experiment.

For one thing, there was no identification of the test eyewitnesses.  I understand that one person might have been one of the tour guides at the Mothman museum, but who knows?  Who were these people?  The lack of standardized indications of who saw what, what was seen, how many reported what heights, and other data collected was unfortunate. Indeed, MQ let this entire test be boiled down to Nickell saying something (I was not able to record his statement, and thus I must paraphrase) about how some of his test subjects got the heights right but how he was struck that (three?) people were so incorrect in their estimates.  Even Nickell would agree that the complete database would be instructive if the estimates were so way off, and much could be learned from looking at the raw data.

Finally, the forensic artist added his insights.  Of course, I have no problem with what this artist drew, but then why should he or any of us be surprised when he discovered the eyewitnesses had a lot of common descriptors in agreement?  As soon as an eyewitness says they have seen a Mothman, whether it is in West Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, or California, they already are committing to a frame of reference of a creature that is nowadays rather well-known.  From book drawings to Japanese toys, there is a standardized image of what a Mothman looks like.

One major shortcoming of this program, I must refer to again, is the lack of any historical examination of the Mothman cases.  Clearly one investigation that would have been helpful would have been to compare the distinctive differences in individual eyewitnesses’ shifting descriptions of their own sightings.  Now that would have made an intriguing sidebar to this show.  I know for a fact that more than one of the witnesses shown on that program are describing Mothman in more supernatural terms today than they did in 1966.

Unknown to most, there is even filmed evidence of this.  When I was brought out to Sony/Screen Gems studios before the release of the Mothman movie, I was allowed to see raw, unedited footage of their companion documentary in production.  During that private screening, I was shocked to see one eyewitness gave a totally different rendering of that individual’s sighting than what had been given before and what was shared on the current MQ Mothman episode. The person even said in the 2001 retelling that the Mothman had a long tail with a point on its end like the devil! Clearly, some of these eyewitnesses are performing or suffering from psychological difficulties.

The forensic artist could not be expected to have done psychological profilings as well as drawing his sketches, but certainly there is more than meets the eye regarding some of these encounters’ repeated descriptions. Background investigations of the eyewitnesses, when their stories appeared, and when various details were added should be reviewed.

What stones were unturned in this ignoring of history in this episode?

For example, one eyewitness who was 18 years old when she allegedly had a 1966 sighting was not in the program.  But she is cited frequently today, although her sighting was apparently not recorded in the papers at the time.  Her story has become a staple of Mothman lore as she was introduced to John Keel when he came to town first in December 1966 and today Connie Carpenter’s apparent sighting is well-known.  But one must ask why did her story not appear earlier, for after all she was the niece of the main news person writing the stories, Mary Hyde?  How many have looked a bit deeper into these initial stories and compared them to what we are being told today or even what others said in 1966?

MonsterQuest attempted to cover new ground in their show, and they did.  I congratulate them for that. But we have to ask for more results from what they found and a little bit more background about those who gave them the info.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

15 Responses to “Cryptomundo Reviews MQ’s Mothman”

  1. springheeledjack responds:

    Oaky, I have a couple of comments too.

    1) I had a lot of trouble with the part where they jumped around talking about mothman being sighted in different areas, but then gave absolutely no particulars, except for the guy in California who saw it on top of a bridge. And Wisconsin area. I would have liked to have heard more on that–have there been more recent sightings than the 60’s–it seemed the program alluded that there had been many more sightings in recent times, but they only latched onto a couple–california and wisconsin.

    2) Yeah, the field investigation was a total bust…I get real sick of MQ when it starts talking about “startling discoveries” and they turn out to be deer-eye-shine or “yeah” this is a good place for a large avian predator–oh brother.

    3) THe Joe Nickell segment. Well, of course–we…well most of us are aware of how unreliable estimations of size can be…especially at night…at distance…and while moving–but that test he did—there were a lot of holes in it…how many people were involved, were they connected to Joe or just random people…how random…the other problem I had is that the eye witnesses in the 60’s saw the creature, not off in the woods, but next to their moving cars, over their cars or on the hood of their car. That is a big difference than shining a light on something set back from the road and asking someone to estimate its height…in terms of the science of logical arguments, the comparison is not Valid. It’s apples and oranges…and that is one of the scoftics favorite tactics.

    Finally, I had a lot of problems with the tie in of Mothman being the harbringer of doom…not that I don’t know that correlary, but they were trying to tie it to the present sightings…or at least they seemed to be alluding to that without ever saying what they meant…they kept bringing up the destruction of the bridge, and then jumped around to new sightings…were they suggesting something happened in wisonsin? Oh, and they mentioned the collapse of the Minnesota bridge…but there was no mothman sighting there before hand, was there? IF there was, they didn’t mention it. So was that just a collapsed bridge tie in or what?

    All told…the program was a disorganized mess…they were either trying to make too many assumptions and tie everything in, or whoever put it together had only the tourist’s view of mothman and didn’t know what they were doing.

    See, last time I mentioned MQ, I said how I thought it was getting better…I jinxed it.

  2. Quakerhead responds:

    The History Channel seems to lose more credibility every week. I still can’t figure why they air a show about a pawn shop.

  3. raisinsofwrath responds:

    I would place Mothman as my second favorite cryptid behind Bigfoot. Although the likelihood of this creature existing isn’t comparable to Bigfoot I am still fascinated for some reason. I think a big part of it is Keel and what he brought to the history of Mothman. Unless you start entertaining other dimensions, portals, etc…It’s difficult to justify an animal of Mothmans physicality.

    Now, with that preface showing my absolute interest, guess what? I fell asleep 10 minutes in, woke up 30 minutes in and fell back to sleep 5 minutes later. Had it not been a cluster-F, it’s likely that I would have stayed awake.

    It seems that just when MQ starts to gain momentum they lay a major egg. It’s kind of like watching a heart monitor with a lot of flat lining.

    On a side note, I wish I could have met John Keel during his life. I can picture myself sitting and listening to him for hours.

  4. cblawson7 responds:

    A friend of mine and I did some serious research into the Mothman sighting back in the early 1990s, delving especially into the work of John Keel, Gray Barker, and of course, Loren Coleman. Since we lived relatively close to Point Pleasant, we drove there one day and shot some video footage of the entire area and talked with a few people. The general impression was that most people thought the sightings were an embarassment and wanted to forget about it. My friend, who is an artist, eventually worked this up into a short documentary. We were both horrified with the Mothman movie when it came out, but being a couple of indie-film types, what could we do? Nowadays, the people of Point Pleasant don’t seem so reticent to talk about the Mothman, including Linda Scarberry, who turned us away at the time.

    I was disappointed with the Monster Quest episode. Like Mr. Coleman, they missed out on the early historical background of the region, and they also failed to mention that the TNT plant, in the mid-1990s, was an EPA Superfund cleanup site (we were approached by a couple of EPA guys in a white SUV then – just a friendly warning to avoid the asbestos). There was so much that might have been done on the episode with the Point Pleasant and West Virginia and Ohio sightings alone, without trekking all over the country. Nick Redfern’s presence, I think, was wasted in Wisconsin.

    Overall, a good review of the episode by Mr. Coleman.

  5. Tegan responds:

    Gotta agree with everything people have complained about. A couple of the bits that really stuck out for me were the repeated showings of an owl with red eyes, apparently in infrared, and the size experiment. Yes, we know humans are lousy at judging sizes, and I’m certainly willing to accept an owl as the source of the sightings, but it felt like I was being driven to that conclusion. They seemed to be hammering it in.

    I was actually very interested in the results of the size experiment. Imagine my disappointment when we never GOT the results, just a pathetic summary by a biased source. We never learned the methodology, how many participants, or any of the details of the results.

    I confess to knowing only a little more about Mothman than the average person, so reading about what was left out was a surprising revelation. If I didn’t have this blog to check with, I would have been driven to a conclusion by the show. Depressingly bad episode. Another good reason to apply Fortean thinking to everything you see or read. What is left out by the authorities can be as revealing as what they include.

  6. Anthony2 responds:

    I agree with Loren’s statements and was disappointed with the episode even tho I had been looking forward to it for weeks.

  7. jrobojock responds:

    I would like to state that I was a resident of WV and have visited that area many times. I also grew up about 3 hours away from Point Pleasant, but visited the area often for work. Further, I have researched the topic since I was a small child and this case is what attracted me to the works of Keel and Coleman. Let me state, that the show was stupid to say the least, as it ignored several important facts. First, the mothman was viewed up and down the Ohio river, as far north as the southern tip of Marshall County. Also, why no integration with giant bird sightings, as mothman is eerily similar, in fact, Washington County PA, an area about 3 hours away from Point Pleasant, was host to a massive giant bird sighting 2 years prior, where over 10 cars were involved. Sticking to science, is it nor logical that a flesh and blood creature was following the river, from south WV to north WV?

  8. cryptidsrus responds:

    I have to mostly agree with what everybody is saying here. The size estimate tests done by Nickell were Ok, but the fact that JOE NICKELL is doing them sort of annoyed me. I personally don’t like his methods. And I also was disappointed that his “Owl” hypothesis was not at least mentioned. Wanted a good laugh at Nickell’s expense. Drat. Gratification denied.
    I also agree that Redfern was wasted in Wisconsin.
    On the whole, I give it 3 out of 5 stars.
    And I’m being generous.

  9. Redrose999 responds:

    Sums up my feelings on the ep in a nutshell.

    As for Joe Nickell, I feel his findings failed on several accounts. For one, he didn’t duplicate the exact nature of the sightings. I mean many of the sightings had Mothman flying alongside of the car, or on it’s hood, on roofs of buildings or on a bridge, not hiding in the brush like the card board cut outs. Let’s take some size estimates that way. I’d like to see what people think size wise, if they witness a creature flying alongside of their car.

  10. Pawnee responds:

    Other than the episode on big snakes in America, MQ never fails to disappoint.
    Everytime they do a night vision segment, we always say, “Oh, here comes the deer!” The real question is, why do they spend half the show detailing dead ends they “investigated”? Was anyone surprised they didn’t find Mothman in a meadow, 44 years after the fact?
    I’m going out on a limb, here, but I’m betting Joe Nickell is not married. What a fun guy he must be, to be around!

  11. coelacanth1938 responds:

    I’m waiting for a MQ/Gangland crossover…

  12. cryptidsrus responds:


    That would not be a bad History promo:

    “Monsters (Pics of Cryptids) against Monsters (Pics of gang folk).”

  13. fuzzy responds:

    Some artists’ recreations of Mothman depict a creature with wings instead of arms, while others show arms with hands PLUS wings sprouting from its back.

    Some show a defined head, while others show only eyes, as if positioned in a headless chest.

    Some describe (and show) a lot of wing-flapping, while others insist that once the being’s wings spread, the creature acted like a fixed-wing aircraft, launching and swooshing along at great speed with nary a beat.

    In 1996, a strange, larger-than-human sized upright biped was encountered running down the middle of Interstate 5 near Cottage Grove, Oregon. Just before the witnesses car would have smashed into the figure, large, batlike wings burst from its back and, with no flapping, it shot straight up into the dark night air, disappearing overhead.

    Winged humanoids are described several times in Fort and other archives, each differing in some way from the others.

    “The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles.
    Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”
    ~ “The Demon Haunted World” ~ Carl Sagan

  14. Nick Redfern responds:

    It’s always difficult predicting how an appearance on a TV show will appear, when you know that (at max) you have about 15 minutes on-screen, and where there has been about 4 days of solid-shooting, day and night.

    One of the things I would have done differently with the WI shoot would have been to focus more upon the WI eye-witnesses, and perhaps have had me and Mark P interview them more, rather than trekking around the hills.

    I think that as there are indeed local legends about the one peak they showed on the episode having legends attached to it of a giant bird-like creature, that it was good to go there and check it out. But, it’s the witnesses that count, and I think that section would have been better with more witnesses (such as us going out to the actual location with the witnesses where the encounters occurred) and less trekking.

  15. GearWater responds:

    I have lived in the La Crosse / Onalaska WI area for 30 years and I’ve never heard a thing about ANY Mothman sightings… so how did MQ hear about it? I’ve gotta hand it to MQ though for making a metropolitan area with a population of 60,000 people look like northern Canadian wilderness.

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