Flatwoods: September 12th

Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 12th, 2006

Flatwoods Monster

It looked worse than Frankenstein. It couldn’t have been human. Kathleen May.

The smell was like oil on hot metal. You know, that greasy, sweet, slippery odor, slightly burnt and perhaps even appealing. But then more and more of it seemed to be saturating the molecules all around. It filled your nose. It permeated your pores. It made you sick to your stomach. It wouldn’t go away. The creepy feeling was close, something beyond the knowing, beyond understanding.

The dog was sick; the boys ran down the hill. In two days, the dog was dead, and no one thereabouts would ever be the same.

It all began innocently enough. The autumn air clued in the kids to what they might want to do that day. How about a friendly pickup game of football, they asked each other? The date was September 12, 1952. The place, Flatwoods, West Virginia.

The above paragraphs are the beginning to Chapter 1, “Flatwoods,” in my 2002 book, Mothman and Other Curious Encounters.

Flatwoods Monster

On that crisp fall day in Flatwoods, Kathleen May (pictured), Eugene Lemon, 17, Neal Nunley, 14, Eddie May, 13, Teddie May, 14, Ronald Shaver, 10, Teddie Neal, 10, Tommy Hyer, 10, and Lemon’s big old dog, climbed to the top of a hill and saw a “monster.”

The huge dark figure with glowing eyes and a head “like the ace of spades” blocked their path. About 12 feet high (4 meters), the figure had a reddish face and seemed to “glide” (as cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson wrote) toward the eyewitnesses, who fled in terror.

Flatwoods Monster

Sanderson traveled to Flatwoods, investigated the case and came back with details not found in media reports. He found the thing was said to be over six feet tall to the monster’s waist, and as opposed to “red” or “orange” eyes as noted in news stories, the witnesses all agreed the eyes’ illumination seemed to be pale blue in color.

As I quote John Keel in my book, “Eugene Lemon did the rational thing. He fainted dead away…Lemon’s dog was stretched out at the foot of the hill, vomiting.”

Grabbing Lemon’s limp body, the group instantly started doing what the dog had done moments earlier. They all turned tail and started running down the hill as fast as they could. Little Tommy Hyer would later tell Ivan T. Sanderson that he crawled under the fence to get away, but that Kathleen May cleared the six foot gate without opening it.

There are many theories for what the thing may have been, and I go into those in my book, from cryptozoological to zoological, from alien to the skeptical. The reason I am interested in the sighting is because too often stories like it get filed too quickly in some folder as “ufological,” are left there forgetfully, and are never re-reviewed to see if there are any cryptozoological elements to them.

Flatwoods Monster

Sanderson went to West Virginia to see if the sighting had any zoological basis, and I thought there’s no reason, on this anniversary date, that you, the readers of Cryptomundo, might not wish to re-visit the essence of this event.

Flatwoods Monster

As illustrated here, souvenirs in recent years have begun to become available in West Virginia that depict the Flatwoods Monster.

The old Bailey Fisher property still exists largely untouched, just as it did back over 50 years ago in the little town of Flatwoods, off the big interstate next to Sutton. You will pass a huge signpost that acknowledges the event today at the town limits, reading: “Flatwoods, Home of the Green Monster.” The hill where Kathleen May and the young men saw the Monster is easy to find behind a used car lot, but respect that this is private land, posted with no trespassing signs. You can see it from a distance, from the public road, through the trees.

Flatwoods Monster

In 2002, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary, Flatwoods had a celebration of the sighting with a local “festival,” but I don’t believe they are having one this year.

Instead, I highly recommend you journey down the road, to Point Pleasant on the weekend of September 16-17, 2006, and attend the 5th Annual Mothman Festival .

Flatwoods Monster

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.


31 Responses to “Flatwoods: September 12th”

  1. tpeter responds:

    Dear Loren,
    I’ve always thought that the drawings of the Flatwoods “Monster” (and the souvenir figurine you’ve pictured above) look very, very much like conventional drawings of a witch!They look like a female figure in a long skirt and a peaked, pointed hat or hood–or perhaps a male figure in a monk’s or Ku Klux Klan costume. Incidentally, as I write this, I just wondered–was there ever any Klan activity in or near Flatwoods? Would anybody know or be able to discover? Also, any possible way of finding out if there ever was some sort of local preoccupation with European or Salem MA type witchcraft? Either the Ku Klux Klan or the witchcraft angle MIGHT perhaps suggest a parapsychological “thought form” or “tulpa” theory of a temporarily materialized mental or archetypal image, for those inclined to “far out” theories! And also, of course, since Flatwoods IS in West Virginia, could there actually have been some direct connection or relationship between the Flatwoods “Monster” and the Point Pleasant “Mothman” of a decade and a half later? Was it the “same creature” or “same entity” visiting the two W.VA. communities 14-15 years apart?
    Just some thoughts!
    T. Peter

  2. fredfacker responds:

    This is a strange story. I can’t believe I’ve never heard it before. Thanks for posting it Loren.

    It’s strange that the dog would get sick and die, but that the people wouldn’t. Perhaps it got closer to they mystery being and was hit with some sort of toxin. Or maybe it ate some fecal material as dogs are known to do. Who knows?

  3. P.S.Anderson responds:

    The Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant is a fun time in a beautiful area.

  4. Dan Spencer responds:

    The picture of the creature floating by the tree took me back too when I was a kid reading about UFOs & monsters at my local public library.

    Does anybody know the story behind that photograph? Like who took/created it?

  5. Loren Coleman responds:

    Oh, fred, the boys got sick too, reportedly.

    The “photo” of the creature near the tree, of course, is a created composition from a newspaper artist of the time.

  6. LordofShades responds:

    Any possibility that it might have been some kind of larval form of Mothman?

  7. oldbutnotstupid responds:

    This story has always been a favorite with me.

    I can’t help but question the oil on hot metal smell. It seems this is more a robotic sort of thing then a living creature. Even the sickness which seems caused by a toxic vapor or something appears artificial.

    As much as I hate to admit it, this may have been a probe from elsewhere and might very well fit in with later mothman events.

    Interesting to think about, after all we send probes first then men, do we not.

  8. greybear responds:

    Hi there,
    Thanks for the interesting post. The sketch and the figures remind me of figures of the Buddha from Nepal & Tibet. As for the poor old dog, toxins behave differently on different animals so the dog may have been more sensitive, the smell may have been from heavy metal oil based toxins.

  9. urrlord responds:

    I always thought that it was either a robot or an alien in a powered suit. The original reports also appeared to show a degradation of the “suit” as if the materials were not holding up in our atmosphere. I kind of felt sorry for whatever it was. I remember that there was a fireball that landed on that hill. But i do not remember if it was part of a ufo “flap”.

  10. Mnynames responds:

    I always thought this one was a tad freakier than most “alien” encounters. If some people see a link between the Greys and Fairies, then it’s not too hard to link this guy to Demons, from a psychological standpoint. The problem with this one was always that it was a seemingly one-off event. Nobody ever saw it again, anywhere. Except…Keel did find another witness to the creature who had a separate encounter that night, and a woman in Joliette, Quebec claims to have seen a similar creature peaking through her window late at night on November 22, 1973.

    And yes, there’s always the Mothman connection…although his eyes were red, right?

  11. Jeremy_Wells responds:

    Other than being in the same state, I don’t really see the connection between this creature and the Mothman.

    Point Pleasant is a river town, Flatwoods is a good days drive away in the mountains, the reported creatures look very different, Mothman was an ongoing “flap” while Flatwoods was one isolated incident.

    Plus, unless I am forgetting something, there were never reports of noxious fumes associated with Mothman.

    Of course, because of the reported “bad smell”, the size, and the possibility that a head with a saggital crest could be described as an ace of spades shape, the first cryptid we all think about would probably be a bigfoot, but this ignores the fact that what first drew the boys to the hilltop was reportedly a light or UFO that they saw. I also believe I rememeber reading somewhere else that one of the officer’s or townspeople who went back to investigate compared the smell to that of mustard gas. While bigfoot reportedly smell very bad, I have yet to hear of one smelling so strongly its odor could kill a dog.

    I think this one stays firmly in the “too weird to explain away (even as a cryptid) file.”

    As for the Mothman Festival, if you are in that area, it is worth checking out just to look at some of the original newspaper clippings from the flap (last time I was there they even had a book for sale that was simply a collections of accounts as recorded at the time the encounters were occuring reproduced exactly as they appeared in the newspapers at the time.)

  12. Sean Kinkade responds:

    Anyone who studies a bit of demonology will learn about a variety of stenches associated with entities from another realm when they manifest on earth. Strong pungent smells have been associated with “demonic infestation” of homes as well as Bigfoot, Springheel Jack, various phantom “gassers”, and other creature reports. I don’t think the paranormal smells themselves should be overly analysed with everyday assumptions about physical chemistry. Thus, an “oil on hot metal” smell may have nothing to do with machinery or robotics. It may just be that demons’ signature smell! (body odor?)
    I find the Flatwoods Monster one of the most disturbing and genuinely creepy reports out there. It’s got that true creepiness to it that Hollywood simply seldom ever “gets” and can put across in a movie. The monster is huge, it doesn’t walk, naturally it levitates instead, it stinks and makes you sick and hysterical, it has claws, no legs, and glowing eyes, yet it wears a dress like your grandmother might wear. THAT’S CREEPY.
    I don’t know what the association is, but I personally witnessed a similar shaped form during a sleep paralysis episode in my bedroom in 2001. Some may consider this merely a dream but experincers of ASP ( awareness during sleep paralysis) know better. I had what is called a false awakening where I am lucid and seeming getting up from my bed in my bedroom. I catch a dark form darting from the corner of my eye moving as fast as a wood spider. I finally zero in on it and it stops moving. Hovering there in front of me is a blacker than black form, shaped like a friar tuck outfit with a pointed hood. The odd thing was, it had glowing BLUE eyes, something I did not read about with the Flatwoods Monster until today. I always thought the Flatwoods Monster had red eyes. Anyway, in this lucid dream state I instinctively attacked this form without even thinking because I felt it was not good and I “ran it off” and then woke up with a cold sweat. I mention this because of the strange hooded black robe which also had no legs and simply floated. It was not nearly as menacing as the FW Monster but it disturbed me. Others have reported so called “shadow people” as black hooded forms as well. Something to consider.

  13. Minos responds:

    Hey, Josh here from Bellingham, WA. Firstly I would like to thank this site for the Blurb on Sam Star, I didn’t know her personally but I happened to be out at Clayton Beach with some friends when the accident occured. As well as just being a very interesting website.

    My thoughts were similar about the KKK/Witch idea. However they also make a good point with the probe idea. Although I should hope any probe from Outer-Space would have a bit more technology then some Automaton that smells and sounds very inefficient. However on the probe idea, I can’t remember where I heard this, I want to say star trek/farscape or the like, but maybe it was a dream.

    The idea is that there is a machine that you can sit inside, and it will project your image anywhere, based loosly on Quantum Entanglement (I can only assume). So we could say for example hop in this machine and it would project your 3D image on the moon, exactly where Neil landed. Also if there were anyone to see you, they would see a holographic representation of you. But nothing physical just a hologram.

  14. Oz responds:

    I think the book(s) Jeremy is referring to are the ones written by Jeff Wamsley (available at Amazon). One of them (I think it’s Mothman: Behind the Red Eyes), in addition to newpaper articles and eyewitness accounts, has facsimilies of Keel’s correspondence with Mary Hyer. I bought and enjoyed both books.

  15. Loren Coleman responds:

    Sorry, Jeremy, but you are sharing incorrect information about the isolated nature of the Flatwoods event.

    As noted in my “Flatwoods” chapter in Mothman and Other Curious Encounters, this September event was not an isolated sighting for Braxton County. Four other people in two incidents also said they saw huge “monsters” that same Sept. 12, 1952 night.

    Then the “Braxton County” monster was seen in December 1960. Other sightings of “monsters” or Bigfoot-like creatures took place in nearby WV locations in 1960 and 1965.

    The Flatwoods Monster must be viewed in context, although, of course, for this anniversary retelling, I merely wanted to put the microscope on Kathleen May’s and the boys’ encounter, due to the fact theirs is the one that has become the “famous” milestone incident.

  16. Sky King responds:

    The Flatwoods Monster and Springheel Jack are among my favorite “paranormal” occurences, though neither precisely fits as a “cryptid”. We crypto-freaks are suckers for a good weird story.

    By the way, do you know where I can get a FM plastic figurine, Loren?

  17. Loren Coleman responds:

    The ceramic figurine is over a foot tall. It was being sold at the Citgo station in Sutton, near the Flatwoods’ townline, in 2001 and 2002. Based on the success of the 50th anniversary celebration, they may be more widely available around there now.

  18. Sky King responds:

    Hmmmm. Thanks, Loren. I’m in NM. Don’t think I’ll be near Sutton anytime soon. Which ones are we talking about, the red and green ones, or the figure in the bottom picture, which is REALLY cool!

  19. Loren Coleman responds:

    The red and green one is the souvenir found in that area.

    The one at the bottom appears to be a one-of-a-kind item, of which I have been unable to obtain any info. Anyone know about it?

  20. Pygar responds:

    Assuming that this story isn’t just an outright hoax, I can’t really see that it fits at all comfortably into a cryptozoological analytical framework. To UFOlogists, however, this “creature” would fit very well into the category of “Flying Humanoids” or “Globos” (the latter being the Spanish name given to these manifestations in Mexico, where they have most often, but not exclusively, been observed). This, in spite of its being relatively grounded (if I remember the original Flatwoods story correctly, it was reported that it hovered above the ground). In fact, if true, this story could well count as the first recorded encounter with a UFH. Luckily for us UFOlogists, we don’t have quite the same problem with paucity of photographic and video evidence as do you cryptos ( 😉 ), and a very amazing (in fact, totally weird) video of a UFH can be downloaded here.

    Note, in particular, the coincidence of the “ace of spades” shaped heads, although I would not suggest that these are likely to be one and the same creature/object, since many types of contemporary UFH have been observed, and the Flatwoods case was over fifty years ago. It is anyone’s guess if these objects are creatures or machines (possibly conveying creatures?).

  21. Batgirl responds:

    The flatwoods monster almost resembles the actual entity that showed up in FATIMA. Has anyone taken a good look at the ‘original’ story of the FATIMA encounters?

    Go to Linda Moulton Howe’s site and see for yourself. The Flatwoods entity and the FATIMA entity resemble each other.

  22. fredfacker responds:

    I sat pondering the Fred May drawing last night trying to keep an open mind to interpretation and not be persuaded by all the other artist renderings of this creature. Paired with the fact that the boys and dog got sick, it made me think more and more of a HazMat suit. Generally there’s a big hood over the head, some of which are quite pointy, and then the face of the wearer is covered with a gas mask of some sort. I couldn’t come up with a vintage 1950s picture of a hazmat suit for comparison, but here’s a couple modern ones:

    Haz Mat suit 1
    Haz Mat suit 2
    Haz Mat suit 3

    I wish I could find a period-correct picture of something from the 1940s or 1950s for better comparison.

    Incidentally, I know that the military was conducting biolgical warfare testing throughout the 1950s in which they released what was thought to be harmless strains of bacteria on populated areas, and then measured the spread of the airborne bacteria to see how effective the spread and infection rate of a biological agent would be. Unlikely infections from this “harmless” bacteria ended up killing more than one person. However, this does not necessarily have anything to do with that as the kids may have simply stumbled upon someone cooking up some other sort of illegal chemical concoction that could have been anything from an herbicide to a pest killer to who knows.

    However, the theory doesn’t address the claims of the creature being 12′ tall or floating. Although if there was chemical fog on the ground (which isn’t described in the story) the fog could have obscured the creature’s legs or a machine on which they were driving.

    However, if it was just a person in a biohazard suit on a cherry picker spraying chemicals on bagworms in his trees, why wouldn’t he have just come forward and said that?

    Anyway, just another line of thinking that might spark something in somebody else.

  23. zetetic23 responds:

    My mom’s family grew up in an adjoining county to this at the time and remember all the press very well. The people involved ended up on the Today show–it was a very big story at the time. My grandmother saw the fireball in the sky as she did the evening dishes. My 14 year old uncle rode his bike from Sutton to Flatwoods the next day, and the closer he got to the town the more the air smelled of strong sulfer, almost overpowering him when he reached the site.

  24. twblack responds:

    I kind of always thought this was in the realm of UFO’s but you never know.

  25. Mnynames responds:

    I like flying humanoids as much as the next guy (probably more), but that Globo video was nothing but a helium balloon of some cartoon character caught on the winds and seen from too far away to determine the pattern.

  26. Pygar responds:

    Mnynames

    As a true sceptic (British spelling) I can’t deny that your suggested explanation of the object in the video is a possibility. However, people of your philosophical stripe (pseudoscepticism) think that if there is a conceivable mundane explanation for a phenomenon then that explanation MUST be true (which actually goes well beyond the mere assumption of probability proscribed by the principle of Occam’s Razor).

    Not only do I reject your certainty, I also question the probability of your helium balloon explanation. To begin with, helium balloons rise into the clouds, not descend from them (this is a law of nature). And, to travel at the observed speed of the object, there would have had to have been quite a gale blowing at the time, and I see no evidence for this in the movement of the clouds or of the branches of the trees behind which the object passes (you have to look at the video frame by frame to check this out), or hear any evidence of strong winds in the soundtrack. There is also the fact that this object seems to change its form as it descends – seeming to “grow” a kind of protective canopy which turns it from looking like a space or diving suit into a flying Humpty Dumpty.

    Anyway, and incidentally, here is a flash video of a rather more sinister looking UFH – a “Mothman”, perhaps?

  27. constantskeptic responds:

    I like the idea of what fredfacker said about it having some sort of suit with a pointed top, but probably unlikely.

    Just another reason to stay out of VA if you don’t like the weird (good thing I love the out of the ordinary, it makes this modern scientific/technologic world less boring). Thanks for the great article

  28. Hillbilly responds:

    First off, I live about 40 minutes from where this happened in W.V. and I can tell you that it is a fact. People here, Especially back then, Would not lie about something like this. Also, I feel that I need to reply to tpeter’s comment:

    “I just wondered–was there ever any Klan activity in or near Flatwoods?”

    I am sure there was. It was a pretty common practice across much of the U.S. at that time.

    “Either the Ku Klux Klan or the witchcraft angle MIGHT perhaps suggest a parapsychological “thought form” or “tulpa” theory of a temporarily materialized mental or archetypal image, for those inclined to “far out” theories!”

    For some reason people in the city, among other places, Think that people in W.V. are stupid inbreds. If you think that well over a hundred people Fabricated a story or saw a klan member and freaked out and thought it was an alien or a witch, Or that all of them were hallucinating, Then I think that you may be experiencing from “Tulpa”! When A West Virginian tells you what they saw, That’s exactly what they saw period. Most of us know every animal here and the ones that stop off here during migration. For people like you that think that there is some kind of stupid factor here, We will always be two steps ahead of people like you! Common sense is in abundance here. Always has been. I read a theory of what happened by a man from the Air Force but I can’t remember his name but he said that There was a dogfight that started over Gulf Breeze, Florida(or somewhere off the coast of florida) between the air force and several large ufo’s on the same date. One of the ufo’s was hit and went north east. He thinks that maybe it was the one that landed in Point Pleasant, W.V. for repairs or was waiting here until help arrived. This is not the first or last time that ufo’s and the men in black have been seen here. Actually, It’s more common than you think! Also, I haven’t been to the Mothman festival yet but would love to go. I don’t see a thing in the world wrong with them having a festival and selling merchandise. Hell, That’s the american way. I can assure you though that it’s not as much about the money as it is about telling the world about what happened here.

  29. Mnynames responds:

    If I may be so bold, I don’t think anyone was insinuating that West Virginians are inherently stupid or inbred (We get that stigma here in the backwoods of South Jersey too), but rather that what was seen and experienced in 1952 had its origins not in the extraterrestrial realm but rather that of the psychic. The people that night saw what they saw, and we can only assume they reported it accurately. But what did they see? Was it an alien, or the physical manifestation of some archetype from the human collective unconscious? I say physical, because although from the descriptions it didn’t really interract with the environment in a substantial way, it did give off a very potent smell, and smells have their origin within the arena of physical phenomena. The dog dying also points towards the physical.

    Personally, I’m not quite convinced of the reality (If that word is even remotely appropriate) of tulpoid manifestations, but I find the possibility very intriguing. Sure would go far in explaining the more bizarre critters out there, like this thing.

  30. Mnynames responds:

    Pygar-

    Seem to have missed your comment until I was responding to Hillbilly above, sorry.

    I’ve never heard myself called a pseudosceptic before. I’m usually the wacko nutjob that thinks there might actually be something to all this stuff, even protrusions onto the physical realm of purely psychogenic entities (Tulpoids and such, which given your statement that Globos are more common in South American countries, may perhaps be relevant here).

    And no, I don’t believe that if there is a conventional explanation that it therefore follows that it must always be conventional (Although I suspect that’d be the way to bet most of the time). I personally think strapping a few red and green blinky lights on a flying saucer so that it looks like an airplane at night (Or black helicopter) would be a great way to camouflage the deadlier cowtipping and horseripping activities being reported.

    As for the Globo footage I commented on, being a regular exhibitor at festivals where balloons and such are commonly released, I have seen my fair share of them. I have seen several that moved as fast as and in exactly the same manner as the Globo in the clip without the need for gale-force winds, which naturally leads me to suspect that that is in fact what it is. To my eyes the scale seems right as well. Add a little anthropomorphic speculation here that were it a flying humanoid, it would have much better control of its seemingly chaotic, wind-tossed flight characteristics, and the case seems very persuasive.

    Ultimately, in the field of the paranormal, or science for that matter, it doesn’t matter what it really is (As sad as perhaps that is to say), but rather what you can prove that it is to a reasonable degree of probability. Could it be a flying humanoid? The probability is there, if slim (Although, not knowing the full facts of the sighting, it’s hard to tell if they would make it more persuasive. They certainly might. All I can go on here for the moment is the footage itself). Can you prove that this is what it is? I don’t believe that you can.

    The second clip you provided a link to is even less impressive, owing to its pixelated, and unfocused condition, although perhaps the original is clearer. From what I can discern, the objects seem quite similar.

    I am quite interested in this topic, and in no way wish to dismiss your beliefs, nor your obvious enthusiasm in this regard, so I apologize if that has appeared the case.

    Do you have any links in English to more information on Globos and such?

  31. Jeremy_Wells responds:

    Hmmmm, I stand corrected. Thanks Loren. (and I’m glad I come back and recheck these things periodically, else I’d have never known of my blunder)




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