Mothman + 40 + Bighoot = New Debates

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 27th, 2006

November 27 is another milestone in the 40th year anniversary of events related to Mothman.


On November 27,1966, at around 10:30 a.m., Connie Jo Carpenter sighted what she took to be Mothman near New Haven, West Virginia. The creature looked to be a tall gray winged figure, standing on the local golf course. She said the “very red eyes” were “horrible, like something out of a science fiction movie,” but could not give a detailed description of the face of the creature.

Carpenter’s Mothman unfolded its wings, which appeared to be ten feet across, and flew directly at her automobile’s windshield. It then flew off and vanished. Following Carpenter’s sighting, she found her own eyes were red, swollen, and itchy for a half month.

The night of this same day, in St. Albans, West Virginia, thirteen-year-old Sheila Cain and her sister were walking home when they saw Mothman standing by a local road. They said it appeared to be gray & white and seven feet tall, with big red eyes. They grew panicky, let out some screams, and hightailed it home, telling worried adults later that Mothman had flown low over their heads as they ran.

(Source: John A. Keel, FSR, July-August 1968, pp. 8 and 13.)

John Keel

When I first shared information here on the 40th anniversary of the first “media-acknowledged” sightings, Mothman Museum founder John Frick disagreed with me. Here’s equal time for his view:

John Frick writes that it is “not true,” regarding my comment, in my previous posting that during re-interviews in the “21st century (especially since 2002), for books, documentaries, and news clips, the Mothman has become a fully humanized creature with a head, arms, and legs that were not there in the first reports.” He continues:

This from the November 16, 1966 Point Pleasant Register: “It was like a man with wings” Mallette said.”It wasn’t like anything you’d see on tv or in a monster movie”

They said it did not resemble a bat in any way but “maybe what you would visualize as an angel”

From the November 18, 1966 Athens Messenger: The description includes two red eyes about six inches apart, wings with 10 foot span and always manlike with stocky legs.

From a newspaper around November 21: Miss Connie Jo Carpenter, 18, New Haven, saw the awful looking creature flying toward her car on route 33 near New Haven, about 10:30 AM. She said the thing was “man-like, with a big wing span.” (Keep in mind that Connie saw it during the day.)

From the same paper:

Later Sunday night, two young girls reported seeing a similar man-like creature on route 60, near St Albans. The girls said the flying creature had “big red pop eyes and didn’t have a beak.”

So there it is, the man-like appearance of Mothman has been there right from the very beginning. The only point I concede on here is that a full human head has been added in many of the pop culture depicitions (the statue, the flying Mothman seen on tv now hanging in the museum, the T-shirts, etc), but Connie Carpenter did say early on that it had a science fiction like face, so reports of a head were there early on. Yes there was also sightings of a giant bird (less frequently than Mothman and obviously a form of Thunderbird), by Tom Ury and others in WV that year, but nearly every other major phenomena you can think of was also occurring there (bigfoot, UFOs, aliens, MIB, poltergeists, prophecy, etc). One guy I talked to this year saw an 8 foot hairy man like creature (without wings) around 1968 out at TNT, and he assumed it was Mothman, but what he didn’t realize was that this was just the phenomena manifesting as a BHM (big hairy monster), which incidentally consistently fools bigfoot hunters into thinking bigfoot is a real creature on the east coast. Reporter Mary Hyre also had reports of bigfoot around TNT and Point Pleasant in the late ’60s. Anyway, clearly when you look at all the early descriptions of what they call Mothman, it was more man than bird. Unfortunately propaganda by Mark Hall, Robert Goerman, Coleman, and maybe others trying to counter these facts seems to be ongoing. No – Mothman was not a large bird, and it certainly isn’t what Mark Hall refers to as the very laughable Big Hoot.

Of course, for those that have read Mark A. Hall’s book, Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds, he clearly talks about Bighoot (not “Big Hoot”) as a cryptid that uses camouflage to mimic the look of Bigfoot in wooded areas, thus the name, plus its relationship to his giant owl theory. Of course, ridicule is used regarding how funny the name “Bigfoot” sounds too. It usually starts out that way with new monikers.

As far as Linda Scarberry’s first accounts, yes, she talked about it being an angel, a big bird, and “wobbling.” In one description days afterwards, she said it “had muscular legs like a man.” But she also said she could not see “its head or arms. I don’t even know if the eyes are even in a head.”

Decades later, in new interviews in person and on television, Scarberry has described a head above shoulders, arms in addition to wings, and thin legs. I cannot help but think that her changes in descriptions reflect a popular cultural influence of what people began to “think” and “feel” about what Mothman should look like, versus what was originally seen and described.

“Big Bird” was the first way that Mothman reports were characterized.

Couple See Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something blared the Point Pleasant Register on November 16, 1966.

City Get ‘The Bird,’ Want It Or Not stated the headlines of the Point Pleasant Register on November 17, 1966.

Couples Say They Saw 6-Ft. 100-mph ‘Bird’ noted the UPI, in the following days, across the nation, beginning on November 18, 1966.

Our ‘Bird’ Has Law On Its Side claimed the Point Pleasant Register on November 18, 1966.

By mid-December 1966, with John A. Keel in town investigating and Mary Hyre placing paranormal elements in her columns while diminishing the earlier “Big Bird” details, the media began to change their focus. All of a sudden, during this period, a copyeditor in Ohio started using the name “Moth Man” and then “Mothman.” The more bird-like elements of the reports disappeared, and the natural history links morphed into a stranger and weirder entity.

Although I think John Frick has made his point, I still contend a sociological evolution occurred. The earlier more avian elements began to be discharged in favor of a more sinister “man-like” creature. This happened with allusions to science fiction movies and strange lights in the skies, especially cropping up after John A. Keel, for the first time, arrived in Point Pleasant, interestingly, on “Pearl Harbor Day,” Wednesday, December 7th, 1966.

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.

10 Responses to “Mothman + 40 + Bighoot = New Debates”

  1. kittenz responds:

    I think that the description of the Mothman sounds a lot like the description of a Great Horned Owl.

    I remember years and years ago, my dad was coonhunting in Kentucky and he caught a horned owl that was wounded in the wing. Somewhere there is a photo of that huge bird stretched out between my dad and my uncle. It had an almost human-sized head (allowing for the fluffed-out feathers), huge round reddish-orange eyes, and its wings stretched almost all the way across our 12 ft by 12 ft kitchen (one man holding a wing on either side). Its legs looked stocky too, from the fluffy feathers like baggy pajama bottoms. We kept it in the smokehouse and fed it catfood and hamburger until its wing healed and it could be released.

    I think that a surprised person, coming suddenly upon a Great Horned Owl, maybe sitting on a branch with its head close to human-eye level, could remember seeing something very like a Mothman.

  2. Rillo777 responds:

    I agree with Kittenz. When I first starting reading about mothman I thought it sounded like an owl. Then when I saw the picture I couldn’t see how anyone would think anything else. Great Horned owls’ eyes reflect light in shades of red. Barred owls’ eyes are even more reflective and redder. Barred owls are only a little smaller than Great Horned owls. There is a sanctuary near the Mothman sightings area and I have it from someone who has visited the area that owls are “all over the place”. Also owls can and will attack humans to protect their young or sometimes just meanness. I know from personal experience. And finally, a Great Horned Owl appears HUGE-even moreso than its actual size. I think people’s imaginations got away from them and started a sort of “cryptid cult” that serious investigators should not waste time with.

  3. fuzzy responds:

    I’ll accept the possibility that SOME of the Mothman reports were misidentified Great Horned Owls, but to apply that ID to ALL of them means we have to discard the reports stating that the creature rose straight up without flapping, and chased them at nearly 100 MPH, still flapless!

    Also, large, man-(and woman-) shaped, straight-winged, flapless beasties of many types have been reported frequently, including Biblical Angels, the Jersey Devil and, more recently, the smaller Chupacabras.

    Many animals can be unidentifiable under the right/wrong conditions, especially, as pointed out above, with the passage of time and the flexibility of imagination.

  4. mystery_man responds:

    Yeah, the Great Horned Owl theory is a good one and makes a lot of sense, but it cannot possibly explain all of the sightings. Granted, these reports may have been exaggerated but we can’t be absolutely sure of that. People were seeing some very strange things out there at Point Pleasant and I don’t know how an owl could produce some of these accounts. But the earlier descriptions of this thing really do resemble one of these owls. Is it a common animal in those parts? If it was, then why would it cause such fanfare and fear suddenly?

  5. kittenz responds:

    Great Horned Owls are fairly common in the KY-WV-OH tristate area, but they are very seldom seen. They are really a very impressive bird and seeing them in the wild is always an unexpected thrill because of that brilliant, eerie, smoldering stare they have. The old folks call the Great Horned Owls hoot owls and they call the little Screech owls just that: screech owls. There are a lot of local legends and folk tales concerning owls, most having to do with ghosts or death.

    Other large owls do occur here as well, especially barn owls, and the very occasional snowy owl strays in. There are some owls in other parts of the world that are even larger than Great Horned Owls. Possibly one of those could have strayed or been released into the area. I doubt that though.

  6. joppa responds:

    Long ago I stumbled into a Great Horned Owl while walking on a dark path in the Tennessee woods. I was wing-whooped, clawed and chased back to my vehicle. I was convinced that either Bigfoot or Mothman was trying to rip my head off, until I dove into my truck, turned on my headlights and saw that thing flap off across the hood and into the darkness. If I had not seen my attacker that night I would have been a Mothman devotee and stayed out of the woods the rest of my life.

  7. Rillo777 responds:

    Let’s not forget that the main point of fear is to drive us away from a perceived dangerous situation. The mind and the imagination are unbridled when fear takes over and it is very easy to imagine that the focus of the perceived danger is more than it really is. Thus, the mind invents all sorts of things to explain the cause of fear. In this case, an owl becomes a big horrible creature. If the owl was not seen clearly or the fright was too big for the mind to handle then imagination fills in the missing pieces and voila, you have a large creature that becomes, essentially, a monster.

  8. steve responds:

    Having been a voracious Mothman follower since the mid 70’s and having lived my whole life in areas native to the Great Horned Owl, IMHO Mothman seems more than just a common owl. If this were the case, sightings would still be happening. There are just too many things wrong with the owl template to explain something like this. But as a theory, I am personally comfortable with it as much as any. But what bothers me most is the propensity of those interested in the subject to get so violent in arguements as to what it actually is or isn’t. There is a place for the pragmatist and the romantic both. But above all, if we can’t say for sure what Mothman is, how can we possibly say what it isn’t? Reminds me of the old saying: “The mind is like a parachute, it only works when it’s open.”

  9. joppa responds:

    It seems that the issue of debate with mothman is whether the “creature” is a cryptid of flesh and blood or some sort of paranormal “entity”. If you land on the cryptid side of the debate, then large owls and big birds of some sort get consideration.

    If you land on the other side and mothman is “not of this world” then mothman is whatever your imagination can conjure. At this end all rational scientific inquiry ends and the matter becomes one of theological speculation and unanswerable mystery.

  10. daledrinnon responds:

    My opinion is that it has especially the flight profile, stance on the ground, and bluffing posture characteristic of an owl. (this last is the typical raised-wings and-ducked-head shown in some witness drawings. This incidentally did produce the desired effect of making its enemies think it was larger than it actually was)

    But Kittenz’s description of a Great horned owl filling a 12X12 kitchen would be as much an unknown animal as Bighoot (which may have been the “WooWoo” creature heard on the wing by Ivan Sanderson in New Jersey on one occasion, but not seen). As to its biological identity–we can probably be fairly sure it was SOME kind of an owl going on all that–but we cannot say more until we know more about its markings and coloration. It does NOT appear to be a “Horned” owl but a very large round-headed owl of some type. The coloration of gray and white is probably significant. The size of the eyes is sometimes exaggerated in reports, but the red eyeglow is quite significant indeed.

    And along with disputing the descriptions of its imagined manlike arms and other details added on, I would also dispute the given height estimates. A recent posting on Chad Arment’s blog quoted a ranger to the effect that “When we get these reports, we always cut the reported dimensions in half.” I find no problem with the idea it might be 3 and 1/2 to 4 feet tall rather than the reports of 7 feet tall or more: people often judge cryptids to be “man-sized” at a distance and thus exaggerate somewhat. A wingspan of ten feet I would put at an approximately-estimated maximum value, the average size being something well below that. I hypothesize that it is about the size of a big eagle, but not usually much bigger. And it would not be a usual resident of West Virginia, whatever it was: it was something out-of-place there when it was noticed.

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