The Silver Bridge: How Many Died?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 2nd, 2006

Mothman mysteriously appeared and for 13 months was seen in a Banshee-like wave of sightings. Then the Silver Bridge fell. Maybe there’s a connection, maybe there isn’t. With all due respect, do you know how many died in that tragedy? Why have my buddies at the Fortean Times forgotten to fact-check this significant detail before publishing a Letter to the Editor about it?


Bill Rebsamen’s image of the Mothman created for the cover of my book on the subject.

In the new issue of the Fortean Times, # 214, for October 2006, on page 71, in a letter entitled “Silver Bridge,” a male correspondent writes in with a story about how he recorded the BBC1 transmission of the movie The Mothman Prophecies. He had a videotape recorder that apparently marks up to a total of 38 chapter points on the recording.

Mothman Prophecies

Richard Gere and Laura Linney appear in a scene from The Mothman Prophecies.

The letter writer mentions he began to have stuttering and freezing of the video toward the final moments of the movie. He writes that the tape became faulty “…eventually freezing up altogether and becoming unwatchable. The chapter point? Chapter 36 – the same number as the people who died in the Silver Bridge tragedy at Point Pleasant. Weird hud?”

Well, actually not. Hey, not surprisingly, the movie was highly fictionalized. In reality there were 46 victims of the Silver Bridge collapse on December 15, 1967. Two of the reasons that the Mark Pellington-directed movie The Mothman Prophecies used 36 for the total number of dead were (1) the director and writers felt 46 was too large a number and no one would believe it, and (2) “36” was the number of Pellington’s father’s football jersey.

Ironically, my article “The Mothman Death Curse” appeared in the August 2004 issue of Fortean Times and recorded the total number as 46 for those who died from the bridge accident. It also lists examples of the others linked to the Mothman events who have experienced mysterious deaths in other circumstances. Also, of course, the total victim death count of 46 for the Silver Bridge collapse is a fairly well-known factoid among Forteans, Mothman students, and some The Mothman Prophecies fans.


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.

12 Responses to “The Silver Bridge: How Many Died?”

  1. twblack responds:

    What is the “official” version from the state and town on why this bridge collapsed?? I guess I have just never heard anything from that point of view or I have and did not pay any attention to it. As far as there being a connection to the M-Man. If there is or is not you still just have to say something was going on in that town that could not be explained.

  2. mrbf2006 responds:

    I have this movie on disc, and it is one creepy movie. Nothing creepy has happened to me since watching it (although I did cut myself shortly after watching it). That seems to be a pattern of this movie-watch it, cut yourself.

    I wrote a review of the movie at this address.

    (I didn’t actually see the movie till a little over a month ago; late bloomer). Hope you all enjoy the review.

  3. mystery_man responds:

    I am a big fan of the Mothman phenomenon. But it is another creature, like the Chupacabras, that just seems to be a spectre, loaded with hints of the supernatural. I often find myself wondering whether it is truly a subject for cryptozoology or not as it seems to be so supernatural in nature. Some interesting stuff definately went on in Point Pleasant, but the whole story drips with the paranormal and supernatural, and I find it hard to classify the Mothman into any type of feasible biological entity. Very interesting and creepy stuff, but another one that I think lurks on the fringes of known reality, in the realm of ghosts and goblins, especially if there was some sort of connection between the bridge and the sightings. That would certainly propel this into the realm of the goblin universe.

  4. Brindle responds:

    I bought the DVD just to see the feature documentary that had Loren and John Keel in it. The movie was OK but only vaguely resembled the real event according to John Keel’s book. The documentary was GREAT.

  5. Sky King responds:

    If I can weigh in on what mystery_man said, I’d say leave ’em in cryptozoology where they are, because there are no other known organizations at present that are level-headed enough to deal with them.

    Mothman in particular seems to be of what he properly calls the “goblin universe”, which isn’t meant to disparage Mothman, which was indeed more of an ongoing paranormal event (of spectacular proportions, I might add!).

    Chupacabras, I feel, is a flesh-and-blood cryptoid, possibly a manufactured, experimental one.

  6. Observer responds:

    The official conclusion on the cause of the Silver Brige collapse: “The Christmas rush applied an extra load to the 39 year old bridge causing a cleavage fracture in one of the “eyebars”. This was followed by a ductile fracture near the pin. Unable to support the weight of the entire bridge, the south side chain also snapped. The structure only took about 1 minute to completely fall into the river below. An investigation, led by John Bennett, immediately followed the collapse of the Silver Bridge. The bridge was constructed of carbon steel, which tends to crack. Many cracks were found throughout the bridge among extensive corrosion. The failure resulted from stress corrosion and corrosion fatigue, two concepts which were not known in 1927.(1) It was also found that the flaw could not have been detected, even by today’s methods, unless the bridge was taken apart and tested.”

    The Mothman movie is a collage of many strange happenings in the Ohio Valley during that period. The movie reference to Indrid Cold is taken from an encounter with a UFO by Woodrow Derenberger, in Nov. 1966, some 50 miles north of Pt. Pleasant on I-77. This encounter was triangulated by other witnesses reporting sightings at the the same place and time. Here’s something I found in a search: “West Virginian Woodrow Derenberger tells of being stopped on Interstate Highway 77 by a flying saucer whose occupant reassured him that his country was “not nearly as powerful as yours.”

    Woodrow Derenberger is a salesman working in Parkersburg, W.V. He lives in the nearby town of Mineral Wells, is the father of two small children, and attends church regularly.

    Derenberger is one of those who firmly believes he saw a flying saucer and that he spoke with one of its occupants. He says it occurred on Nov. 2, 1966, about 7 p.m. when he was driving to Parkersburg on Interstate 77 from Marietta, Ohio.

    A “dark, charcoal grey object apparently made of some kind of metal and shaped something like an old kerosene lamp globe, having a flat bottom and a dome light top” came along-side his panel truck traveling at about the same speed. Then it stopped on the highway in front of him and he halted.

    A man stepped out. he says, approached his car and told him to roll down the window. They talked for five or 10 minutes. The man was wearing “a short topcoat with trousers visible below and a shirt buttoned at the neck.” His clothing was “blue and quite shiny, having a glistening effect.”

    “Have no fear, we come from a country that is not nearly as powerful as yours,” the stranger said,” We mean you no harm.”

    Derenberger said the saucer occupant communicated with him through “thought waves or mental telepathy.” His lips were closed and he smiled constantly. He was described as six feet tall, 35 to 40 years old, 185 pounds and of dark complexion. The man asked what the lights were in the distance and Derenberger told him it was the city of Parkersburg. The man said a similar place in his country was called a “gathering.”

    Before parting, the man told Derenberger he would contact him again and suggested he notify the local authorities. The saucer, which Derenberger says had been hovering nearby, then returned to the ground and another occupant reached out the door to help his companion aboard.

    “The door closed, sounding much like a car door.” Derenberger says. Then the saucer took off at tremendous speed.

    Derenberger says he was shaken. When he got home he telephoned the Parkersburg police and told them his story. A representative of the Air Force local recruiting station also talked with him. One officer said it was apparent Derenberger “had some sort of experience.””

    As I said, there were many strange things that happened around here during those years, sightings of UFOs and other phenomena, the Kecksburg, Pa. incident, … simply burning a brush pile would get you a visit from military aircraft.

  7. twblack responds:

    Thanks Observer

  8. The_Yardstick responds:

    If anyone hasn’t read The Mothman Prophecies book, I suggest you do–the movie’s great FICTION, but the book is veeery interesting truth. (Although the only place I found a copy was Jamaica…) BTW, this documentary you’re talking about, with Loren and John Keel…I can’t find it on my DVD. Is there a special edition?

  9. Loren Coleman responds:

    Yardstick writes that he/she cannot find the DVD. I am assuming that this person did not click the hyperlinked words “The Mothman Prophecies” noted in my blog. Each one is connected to the Amazon listing of the Special Edition DVD so people could read more about the movie.


  10. The_Yardstick responds:

    Ah. Thank you, Mr. Coleman. 😀

  11. JeremyWells responds:

    Give folks a pattern to look for, and they’ll find it, even if it isn’t legitimate… YAY synchronicity!

  12. skytrainzastron responds:

    I was on the Ohio side approach,on the bridge far enough to see the eyebolts in 1964,preceeding the 1967 collapse.I,along with every driver on the bridge,was braking to a stop,as the red light on the West Virginia side came on.I was driving a 1956 Olsmobile,a vintage with power brakes from a time when there was less sensitivity,and no form of spongy feel due to the type of vacuum assist then used.I thought my brakes were suddenly failing.i had come about 400 miles from northern Indiana by at that point.We went on to Beckley,West Virginia,and later,back to Crown Point,Indiana.I thought about that “seeming” spongy brake feel,and finally decided that what it was is that the bridge may have rocked in the linear about 6 inches,then back.It was later summer and the bridge was loaded from end to end then,about half large trucks and semi’s,the rest cars.,both lanes,one way east.In that half mile I would guess maybe nearly a thousand tons of vehicles came to a gradual,synchronized stop.(ten 80,000 semi’s alone would be 400 tons)Crypt synchronicity is another thing,if you tke it by level’s and forms,so the stopping was one element of a whole,which could be better called simultaneous,if you wish. By another term definition,luck,as much as may be alloted.

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