The Real Story of The Mothman Prophecies
IGN FilmForce talks with cryptozoologist Loren Coleman about the spooky true-life
events that inspired the upcoming Richard Gere film.
by Scott B.
If you've been following news on films to be released in 2002, you have probably
heard about a movie called The Mothman Prophecies
starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney, and directed by Mark Pellington (Arlington
Road). You might even have seen a poster or a trailer for the film, due out January
25, 2002, which comes with the ominous warning "Based on true events."
But what are those true events? And what the heck is a "Mothman,"
anyway? IGN FilmForce recently had the opportunity to talk with Loren Coleman, famed
"cryptozoologist" (literally "the study of unknown animals")
and author of fifteen books, including the upcoming Mothman
and Other Curious Encounters, about the whole Mothman story.
"On November 15, 1966, four individuals – two married couples – were at what
was essentially a lovers lane in Point Pleasant, West Virginia," explains Coleman,
who has been researching so-called "Fortean Phenomena" (from Charles Fort)
since 1960. "These two couples saw two giant red eyes, and it very much scared
them...they didn't know what to make of it."
This, then, was the first reported sighting of the "Mothman," which Coleman
goes on to say "was described as 6-to-7 feet tall with red eyes and no head,
as if the eyes were in the breast area, and with huge wings." The creature "came
toward them. They took off and the creature followed them right up to the city limits
of Point Pleasant." The incident was reported to the local sheriff, who went
to the lovers lane and "searches around, sees a puff of smoke in a nearby area
from possibly this creature taking off and landing again."
While Coleman reports that the account was "ridiculed in the local press,"
something very strange began to happen: "More and more people started seeing
this creature. For the next thirteen months, over 200 individuals had some interaction
with some strange phenomena – and about a hundred of those said they actually saw
And why that bizarre name – Mothman? Apparently, it was the work of "some copyeditor
at the local newspaper. At the time, the "Batman" series
was on TV, so they didn't want to call it 'Batman,' but it did have wings, so the
copyeditor called it 'Mothman.' We have no other information than that – I've been
trying to track that copyeditor down for twenty years."
But the creepy events in Point Pleasant during 1966-67 weren't limited to appearances
of the Mothman. "There were [also] mutilated dogs, UFO sightings, and other
things going on," says Coleman. And that's where John Keel, a longtime friend
of Coleman's and author of the book The Mothman Prophecies, came in.
"About a month after [the initial sightings], John Keel got an assignment to
go there as a news reporter," explains Coleman. "He sort of showed up,
had a very low kind of profile; John was on a contract to write a book about UFOs."
As Keel began to talk to people and gather information, the journalist found himself
getting more deeply involved in the events, to the extent that "There were entities
that communicated with John by phone." Coleman explains that as Keel analyzed
the events, he found Point Pleasant to be "a vortex of phenomena, and couldn't
really tell one from the other. It was a scary situation for John."
Whatever one thinks of the validity of Keel's claims, there's no arguing the horror
of what happened next. Keel had begun to be given "prophecies" by the entities
he was dealing with in Point Pleasant, one in particular that said that "when
President Johnson turned on the Christmas lights at the White House, the whole northeast
was going to go into a blackout." However, by that point, Coleman says that
Keel had "started to get fooled by the phenomena.
"On December 15, John Keel is in his apartment in Manhattan," Coleman continues.
"[Waiting for the blackout] with his bottled water and his batteries, and nothing
happens. About six minutes later, on the TV set across the bottom: 'Bridge collapses
across Ohio River.' And he just freaks out."
Keel "freaked out" because the bridge in question was the Silver Bridge,
which crossed the Ohio River between Gallipolis, Ohio, and – you guessed it – Point
Pleasant, West Virginia. "67 people fell into the river. 46 died. They found
44 bodies," says Coleman. "Several people who died were related to witnesses
The collapse of the Silver Bridge has been seen as the climax of Keel's Mothman experience,
but Coleman is quick to say "I don't think it stopped. What I think is that
it has continued on but people did not report it. It never got to the fever pitch
of, say, a Roswell."
John Keel published his account of these events in 1975 – interestingly, until Coleman's
upcoming book, "Keel's had been the only book. There have been chapters and
mentions, but there's never been a movie or a documentary. Mothman is a case that
has almost been too scary for people to get close to. At the time, everyone knew
about Mothman but it was so bizarre no one could characterize it."
And, apparently, neither does the upcoming film version, of which Coleman has seen
footage as well as consulting with the director. "My understanding is that Mothman
is described and talked about but not seen in the movie," he says. "But
I don't know – it's 95% done and they could always change their mind."
As discussion turns to the movie, a natural question comes up: Does this kind of
exposure help or hurt the work done by Coleman, who considers himself "an investigative
reporter" who "comes into these things very skeptically." After all,
this relatively obscure story is about to become very famous due to the film. Does
Coleman worry that the movie will encourage a rash of "Mothman" sightings
or hoaxes? "I'm a professor of documentary film back in Portland, Maine, and
a lot of my work deals with Behavior Contagion and the media effect, so that's a
very interesting question to me," explains Coleman. "After Close Encounters
of the Third Kind came out, everybody was predicting that we'd have this rush
of fake UFO reports and all of that. It doesn't happen. What happens is that people
get more interested in the subject, dig up old reports, or – if they have seen things
– they talk about it."
For those interested in "Mothman" lore, the film's official
website is up and running, presenting a detailed chronology of the events in
Point Pleasant. Also, Coleman himself maintains the website The
Cryptozoologist, which has information on his own research into the Mothman
and other phenomena.
from the Point Pleasant Chamber of Commerce
Published Jan. 15, 2002