I visited Point Pleasant, West Virginia for the second time this past weekend. The first time I was there was, of course, to visit the Mothman Museum and statue. This time I was there for the Mothman Festival, an event that was making its return after a few years’ worth of a covid-related hiatus. (If you’ve never been but plan to go some day, I’d recommend visiting the museum sometime other than during the festival, when the lines to get in and to take selfies with the statue were hundreds deep).
I was not prepared for what a big event it was. It officially started at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning., but by 9:30 parking was difficult and there were sizable crowds and lines outside the museum, for the statue, for the tickets to the hayride and for the local coffee shop; when I left around 2 p.m., it was difficult even walking, as the crowd was literally shoulder-to-shoulder.
The highlight for me were the guest speakers, of which I unfortunately only saw three. When I got up and left my seat to stretch my legs after those first three, I noticed another massive line, this one to get in to see the speakers, apparently there to see Lyle Blackburn. There was no hope of finding a seat again after I abandoned mine then, so I missed Blackburn and Ken Gerhard (whose 2007 book Big Bird!: Modern Sightings of Flying Monsters I read and was one of the sources I consulted for my own Monsters of Ohio). (The complete schedule of speakers is here.)
The first speaker of the day was Mark Muncy, author of a series of book about the paranormal in his home state of Florida—Eerie Florida, Creepy Florida and Freaky Florida—as well as a book I hope to get to soon, Eerie Appalachia (Though he lives in Florida and has made a career of writing about it, Muncy originally hails from Kentucky.)
As the room where the guest speakers were speaking slowly filled up, Muncy bantered with the crowd and talked about some Florida monsters and told the tale of Robert the Doll, a weird, haunted doll that now makes its home at a museum in the Florida Keys.
When his talk began in earnest, he focused on more local monsters, from Kentucky, West Virginia and even Ohio. The first of these is one he called “his” monster, one he actually caught a glimpse of as a child. Named The Bench-Leg of Goeble Ridge, the creature had the head of a human being, though one that was somewhat deformed and glowed, and the body of a large cat or cow. And, as its name implies, it also had a wooden leg. (Muncy wrote more about his encounter, and the legendary origins of the Bench-Leg, here.)
As for Ohio, Muncy discussed The Ohio Grassman, a term he used to refer to Ohio’s Bigfoots in general, rather than a particular Bigfoot from the Akron area, noting that all of the witnesses he has talked to referred to the Grassman as having “rock star hair.” He also mentioned “Old Orange Eyes” in passing, calling him the king of the Ohio Grassmen.
He also mentioned The Loveland Frogmen in passing—literally, “You all know the Loveland Frogmen?”; it was weird for me being in a crowd where monster lore is such common knowledge—to discuss another weird story about Loveland, the Chateau Laroche. Among the ghosts supposedly attached to the castle is a gargoyle-like creature.
Muncy was followed by Zach Bales, author of the 2020 book The Bigfooter’s Altas (as well as The UFO Chaser’s Atlas, The Amateur’s Guide to Ghost Hunting and The Expert’s Guide to Ghost Hunting). An English teacher from Kentucky, Bales spends his summers road-tripping with his wife to investigate the paranormal, from ghosts to Bigfoot, collecting materials for the museum they’re setting up in their hometown, The Nightmare Gallery.
The heart of Bales’ presentation was a rather intense story about his own encounter with Bigfoot, or the Green River Monster, as it’s called in his home state (at the beginning of his presentation, he ran through the various names Bigfoot is known by in various states, beginning with the Grassman in Ohio).
He also discussed trail cameras, one of the more promising tools in the Bigfoot hunter’s arsenal, and why he thinks it is that no one has yet caught a good image of Bigfoot on one. In short, he puts it down to the observer’s effect, and that the act of looking for Bigfoot may alter its behavior in a way that makes it harder to find, and certain aspects of the cameras themselves may frighten wildlife away.
The final talk I saw was that of Nick Redfern, the UK author with a sizable bibliography (Monster Files, The Bigfoot Book and Monsters of The Deep being among those of his I’ve read). The subject was that of flying monsters in the U.K., which included the Cornwall Owlman, a griffin and pteradons, although he also talked a bit about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster and even Slenderman.
His thesis was a criticism of cryptozoology in general, as he disagrees with the notion that crytpids are flesh-and-blood animals yet to be recognized by science—that Bigfoot is merely a huge undiscovered ape making its home in the continental United States, for example—but instead that there is a connection between human beings. In some cases he seems to put the monster appearances down to the work of human magicians, as he noted Aleister Crowley’s house near Loch Ness in connection to an increase in Nessie’s sightings (Redfern has written a book on the Loch Ness Monster, entitled Nessie!: Exploring the Supernatural Origins of the Loch Ness Monster), and others to the principle that people see what they want to see.
Thus people see creatures like the Owlman or Mothman or Slenderman because they are really there, but they are there as tulpas or thought-forms, rather than as yet-to-be-discovered animals.
I hope to return to the festival next year, perhaps as a vendor (I can’t think of any other event within driving distance where one will find thousands of people interested in cryptids like Mothman, who has a chapter of his own in my book).
If I return as a visitor though, I’ll know better than to abandon my seat at any point once the guest speakers start!