Mothman Flag Report by Charlotte Ahlin

Updated: Jul 26, 2019

Please give a brief overview of your research process. 

I started, as we all do, on the internet. The Mothman Wiki is, surprisingly, a solid resource of first hand accounts (mostly police reports and typed up articles from Mothman's active year, many by Mary Hyre). It quickly became clear that the dominant Mothman narrative is collected in John Keel's book, The Mothman Prophecies (adapted into an embarrassing 2002 movie staring Richard Gere). I bought and read the book and hated it. It's a disorganized mess, and John Keel's condescension and sexism is pretty jarring, even for the 60's. He has a lot of interesting ideas, don't get me wrong! I don't think he's a bad person! I've spent a lot of time reading his correspondences, published posthumously online by one of his friends. He clearly befriended Mary and the Scarberrys, and they all seem to think of him fondly. But he never saw Mothman. He puts himself at the dead center of the story, but he's not especially interested in Mothman as a living being, just in Mothman as a potential Omen of Death (or, at least, of weirdness). His take is, at best, biased.

Next I spoke to Ellie Hasken, a folklorist who immediately agreed with me that Keel's take on the story is far from neutral. She pointed me to Mary's writing, and to the Wamsleys, who run the Mothman Museum in Point Pleasant (Jeff Wamsley was a neighbor of Linda's). I contacted Jeff and Ashley Wamsley for their comments, but honestly I got more from Ashley's pre-recorded interview and Jeff's two books on Mothman, one of which includes the only extensive interview with Linda. Between that interview and the one surviving letter from Linda to John Keel, I knew I had the play. I wasn't able to get Linda and Åke Franzén's love letters (which are in a Swedish archive somewhere), but between Linda's interview, Mary's articles, the Wamsleys opinions, Ellie's expertise, and the letters to and from John Keel, I was able to piece together the timeline of events.

What surprised you

I went into this project looking to create some kind of theater piece about cryptozoology at large, and I found myself zeroing in on Mothman pretty quickly! I was surprised to find so much UFO/Men in Black content tied up in the Mothman sightings, especially since the UFO and cryptozoology communities seem to be at odds with each other. But mostly, I was surprised at how much Mothman differs from other cryptids. He's not a rarely glimpsed animal like Bigfoot or a long standing myth like Nessie. His sightings are so consistent, so concentrated into one time and place, so bizarre, that it's hard to brush him off as a weird owl or a prankster in a suit.

What intrigued you

Linda. Linda, Linda. The first time I heard her description of seeing Mothman on her roof, cold and lonely and desperate to communicate, I knew that THAT is what I wanted to write about. I wanted to tell Linda's story. These events radically changed her life, and she never even got a film deal out of it. She ended her marriage, had a baby, lived through a horrific tragedy, fell in love. She saw Mothman the most out of everyone, and she alone was adamant that he wasn't evil, wasn't dangerous, wasn't a death omen. He was just lonely. He didn't belong. I think Linda herself might have understood what it's like to feel lonely and alien.

And, of course, in her interview, she states outright that she is still keeping secrets on Mothman's behalf. Linda passed away a few years ago, but her version of events should not die with her.

What disturbed you

Oh god, the Men in Black. They tried to kidnap Linda and Connie's babies! I freaked myself out writing the script late at night, because eye witness accounts of MIB weirdness are just so convincing.

What is there about this lore that is pleasing? 

I think a lot of people enjoy the idea of slotting Mothman into other disasters, but that doesn't appeal to me. The mystery of it all is certainly intriguing, but I'm much more interested in uncovering Linda's gentle Mothman counter-narrative than in getting to the bottom of what the Men in Black were really up to.

What makes it artistically powerful or persuasive? 

We all know what it's like to be frightened and cold and hated, looking in through a window. We know what it's like to not belong. We know what it's like to feel helpless in the face of faceless government plots. And we (or, at least, most women) know what it's like to not be believed, to have our stories steamrolled by men who have already made up their minds about who and what a monster looks like.

How does the lore function in the lives of the people who possess it?

Mothman is a major source of tourism for the residents of Point Pleasant. But of course, as with all folklore, it's hardly fair to say that it is only possessed by Point Pleasant anymore. The Mothman Festival draws people from all across the world. There are cryptozoology groups still debating the identity of that first dead dog the kids found on the road. There are whole Tumblrs devoted to Mothman as a bisexual icon. I think he lives on as a sort of kitschy mascot for some people, as an emblem of conspiracy and death for others, and as the quintessential lonely, misunderstood, and lovable monster for those who have spent a lot of time feeling alienated themselves.

What needs does it meet in their lives?

Money. Notoriety. A feeling of connection. Intrigue. An explanation for horrifying events that defy explanation. A way to vent Point Pleasant's justifiable anger at the government for poisoning their town. A a strangely relatable figure for weird and lonely kids everywhere.

What does the lore tell us about the values and attitudes of individuals and the groups to which they belong? 

It depends which Mothman you're talking about. Certainly, the whole story is clearly influenced by a West Virginian distrust of big government activity (MIB), and the xenophobia of a small, contained community (the MIB are regularly described as looking and sounding foreign). The whole curse angle betrays a fear/guilt about relations with Native Americans. But the disparity between the two Mothmans, the terrifying demon vs the beloved Tumblr boyfriend, and the gender divide between the two opinions, tells us a lot about who sees an outsider as an imminent threat, and who identifies immediately with the feeling of BEING an outsider. 

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