Crazy for cryptids: WV monster lore drives tourism, festivals, cottage industries

The cash registers are ringing. Thank you, Mothman.

Who could have foreseen that a large, man-like flying creature with glowing red eyes — supposedly sighted in Point Pleasant in the mid-1960s — would lead, 50-plus years later, to a cottage industry, festival, museum and gift shop dedicated to the Mothman legend?

And it’s not just Mothman that’s enjoying a wave of monster-kitsch popularity. Flatwoods has its Flatwoods Monster, and there are other tales of mysterious, unsubstantiated entities — or “cryptids” — in West Virginia, such as Bigfoot and the Grafton Monster.

Television shows like The Travel Channel’s “Mountain Monsters” have helped to popularize local monster lore and have inspired monster- and paranormal-themed festivals, such as the upcoming Mothman Festival and this weekend’s Flatwoods Monster Fest in Flatwoods.

It’s also inspired enterprising local artisans to put their creativity to work in what has become a pop-culture genre focusing on the unexplained and the offbeat.

The Town of Point Pleasant is preparing for its 18th annual Mothman Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21, and Sunday, Sept. 22. The festival takes place between the 200 and 600 blocks of Main Street.

Jeff Wamsley, owner and curator of the Mothman Museum at 400 Main St. in Point Pleasant, said festival visitors start showing up on the Friday before the event. The Friday, Sept. 20, “Kick Starter” is at 6 p.m. at the downtown State Theater.

The Mothman legend was born in November 1966 when two young couples parked at the old TNT factory grounds north of town saw what they described as a tall, man-like figure with a giant wingspan and glowing red eyes.

New York paranormal investigator and writer John Keel came to Point Pleasant to interview witnesses and wound up writing a book titled “The Mothman Prophecies,” on which a later movie of the same name was based.

Wamsley, a Point Pleasant native, and the late Carolin Harris founded the Mothman Festival in 2003. The movie of “The Mothman Prophecies” had just come out, and Wamsley and Harris thought a festival celebrating the legendary creature would be a good idea.

“We thought maybe we could capitalize on that movie a little bit and get people to come downtown,” Wamsley said.

The first Mothman Festival, without the benefit of any advertising, drew about 400 to 500 people to Main Street. Since then, Wamsley said, the festival has been growing in popularity every year.

“Eighteen years later, they’re still coming, just a lot more,” he said.

A “lot more” means thousands, with many visitors coming to Point Pleasant from other countries.

In addition to the movie, the more recent video game “Fallout 76,” which features Mothman and other state monsters, has boosted the popularity of Mothman.

Additionally, the Travel Channel and History Channel have both aired Mothman documentaries.

“That keeps the interest going,” Wamsley said.

Although the festival’s main focus continues to be Mothman, over the years, the event has become a welcoming venue for guest speakers who talk about other strange happenings in the state, including 1952’s Flatwoods Monster sighting. Bigfoot and UFOs also get their time in the spotlight during the festival.

“The festival attracts people who are interested in paranormal-type stuff and cryptozoology,” Wamsley said.

The free festival also features live bands from the region, food, Miss Mothman beauty contests, a Mothman 5k run and, new this year, a costume contest. There are also bus tours of the old TNT factory grounds, where Mothman was first sighted in 1966.

“And we have all kinds of unique merchandise vendors,” Wamsley said. “People come from all over the country to sell their stuff. People come to the festival from all over the world.”

Mothman money-makers

Wamsley said the Mothman Festival has been great for local businesses in Point Pleasant.

“The hotels, the restaurants, all the local businesses benefit from it,” he said. “Hotels are sold-out for miles and miles around. It brings a lot interest and attention to Point Pleasant.”

The Mothman Museum, which also has a gift shop, stays open year-round and has a steady clientele.

“Our busy months are usually April through August, but we are open year-round and people visit us throughout the year,” he said.

Mothman’s presence can be seen in other Point Pleasant businesses.

For example, at the Village Pizza Inn, about five miles up the road from the Mothman Museum, diners can order the 16-inch Mothman Pizza on which the ingredients, including pepperoni, are arranged in the image of the Mothman.

The restaurant also sells T-shirts that proclaim: “I Ate a Mothman Pizza!”

Employee Sarah Taylor said the Mothman pizza and T-shirts are big sellers.

“With the festival, we really sell a lot of them,” Taylor said. “We’ve had people drive down from Pennsylvania just to get the pizza.”

At the Point Pleasant Trading Company, across the street from the Mothman Museum, shoppers can find a wide assortment of gift items relating to Mothman and other Mountain State monsters.

Brittany Sayre, the 2010 Miss Mothman Festival Queen and 2016 Ms. Mothman Festival Queen, works behind the counter and also sells her handmade Mothman hair bows in the shop.

“I like to say, ‘The original Mothman hair bows,’” Sayre said.

She said the Mothman Festival has put Point Pleasant on the map.

“It’s huge. Thousands upon thousands of people come in to this tiny little part of the town, but it’s so awesome,” Sayre said. “Main Street is on the upswing.”

The Point Pleasant Trading Company carries many cryptid-related items made by local artisans.

“West Virginia has tons of different creepy legends,” she said.

In recent months, Sayre has greeted visitors from Japan, Sweden and other countries who came to Point Pleasant because of Mothman.

“We have a lot of people who come here on their honeymoons — I never expected that,” she said.

Flatwoods Monster Fest

Not to be outdone, officials in the town of Flatwoods in Braxton County have resurrected, after about a 10-year hiatus, the Flatwoods Monster Fest, which is this Friday and Saturday in Flatwoods.

The event coincides with a yearly gaming convention, called Bonus Round, which also ties in with the Flatwoods Monster legend, at the Flatwoods Days Inn.

The Flatwoods Monster Fest includes, among other attractions, a house decorating contest, vendors in the Community Building, music, a Saturday pancake breakfast at Flatwoods Elementary School, a cake decorating contest, a noon parade on Saturday and carnival games at the elementary school.

The Flatwoods Monster, also known as the Braxton County Monster, was sighted by a woman and a group of boys in September 1952 on a ridgetop overlooking Flatwoods.

The witnesses saw a glowing object crash or land on the hilltop, and when they climbed up to investigate, they came face to face with the “monster,” which was described as a tall being hovering over the ground.

Braxton County CVB Executive Director Andrew Smith said the Flatwoods Monster Museum, which is part of the visitors center at 208 Main St. in Sutton, remains a destination for curious tourists, thanks to various travel apps, “Fallout 76” and a new History Channel series titled “Project Bluebook” that highlighted the eerie 1952 event last season.

Smith will be one of the guest speakers at the Mothman Festival, talking about the Flatwoods Monster legend.

“It’s been a rather busy summer, and we like it that way,” Smith said of the museum and visitors center.

“The Flatwoods Monster has continued to prove itself as a great introduction to Braxton County and a great jumping-off point to learning more about the area and what it has to offer,” Smith said.

The Flatwoods Monster Museum does a brisk business in souvenirs.

“Shirts tend to sell most consistently, but enamel pins, postcards and the original Braxton County Monster lanterns sell well, too,” Smith said.

Homemade monsters

Home-based artisans are seeing the value in cultivating weird occurrences such as Mothman and the Flatwoods Monster, by designing and selling T-shirts, pins, stickers, greeting cards, posters and other gift items that reflect the state’s roster of monsters.

Morgantown-based artisan and Etsy entrepreneur Liz Pavlovic started her Etsy online shop, Liz Pavlovic Design, in the fall of 2017, selling her handmade Mothman and Flatwoods Monster gift items.

Pavlovic said she’s always been intrigued by stories of monsters such as the Mothman.

“I’ve always been into monster stories and Halloween, but was especially inspired the first time I went to the Mothman Festival in 2017,” Pavlovic said in an email.

“It was really neat to see so many different, creative takes on Mothman, as well as other cryptids, and things from Mothman cakes to leggings. It inspired me to do some drawings that I put in one of my ’zines that year. Those eventually became the first three cryptid pins — Mothman, Flatwoods Monster and Sheepsquatch — that I designed,” she said.

Sheepsquatch, also known as the “White Thing,” is a woolly haired cryptid that bears a remarkable resemblance to a horned sheep. Unlike Sasquatch (Bigfoot), most Sheepsquatch sightings have been in West Virginia.

In her home workplace, Pavlovic designs enamel pins, stickers, magnets, T-shirts and sweatshirts, greeting cards and postcards, prints and posters.

“I find inspiration in cartoons and graphic novels, reading about cryptids and hearing about them from others, West Virginia folklore in general and everyday experiences,” she said.

Among Pavlovic’s best-selling monster items are the whimsical “Live Laugh Lurk” Mothman sticker and a Cryptid Tandem Bike sticker depicting Mothman and the Flatwoods Monster together on a bicycle.

She has customers from around the country and the world.

“I’ve shipped to The Netherlands, Poland, Denmark and Ireland. It’s really neat seeing how people all over the world seem to enjoy Mothman,” she said.

Another Morgantown-based artisan, Johni-Ann Simms, has The Moody Mothman shop on Etsy, selling enamel Mothman and Flatwoods Monster pins, cards and stickers as well as her popular Mothman plushies.

Simms started The Moody Mothman shop on Etsy about a year ago.

“What started as a small side hustle has really taken off over this past year, and I’m so excited for where it might lead in the future,” Simms said in an email.

Simms grew up in Fairmont, hearing tales of monsters and ghosts in West Virginia.

“The Mothman and Flatwoods Monster held a certain fascination. As a kid, I didn’t have any real idea of just how far Point Pleasant or Flatwoods was from me, but I knew they were in the same state and that was close in my mind. Somehow the proximity makes them more real and special.”

Inspired by the Mothman tale, Simms made a stuffed Mothman figure, or plushie, but made it a cute, huggable Mothman.

“I made one that was cutesy and not so scary. When I shared it on Facebook, people wanted one of their own. One thing led to another and my shop was born. It’s been amazing being able to make things that make people happy. That has been a joy,” Simms said.

Her Mothman plushies are her best-sellers.

“I really like the idea of making monsters cute, friendly and simple,” she said. “I also find it amusing to attach an alliteration characteristic to each monster, i.e., ‘The Moody Mothman,’ ‘The Friendly Flatwoods Monster’ and next up is ‘Bored Bigfoot.’ So that is where I base my designs.”

She designs everything but must outsource production of the pins, cards and stickers, because she doesn’t have the equipment to make them.

“However, I make the patterns for the plushies myself. Then I sew them all myself. When I come home from work, I settle into my Mothman sewing area in my spare room and get to work.”

Kin Ship Goods on Tennessee Avenue in Charleston sells Pavlovic’s items, as well as its own line of Mothman T-shirts, said Dan Davis, who, with his wife, Hillary Harrison, owns the shop.

Kin Ship Goods began selling its “Night Moves” Mothman-themed T-shirts, designed by Davis, last fall, and they have proven to be among the shop’s biggest sellers.

“I print all the T-shirts, and I do all the designs,” Davis said. “I had always wanted to do one, but there’s lots of great artists making them, so I just needed the right through line to decide how to go about it.”

Davis’ Mothman design has paid off. During last year’s holiday shopping season, it was Kin Ship Goods’ No. 1 seller in T-shirts.

Mothman, in its own offbeat way, kind of captures the spirit of West Virginia, Davis said, and that’s why he wanted to design and produce Mothman T-shirts.

“The legend is pretty great, but I think for West Virginia, Mothman is a great representation of all the things that are wild and wonderful about West Virginia. Anything with that rich of a history and folklore behind it is great subject matter.”

And it’s not just West Virginians buying the shirts. Through its website, Kin Ship Goods sells them to customers around the world.

Thanks to 2002’s “The Mothman Prophecies” film which starred Richard Gere, and the “Fallout 76” video game, the legendary flying creature has gained a following worldwide.

“Mothman is universal. I’ve been in Europe before and told people I live in West Virginia, and Mothman gets brought up,” Davis said.

“People driving through who are not from here will buy the Mothman T-shirt; they get really excited about it,” Harrison said.

For more detailed information about the Mothman Festival, visit mothmanfestival.com. For more information about the Flatwoods Monster Fest, visit www.BraxtonWV.org/MonsterFest.

For more detailed information about the Mothman Festival, visit mothmanfestival.com. For more information about the Flatwoods Monster Fest, visit www.BraxtonWV.org/MonsterFest.

Funerals for Thursday, November 14, 2019

Adkins, Patricia - 1 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Breeden, Robert - 1 p.m., Tyler Mountain Funeral Home, Cross Lanes.

Edwards, Charles - Noon, Koontz Funeral Home, Hamlin.

Tapley, Myrna - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

White, Patrick - 8 p.m., Allen Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Whited, Ralph - 11 a.m., John H. Taylor Funeral Home, Spencer.

Williams, Henry - 11 a.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.