POINT PLEASANT — At Saturday’s Mothman Festival costume contest, Payton Finley faced down Juillyette Huth, Payton’s sole rival in the 10-and-younger “cutest” category.
Both girls, both dressed as Mothman, stood before hundreds seated in the amphitheater along the Ohio River.
“Why do you like the Mothman?” pageant director Delyssa Edwards asked Payton, the hometown contender.
“Because he’s scary, and I like scary,” Payton said.
Cheers ensued. The crowd liked scary, too.
But why did Juillyette, the challenger all the way from Kansas City, Missouri, like the legendary West Virginia creature?
“Because he’s cute,” the six-and-a-half year old said. The crowd laughed.
Saturday’s festival was simultaneously scary and cute.
The local pastor of Bellemead United Methodist Church sold a “Mothman Apple Butter” as a fundraiser. It tasted like cinnamon.
Crowds stuffed parts of Point Pleasant’s Main Street for the festival, which continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
The line into the town’s Mothman Museum, on the corner of Main and Fourth streets, stretched from the museum doors all the way across Fourth. That line was intersected by another line of people who were waiting to take their picture with the town’s silvery Mothman statue.
The festival was a concoction of the culture around cryptids, those existentially dubious critters like Mothman and Bigfoot; paranormal activities, regarding UFOs and Men in Black and so on; and horror films, with vendors selling T-shirts for Stephen King’s “The Shining” and portraits of the fear-feasting clown from “It.”
Gamer culture, with its Final Fantasy, Pokemon and Legend of Zelda merchandise on sale, has also entered the fray.
This year’s festival was the first since video game studio Bethesda officially launched “Fallout 76,” an online role-playing game set in a post-apocalyptic West Virginia, complete with Mothmen and other West Virginia cryptids: the Flatwoods Monster and the Grafton Monster.
Some visitors dressed as Vault Dwellers, the human protagonists who — in “Fallout” games — emerge from nuclear fallout shelters to explore whatever slice of the radiated world Bethesda has chosen to recreate.
In the costume contest’s adult “character” division, a Vault Dweller wielding a sledgehammer competed against characters of much older cultural vintage: Jason Voorhees, the hockey-masked killer from the “Friday the 13th” movies; Ash, the wisecracking hero with the chainsaw arm and “boomstick” shotgun from the “Evil Dead” series; and, of course, another Mothman.
“Next year, we’ll have a Mothman division, for sure,” Edwards, the pageant director, said. “Just for Mothman.”
The festival started in 2002. Edwards said the costume contest is new this year.
Edwards said she hopes to advertise it more for next time, pointing out a truth: There were many costumed attendees Saturday who weren’t among the 34 to compete.
“I’m like, ‘Why didn’t you do the contest?’ They’re like, ‘We didn’t know about it!’” Edwards said.
The Mothman who faced Jason, Ash, the Vault Dweller and somebody in military garb was the appropriately named Max Glidewell, who came with her husband, Mike, from Louisville, Kentucky.
Max said she covered her torso with fuzzy vests, replaced a wolf mask’s ears with antenna and attached eyes to make a moth head mask, made foam moth hands, and donned red contacts to match Mothman’s alleged appearance.
“Last year, there was a moth meme going around, and so, as a joke, I was like, ‘I’m going to dress up as a moth,’ so I Goodwilled it,” Max said. “No costume is complete without contacts, you’ve gotta go big or go home.”
The moth internet meme was strange, even by internet standards. Fundamentally, it was about moths loving lamps. Just Google it.
“She wanted me to dress up as a lamp,” Mike, her husband, said.
He didn’t. He did not go big.
For Mothman, cryptid and paranormal activity enthusiasts to access the more “serious” offerings, they had to go off the beaten path of food trucks and merchandise vendors and the 30-foot-high Stay Puft Marshmallow Man that the West Virginia “Ghostbusters” Division inflated over Main Street.
Inside the State Theater, an author spoke about John Keel. In 1975, Keel published the “The Mothman Prophecies,” which popularized the myth.
As people bustled along Main Street, a woman sat at a picnic table behind a festival information booth. Save for one man she was speaking with, a man who claimed to have seen a sasquatch, she was alone.
The brown wooden table was bare, save for a small piece of white paper laying in front of the woman. It said: “Faye Dewitt, Mothman Witness 1966.”
While the two didn’t call Mothman or sasquatch cute, they said they doubted the creatures were out to harm them. Dewitt said Mothman landed on her car, and it seemed as curious of humans as Dewitt was of it.
“I don’t feel like it would’ve done anything,” she said, “because it had a chance to.”