Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mothman-- West Virginia

Next to Bigfoot, the Mothman that terrorized Point Pleasant, West Virginia from 1965 to 67 is probably one of the most iconic American cryptids.  Initial sightings followed the typical "boogeyman" mold: a bizarre monster appears in the road suddenly to terrify motorists or chase horny teenagers in a local make-out spot and old munitions dump known as the TNT Area.
The Mothman is described as a gray,  sometimes brown, biped with  enormous wings and two red glowing eyes.  Some descriptions said that the beast didn't even have a head, and that its eyes sprouted directly out of its torso. Though the creature did not closely resemble a moth, its name was coined in reference to the Adam West Batman TV series, which was extremely popular at the time.

The numerous sightings gradually attracted more and more media attention, bringing tourists to the town, hoping to catch a glimpse of the monster. Eventually paranormal investigator John Keel arrived to study the being.  The results of his investigation became the book The Mothman Prophecies-- the basis for the 2002 Richard Gere film.  According to Keel's book, the Mothman's hauntings were accompanied by a plague of paranormal phenomena, including disembodied voices, poltergeists, visits from Men in Black (the actual, historical mysterious beings upon whom the movies were based) and encounters with an otherworldly being called Indrid Cold who seemed human, but always bore an enormous, unnerving grin.

Sightings of the Mothman came to an abrupt end near the end of 1967.  In December of that year, the Silver Bridge spanning the Ohio River near Point Pleasant collapsed, killling 46 people.  As time went on, many began to connect the Mothman to the disaster.  Did the creature somehow cause it?  Or, as Keel and others have speculated, was it perhaps a harbinger of the coming tragedy?  A being drawn to the impending fear and death? Or maybe it was even trying to warn the locals about  what was coming?

So what was the Mothman, exactly?  Some think it was an extraterrestrial, or even extradimensional being.  A creature living outside time and space.   

On the mundane side, it's possible that the creature was just an owl or other bird, which was turned into a "monster" by poor light conditions and mass hysteria.  The hypothesis I like best is that the Mothman was actually a misidentified Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis).  These birds are huge-- nearly as tall as a human being-- with an enormous wingspan.  Seen at night by someone unfamiliar with, or not expectin it,  it isn't difficult to see how one of those birds could be "transformed" into a red-eyed winged monster.

Regardless of what it was, mundane or supernatural,  the Mothman has become a cultural phenomenon, turning up in cartoons, comics, video games, etc.  Point Pleasant itself has erected a statue of  the creature, and even boasts a small museum. 

Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, WV


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sinkhole Sam-- Kansas

Although Kansas is primarily known for its agricultural lands and prairies, a corridor of lakes and wetlands once ran through the state-- all across the Midwest, actually-- providing an important stop-over point for migrating birds.

Over the years land development drained these wetlands to the point that today the corridor is just a few small scattered ponds, potholes and playas.  The largest remnant body of water is Lake Inman, in the center of the state. Though the lake is tiny-- only about a quarter mile surface area-- it is said to house its very own monster, Sinkhole Sam.

 Sam is described as a 15 foot long, serpentine creature as round and wide as a car tire. The beast was first sighted by two unknown fisherman who reportedly took shots at it (as people tend to do when sighting a creature potentially new to science, apparently), but failed to kill it. Word of the lake creature spread, bringing in lots of tourist traffic to the small town of Inman. Like other aquatic monsters, of course, Sam failed to make any major appearances, so interest soon dried up.

According to sources, Sinkhole Sam is/was a creature called a "foopengerkle", though exactly what  that is is never explained. As to how Sam got into such a small land-locked lake, some speculate that it was a prehistoric creature that inhabited a cavern at the bottom of the lake and only came to the surface as the wetlands were drained.

For my interpretation of Sinkhole Sam, I imagined it as a gigantic caecilian-- a snake or worm-like amphibian (order Gymnophiona). Caecilians are mostly found in warmer parts of South and Central America, Africa and South Asia. Although most are burrowers, those in the order Typhlonectidae are aquatic. If Sam is one of these animals, or more likely a colony of them, it could survive the winter months in deep hibernation buried in the mud at the bottom of the lake as frogs and salamanders do.

Most caecilians eat small, subterranean prey such as earthworms, springtails and other invertebrates.  But a large aquatic species like the 15 foot long foopengerkle would likely subsist on the huge colonies of birds that stop off at this important watering hole during their migration.  When the lake was part of an extensive wetland system, the foopengerkles may have been abundant-- perhaps playing an important role in the food chain similar to otters or alligators.  As the waters have been drained away, the population must have plummeted until  now when only a tiny remnant colony remains in Lake Inman. If they have not already gone extinct.


Prairie: A Natural History by Candace Savage