Travel

Hang with Mothman and Paranormals at This East Coast Supernatural Festival

Attend the party or just get into a really great meme.

Contributor/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Contributor/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Contributor/The Washington Post/Getty Images

If you stroll down the quaint Main Street of Point Pleasant, past antique shops and a historic hotel cheerily advertising itself as haunted, and walk onward to the quiet town square, you might be surprised by the statue there. It’s not Washington or any of the pre-Revolutionary War figures that make up the town’s early history. It’s a towering, humanoid monster with red eyes, ripped abs, and, most importantly, enormous wings. This is the Mothman, Point Pleasant’s most famous resident. And this September on the 17th and 18th, around 15,000 people are celebrating him at West Viriginia’s Mothman Festival.

Mothman is a cryptid, a catch-all term for fantastic beasts like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot for which we have no substantial proof but which could, in theory, exist. You may know him from paranormal researcher John Keel’s 1975 account The Mothman Prophecies: A True Story, or, more likely, from that book’s 2002 film adaptation with Richard Gere and Laura Linney.

While he may not have the household name recognition of Nessie, Mothman has amassed a significant following since he first terrified Ohio Valley denizens more than five decades ago. Point Pleasant’s Mothman Museum draws visitors year round, and since its founding 20 years ago, the Mothman Festival has grown from a sparsely-attended gathering into a national sensation. Here’s the real story and explanation behind Mothman, as well as how this paranormal phenomenon became a-well, a national phenomenon.

David Wall/Moment/Getty Images
David Wall/Moment/Getty Images
David Wall/Moment/Getty Images

What’s up with this moth, man

We don’t want to be pedantic, but Mothman doesn’t look like a moth. Since his first Point Pleasant sighting, descriptions of the creature have stayed remarkably consistent: around 7 feet tall with a 10-foot wingspan, piercing red eyes, and a grey body covered in fur or feathers. Witnesses almost invariably compare him to a bird. But early on, a reporter (perhaps a fan of Batman deep cuts) labelled the creature Mothman, and the name has stuck ever since.

The first Mothman sighting was on November 15, 1966 near an abandoned munitions factory just outside town known as the TNT area. Two young couples, the Scarberrys and Manettes, were out for an aimless nighttime drive around a town that had, according to Mothman Prophecies author John Keel, “twenty-two churches and no barrooms.”

Suddenly, their headlights hit a pair of eyes: red, glowing, and “hypnotic,” as one would later describe them. Then the creature stood and took flight right at them. The teens would claim it chased them all the way back into town, matching the speed of the Chevy to over a hundred miles an hour.

In the weeks and months that followed, similar sightings continued across Point Pleasant and the surrounding area. Keel, who spent months in town interviewing witnesses, claimed over a hundred people spotted the Mothman in a span of a little over one year.

Then tragedy struck. On December 15, 1967-13 months exactly, some will point out, after the first Mothman sighting-Point Pleasant’s Silver Bridge collapsed in the midst of Christmas shopping rush hour. Forty six people were killed. Though the cause was later revealed to be a neglected suspension chain, some claimed Mothman was responsible. The Silver Bridge incident mostly put an end to Point Pleasant’s Mothman sightings, which fell off completely and immediately. But that didn’t mean interest died off.

Mothman Festival
Mothman Festival
Mothman Festival

“The Paranormal Convention of the East”

Mothman mania took several decades to really catch on. “Main Street was dead,” says Denny Bellamy, tourism director for Mason County, when describing pre-festival Point Pleasant. The festival’s origins were humble. The first one launched in 2002 to capitalize on buzz from the movie, and according to Bellamy comprised just “[Mothman Museum founder] Jeff Wamsley with two card tables selling his books and someone selling hot dogs across the street.”

But the unveiling of the metal Mothman plus savvy online marketing-since, as Bellamy explains, “Jeff, early on, jumped both feet into the Internet,”-helped expand the festival’s reach. In our current post-nerd moment, where fandoms reign supreme and cosplay and cons are expected content-generators, the festival has become a significant event in the cryptid and wider sci-fi community. Attendees come dressed as the Men in Black, Ghostbusters, and of course, the Mothman himself. “They call us the paranormal convention of the east,” Bellamy says.

The festival has been an economic boon to Point Pleasant. “It’s like Black Friday for us,” says Marqkita Sexton, co-owner of the Counterpoint local artisan shop on Main. “People are elbow to elbow in the store.”

A popular attraction is the Mothman Museum, collecting documented sightings, movie props, and decades of Mothman memorabilia. There are hay rides through town and bus tours to the TNT area where the creature was frequently sighted. The festival also features live music and guest speakers giving talks on ufology, cryptid hunting, and other Mothman-adjacent topics.

Photo by Billy Hallal
Photo by Billy Hallal
Photo by Billy Hallal

So what’s the real story?

Though there have been scattered Mothman appearances since the Silver Bridge incident-in Russia before the 1999 apartment bombings and Chicago in 2017-there has never been such a geographically and chronologically concentrated burst of sightings as there was in Point Pleasant in the ‘60s.

Ideas vary as to the “true” nature of the Mothman. Is he an alien? Maybe. The product of a Native American curse? Who knows. One popular explanation (bolstered by the flawed-but-creepy 2002 film) posits Mothman as a harbinger of doom, manifesting before disasters to either warn humans or troll us. Of course, there are less fun explanations: researchers have made the case that the Mothman is actually a barred owl.

It’s fair to ask why, of the hundreds of monsters and local legends lurking in the US, the Mothman has gained so much popularity. “That bridge has a lot to do with it,” Bellamy speculates. There’s no other cryptid that can claim a link, however tenuous, to real-world loss of life. There’s also his imminent memeability, helped in large part by the statue. Since his initial frightful appearance, he has become a plush toy, an object of thirst, and best of all, the subject of a petition to replace all Confederate statues with-what else?-Mothman.

“I know Mothman is weird,” says Sexton, but she loves him anyway. “He attracts some interesting people… I think [he’s] our own little Mickey Mouse.”

It’s unlikely we’ll ever have definitive answers on Mothman. He may be an ultraterrestrial prophet of doom; he may simply be the product of small-town boredom and creepy owls. He is linked indelibly to tragedy, but like the comic book hero who likely gave him his name, Mothman has transcended his tragic origin story. He is more than a man or a moth. He’s a legend. In the valleys of West Virginia, around disaster sites worldwide and in the hearts of his fans everywhere, Mothman lives.

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Billy Hallal writes nonfiction and fiction. The Mothman movie shaped his understanding of the universe to a probably unhealthy degree.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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