West Virginia, 1966. For thirteen months the town of Point Pleasant is gripped by a real-life nightmare that culminates in a strategy that makes headlines around the world. Strange occurrences and sightings, including a bizarre winged apparition that becomes known as the Mothman, trouble this ordinary American community. Mysterious lights are seen moving across the sky. Domestic animals are found slaughtered and mutilated. And journalist John Keel, arriving to investigate the freakish events, soon finds himself an integral part of an eerie and unfathomable mystery....
Release date: February 18, 2002
Publisher: Tor Books
Print pages: 285
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The Mothman Prophecies: A True Story
John A. Keel
Beelzebub Visits West Virginia
Fingers of lightning tore holes in the black skies as an angry cloudburst drenched the surrealistic landscape. It was 3 A.M. on a cold, wet morning in late November 1967, and the little houses scattered along the dirt road winding through the hills of West Virginia were all dark. Some seemed unoccupied and in the final stages of decay. Others were unpainted, neglected, forlorn. The whole setting was like the opening scene of a Grade B horror film from the 1930s.
Along the road there came a stranger in a land where strangers were rare and suspect. He walked up to the door of a crumbling farmhouse and hammered. After a long moment a light blinked on somewhere in the house and a young woman appeared, drawing a cheap mail-order bathrobe tightly about her. She opened the door a crack and her sleep-swollen face winced with fear as she stared at the apparition on her doorstep. He was over six feet tall and dressed entirely in black. He wore a black suit, black tie, black hat, and black overcoat, with impractical black dress shoes covered with mud. His face, barely visible in the darkness, sported a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee. The flashes of lightning behind him added an eerie effect.
“May I use your phone?” He asked in a deep baritone, his voice lacking the familiar West Virginia accent. The girl gulped silently and backed away.
“My husband…” She mumbled. “Talk to my husband.”
She closed the door quickly and backed away into the darkness. Minutes passed. Then she returned accompanied by a rugged young man hastily buckling his trousers in place. He, too, turned pale at the sight of the stranger.
“We ain’t got a phone here,” he grunted through the crack in the door just before he slammed it. The couple retreated murmuring to themselves and the tall stranger faded into the night.
Beards were a very rare sight in West Virginia in 1967. Men in formal suits and ties were even rarer in those back hills of the Ohio valley. And bearded, black-garbed strangers on foot in the rain had never been seen there before.
In the days that followed the young couple told their friends about the apparition. Obviously, they concluded, he had been a fearful omen of some sort. Perhaps he had been the devil himself!
Three weeks later these two people were dead, among the victims of the worst tragedy ever to strike that section of West Virginia. They were driving across the Silver Bridge, which spanned the Ohio River, when it suddenly collapsed.
Their friends remembered. They remembered the story of the bearded stranger in the night. It had, indeed, been a sinister omen. One that confirmed their religious beliefs and superstitions. So a new legend was born. Beelzebub had visited West Virginia on the eve of a terrible tragedy.
Being a dedicated nonconformist is not easy these days. I grew my beard in 1966 while loafing for a week on the farm of my friend, zoologist Ivan T. Sanderson. I kept it until 1968 when hair became popular and half the young men in America suddenly began burying their identities in a great sea of facial hair. In those more innocent days only artists, writers, and college professors could get away with beards. People even seemed to expect it of us. Perhaps if crew cuts ever come back and beards disappear I will regrow my own. But today it would be sprinkled with gray. Too much gray, probably. Likewise, long hair was once the symbol of the superintellectual, the property of concert violinists and Einstein-type mathematicians—the ultimate squares, really.
I would prefer to believe that I did not look like the devil in my late beard. I certainly had no intention of launching new legends when my car ran off the road in West Virginia that November and I plodded from house to house searching for a telephone so I could call a tow truck. I had just come up from Atlanta, Georgia, where I had delivered a speech to a local UFO club. West Virginia was almost a second home to me in those days. I had visited the state five times, investigating a long series of very strange events, and had many friends there. One of them, Mrs. Mary Hyre, the star reporter of the Athens, Ohio, Messenger,was with me that night. We had been out talking to UFO witnesses, and earlier that evening we ourselves had watched a very strange light in the sky. Since there was a heavy, low cloud layer it could not have been a star. It maneuvered over the hills, its brilliant glow very familiar to both of us for we both had seen many such lights in the Ohio valley that year.
Mrs. Hyre waited in the car while I trudged through the mud and rain. We had been trying to climb a slippery hill to a spot where we had seen many unusual things in the past. I found that the telephones in the houses closest to our location were not working, apparently knocked out by the storm. So I had to keep walking until I finally found a house with a working phone. The owner refused to open his door so we shouted back and forth. I gave him a phone number to call. He obliged and went back to bed. I never knew what he looked like.
My point, of course, is that Beelzebub was not wandering along the back roads of West Virginia that night. It was just a very tired John Keel busy catching a whale of a cold. But from the view of the people who lived on that road, something very unusual had happened. They had never before been roused in the middle of the night by a tall bearded stranger in black. They knew nothing about me or the reasons for my presence so they were forced to speculate. Even speculation was difficult. They could only place me in the frame of reference they knew best—the religious. Bearded men in city dress simply did not turn up on isolated back roads in the middle of the night. In fact, they didn’t even turn up on the main streets of Ohio valley towns in broad daylight! So a perfectly normal event (normal, that is, to me) was placed in an entirely different context by the witnesses. The final proof of my supernatural origin came three weeks later when two of the people I had awakened were killed in the bridge tragedy. Some future investigator of the paranormal may wander into those hills someday, talk with these people, and write a whole chapter of a learned book on demonology repeating this piece of folklore. Other scholars will pick up and repeat his story in their books and articles. The presence of the devil in West Virginia in November 1967 will become a historical fact, backed by the testimony of several witnesses.
Those of us who somewhat sheepishly spend our time chasing dinosaurs, sea serpents, and little green men in space suits are painfully aware that things often are not what they seem; that sincere eyewitnesses can—and do—grossly misinterpret what they have seen; that many extraordinary events can have disappointingly mundane explanations. For every report I have published in my articles and books, I have shelved maybe fifty others because they had a possible explanation, or because I detected problematical details in the witness’s story, which cast doubt on the validity of a paranormal explanation. On the other hand, I have come across many events which seemed perfectly normal in one context but which were actually most unusual when compared with similar events. That is, some apparent coincidences cease to be coincidental when you realize they have been repeated again and again in many parts of the world. Collect enough of these coincidences together and you have a whole tapestry of the paranormal.
As we progress, you will see that many seemingly straight-forward accounts of monster sightings and UFO landings can be explained by irritatingly complex medical and psychological theories. In some cases, the theories will seem more unbelievable than the original events. Please bear in mind that the summaries published here are backed by years of study and experience. I am no longer particularly interested in the manifestations of the phenomenon. I am pursuing the source of the phenomenon itself. To do this, I have objectively divorced myself from all the popular frames of reference. I am not concerned with beliefs but with the cosmic mechanism which has generated and perpetuated those beliefs.
There is an old house on a tree-lined street in New York’s Greenwich Village which harbors a strange ghost. Hans Holzer and other ghost-chasers have included the house in their catalogs of haunted places. The phantom has been seen by several people in recent years. It is dressed in a long black cape and wears a wide-brimmed slouch hat pulled down over its eyes as it slinks from room to room. Self-styled parapsychologists have woven all kinds of fantasies around this apparition. Obviously a spy from the revolutionary war was caught and killed in the old house.
But wait. This ghost may not be a member of the restless dead at all. There were never any reports of hauntings there until about twenty years ago, after the house was vacated by a writer named Walter Gibson. He was, and is, an extraordinarily prolific author. For many years he churned out a full-length novel each month, and many of those novels were written in the house in Greenwich Village. All of them were centered around the spectacularly successful character Gibson created in the 1930s, that nemesis of evil known as The Shadow. If you have read any of The Shadow novels you know that he was fond of lurking in dark alleys dressed in a cape and broad-brimmed slouch hat.
Why would a Shadow-like apparition suddenly appear in an old house? Could it be some kind of residue from Walter Gibson’s very powerful mind? We do know that some people can move objects, even bend spoons and keys, with the power of their minds alone. Mental telepathy is now a tested and verified phenomenon. And about 10 percent of the population have the ability to see above and beyond the narrow spectrum of visible light. They can see radiations and even objects invisible to the rest of us. A very large part of the UFO lore is, in fact, based upon the observations of such people. What seems normal to them seems abnormal, even ridiculous, to the rest of us. People who see ghosts or the wandering Shadow have these abilities. They are peering at forms that are always there, always present around us like radio waves, and when certain conditions exist they can see these things. The Tibetans believe that advanced human minds can manipulate these invisible energies into visible forms called tulpas, or thought projections. Did Walter Gibson’s intense concentration on his Shadow novels inadvertently bring a tulpa into existence?
Readers of occult literature know there are innumerable cases of ghosts haunting a particular site year after year, century after century, carrying out the same mindless activities endlessly. Build a house on such a site and the ghost will leave locked doors ajar as it marches through to carry out its programed activity. Could these ghosts really be tulpas, residues of powerful minds like the phantom in the broad-brimmed hat?
Next, consider this. UFO activity is concentrated in the same areas year after year. In the Ohio valley, they show a penchant for the ancient Indian mounds which stand throughout the area. Could some UFOs be mere tulpas created by a long forgotten people and doomed forever to senseless maneuvers in the night skies?
There are archaeological sites in the Mississippi valley which have been dated to 8,000 years ago … long before the Indians are supposed to have arrived. Some of the Indian mounds (there are hundreds of them scattered throughout North America) are laid out and constructed with the same kind of mathematical precision found in the pyramids of Egypt. While it is known that the Indians were still adding to some of the mounds in the south when the Europeans first arrived, other mounds seem to be considerably older. Some are built in the form of elephants. What did the builders use for a model? Others are in the shape of sea serpents. These forms can only be seen from the air. To plan and build such mountains of shaped earth required technical skills beyond the simple nomadic woods Indians.
Currently there is a revival in diffusionism, a popular scientific concept of the 1920s which asserted that many of the puzzling artifacts and ancient constructions found throughout the world were the products of a single worldwide culture. The cult of believers in Atlantis were the principal advocates of this idea, so sober scientists naturally turned away from it for a theory that is almost impossible to support. This was the notion that many inventions and ideas simply occurred simultaneously to widespread, isolated cultures.
The flying saucer entities have allegedly contacted many people in almost every country and have immodestly claimed credit for everything from the building of the pyramids to the sinking of Atlantis. Erich Von Däniken, a Swiss author, has popularized the concept that members of an extraterrestrial civilization did contact early earthlings, basing his theories on expansive misinterpretations—and in several instances, deliberate misrepresentations—of archaeological curiosities. Von Däniken seems to be totally ignorant of the work of European scholars such as Brinsley Trench, Paul Misraki, and W. Raymond Drake, who have examined the same curiosities very carefully in the past ten years and developed elaborate philosophical hypotheses about the intrusion and effect of alien beings on mankind since the beginning. Their concepts are wider in scope and significance, and far better documented than Von Däniken’s simplistic efforts.
That unidentified flying objects have been present since the dawn of man is an undeniable fact. They are not only described repeatedly in the Bible, but were also the subject of cave paintings made thousands of years before the Bible was written. And a strange procession of weird entities and frightening creatures have been with us just as long. When you review the ancient references you are obliged to conclude that the presence of these objects and beings is a normal condition for this planetThese things, these other intelligencies or OINTs as Ivan Sanderson labeled them, either reside here but somehow remain concealed from us, or they do not exist at all and are actually special aberrations of the human mind—tulpas, hallucinations, psychological constructs, momentary materializations of energy from that dimension beyond the reach of our senses and even beyond the reaches of our scientific instruments. They are not from outer space. There is no need for them to be. They have always been here. Perhaps they were here long before we started bashing each other over the head with clubs. If so, they will undoubtedly still be here long after we have incinerated our cities, polluted all the waters, and rendered the very atmosphere unbreathable. Of course, their lives—if they have lives in the usual sense—will be much duller after we have gone. But if they wait around long enough another form of so-called intelligent life will crawl out from under a rock and they can begin their games again.
Back in the 1920s, Charles Fort, the first writer to explore inexplicable events, observed you can measure a circle by beginning anywhere. Paranormal phenomena are so widespread, so diversified, and so sporadic yet so persistent that separating and studying any single element is not only a waste of time but also will automatically lead to the development of belief. Once you have established a belief, the phenomenon adjusts its manifestations to support that belief and thereby escalate it. If you believe in the devil he will surely come striding down your road one rainy night and ask to use your phone. If you believe that flying saucers are astronauts from another planet they will begin landing and collecting rocks from your garden.
Many—most—of the manifestations accompanying the UFO phenomenon simply did not fit into the enthusiasts’ concept of how a superior intelligence from another galaxy would behave. So the flying saucer clubs carefully ignored, even suppressed, the details of those manifestations for many years. When a black-suited man in a Cadillac turned up, he couldn’t possibly be one of the endearing space people so he had to be a rotten, sneaky government agent. It was inconceivable to the hardcore UFO believers that the flying saucers could be a permanent part of our environment and that these men in black were residents of this planet associated with the UFOs.
But this is a fact; the “truth” the UFO fans have sought for so long. And as Daniel Webster put it, “There is nothing so powerful as truth, and often nothing so strange.”
You can’t learn the truth by chasing UFOs helter-skelter through the skies in planes. The air forces of several governments tried that for years. It is vain to hire astronomers. They are not trained in the kind of disciplines needed to investigate earthly phenomena, or even to interview earthly witnesses. Interviewing is an advanced art, the province of journalists and psychologists. One does not hire a parachutist to go spelunking in a cave or a balloonist to go diving for treasure. If you need a brain surgeon you don’t hire a horticulturist who has spent his life trimming plants. Yet this is the approach our government has taken to the UFO phenomenon.
I realized the folly of trying to measure the circle from some distant point, so I picked a microcosm on the edge of the circle—a place where many strange manifestations were occurring simultaneously. And I hit the jackpot immediately, rather like the opening of an old Max Schulman novel: “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four shots ripped into my groin and I was off on the greatest adventure of my life.”
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