John Keel's March 1991 FATE Article
The following is an article by John Keel from FATE Magazine's Vol. 44, No. 3, Published on March 1991. It was later reprinted in the January-February 2002 Issue. It was advertised on the front cover as "The Return of Mothman" and placed under the column name "Beyond The Known":
That missing Thunderbird/ pterodactyl photo is still missing. My recent plea in these pages for information on the publication of a picture of a dead pterodactyl nailed to a barn produced over 20 responses from readers who said they, too, remembered seeing it sometime between 1940 and 1960. Unfortunately, each correspondent remembered a different source. Some thought it had appeared in a magazine advertisement possibly in Life or another major publication in which case it could have been a staged phony designed to sell beer or cigarettes. Others thought it must have been in a "men's" magazine, but there were over 50 such magazines in the early 1960s. (We haven't found a volunteer willing to struggle through all those girlie photos in search of it.) A Canadian writer was sure he had seen it on TV.
People have approached me at lectures, in TV studios and at conventions to inform me that they also remembered it exactly as I had described it in FATE. It is gratifying that so many have a vivid memory of seeing it, but it is disheartening that nobody can remember where they saw it. One cynic even suggested that years from now everyone who read my column will claim that they also saw the picture as the memory does play tricks on all of us.
An Earlier Search
A gentleman in Pennsylvania passed along some interesting clippings about his father's search for the elusive Thunderbird a generation ago. His name was Robert Lyman and he published numerous articles and books about the weird and then unknown. He thought the picture he appeared in True Western magazine sometime in the 1950s. In his book, Amazing Indeed, the following appeared:
"Fred Murray lived in Westfield, Tioga County. He said that in 1892 he saw a flock of giant birds in Dent's Run, Cameron County. He described them as being like buzzards but much larger, with a wingspread of 16 feet or more. The report made news at the time. An ornithologist from Pittsburgh came to Murray's lumber camp to observe them. He said similar birds had been seen in remote parts of West Virginia and Kentucky.
About 1900, two prospectors shot and carried into Tombstone, Arizona, one of these birds. When nailed against the wall of the Tombstone Epitaph building its wingspread measured 36 feet. A photograph showed 6 men standing under the bird with outstretched arms to touching. One of them said: 'Shucks, there is no such bird, never was and never will be.' I saw that picture in a daily paper. Many other persons remember seeing it. No one has been able to find it in recent years. Two copies were at Hammersley Fork only a few years ago. One burned in a home, The other was taken away by strangers"
Author Lyman described one of his personal sightings in the same books. "About 1940 I saw a huge bird I am certain was a thunderbird," he wrote. "It was one the ground in the center of the Sheldon Road, about 2 miles north of Coudersport, Penn.
It was brownish in color. Legs and neck were short. It was between 3 and 4 feet tall and stood upright like a very large vulture. When I was about 150 feet away it raised to fly. It was plain to see its wingspread was equal to the width of the roadbed, which I measured and found to be 25 feet. I will concede it may have been 20 feet but no less. The wings were very narrow, not over one foot wide.
How could such a bird fly through the wood? The bird I saw could have gone straight up the road and missed the trees but it did no such thing. It flew off at right angles to the road, through dense second-growth timber and had no trouble."
Mothman, Come Back!
In 1966-67, over 100 people in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and the surrounding area reported seeing a giant, winged creature. They called it "the bird", but the press dubbed it "Mothman" (the Batman TV series was very popular at that time). This critter was usually described as being taller than a big man, with blazing red eyes and a wingspan of only ten feet. Yet it was able to fly faster than a speeding car.
Significantly, some of the town's leading citizens, including a banker, the wife of a police officer, and a minister, all reported seeing essentially the same thing. Yet the creature failed to leave footprints, feces or other physicals evidence. After a flurry of sightings over a two-year period, it seemed to vanish forever. This proved one again that eyewitness testimony is of little value when you are dealing with Fortean events. A thousand people could all see the same thing at the same time and it still isn't proof that the object or entity is a real, physical, corporeal resident of our dimension. Years ago I coined the phrase, "distortions of reality" to describe occurrences such as these.
Other Mothmen or pseudo-pterodactyls have been reported since in the area around Brownsville, Texas, In England, and in South America.
Dinosaurs on the March
There is a place in Massachusetts where people have been seeing dinosaurs in recent years. (I'm not going to tell you exactly where. There's no sense starting a stampede to the spot which is on private property anyway.) These huge animals seem to melt into nothingness in a small, wooded area. Other events in the same areas suggest that some kind of time warp may exist there. Dinosaurs have an uneasy habit of reappearing every few years someplace on this planet, as I have noted in previous columns.
We have dinosaur reports from France, Italy, Switzerland, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, and many other place over the past three decades. Local police often take the sightings very seriously and turn out posses and helicopters to conduct vain searches. The dinosaurs vanish into thin air leaving little behind but a cheshire grin.
The truth seems to be that the human eye and the human mind can be tricked into perceiving almost anything. Airline pilots have reported almost as many big birds as UFOs. Bigfoot has left footprints in the dirt of almost every state. Scientists have spent large grants to penetrate Africa where pygmies have long reported seeing dinosaurs frolicking in isolated lakes. Whatever these things may be, they are clearly a lot smarter than we are and they show themselves to us only when they feel like it.
Unfortunately, they don't seem to feel like it very often. And when they see us invading their territory loaded down with expensive cameras and tape recorders they almost always slip into hiding, thumbing their large noses as they go.
The Search Goes On
An old clipping from an unidentified newspaper in Pennsylvania dated March 6, 1972, forwarded by Robert Lyman, Jr., states, "...the actual evidence of the mammoth bird were pictures that appeared in many newspapers about 30 years ago." Lyman wrote not long ago, "No one can find a copy but one man reported he saw the picture only two or three months ago, but can't remember where... Hy Cranmer, who lived at Hammersley Fork, had a copy. It was burned when Cranmer's home was destroyed by fire. That photo seems to be as elusive as the bird itself."
People continued to have random sightings of the big bird in Pennsylvania in the 1960s and early '70s, particularly in a region known as the Black Forest. An old-timer named Bill Burgin insists that the photo appeared in True Western magazine and says, "I can close my eyes and I can see the bird."
We are conducting another search through the files of the previously mentioned Tombstone Epitaph. If any reader out there has a file of old issues of True Western, perhaps he or she can flip through them. Meanwhile I want to thank all those who have taken the time and trouble to write to me about this.
John Keel's September 2007 FATE Article
"I was pushed into the flying-saucer fracas in 1966 by a Playboy editor who wanted a 'definitive' article on the subject. The first logical step was to seek out experts. I quickly discovered there weren’t any. There were people who called themselves experts, all wallowing in egocentric delusions of self-importance, all feuding with their fellow experts. Paranoia was rampant in the field and every teenager and little old lady in tennis shoes involved in UFO hunting was convinced the government, and particularly the Air Force and CIA, was spending millions to mess up their personal mail and telephones. There was a big overlap, too, of wild-eyed right-wingers, and many of the more bizarre beliefs - absorbed into the UFO lore.
A few UFO books, mostly in the crackpot category, had been published in the 1950s, but copies of them were now almost impossible to locate. (The average UFO book sells about 3,000 copies, even today—a pathetically small number when you consider how much publicity UFOs have received.) Ivan Sanderson, zoologist, author and well-known TV personality, had a library of some of the better books. He lived on a farm in the wilds of northern New Jersey. A charismatic Briton usually surrounded by hordes of visitors, Ivan had single-handedly introduced the subject of the Abominable Snowman and Bigfoot to the American public. We met originally because I had once tracked the elusive Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas and Ivan was preparing to write a massive book on those hairy horrors. He was also a longtime observer of the UFO scene and at the beginning of my quest he gave me the best advice I would receive. 'Don’t take this flying saucer business too seriously,' he warned me. 'Just think of the whole thing as an intellectual exercise.'
Air Force Ignorant
I made several trips to Washington and the Pentagon in an earnest effort to present the Air Force’s side of the controversy fairly. The various air-force officials openly and repeatedly lied to me about several things. Their biggest fears were that the public would discover that they didn’t know a thing about flying saucers and that the scope of the phenomenon was much broader than any casual observer might think. UFOs were, and are, successfully eluding our defensive systems and landing frequently in farm fields, on highways, and even—believe it or not—on airport runways. They have been causing considerable damage to property for many years.
A Pentagon officer once told me that it cost $10,000 to investigate a single UFO sighting. I tried for a long time to get the Project Bluebook budget but it was buried in the general public-relations budget and couldn’t be extricated. According to a secretary, their biggest task was answering 'kiddie mail.' However, one day when I was visiting Lt. Col. Maston Jacks a girl came into the office and put a newspaper clipping into a big red folder marked Top Secret, so maybe a clipping service was part of their expenses.
My brushes with the civilian experts, the air-force apologists and the scientists convinced me there was only one way to find out what was going on. I would have to go into the field and investigate some fresh sightings firsthand.
In November 1966 four young people in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, reported a chilling encounter with a seven-foot-tall monster with glowing red eyes and a ten-foot wingspan. The press labeled it Mothman, and during the next year more than 100 West Virginians would see it. If it had been just another ten-foot-tall hairy monster I would have ignored the report. After all, Bigfoot sightings were superabundant. But the West Virginia critter had wings, could take off straight up like a helicopter and was fond of pursuing automobiles at 90 miles an hour. In short, he was my kind of weirdie.
I drove some 800 miles that December, and found Point Pleasant was a quiet little town of 6,300 people, dozens of churches and no public bars. The Mothman sightings had taken place in a desolate World War II ammunition dump on the edge of town. More intriguing, there had been countless UFO sightings up and down the Ohio River all year. Eerie diamond-brilliant lights passed over Point Pleasant every night at 8:30 on a regular schedule. I decided to do something that the Air Force and the loud-mouthed UFO buffs had never thought of doing. I decided to investigate the situation instead of just holding conversations with the witnesses.
Within a few days a much bigger picture began to evolve. The region was not only haunted by strange aerial lights, the homes of the witnesses were plagued with poltergeists and other supernatural phenomena. Television sets were burning out at an alarming rate. Telephones were going crazy, ringing at all hours of the day and night with no one on the other end. Some people were getting calls from mysterious strangers speaking a cryptic language. Black Cadillacs bearing Oriental-looking gentlemen were cruising the black hills of West Virginia.
Mothman assumed minor importance as I uncovered all these other things. I had been investigating psychic manifestations all over the world for years and I recognized the pattern here. Some UFOs were directly related to the human consciousness, just as ghostly apparitions are often the product of the percipient’s mind. There are deeply rooted psychic and psychological factors in the UFO phenomenon, and the sudden appearance of a light in the sky triggers and releases the human energy that stimulated seemingly supernatural events. We cannot define the exact nature of those lights, but we can catalog the many [manifestations] that accompany them and we can demonstrated how identical manifestations occur in many different frames of reference. Religious apparitions are kissin’ kin with the tall, stately Michael Rennie types that claim to come from Ganymede, Uranus, Clarion (an unknown planet on the other side of the sun) and a dozen other absurd places. The “miracle” at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917 was undoubtedly the best-documented UFO sighting of all time (70,000 witnesses) and certainly the most thoroughly investigated.
Unfortunately, those interested in flying saucers had no interest at all in psychic [phenomena], and vice versa. Those who were busy trying to trap a Bigfoot frowned upon all other forms of the weird and supernatural. Yet sea serpents, Abominable Snowpersons, poltergeists, frog rainfalls and UFOs are all interrelated. You can’t possibly investigate one without some knowledge of the others. For example, the Men in Black (MIBs) so well known in UFO lore are even better known in the histories of witchcraft and black magic. These mysterious gentlemen have been reported for a thousand years. The UFO buffs decided they were CIA agents. But another group known as superbuffs thinks the whole world is run by a secret league of wealthy men and that the MIBs are their minions. In the Far East, where belief in a “king of the world” still rides high, people think the MIBs are agents from the secret underground cities of the king. In West Virginia the MIBs passed themselves off as everything from Bible salesmen to census takers.
When I returned to New York city from that first trip to West Virginia my own telephone went beserk. At first I only had problems when I was speaking to Ivan Sanderson in New Jersey. He was on one of those freak pseudo-independent phone company lines and it was common to be drowned out by static, or have the call suddenly cut off. Ivan solved the problem by shouting obscenities into the phone. Strangely, it worked. It was not uncommon to be having a conversation with this dignified Briton when clicks and other noises would cause him to pause and then bellow, “Get off this line, you [**] - [**) -!” The line noises would cease abruptly.
My problems soon escalated. Someone would interrupt by conversations with a sound like a one-stringed guitar. The sound of an extension being picked up could be clearly heard. The telephone company ignored my complaints, naturally, until I wrote directly to the president of the company. Then fur flew. They checked out my line and happily reported that I did not have one tap on my wire—I had two! I demanded that they find out who was tapping my phone but they said they couldn’t do that.
I lived in a large apartment building and there was a telephone room in the basement where thousands of wires converged and connected to underground cables. Somehow someone managed to get into this locked room, search out my wires from all the thousands of others and cut them with a pair of pliers. This someone accomplished this not once, but twice. I went with the repairman when they checked my line and the second time I demanded that the whole matter be put in writing. So someone in the main office sent me a letter stating my phone had been out of order because a piece of solder had come loose in the main installation!
Ma Bell wasn’t the only member of the flying-saucer conspiracy. My mailman was in on it, too. Suddenly my letters were going astray or were being mysteriously opened. Just so I would know my mail was being monitored, someone would Xerox letters sent to me, keep the originals and reseal the Xerox copies in the envelopes. Even letters from my mother were Xeroxed!
Now I began to understand why so many UFO buffs were paranoid. Obviously, a great deal of money, time and personnel went into these moronic harassments. A friend of mine who once served in Army Intelligence tells how his unit was kept busy tailing and harassing completely innocent victims. I suspect that some worthless bureaucratic boondoggle was assigned the UFO beat, not out of maliciousness but just to give them something to do. I eventually discovered that another phone was hooked up to my line and had been getting my calls while I was getting their bills—as much as $400 a month. And my mail was going first to another address before it was passed on to me. What stunned me was that the other address was a building housing Ma Bell’s long-distance equipment! Proof positive that the telephone company was plotting to take over the world.
Meanwhile, back in West Virginia, Mothman was continuing to chase automobiles. I returned to Point Pleasant several times in 1967, learning more about the phenomenon with each trip. Several contactees (people who thought they had met the flying-saucer occupants) had emerged and I was hypnotizing them and studying them carefully. I found these people had two levels of memory. The first level, the surface level, recalled under hypnosis a fascinating adventure, usually of being taken aboard a wonderful flying saucer. But the hidden level, which was difficult to get at and usually took several hypnotic sessions before it could be reached, rejected the false memory (confabulation) and painted a different picture. Most of these contactees had been transported to a van or house where they were subjected to brain-washing techniques and injected with an unknown substance. Then they were given a confabulation to remember and were released.
But no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t find out who was doing this. The whole contactee syndrome was a fraud, but the contactees were innocent victims. Why was anyone going to all the trouble to create these contactees? Many people in West Virginia told me of seeing strange, unmarked vans cruising the back roads at night.
Another thing that bothered me was the widespread slaughter of domestic animals during the UFO waves. The animals, usually cows, sheep and dogs, had all the blood drained from their bodies and their sex organs removed with surgical precision. I saw one cow cut in half as cleanly as if it had been done with a giant pair of scissors. These animal mutilations were at first confined to the Northeast in the 1960s, but in the 1970s they spread to the Midwest.
A Hard Time
I spent many miserable days wading around farm fields in West Virginia to inspect mutilated animals, and many cold and scary night on hilltops watching funny lights cavort in the sky. When I signaled them with a flashlight in Morse code they actually responded. If I flashed the word descend, they would drop downward in the falling-leaf motion made famous in so many reports.
Were they spaceships from another world? Not very likely. [They] seemed like mischievous masses of energy playing simpleminded games with a simpleminded human. As a professional simpleton I have seen so many of these strange lights that I have actually lost count. The sheer quantity of [these] objects and the frequency of their appearances negates the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH). During UFO waves they appear in a thousand places around the world simultaneously on a single date. Would a society on some other planet send thousands of craft to this world to hover around garbage dumps, stone quarries, golf courses and cemeteries (all favorite UFO haunts) for one night, or one week, and then fly home across millions of miles in space? These things have been around for thousands of years and they have been seen in the same places century after century. They are part of the environment, like clouds and pollution.
Mothman, like phantom kangaroos and the redoubtable Bigfoot, [belonged] to that class of beasties known to the ancient Greeks as Chimeras. The Greeks noted that such animals usually had fiery red eyes, were often surrounded by the smell of “fire and brimstone” (hydrogen sulfide) and often disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as they had come. In countless UFO cases we also find all of these characteristics. The UFO is surrounded by a terrible smell, like the smell of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide again), sometimes making the witnesses ill. Creatures emerge from the UFO and leave footprints leading to the middle of a muddy field, where they vanish suddenly. Or they leave no footprints at all. Chimeras take many forms. A few years back there were reliable reports of dinosaurs stomping around Italy, France, Africa and even Texas. Some of them left perfect dinosaur tracks behind. Mothman left tracks that looked like giant dog prints. Such prints have been found in many places where other types of monsters have been seen. Even gigantic snakes—and we have plenty of reports of those—have left giant dog prints in their wake.
When you investigate a UFO flap area very carefully the whole phenomenon begins to seem like a robust practical joke perpetrated by some cosmic jokers. There is no beginning and no end. What happened in West Virginia in 1966 was repeated in Texas in 1976 when a giant bird, identified as a prehistoric pterodactyl by some witnesses, put in a brief appearance.
We know now that many of the things that happen in UFO country are clever diversions. While armed citizenry go chasing after UFOs in one direction, animals in a field in the opposite directions are suddenly mutilated. Mothman kept a whole town sitting in an old ammunition dump for several weeks while animal mutilations and human abductions took place only a few miles away.
In earlier times, the manifestations were blamed on black-magic practitioners, witches, alchemists, the Fairy Commonwealth, the Rosicrucians, the Gypsies. Now we know that whoever is behind it all has the ability to use advanced techniques of hypnosis and brainwashing. Dr. Leon Davidson, one of the men who gave us the atomic bomb (thank you, doctor), studied the UFO situation for years and finally decided it was all a cold-war gambit of the CIA. When UFO mania struck Tashkent in the Soviet Union back in the 1960s, the Russian news agency, Tass, [issued] a release accusing the Western imperialists of being behind the whole thing. Ivan Sanderson stuck his tongue in his cheek and wrote a book explaining that UFOs were coming from cities at the bottom of our oceans. Ray Palmer, the man who started it all when he was editor of Amazing Stories back in the 1940s, believed that the earth was hollow and that UFOs were coming to us from holes in the North and South poles.
The situation is infinitely more complex than any of these interesting but simplistic explanations. If UFOs are real, and if they are extraterrestrial, then all of the patterns indicate they are totally hostile. If this is the case, then the proper government procedure would be to set up a false PR front to deal with the random reports and lull the public while a secret agency made a real effort to cope with the problem. If they are not real but are only part of the wild, wild world or psychic [phenomena] and Chimeras, then there is nothing that can be done and no amount of investigating can be expected to be fruitful. So it is a no-win dilemma for the civilian saucer sleuth with a straitjacket as the reward.
I wish I could report that the Mothman episode had a happy ending and that the people of Point Pleasant returned to normal, industrious lives. Unfortunately, 13 months to the day after the creature’s first appearance a terrible disaster struck the little town. The bridge that joined Point Pleasant with Ohio collapsed laden with rush-hour traffic and  people died. Several of them had seen Mothman and/or UFOs. The critter appeared a [couple] of times following the bridge disaster, then vanished forever."