On a recent trip from Illinois to the Outer Banks of North Carolina I scrutinized the map, looking for the best route. There is no direct way to make this drive but with the help of Google Maps I found a new route that took me through Indianapolis, around Dayton, Ohio, and southeast on US Rt.35 into West Virginia.
Just over the Ohio border I pulled into the little town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. It was around 10 PM so I couldn’t really see much, but it was obvious that the three block long downtown was lined with adorably restored older buildings that had been converted to cute shops. In the very middle of Main Street stood the Lowe Hotel – the only hotel in town. I got a room for the night and was pleasantly surprised to find my room decorated in antiques and outfitted with a queen-size poster bed. It didn’t take me long to climb beneath the fluffy quilt, prop myself up with two down pillows, and get to work on the computer. And that’s when the noises started.
At first they were small creaking noises and I paid them little mind – all old buildings make noises. Then just before turning off the light there was a noise so loud that it startled me. It sounded like a very large, dry tree branch being snapped in two and it seemed to come from the television, which I hadn’t turned on. But again I dismissed it as a settling noise from an old building and drifted off to sleep. In the morning I was standing under a stream of hot water when suddenly, an icy cold draft came over the top of the shower door and hit me in the head. ‘Where on earth is that coming from,’ I thought. I looked up at the ceiling, searching for air vents but there were none to be found. Then I thought, ‘Maybe someone has come into my room while I’m in the shower, and the opening of the door caused the breeze.’ I stepped out of the shower stall and glanced around at the door but it was still shut and chained from the inside. It was then I realized there were no air vents at all in my room. The heat was generated by steam radiator and the air conditioning was from a window unit, which I had never turned on. ‘Very peculiar,’ I thought, but again I dismissed it and went back to showering.
Soon afterward I was downstairs in the lobby of the hotel, waiting for a large cup of coffee that the owners were brewing for me. Looking for something to do while I waited, I began reading a newspaper article from the Boston Globe that had been framed and hung on the wall next to the front desk. The article featured the haunted Lowe Hotel and the famous sightings of a ten-foot tall humanoid figure with giant wings, claws, and burning red eyes that occurred in Point Pleasant in the late 1960′s. If this sounds familiar it’s probably because in 2001 Richard Gere starred in a movie that documented the events of that time, The Mothman Prophecies. But this was all news to me – I had never before heard of Point Pleasant, the Lowe Hotel, or Mothman. Most startling to me was a paragraph in the article that described the three most common paranormal experiences at the hotel: loud noises, icy cold drafts of air, and cigarette smoke appearing in the air when there are no smokers present. Hmmmmm. More investigation was definitely needed, so I decided to stay an extra night and set out to explore the town.
Point Pleasant is a delightful town, located at the confluence of the Kanawhe and Ohio Rivers. I spent a good portion of the day walking the footpath along the mighty Ohio River, where hundreds of butterflies fluttered among dense thickets of wildflowers on the riverbank. On the other side of the trail, the massive concrete flood wall that separated the river from the town was covered in painted murals that depict the history of the area. Where the flood wall ended I cut over into town and walked back up Main Street, stopping at the Mothman Museum.
The two young men working at this museum had widely divergent views as to the validity of the hundreds of UFO sightings and other strange phenomena that have been reported by the locals over the years. Jeremy Pitchford, the older of the two, has been around longer, seen more, and is a believer. “I used to work at The Workingman’s Store across the street,” he told me. “Strange things were always happening. There was a bell attached to the front door and sometimes it would ring as if someone had just entered, but there would be no one in the store. Other times I would hear the sounds of someone looking through the racks of clothes when there was no one in the store. I’ve even seen wisps of cigarette smoke appear next to my head when there was no one else in the store.”
The younger of the two museum employees, John Matheny, says he’s not necessarily a believer but he does admit that something strange is going on in the town. From Jeremy and John I learned that the Mothman sightings occurred in an area about 15 minutes north of town that has been nicknamed the “TNT area” by the locals – a reference to the hundred or more giant concrete igloos that were erected by the US government during World War II and covertly used to manufacture explosives, munitions, and chemicals. After the war the site was abandoned and the toxic waste that remained slowly leached out into the surrounding ponds. Today this area is still one of the nation’s worst Superfund sites and some townsfolk theorize that Mothman is a mutant that was spawned in the local chemical and weapons dumps.
Jeremy suggested a visit to the Point Where The Rivers Meet Coffee Shop, where I could not only get the world’s best cup of coffee (yes it was!) but could also talk to owners Bob and Kitty Landrum, who are experts on the UFOlogy of the area. The wall behind the cash register is plastered with photos taken by Bob as well as by visitors who have sent their photos to Bob after he directed them to the bunkers in the TNT area. Unexplained orbs show up in these photos – perfectly round, semi-transparent white globes that seem to float in the air. The orbs are not visible to the naked eye but they appear in photos – I myself had one show up in a photo I took at Milla Milla Falls in Australia. Bob showed me a series of photos where he had enlarged an orb by a magnification of two each time, printing each version of the enlarged photo from his computer. As the orb gets larger, a distinct face shows up inside the orb. It was freaky. He told me about spaceship sightings, giant bird sightings, Men In Black visitations, and blue entity sightings. Although the phenomena persist to this day, the bulk of the sightings occurred in the thirteen months between the first appearance of Mothman on November 15, 1966 and what is known as the Silver Bridge disaster on December 15, 1967, when the Silver Suspension Bridge collapsed into the Ohio River, plunging 46 people to their deaths. After the bridge fell, the sightings dwindled and neither Mothman nor the Men In Black were ever again seen in Point Pleasant, leading some to speculate that the creature was a messenger of impending disaster. Whatever Mothman was or is, he is immortalized forever in an eerie ten foot high statue that the town has erected in the center of downtown, complete with blood-red eyes and six inch claws.
Later that evening I headed back to the Lowe Hotel. Although not totally convinced that the hotel was haunted, I believed something was going on there. I considered the possibility that my experiences had been nothing more than imagination but I could not explain that the noises and cold draft happened to me BEFORE I knew about the history of these types of occurrences at the hotel. Plus, there was no mistaking the fact that the cold draft was SO icy that it made me step out of the shower to investigate – that wasn’t just imagination.
I figured that nothing more would happen now that I knew the history of the place and it seemed I was right – I worked on the computer with no strange noises or cold drafts until I finally hit the sack at 2 AM, instantly falling into a deep sleep. Until 6:10 AM. That’s when I was awoken by the short, shrill beep of the smoke detector in my room. I immediately knew what the sound was because my Mom and Dad had a smoke detector in the kitchen that used to go off whenever they fried up bacon, so I just lay in bed and waited to see if it would happen again. Sure enough, it beeped every 60 seconds for the next 20 minutes. Not only was I being kept awake but I was sure the noise was waking up guests in adjacent rooms so I climbed up on a chair, intending to take the detector off the wall and remove the battery. To my surprise, it was hard wired, with no place for a backup battery. I went downstairs to see if anyone was at the front desk but there was no one around so I decided to just tolerate the noise and read for a while. Strangely, by the time I returned to the room the smoke detector had stopped beeping – almost as if it was mocking me: “So, you don’t believe, huh? Well, we’ll just see about that.”
Frankly, I don’t know what to think. But I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed this “alternative route” between Illinois and North Carolina. I do SO love an adventure.
This article is part of the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Travel Blog Carnival, where this week’s topic is “Scary Stories.” If you wish to read about more scary experiences that Blogsherpas have had around the world, cruise on over to Hello, Pineapple?, the travel blog of Joe Tuck, who is hosting this week’s carnival.