Sunday, September 30, 2018

Lair of the Mothman

Indeed, Lair of the Mothman is the title of my upcoming novel in Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series—to be released in 2019, probably early in the year—and this past weekend, I went to check out the original lair for myself. I've just returned from a couple of pleasant, if physically taxing, days in Point Pleasant, WV, where the Mothman legend originated. On this trip, I alternated between straight-up fact-finding and geocaching, though the latter actually is research, since the novel's plot involves geocaching

On Friday, 9/28, I left Greensboro right about noon, stopped for a handful of caches on the way, and passed through Charleston, WV, about 4:00 p.m. Just west of the city, I turned off on US 35, which follows the Kanawha River on a northwest course. Fifteen miles or so out from Point Pleasant, I saw massive plumes of steam rising into the sky from the James M. Gavin Power Plant, about ten miles north of Point Pleasant, across the river in Ohio. No matter where I was in the area, those massive chimneys became prominent sights.

The annual Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant took place a couple of weeks ago, and while it may be an immensely entertaining event, for my purposes, I preferred a more private, personalized sojourn. I had originally planned to leave early on Saturday and stay for one night, so I had booked a  room for that evening at the historic Lowe Hotel in downtown Point Pleasant. As it turned out, schedule-wise, I determined I could do Friday night as well, so I got myself a room at the Knight's Inn across the river in Gallipolis, OH. Not unexpectedly, the accommodations there were fairly spartan, but very comfortable and clean, and it came with more than the customary amenities for a cheap hotel room. I approve. After checking in there, I drove back across the Silver Memorial Bridge into Point Pleasant to wander about (read hunt geocaches) and procure some vittles. I was both surprised and pleased to encounter several local geocachers at the different caches I visited. Dinner happened at the Lighthouse Grill, where I ripped into a big old burger with some fabulous beer-battered fries. An enchanting spot.
One of the hundreds of clippings from the local
newspaper from the original Mothman scare

Now, I've seen The Mothman Prophecies several times, and I quite enjoy it. The movie was filmed in Kittanning, PA, and while the place looks enough like West Virginia on the screen, I was not at all surprised to find that the film's setting and the actual location bear little resemblance to each other. Point Pleasant is quaint, loaded with history (and geocaches), picturesque in the extreme, and the perfect small town for weird things to happen. Perhaps its most prominent centerpiece is the stainless steel Mothman statue, situated at Main and 4th Streets, constructed by scupltor Bob Roach in 2003. On this block, you will also find The Mothman Museum, which features Mothman memorabilia of every conceivable sort, as well as original newspaper clippings about the events that gave rise to the legend; massive amounts of information about the collapse of the Silver Bridge in December, 1967; and a multitude of original props from the film. The museum is the brainchild of Point Pleasant native Jeff Wamsley, whom I had hoped to meet, as I had become more than a little familiar with him via numerous Mothman documentaries I had watched over the past few weeks. Sadly, our paths never crossed, though I spent considerable time at the museum yesterday morning and found some enjoyable and informative conversation with the gentleman in charge of the place at the time.
Original art from The Mothman Prophecies on display at the Mothman Museum in downtown Point Pleasant
The first sightings of the Mothman occurred near the McClintic Wildlife Management Area, a.k.a. "The TNT Area," about 8 miles north of Point Pleasant. During WWII, a massive munitions plant and storage facility occupied this area, hence its explosive epithet. After the war, the place was abandoned, and much of it was simply overtaken by dense forest. There are still dozens of semi-spherical storage bunkers—known as "igloos"—to be found in that area. There are also dozens upon dozens of geocaches hidden around the TNT Area.
Informative map given to me at the Mothman Museum

And thus, Saturday morning, I headed north on Highway 62, continually drawing nearer to those massive, steaming chimneys from the Gavin power plant across the Ohio River. I stopped for a handful of caches along the way. About 11:00 a.m., I turned down Potters Creek Road, which features in my novel. And as I drove deeper into the incredibly dense forest, I began to get a sense of just how creepy this place could actually be.

For the most part, I was entirely alone out here, which I quite appreciated, although I could occasionally hear distant gunfire from a shooting range a couple of miles in. There are several night caches in the area, and I had initially thought about heading back after dark to give one or more of them a try. After learning the hard way about the sheer difficulty of navigating these woods even in daylight, I eventually decided against going out there alone at night....

I found about a dozen caches in the TNT area over four hours or so, and failed to find a couple of others. From these hunts, the thing I learned first and foremost was this: on's rating scale for terrain, with 1 being the easiest and 5 being the hardest, your average rating here is about an 8. At no time was this more evident than on a long hike out to a cache high up in a tree—titled "Wrong Turn"(GC5KNZV), after the movie of that name, which features a scene up in a tree. Being on a "trail" out here meant that the briers, brambles, and creepers would only swallow you in little pieces, rather than whole. Happily, I negotiated the tree-climbing challenge without issue. My egress from ground zero, however, was a whole 'nuther story. I ended up straying from the path by which I had entered—by no more than 50 feet, according to my GPS—and found myself surrounded by utterly impassable thickets in every direction. I cannot fathom how I even got into them, since I could scarcely go back the way I had come. The 200-some-foot bushwhack I ended up undertaking to get back to merely impenetrable spaces sewed up any hope of returning later, for between the tree climb and several hours of rigorous hiking, I was physically spent (or so I thought).

Despite my growing fatigue, I continued to hunt several more caches, a number of which brought me to overgrown, sealed-up igloos. At one igloo, however, I found the massive steel doors gaping wide, revealing only deep, subterranean darkness. Being occasionally foolhardy, especially when caching is involved, I went right on in to check it out, only considering—when I woke up at 5:00 a.m. in a cold sweat—that, had those doors somehow closed on me, I'd be there right now, and possibly for the rest of my abbreviated life. Ah, zut. As it turned out, the experience proved a hoot. The echo effect in that steel dome gave me an agreeable case of the chills.
A few miles out from the TNT area, the Gavin power plant chimneys across the Ohio river spewing steam
Left: Mr. Death, about 20 feet up in a tree; Right: Mr. Rodan, about 20 feet up in a tree,
holding onto Mr. Death for dear life
Old munitions storage igloo, sealed.
Old munitions storage igloo, gaping wide. You think I'm gonna go in there?
Dingy-dang right I'm going in there.
Eventually, I made my way out of the TNT area, alive and almost kicking, only to stop for a few more caches on the way back to town proper, one of which offered, but did not require, a change of elevation of the higher altitude persuasion. Naturally, I enjoyed availing myself to it.

Once ensconced in my room at the Lowe Hotel, I did a little sightseeing in the building itself. The Lowe Hotel dates back to the very early 20th century and is, without question, the most atmospheric setting in which I have ever taken lodging. The place is reputedly haunted—of course!—and while I encountered no spookiness of the ghostly variety, the decor and size of the place did bring to mind the old Broad Street Hotel in my hometown of Martinsville, where, when I was a kid, the family often went for dinner. I loved to explore those old hallways, though the dark stairwell leading upward scared the bejezus out of me. The place is, sadly, long gone, but the Lowe Hotel brought back every delicious frisson I ever experienced at the Broad Street Hotel in the early 1960s.
My home away from home, the Lowe Hotel
Come early evening, I was back out and about in the downtown area, where I went after a couple of multi/mystery caches that required considerable walking. I conquered these hides, then went roaming in search of dinner. I found it at what I had initially considered a somewhat dubious option—Two Waters, a Mexican-slash-Italian restaurant—but which proved quite, quite good. Grilled pork chop, salad, baked potato, roasted vegetables, and some of the best bread with olive oil and herbs I've ever had. Plus they had one of my favorite wines, Cantina Zacagnini Montepulciano, which complemented dinner beautifully.
My haunted hallway

After the day's rigorous activities, I found myself dead, deceased, bereft of life, and resting in peace, so I returned to my chambers at the Lowe Hotel, changed into my comfy clothes, and settled in for the evening—only to realize there were still two caches nearby, both of which required considerable walking around town to procure clues that would reveal the final coordinates. I suppose it goes without saying that I got up, threw on my boots, and went out after them. I had left in such a hurry, however, that when I reached the first of the two containers, I realized I had left my writing implement back in my room. Damnation, I had no means signing the frippin' log sheet! But yay—the container contained a pencil! However, I harbored grave doubts that the other would accommodate such an unforgivably forgetful geocacher. So I borrowed the pencil, made my way to the other cache, and used my borrowed implement to sign the log. Then, before returning to the hotel, I returned the pencil to its rightful location, as I would have felt guilty about depriving another unforgivably forgetful geocacher of such a basic benefit.

At last, I did return to my hotel room, fell over, and died.

Today, I came home. And much writing lies in wait for me.
My haunted chamber
The haunted parlor
Inside the igloo

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