The butterfly man (or sphalene man) is a mysterious winged creature that is believed to have been observed in several countries, including Point Pleasant in West Virginia, USA, in 1966. Known in North America as Mothman, this mythical creature, photographed a few times, seems to appear in the last moments before a disaster, particularly the September 11 attack.
On November 15, 1966, two young couples drove past an abandoned TNT factory a few kilometers from the city of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. They then saw two bright spots near the factory entrance and, intrigued, stopped the car. They then realize that these lights are the eyes of an animal, “of human form, but larger, about two metres long, with large wings folded against its back”. When this creature starts moving, they panic and run away. What happens next depends on the source consulted: according to some, they find the animal a little further along their path, which appears “greyish and walking on strong legs with an insecure gait”. She then flies off and pursues the car, gliding and screaming, although she travels at 160 km/h. In other versions, this second encounter is not mentioned and the creature pursues the car as soon as it leaves the TNT factory. They finally lost the creature near Point Pleasant and, terrified, told Sheriff Millard Halstead’s assistant about what they had seen.
New York, September 11, 2001
The day of the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York, is marked by testimonies reporting the presence of the man-phalène near the scene of the tragedy. A photo of the creature was even taken by photographer Steven Moran, who was covering a WTC shooting and was taking pictures of the rescue operations on Greenwich Street at the time of the attacks. Experts have not been able to confirm or disprove the authenticity of the photograph so far, but the image could simply show a bird as a pigeon.
In the months that followed, several other people said they had seen the mothman. The day after the first observation, three people reportedly saw her in the evening during a visit to friends living near the factory. One of the witnesses, Ms. Bennett, described the creature as “tall and grey with bright red eyes”, who “would have been lying on the ground and then slowly got up again”. While the witnesses were calling the police, the creature reportedly observed them through the window.
- On November 24, four people said they saw him fly over the area of the TNT factory.
- On November 25, a witness driving on Highway 62, just north of the plant, said he saw the creature standing in a field, then opening its wings and pursuing its car as it drove towards Point Pleasant.
- On November 26, a woman said she had seen her in her garden in Charleston, but she had disappeared by the time her brother-in-law got out of the house.
- On November 27, the mothman reportedly pursued a young woman near Mason, and was seen a little later in St. Albans by two children.
Further appearances of Mothman continued to be reported throughout 1967, but virtually stopped after the collapse of the Silver Bridge, a bridge linking the city of Point Pleasant to Kanauga, which killed 46 people. This event led some to believe that the mothman was the precursor of this disaster or was responsible for this accident. However, the investigation into the causes of the collapse attributed it to an overload of the bridge, combined with poor maintenance and a defect of a few millimetres in an eye bar of one of the suspension chains. There is also a similarity between the mothman and creatures observed in England, such as the winged creature observed in 1963 by John Flaxton or the Cornish Owlman.
Several elements are frequently found in all descriptions of the creature. It is always described as large, grey or black and winged, with no clearly visible head. Some testimonies describe the creature as having red and bright eyes, located at the top of its trunk. According to others, the eyes only reflected the light, like retro-reflectors. The membranous or butterfly wings, the head clearly separated from the body or the presence of arms in addition to the wings are details that appear in many representations of the mothman but do not appear in the testimonies.
Image credit on the front page: Chris Scalf