As a boy growing up in Southern West Virginia, I spent most of my days swimming and fishing in the New and Greenbrier Rivers, and hiking and hunting in the hills and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains. On those rainy or cold days, when the weather was too bad to go outside, I would wind up at our local library.
I have now since realized that it was an inexpensive way to get my younger brother and me out of mom’s hair for part of the day. But, it was on one of those days, I found the first book that introduced me to a life long fascination with the paranormal. It was also the reason I would never venture into the deep and dark Appalachian Woodlands alone at night, or ever feel comfortable around any stranger wearing a dark suite and a grin. The name of the author and of the book has long been forgotten, but I will never forget the story that it told.
It’s a tale that begins with a salesman named Woodrow Derenberger and a strange encounter on Highway I-77 near Parkersburg, West Virginia, and ends just over a year later, in Point Pleasant, West Virginia with the deaths of 46 people in one of the most shocking roadway tragedies in American history.
The odd events began on November 2, 1966, around 7:30pm when Woodrow Derenberger, a salesman for a sewing machine company was returning from Marietta, Ohio to his home in Mineral Wells, West Virginia along Highway I-77. When out of nowhere near Parkersburg, West Virginia another vehicle flew up and passed him. Woodrow described the vehicle as the strangest thing he’d ever seen and said it resembled a “kerosene lamp chimney” and that it was “flying” six inches off the ground. The vehicle came around him, turns sideways across both lanes of the road in front of him, gradually made him slow down to a stop onto the side of the road.
After that, a door opens, and a grinning man steps out of the vehicle, the door shuts with a loud “thunk” behind him. A few seconds later the vehicle climbs 40 feet into the air above the highway. Derenberger says that the dark suited man walked to the right side of his truck, spoke to him telepathically, and asked him to roll down his window and was saying that he meant Derenberger no harm.
The grinning man asked what he was called. Puzzled, Derenberger figures that the man is asking him his name, so Derenberger tells him. In response, the strange man said that he was called “Cold”. Derenberger said that he could see that Cold noticed the lights coming from Parkersburg, West Virginia off in the distance in the night sky. Cold asked Derenberger “What is that over there?” Derenberger tells him that what he was seeing was the city of Parkersburg. Cold then asked if that is were the people live, Derenberger said “No, Parkersburg is more of a place of business and most of the people live on the outskirts of town.”
Cold went on with his strange questions for a little while longer. After Cold seemed satisfied with what he had learned, he looked at Derenberger and said “It’s been nice talking to you Mr. Derenberger. We will be seeing you again,” and turned and started to walk away from Derenberger’s truck. As Cold did so, the strange craft began to descend back to the highway and the door opened. Cold climbed back inside and the door shut behind him with the same audible “thunk” that Derenberger had heard before and the vehicle sped away into the cold November night.
Indrid Cold has been linked to real phenomenon and many people claimed to have encountered him. Some say that there is only one grinning man, some say that there are many, but all eyewitnesses agree on one thing, he will scare the hell out of you. Eyewitnesses believe that Indrid Cold is one of the mysterious men in black, an alien, some other unknown creature or all of the above. Wherever Indrid Cold has been seen, UFO sightings, disasters, or other strange phenomenon seems to follow.
Just ten days after Woodrow Derenberger’s encounter with Indred Cold, another series of bizarre events began to unfold all around the region, receiving the world wide attention of the press at the time, and Indred Cold seems to be involved.
On November 12, 1966, near Clendenin, West Virginia, five men were in the local cemetery, digging a grave for a burial, when something that looked like a “brown human being” lifted off from some nearby trees and flew over their heads. The men were perplexed. It did not appear to be a bird, but more like a man with wings. This incident would be the first of many to come.
Late in the evening of Nov. 15, 1966, two young married couples, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette had a very bizarre encounter as they drove past an area of town known as “the TNT area”, the site of a former World War II munitions plant near Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
The couples saw two large eyes that they said “glowed red” in the cars headlights and were attached to something that “looked like a man, but bigger, maybe six or seven feet tall”. It had wings folded against its back”. When it moved toward the plant door, they panicked and sped away. Just a short time later, they saw the same creature on a hillside near the road. It spread its “10 to 12 feet” wings and flew into the air and gave chase to their car, which was now traveling at over 100 miles per hour.
When they got into town, they made a report of the horrifying event to Deputy Sheriff Millard Halstead. They reported that, whatever it was had followed them down Highway 62 to the Point Pleasant city limits. They would not be the only ones to report the strange creature that night. Another group of four witnesses claimed to see the same thing, three different times. Another sighting had even more inexplicable results.
At about 10:30pm on that same evening, Newell Partridge, a building contractor who lived in Salem, which is about 90 miles from Point Pleasant, was watching television when the screen went dark. He reported that an eerie pattern filled the screen and that is when he heard a loud whining sound from outside that raised in pitch and then stopped. Partridge said “It sounded like a generator winding up”. Partridge’s dog, Bandit, began to howl on the front porch, and he grabbed his flashlight went out to see what was going on.
When he got outside, he saw Bandit looking at the barn, 150 yards from the house. Partridge shined the flashlight in that direction and spotted two red circles that looked like “bicycle reflectors”. The red orbs were not like any animal’s eyes he’d had ever seen, and the sight of them frightened him to the core.
Bandit, a hunting dog and protective of his territory, took off across the yard in pursuit of the glowing red eyes. Partridge commanded him to stop, but Bandit was hot on its trail. Partridge turned and went back into the house to get his shotgun, but realized he was too scared to go back outside again. That night he slept with his gun propped up next to his bed. The next morning, he realized that Bandit had not come back. Two days pass and Bandit still had not shown up when Partridge read in the newspaper about the sightings in Point Pleasant the same night of his own strange sighting.
One statement that he read chilled him to the bone. Roger Scarberry, one member of the group who spotted the strange creature at the TNT plant, said that as they entered the city limits of Point Pleasant, they saw a large dog lying on the side of the road. A few minutes later, on the way back out of town, the dog was gone. They even stopped to look for the dog, knowing they had passed it just a short time before. Newell Partridge immediately thought of Bandit, who was never seen again.
On November 16, a press conference was held at the county courthouse and the couples from the TNT plant sighting retold their story. Deputy Halstead, who had known the couples all of their lives, took them very seriously. “They’ve never been in any trouble,” he told investigators and had no reason to doubt their stories. A wildlife biologist, Dr. Robert L. Smith of West Virginia University told reporters that descriptions and sightings all fit the description of the Sandhill Crane, a large American crane, as high as a man, with a seven foot wingspan and circles of reddish coloring around the eyes, and that the crane may have been blown out of its migration route by a severe storm. The news of the sightings spread around the world. The press dubbed the creature “Mothman”, after a character from the popular Batman television series.
The remote and abandoned TNT plant became the haunt of the Mothman in the months ahead. The area was made up of several hundred acres of woods and large concrete domes where the high explosives were stored during World War II. A web of tunnels under the area made it possible for the creature to move about without being seen. The area was also encompassed the McClintic Wildlife Station, a heavily wooded preserve filled with ponds and steep ridges and hills. Much of the land was almost inaccessible. Mothman could have hid for weeks or months and remained unseen. The only people who ever strayed there were hunters, fishermen and teenagers who used the dirt roads as a “lover’s lane”.
Few homes could be found in the region at the time, but one of the few belonged to the Thomas family. On November 16, they spotted a “red light” in the sky that moved and hovered above the TNT plant. Mrs. Marcella Bennett, a friend of the Thomas family reported, “We couldn’t figure out what it was.” Mrs. Bennett drove to the Thomas house a few minutes later and got out of the car with her baby girl. When she got out of the car, a figure stirred near the automobile. “It seemed as though it had been lying down,” she later said. “It rose up from the ground. A big gray thing. Bigger than a man with terrible glowing eyes.”
Mrs. Bennett was so horrified that she dropped the baby. She quickly recovered and picked up her child and ran into the house. The family locked the doors and hysteria gripped them as the creature moved onto the porch and peered into the windows. The police were called, but the Mothman had vanished by the time the authorities had arrived.
Mrs. Bennett would not recover from the incident for months and was so troubled, that she sought medical attention to deal with her fears. She was plagued by frightening dreams and later told investigators that the creature had visited her also. She said that she could often hear the sounds of a woman screaming near her secluded home on the edge of Point Pleasant.
Many would come to believe that the sightings of Mothman, as well as UFO sightings, encounters with men in black and Woodrow Derenberger’s run in with Indred Cold were all related. For nearly a year, strange happenings continued in the area. Researchers, investigators and “monster hunters” descended on the area but none as famous as author John Keel, who has written extensively about Mothman and other unexplained anomalies. By this time, most of the sightings had come to an end and Mothman had faded away from which he had came. But the story of Point Pleasant had not yet ended.
At around 5:00 in the evening on December 15, 1967, the 700 foot long bridge linking Point Pleasant to Ohio suddenly collapsed while filled with rush hour traffic. Dozens of vehicles plunged into the dark waters of the Ohio River and 46 people were killed. Two of those were never found and the other 44 are buried together in the town cemetery of Gallipolis, Ohio. The collapse of the Silver Bridge made headlines all over the country, television crews from everywhere descended on the town. The local citizens were stunned with horror and disbelief and the effect of the tragedy is still being felt today.
There were no Mothman reports in the immediate aftermath of the December 15, 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge, but strange things still took place. A reporter by the name of Mary Hyre, who was the Point Pleasant correspondent for the Athens, Ohio newspaper The Messenger, wrote extensively about the local sightings. After one active weekend, she was swamped with over 500 phone calls from people who saw strange lights in the skies.
One night in January 1967, she was working late in her office in the county courthouse, and a man walked in the door. He was very short and had strange eyes that were covered with thick glasses. He also had long, black hair that was cut “like a bowl haircut”. Hyre said that he spoke in a low, halting voice. He was not interested in the Mothman or the Silver Bridge disaster. Instead, he was asking questions about the people who were reporting seeing the strange lights in the sky. Also he asked for directions to Welsh, West Virginia. She thought that he had some sort of speech impediment and for some reason, and he terrified her. “He kept getting closer and closer to me and his eyes were staring at me hypnotically.”
Frightened, she called the newspaper’s manager into her office, were they spoke to the strange man. She said that at one point in the discussion, she had to answer the telephone when it rang and she noticed the man pick up a pen from her desk. He gazed at it with astonishment, “as if he had never seen a pen before.” Then he took the pen, laughed loudly and ran out of the building. Several weeks later Hyre was crossing the street near her office and saw the same man on the street. He was startled when he realized that she was watching him, turned away quickly and ran for a large black sedan that suddenly came around the corner. The man climbed in and it quickly drove away.
That same night, an identically described man visited the homes of several people in the area who had reported seeing the lights in the sky. He made all of them very uncomfortable. He claimed to be a reporter from Cambridge, Ohio, and inadvertently admitted that he did not know where Columbus, Ohio was, even though the two towns are just a few miles apart. Could this man who was reported by the witnesses, be the mysterious Indred Cold? Or was it one of his lower level MIB lackeys? The fact is that we may never know.
Point Pleasant is proud of it’s very bizarre history, and in 2002 held it’s First Annual Mothman Festival. The Festival is a weekend-long event held on the 3rd weekend of every September. There are a variety of events that go on during the festival, such as guest speakers, exhibits, and a hayride tour focusing on the notable areas of Point Pleasant that relate to the Mothman sightings.
In 2003 the town unveiled a 12-foot-tall metallic statue of Mothman, created by artist and sculptor Bob Roach. The shining statue stands in the center of town and is a big draw for travelers who are just passing through or anyone who wants to have a photo taken with the local legend. In 2005, The Mothman Museum and Research Center opened it’s doors to the public, and to this day remains the only Mothman themed museum in the world and is run by Jeff Wamsley.
So if you ever find yourself driving through Wild, Wonderful West Virginia and you see a sign that reads “Welcome to Point Pleasant”, stop in and have a look around. But always keep a keen eye open. Because some say that The Mothman is still around somewhere, hiding and watching from the thick wooded areas that surround this little town. And who knows, the next corner you turn, you might find yourself face to face with a creepy grinning man in a dark suit, who calls himself Cold.