The Mothman Prophecies true story John A. Keel
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The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
Starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Debra Messing, Will Patton
based on the book "The Mothman Prophecies" by John A. Keel
Reel Face: Real Face:
Richard Gere Mothman Prophecies movie Richard Gere

August 31, 1949
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
John A. Keel John A. Keel
March 25, 1930
Birthplace: Hornell, New York, USA
Death: July 3, 2009, New York City (congestive heart failure)
Laura Linney as Connie Mills Laura Linney

February 5, 1964
Birthplace: New York City, New York, USA
Mary E. Hyre Mary Hyre
September 30, 1915
Birthplace: Clipper Mills, Ohio, USA
Death: February 15, 1970, Point Pleasant, West Virginia (after a four week illness)
Mothman movie sketch Mothman
Sketch from the movie.
Mothman Linda Scarberry Mothman
Sketch by eyewitness Linda Scarberry.

It’s really very fictionalized, maybe we should have said 'inspired by true events' rather than ‘based on true events’. -Mark Pellington, director (Entertainment Weekly, 2002)

Questioning the Story:

Did John Klein really work for the Washington Post?
No. The real John Klein (Richard Gere’s character), John A. Keel, was a paranormal researcher and author. Keel was in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966 to write about UFO’s for Playboy magazine when he was introduced to the Mothman events (USA Today). His subsequent book, The Mothman Prophecies, became the inspiration for the movie and is considered by many to be the definitive source on the Mothman legend. Watch John Keel speak about the creature, the Silver Bridge collapse and his interactions with lights in the sky in the Mothman videos section below.

In reality, The Mothman Prophecies true story brings to light that it was Laura Linney's character's real life counterpart, Mary Hyre, who was the journalist. She did not work as the local sheriff like Laura Linney's Connie Mills character in the movie. Mary Hyre worked for The Athens Messenger and was in close contact with John Keel during his investigations into the sightings in the area. Following her death, Keel spoke of Mary in a letter, writing, "I still can't quite believe she is gone. We had a lot of strange experiences together which we never told anyone about." -Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend

Was John’s wife (Debra Messing’s character) in the movie based on a real person?
No. The Mothman true story reveals that John Keel (the real John Klein) was not married. Scenes in The Mothman Prophecies movie that include “his wife” are not comparable to any real life events that occurred.

Was Will Patton’s character, Gordon Smallwood, based on a real person?
Woodrow Derenberger
WTAP's Ronald Maines speaks with
eyewitness Woody Derenberger (right).
No. According to The Mothman Prophecies director, Mark Pellington, Patton's character was not based on a single individual. "He’s invented," said Pellington, "a composite of two of the major witnesses who had intense Mothman manifestations." (USA Today) The most notable of these two witnesses is Woodrow Derenberger, who claims to have spoken and met with Indrid Cold, a supposed alien with telepathic powers who resembled an average-sized man. Indrid Cold and the Mothman sightings are considered separate unexplained events that happened in the same general area during the same time period. -The Mothman Prophecies book

Were Mothman witnesses’ eyes and ears affected?
Yes, in many cases the eyes were affected. Most witnesses who saw the Mothman or other UFOs experience “eyeburn” or klieg conjunctivitis due to intense exposure from ultraviolet rays. They often describe a sandy dry feeling in their eyes, usually accompanied by redness, swelling and watering. Mary Mallette, one of the first witnesses of the Mothman, was the only person to experience any ear trauma. At a later sighting, after hearing a “loud metallic noise”, her ear began to bleed. Keel noted that the bleeding was “a sign of concussion, meaning the air pressure had changed suddenly.”
-The Mothman Prophecies book

Who were the first witnesses to see the Mothman?
Steve and Mary Mallette, Roger and Linda Scarberry Mothman Witnesses
Couples Steve and Mary Mallette (left)
and Roger and Linda Scarberry (right).
The first eyewitnesses to see the Mothman were two married couples, Steve and Mary Mallette and Roger and Linda Scarberry on Tuesday, November 15, 1966. It was close to midnight when the couples spotted the creature while driving in Scarberry's car. They described it as being around six or seven feet tall with red eyes and a wing span of 10 feet. "It was like a man with wings," Mallette said. However, they pointed out that its head was not an outstanding characteristic. The light grey creature was a clumsy runner, but they estimated that it flew at about 100 miles an hour, stating that it flew across the top of their car. They noted the creature's eyes, which glowed red, only when their lights were on it. -The Point Pleasant Register

Did witnesses ever lose track of time during their encounters?
Yes. When researching The Mothman Prophecies true story we discovered that some witnesses reported feeling that their experiences were much longer or shorter than what the time would indicate. In the case of two young lovers who were interrupted by a blue ball of light hovering next to their car, they said, “It seemed like we only looked at that light for a couple of seconds. But somehow it must have taken two hours.” -The Mothman Prophecies book

Were most of the paranormal sightings at a cement factory?
Igloo in TNT Area
A concrete igloo in the TNT area.
No. Most sightings were in the “TNT area”, officially known as the McClintic Wildlife Management Area, about six miles north of Point Pleasant. It was in this area that the first eyewitnesses saw the Mothman. The “TNT area” is where about 100 concrete storage igloos were constructed during World War II. These igloos were used to store dynamite and designed to be unnoticed from the air.

Could something paranormal read John’s mind?
Yes. John Keel had a couple of experiences that convinced him something was reading his mind. One experience was similar to the phone conversation that John Klein (Richard Gere) had with Indrid Cold in the movie. Instead of hiding his watch, Keel asked the caller where he had misplaced his stopwatch. The voice on the phone told him where it was and surprisingly, he found it. -The Mothman Prophecies book

Were phone calls interrupted with static, beeping and clicking?
Movie's Mothman Creature
The movie's interpretation of the Mothman.
Yes. Many people received calls that only had beeping or loud screeching noises when they answered them. They were also often interrupted by static or disconnected entirely. The problems were not limited to phones though and often affected police radios and televisions too. -The Mothman Prophecies book

Were phone calls recorded?
Yes. Phone calls were recorded as often as possible, however, the recordings sounded like static when played back. -The Mothman Prophecies book

Did any other prophecies occur?
Yes, but they do not correspond to the fictional dates and events in the movie (the 2002 movie was set in the present), and they are not related to the Mothman. In the movie, Will Patton's character, Gordon Smallwood, hears a voice (presumably Indrid Cold's) that tells him, "99 will die, Denver 9." A day or so after hearing the voice, his character learns of a plane crash, Flight 9 out of Denver, which has resulted in the deaths of 99 people. In his book, first published in 1976, John A. Keel writes briefly about communicating with entities that predicted plane crashes that "occurred right on schedule".

Did Connie Mills really have a dream about drowning while surrounded by Christmas gifts?
Not exactly. A dream prophecy was reported and the event happened, however, it was not the same premonition as in the movie. Mary Hyre, a newspaper reporter that often accompanied Mr. Keel in Point Pleasant investigations, dreamt that “there were a lot of people drowning in the river and Christmas packages were floating everywhere in the water.” (The Mothman Prophecies book) Her counterpart in the movie, Connie Mills (Laura Linney), describes a dream in which she herself is drowning in an ocean, surrounded by floating Christmas presents.

Silver Bridge
Silver Bridge after collapse
Did the Silver Bridge really collapse?
Yes. The Silver Bridge, which was built in 1928, buckled during rush hour on December 15, 1967. There were 37 vehicles on the bridge at the time it collapsed into the Ohio River. A 3-part Silver Bridge documentary can be viewed in the Mothman videos section below. -West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Were the traffic lights malfunctioning when the bridge collapsed?
Yes. According to witnesses of the tragedy, the Point Pleasant traffic lights had been malfunctioning all day, causing cars and trucks to back up on the Silver Bridge. -USA Today

Did 36 people really die when the Silver Bridge collapsed?
While The Mothman Prophecies movie indicated that there were 36 people killed, the true story reveals that the actual number of people that died is 46. According to director Mark Pellington, the studio “didn’t want to kill too many” people so the number was changed. Pellington chose his father’s football number, 36. -USA Today

Did John Klein jump in the river to save police officer Connie Mills?
Silver Bridge collapse
Above: Film recreation of collapse.
Below: Real 1967 recovery effort.
No. John was not in Point Pleasant when the bridge collapsed. According to John Keel’s book, The Mothman Prophecies, he was in his apartment in New York watching the White House Christmas tree lighting. He had been told by a man in black (men in black were not mentioned in the movie but are a substantial portion of the book) that the whole country would blackout when the tree was lit. The news of the Silver Bridge collapse interrupted the lighting ceremony broadcast at that moment. -The Mothman Prophecies book

What caused the Silver Bride to collapse?
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the Silver Bridge collapsed due to a defective eyebar on the Ohio side of the bridge. The eyebar had a small crack that worsened throughout the years due to corrosion, heavy loads and lack of maintenance. When it broke, the bridge could not support itself and fell into the river ( The tragedy led to the creation of the National Bridge Inspection Standards.

Mothman Statue
Mothman Statue in
Point Pleasant, WV
What do people think the Mothman is?
Here are a few Mothman theories that I came across during my research into The Mothman Prophecies true story…

Many people throughout the world believe Mothman is an indicator of impending disaster. Claims have been made that it has been seen before a number of large scale accidents, including in Chernobyl, Ukraine prior to the nuclear accident of 1986. After the incidents occur, Mothman sightings seem to disappear entirely, only backing that theory further.

Some residents of Point Pleasant believe that the Mothman is directly related to the Curse of Chief Cornstalk. The Chief and his son had gone to warn the soldiers about a band of rogue Indians who were not abiding by the peace treaty, but the two were instead captured and killed. Although often disputed, there are claims that Shawnee Chief Cornstalk uttered a curse while he was being killed by the American soldiers, and that the Mothman was sent by him to fulfill his words.

A few people have mentioned that they believe the Mothman is a Thunderbird. In various Native American cultures, the Thunderbird is depicted as a large bird that can cause wind and thunder with its wings, as well as shoot lightning out through its eyes.
Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane

Some professors suggested that what was seen during the sightings was probably a Sandhill Crane. Although these cranes can have a wingspan of up to eight feet and have red feathers on their forehead, the theory was not widely accepted. The Sandhill Crane is not native to the area, nor had they ever been seen there before or since.

A few scientists also came out at the time claiming it was likely a large weather balloon that they had released in the area to study the air currents. Almost no one agreed with this theory though, claiming that a balloon could not be mistaken for the Mothman.

Journalist Mary Hyre, the basis for Laura Linney’s character in the movie, speculated in a 1966 article that the creature may have been a large owl. She reported that although the white and brown owl stood only about two-feet tall on the ground, it had a wingspan of nearly five feet, which would make it look very large in the air. In her article, she notes that the original witnesses, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette, said that the owl did not match the description of what they saw.

I have also heard a few things about it possibly being a prehistoric dinosaur bird.

Believe what you want.

Mothman Prophecies Interviews & Related Video

Watch related Mothman videos, including footage of The Mothman Prophecies author John A. Keel speaking about the creature. Also view an engaging 3-part documentary on the Silver Bridge collapse, which includes interviews and explains why the bridge fell.