Has the fabled “Mothman” made Chicago home?

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Alicia Goluszka | The DePaulia

Since 2017, Chicago residents in both the city and suburbs have reported seeing a large, winged creature in the city’s skyline. Multiple witnesses describe the creature as being taller than a human being with glowing eyes and bat-like wings. Many have dubbed the mystery creature the “Chicago Mothman” due to similarities with the humanoid made famous in John Keel’s 1975 book, “The Mothman Prophecies.” 

A recent sighting came in November 2019 when a truck driver claimed to have seen the mysterious creature while on the job, picking up a shipment of Nippon at O’Hare International Airport. The witness said he was having a cigarette as the truck was being loaded when he spotted something like a large bird standing by the parking lot fence. He said in a statement: “It looked like a person with wings that were stretched out and flapping.”

Reports like this have been numerous in the past three years. In Chicago there were 55 sightings of a similar winged being in 2017 alone. In a January 2018 article, Vice interviewed an employee of Logan Square bar The Owl, who says he spotted the Mothman gliding above the northwest-side neighborhood one night while working. Bouncer John Amitrano told Vice “It didn’t look like a bat so much as what illustrations of pterodactyls look like. This thing didn’t have any feathers or fur, and it didn’t fly like anything I’ve ever seen.”

Sightings such as these are not new to Illinois. On July 25, 1977, a Logan County resident claimed that while watching her children play in the backyard one evening, two giant bird-like creatures attacked her family. One of these giant birds, the resident claimed, snatched up her son in its talons and carried him several yards before dropping the child.    

For many who take these reports seriously, spotting the Mothman isn’t all in good fun. Largely due to Keel’s book, the Mothman is often considered to be a harbinger of doom. Believers in the creature often associated him with the deadly Silver Bridge collapse of Point Pleasant West Virginia, where the lives of forty-six people were lost to the icy Ohio River on December 15, 1967. A statue of the Mothman has since been erected in Point Pleasant. A stark and somber reminder for those who believe his myth. Whether the Mothman is the bringer of misfortune or simply a neutral party trying to warn us of inevitable tragedy is a point of debate among paranormal enthusiasts. If Chicago’s newest winged resident is the same Mothman that Keel wrote of, should Chicagoans be worried? 

“I think Chicagoans worry a lot anyway,” said Depaul Professor Tricia Hermes, who teaches composition and rhetoric with a focus on ghost stories and folklore. “We worry about the weather, our sports teams (I’m a Cubs fan), taxes and crime. Mothman looks very frightening and foreboding, that would be how I would feel.”

Theories as to who or what the Mothman really is are as numerous as the reported sightings of him. Some believe him to be an extraterrestrial, while others categorize him as a legendary beast akin to Bigfoot or the Jersey Devil. Often, he is described as an interdimensional traveler, an “ultra-terrestrial” with command over space and time with the ability to jump from one dimension to another like a car changing lanes. 

Considering that tensions are high around the world due to a global pandemic, Hermes believes that spooky legends such as the Mothman serve a greater purpose than  mere entertainment.

“The amount of conspiracies springing up about this pandemic is crazy,” Hermes said. “Some say this is Mother Earth’s way of taking revenge on humans. I think a belief in the paranormal – like Mothman – can be a kind of shield from the even harsher truths of the world.” 

For some, a figure like the Mothman could be the perfect scapegoat. A totem some folks would use to direct their fears and frustration with the current level of chaos in the world. For Hermes, that is the role the Mothman served in the case of the Silver Bridge collapse. “People want to make sense of these things. Random violence and accidental death are frightening and something we cannot control. We look for meaning in the chaos.”

Whether you believe in the Mothman or not, his impact on pop culture and modern mythology is undeniable. Keel’s book served as the inspiration for the 2002 film “The Mothman Prophecies” starring Richard Gere. Countless other books, blogs, and documentaries have come and gone since. The Mothman is even celebrated annually in the town he originally put his mark on, Point Pleasant. Every year, between ten and twelve thousand paranormal lovers come to the West Virginia town for the Mothman Festival. According to the festival’s official website visitors can enjoy the event for free, where there will be “live music, merchandise from various vendors, great food, cosplay and speakers.”      

However, considering the amount of time Mothman seems to have  been spending in the Windy City as of late, it leads one to wonder if the flying specter hasn’t chosen to make Chicago his new home. For some, that may be bad news, but consider the positive: In the midst of a global pandemic, who does social distancing better than a mythical creature?