The Sewing Machine Salesman
On Wednesday, November 2, 1966, around 7:30pm, a sewing machine salesman, named Woodrow Derenberger, stops on an isolated stretch of Highway I-77 near Parkersburg, West Virginia. A flying vehicle that looked like “an old fashioned kerosene lamp chimney” had overtaken him and stopped in front of his truck.
As the baffled salesman looked on, a man who “looked perfectly natural and normal as any human being” descended from the ship. The salesman recounted his experience the next day to the local news, saying:
“I am a salesman and I drive a truck, and last night shortly after 7:00, I was coming from Marietta OH, coming down Interstate 77, and just before I came to the [intersection] of route 47, there was a car, [that] passed me, overtaking me from behind. And following closely behind this car was this unidentified flying object, and as the car behind passed me, this object was following close behind it and swerved directly in front of my truck, turning crosswise. And when it turned crosswise, it slowed down.
It started slowing not abruptly or too fast, but gave me plenty of time to step on my brakes and slow down with it. But it forced me to come to a complete stop. As soon as I had stopped, there was a door opened in the side of this vehicle, and this man stepped out, and came directly to me, came to the truck. He walked to the right hand side of the truck, and he told me to roll down the window.
He asked me to roll down the window on the right hand side of my truck, and I done what he asked. And this man stood there, and he first asked me what I was called, and I knew he meant my name and I told him my name. And then he asked me, he said ‘Why are you frightened?’ He said ‘Don’t be frightened, we wish you no harm.’ He said ‘We mean you no harm, we wish you only happiness.’ And I told him my name, and when I told him my name, he said he was called Cold.”
The sewing machine salesman’s full interview can be viewed here.
And, so began, a most odd period of time in West Virginia that would provide the area with a unique and unrivaled lore, attracting tourists and media alike for years to come. But what really transpired during the year of 1966 in Point Pleasant, West Virginia?
Grave Diggers and Lovers Heighten the Hysteria
A little over a week later, on November 12, 1966, five men allegedly watched something fly out from some nearby trees while they were digging a grave in a cemetery near Clendenin, West Virginia.
According to the official West Virginia Department of Commerce website, the stunned men described what they saw as a “brown human being” that flew out from the trees and glided low over their heads.
Three days later, and about 1.5 hours away, two young couples from Point Pleasant, West Virginia reported to police that they had also encountered a large, flying creature with red eyes. They described it as a “large flying man with ten-foot wings, [that followed] their car while they [drove through] an area outside of town known as ‘the TNT area’, the site of a former World War II munitions plant.”
The TNT Area is described as “mostly forest, dotted with numerous grassy clearings and concrete domes” and “is also riddled with abandoned tunnels, most of which have collapsed, been sealed off, or became flooded with water.” The area houses around 100 concrete storage igloos constructed during the World War II era, which “were used to store dynamite and designed to be unnoticed from the air.”
By that weekend, there had been an additional sighting which caught the attention of local media outlets. According to the November 18, 1966 copy of The Williamson Daily News, a Doddridge County, WV man claimed to have seen the creature in a meadow outside of his home.
This sighting reportedly took place around 90 minutes before the Point Pleasant sighting. Doddridge County appears to be at least one or, more likely, two hours away from Point Pleasant via car; however, the Point Pleasant couples claimed to have witnessed the creature travelling up to 100 miles per hour and easily keeping up with their speeding vehicle.
The Doddridge County man asserted that during an otherwise normal night, his television had began to make odd sounds “like a generator winding up,” and the screen ultimately blanked out leaving a “fine herringbone pattern” on the display.
After the tv went out, the man joined his German Shepherd dog, Bandit, who had begun to howl on the porch outside. Standing there, the man pointed his flashlight into a field outside of his house, and saw something with eyes like red “bicycle reflectors.” The dog ran off into the field with his hackles raised ready to attack. The man ran inside to get his gun but was too scared to go back outside. He never found or saw his dog again.
Interestingly, the two young couples that would be chased by the creature (only 90 minutes after this incident) would separately report to the police that “as they were driving, they saw a large dead dog laying along the road.” They all agreed that as they passed the same point later in the night (while fleeing from the creature), the dog’s body was no longer there. Police searched the TNT Area but were never able to recover the dog or any evidence of the Mothman.
The strange events continued the very next night. On November 16, 1966, a 21-year-old woman and her friends walked back to their vehicles from a social call to a friend’s house located near the same TNT Area in Point Pleasant. The woman was carrying her three-year-old daughter. As they paused to discuss some mysterious lights hovering above the trees in the night sky, the woman noticed a large, dark figure standing directly in front of her. She described initially noticing what appeared to be the legs of a man, but immediately realized that they were covered with gray feathers and she could not see any feet. At first, she thought it was a large man in a grey jumpsuit but upon focusing on the individual, she realized that the “six-foot-tall” creature had a “neck [that] looked like it went down [and] in, like a bird.”
As her friends screamed and ran back to the house, the woman’s legs gave out from under her, and dropping her young daughter, she fell hard onto the toddler. The woman was finally able to regain her composure, collect her daughter, and run for the house after hearing “what she interpreted to be the flapping of enormous wings” overhead, as though the creature had flown away.
After the woman and her friends locked themselves inside the home, the creature continued to reemerge “shuffling onto the porch, [pushing] on the door, and peering into the windows.” Eventually, it left them alone and disappeared; however, the woman was deeply traumatized afterwards and insisted that the creature “had a link to her and would come back.” She had to seek medical treatment for anxiety afterwards, and felt as though she could still hear the creature’s high pitched sound, like a “woman screaming,” outside of her house windows at night.
The rash of frequent sightings and reports continued for around two weeks after the initial Mothman sighting. Reports of strange experiences in the area continued for months afterwards intermittently, yet not with as much frequency and fervor as the initial claims. Though the encounters seemed to dissipate with time, the sightings continued regularly until the collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, over a year later, on December 15, 1967.
The Silver Bridge collapsed due to a design flaw, in which, “the failure of a single eyebar in a suspension chain, due to a small defect 0.1 inch (2.5 mm) deep” created a domino effect throughout the entire structure. The collapse occurred during rush hour traffic and resulted in the deaths of 46 people.
The sightings of the Mothman abruptly stopped after the Silver Bridge collapse, leading many to speculate whether the creature was a harbinger of doom. Other theories surmise that the Mothman could have visited Point Pleasant “to warn of the imminent collapse of the Silver Bridge, [or] was lured [there] in anticipation of the event, or caused the tragedy itself.”
Sightings of creatures similar to the Mothman have been reported in association with other major tragedies, as well:
- On September 10, 1978 in Freiburg, Germany, approximately 21 miners were blocked from entering their job site by “a creature with red glowing eyes on its chest, with huge dark wings on its back, [and] the body of a man.” The workers fled from the creature as it unfurled its wings and shrieked. They discovered later that the mine had collapsed during the same workday, and if the men had been working, they would have all either been killed or trapped.
- There were a rash of Mothman sightings at Chernobyl before the nuclear disaster. At least four people claimed to see a winged creature over the site of the catastrophe before the failure. There were also claims that first responders reported sightings of a winged creature “circling in and out of the black smoke” in the hours after the disaster. However, these reports remain largely unverifiable as the supposed witnesses of which were either killed in the explosion, or died subsequently as a result of radiation exposure. The creature became known as The Black Bird of Chernobyl.
Mr. Cold, and Company?
Though the sightings of The Mothman would begin to fade away after the bridge collapse, residents of Point Pleasant continued to experience odd phenomenon, such as mysterious phone calls, paranormal activity, and unidentifiable lights in the sky.
The book that John Keel would go on to write about the happenings would bear this description of the bizarre encounters:
“…The inhabitants of Point Pleasant had been haunted by strange monsters and apparitions. Mysterious aerial lights had travelled silently over the little town. Homes throughout the area were plagued with eerie, unearthly noises and ghostly manifestations…”
Residents also began complaining of encounters with enigmatic and well-dressed gentlemen, much like the Mr. Cold met by the sewing machine salesman outside of Parkersburg.
Local reporter, Mary Hyre, would have several interactions with what Keel would later popularize in his book as the “more baffling Men-In-Black-type[s].” An associate of John Keel’s, Mary was well-known for her extensive coverage of Mothman sightings in the newspaper, The Athens Messenger. She was also “the acting manager at their sister office on 6th Street in downtown Point Pleasant.”
In January 1967, Mary Hyre was visited in her office by an odd man with thick glasses and long, black hair that was cut “like a bowl haircut.” He kept asking about the lights in the sky that she had reported about previously, even though most other news representatives and visitors primarily had questions about the Silver Bridge collapse or the Mothman. Mary was very struck by his voice which was low and hesitating- she felt as though he had a speech impediment, but could not place exactly why she felt that way. The man also kept getting closer and closer to her, and she noticed that he seemed to stare at her without blinking.
After their interaction was interrupted by a phone call, which Mary happily had to take, the man began to intensely study a ballpoint pen on Mary’s desk “as if he had never seen a pen before.” He then laughed loudly and ran out of the building, taking the pen with him.
The same night, a man would visit the homes of other residents. He fit the same, exact description as the man at Mary’s office. He claimed to be a reporter from Cambridge, Ohio, which was just a few miles away from Point Pleasant. But the man later, reportedly, “inadvertently admitted that he did not know where Columbus, Ohio was.” Most of the people he visited that night had witnessed mysterious lights in the sky, and all of them were very uncomfortable in the man’s presence.
Yet another, or perhaps the same, odd man would also visit Mary’s niece, Connie Carpenter. According to John Keel’s book, the man, who identified himself as “Jack Brown,” told Connie that he was a friend of both Mary Hyre and John Keel. He initially asked if he could talk to her about a separate experience in which she had reported seeing the Mothman. Connie politely let him in, but quickly felt as though all of his questions were geared specifically towards the reporters.
At one point, the man asked:
“What do you think–if–what would Mary Hyre do–if someone told her to stop writing about UFOs?”
Connie quickly retorted:
“She’d probably tell them to drop dead.”
Connie thought most of his other questions seemed “stupid, [or] even unintelligible.”
Connie, her husband, and her brother all thought that the man’s strange demeanor was disturbing, but the man was also odd physically. They all noticed that the man had unusually long fingers and that “there was also something very peculiar about his ears. They couldn’t say exactly what. But there was something…”
In February 1967, Connie Carpenter was walking to school as usual when a large, black Buick pulled up beside of her. She described the driver as a suntanned, clean-cut man who was around 25 years old. He gestured for her to come over to the car and he opened the door. She initially assumed he needed directions. Upon Connie’s approach to the car, the man grabbed her, ripping her blouse in the process, and tried to pull her in the car. She, however, fought back and was able to run away.
Days later, Connie received a note reading “Be Careful Girl I Can Get You Yet”, which she insisted was from the man that had tried to abduct her.
There were reports by residents of these odd men all over town. Common details of the Men in Black in Point Pleasant, WV during this span of time include:
- They were seen driving seemingly brand new, but older models of black vehicles. The cars were usually models of Cadillacs, Buicks, and Lincolns that were “at least twenty to thirty years old, yet in mint condition.”
- They were often described as suntanned or olive-skinned with black, if any, hair. The men usually appeared to be foreign or had dark features, and were reported as displaying “movements that sometimes appear to have been robotic in nature” or as moving in a “mechanical” fashion.
- The Men in Black in Point Pleasant also did not seem to know how to eat food properly. On one occasion, diners witnessed a man in a local restaurant who did not know how to use a knife or fork. The man made the same kind of rambling, incoherent conversation as other purported Men in Black, but he also casually mentioned being from “another world,” which the waitress thought was a corny pick-up line.
During a different encounter, a “Men-in-Black-type” proceeded to fold a piece of jello in a napkin and place it in his pocket while he attempted to interview a UFO witness.
Motivation is hard to determine regarding the Men in Black, but most witnesses felt intimidated or scared by them. These individuals could easily be out-of-town oddballs attempting to enhance or be a part of the hysteria engulfing Point Pleasant at this time. However, the reports of such individuals were detailed, verified, and unrelenting.
Tragically, Mary Hyre would unexpectedly be found deceased in 1970 after a short illness. Many conspiracy theorists question if her sudden death wasn’t related to her work in publicizing the Mothman and UFO sightings in Point Pleasant, WV during 1966 and 1967.
Conclusions and Theories
The actual Indrid Cold was never definitively seen by (or named to) anyone other than the sewing machine salesman, Woodrow Derenberger, though there were many people that claimed to have interactions with the Men In Black. Also, though Indrid Cold is casually referred to as The Grinning Man, no reference to him smiling can be found in Derenberger’s initial description of him. This reference seems to have originated from the story of two young boys that saw an odd smiling man, and the experiences were later conflated, which certainly enhanced the creepy factor of Derenberger’s account.
Though Derenberger’s initial claims of having interacted with the alien, Indrid Cold, “[were somewhat] corroborated when the local paper also released reports from multiple witnesses,” of seeing a UFO or lights in the sky that night, Derenberger continued to add detail after implausible detail. He would go on to interact with Cold again, as well as some of Cold’s cohorts, “Demo Hassan and Karl Ardo.” Derenberger ultimately claimed that Cold took him to visit their alien planet, Lanulos, and the rest of the story reads a lot like Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut.
Derenberger enjoyed the publicity initially and went on to co-author a book that detailed his experiences, but “after a while refused to talk to the press.” He then proceeded to disappear six-months at a time from his home and family, citing alien abduction by Cold. Ultimately, Derenberger’s claims about Indrid Cold would culminate in “years of harassing phone calls, people trespassing on his property, ridicule, embarrassment, job loss, friend lost, headaches and depression.” His wife would eventually leave him and take the kids citing the whole Indrid Cold ordeal.
Though the initial encounter with Indrid Cold may have seemed legitimate, it is hard to reconcile Derenberger’s later details and exposition with reality. The frequency, depth, and simplicity of witness accounts concerning the Mothman seem much more credible in comparison.
Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand studied some of the information concerning the Mothman in Point Pleasant, West Virginia during 1966-1967, and concluded that there were “elements in common among many Mothman reports and much older folk tales, suggesting that something real may have triggered the scares and became woven with existing folklore.”
Initial reports of the Mothman were countered by a professor of wildlife biology at West Virginia University as the sightings of a large, displaced Sandhill Crane. Though not a usual native to the area, the Sandhill Crane can grow as large as 4 feet tall and has red coloring around both eyes. This Mothman-Bird theory was bolstered by the fact that two volunteer firemen reported seeing “what definitely was a very large bird with red eyes” in the area on November 18, 1966.
Also, the infamous TNT Area is also known as the McClintic Wildlife Management Area which serves as a sanctuary for diverse wildlife, including birds. The description of the Mothman’s head and face, as well as his sounds, seem to coincide with that of a common barn owl, which are known to inhabit the McClintin Wildlife Management Area.
Is it possible that a variety of large, and darkly lit, fowl sightings contributed to the initial fervor surrounding the Mothman sightings? Perhaps, after the initial encounters, a combination of mass hysteria, embellishments, and deliberate trickery took over.
And what of the mysteriously well-clad, enigmatic men scouring the area for witnesses to interview? Were they legitimate government agents, reporters, or simply, rubber-neckers? Perhaps, they were all of the above.
There have been verified instances of secret government aircraft being viewed by civilians. The government, in an attempt to keep such projects confidential, have admitted to encouraging the belief in UFO’s and alien visitation as a convenient cover-up.
“The myth that extraterrestrial spacecraft were visiting earth was a convenient diversion to keep Americans’ imaginations running wild — to the point that it kept the Russians from knowing anything specific about the true capabilities of the United States.” –Police State USA Article
In fact, it has been revealed that many UFO sightings during the 1950’s and 1960’s were actually “fleeting glimpses of U-2 and SR-71 spy planes.” Perhaps, the government sought to ensure that the stories about unidentified lights in the sky were considered a bit too bizarre to be legitimate by sending mysteriously wacky agents to intimidate witnesses.
The years of the Mothman, and Indrid Cold, and the Men in Black in Point Pleasant, West Virginia have long since passed. Every year, a Mothman festival is held in Point Pleasant celebrating their rich folklore and history. And though, there are certainly explanations and theories regarding all of the happenings, the factors that would have converged to culminate in the intense period of supernatural reports in Point Pleasant between 1966 and 1967 are fascinating. The success of the annual festival, and the continued interest in the strange events during this time, serve to illustrate the lingering desire of the public that against all rational explanation, perhaps, the Mothman, and Indrid Cold, and the Men in Black, are all evidence that something truly mysterious and incomprehensible did transpire all of those years ago in Point Pleasant, WV.