Field Notes: An Interview with the Mothman Museum & Festival’s Ashley Wamsley Morrison

Ashley Wamsley Morrison was born in Gallipolis, Ohio on April 13, 1983 and has been a resident of Point Pleasant, West Virginia for the past 15 years. Her father Jeff Wamsley founded the Mothman Museum in Point Pleasant and Ashley manages the museum’s marketing and is one of the organizers of the Mothman Festival. In this interview she speaks about the legend of Mothman, and how the narrative and town’s promotion of the creature has evolved in Point Pleasant.

Mothman statue in Point Pleasant. Photo by Emily Hilliard

Ashley Wamsley Morrison: My name’s Ashley Wamsley [Morrison]. I was born April 13, 1983. I’m originally from Gallipolis, Ohio which is right across the river from Point Pleasant, but I’ve been a resident in Point Pleasant probably for the last 15-16 years. 

Emily Hilliard: Why don’t you tell me the Mothman story in your own words and how your family relates to it?

AWM: Well as far as the story goes, back in November of 1966, two young couples, the Scarberrys and the Malletes were up in the TNT area, which was often a place for teenagers to go and hang out and drag race, when they ran across a creature which they originally thought was a man standing in the road. It ended up being an out-of-this-world type figure with wings, about 6-7 feet tall with red eyes. It ended up chasing them, flying over top of their car, out to the outskirts back into town and here we are over 50 years later and we have the legend of the Mothman. 

How that relates to my family, is my dad actually grew up next to the eyewitnesses. So there’s 30th Street here in Point Pleasant, and my grandma still to this day has the same house there—and just a few doors down is where the Scarberrys lived. So Linda Scarberry who is basically the main eyewitness, dad approached her years ago and said, “What do you think about finally telling your story?” And because he used to be their paperboy when he was little, she had remembered him and trusted him and thought he would do a good job because you know, these people faced a lot of ridicule. A lot of the eyewitnesses including the Mallettes, who were their friends and were in the car with them that night, still to this day will not speak of it at all. Dad’s tried many times to get interviews, he’d do anything he could to get them to talk, and they still refused. They won’t talk about it. But Linda probably wanted some peace of mind, and finally put out her story to say, “What we experienced was real. We’re not crazy, we’re not on drugs and this kind of thing,” because that’s what a lot of people would say, even still today. And that’s basically how my family got into it. 

Then the Mothman Festival came first and after The Mothman Prophesies was filmed, they had all the props and stuff left over. These two guys named Bernie and Butch who owned a Food Land in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, where The Mothman Prophesies was filmed, bought all the props. They used to bring them down to the festival every year and set up. Then instead of coming down every year, they donated those props. So dad started setting them up and then we have the Mothman Museum—that’s how it was born. 

Mural on the wall of the Mothman Museum. Photo by Emily Hilliard

EH: So after the Scarberrys and Malletes came back and said they saw this creature, what happened in Point Pleasant and how did it go from that to becoming something that was turned into a Hollywood film?

AWM: Well, after that a man by the name of John Keel, who was a researcher and an author in New York City, started investigating paranormal activity. And it brought him to Point Pleasant. After the Mothman was seen, basically in that moment, the first place the eyewitnesses went was to the Sherriff’s office. They [the police] thought, this doesn’t sound right, but we’ll follow you anyways to see what’s going on. So they went up and even on the way, I remember Linda and them talking about seeing the creature on the way up and pointing at it, trying to get the police to look, but they never saw it. So the Scarberrys and Malletes saw it multiple occasions. But yeah, it was like mass hysteria basically. I use that term loosely. It’s not like—you had people that were scared and then you had people that were wanting to go up and hunt it. That became the thing to do, to go to the TNT area. I think even when dad was little, his dad would take him up there and there would be people everywhere. And that place is pretty desolate. It used to be a World War II manufacturing ammunitions depot. Then after the war, it was only open for 3 years. After that they shut it down and cleaned it back up, turned it into a wildlife refuge. But you know, it looks like you’re in the middle of nowhere when you’re out there. So after the Mothman sighting happened, that was the thing. People would go up and try to hunt Mothman and that.

Then John Keel comes into the picture, he’s investigating it, coming to Point Pleasant and staying. He became really close friends with Linda Scarberry and also Mary Hyre who was the local reporter for the Athens Messenger. So they have a lot of letters and stuff in the Mothman Museum of them conversing back and forth about what was going on and how they’re doing.

So here we are all these years later. It took a long time for—and it still is a process to get the locals to kind of grasp on to it. Most of them will tell you that the eyewitnesses were on drugs. “We went to school with them, they were on drugs,” all this. My response to that is, they were not. They were not. And the reason why I say that is, if you come to Point Pleasant, a lot of people fall in love with this town because we’re kind of like a Mayberry. We’re like 20 years behind time. So in the ’60s when the stuff we know—sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll stuff was going on, it was more like the ’40s.

So they didn’t have the disposable income to be doing these drugs. It wasn’t like a psychedelic experience, this is something they really experienced more than once. And you don’t go to the emergency room to be treated for shock and your life be changed and never want to talk about it, based on that. These people had a real experience.

Storefront of the Mothman Museum in Point Pleasant. Photo via the Mothman Museum

EH: What are the stories that you heard growing upin your family and just going to school?

AWM: Well, to be honest, there for a long time it was kind of a lull. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, you didn’t really hear a lot about Mothman that I remember, or maybe I was just too busy doing kids’ stuff. I don’t know.

Then later on, The Mothman Prophesies came out. I can’t remember if dad did his book first, ‘because he’s got two Mothman books that he did, where he interviewed the eyewitnesses. Yes, they were out first. And then The Mothman Prophesies came out. From that point on, it started changing, but it’s been a slow process getting the locals on board. The people of the generation that are still around that were here when that stuff was going on, they’re slowly coming to terms with realizing that it is good for the town. We’re reversing the curse, so to speak. So it’s good for the town, it brings people literally from all over the world and it’s the younger generations like the millennials that are really into it—which is cool, which I’m really happy about. So it’s been hit and miss throughout the years, but right now it’s a major hit which is good. And that’s why we’re here today doing this! (laughs)

A popular Mothman meme

EH: So how do you think Mothman got popular again, especially with millennials and all the memes and such?

AWM: Memes, oh yes! (laughs) I don’t know! I think it’s just a culmination of media events. It’s just like something reignited. The Mothman Prophesies hasn’t been out for years—like 15 years or more? It came out right after I graduated high school. I think in 2002, so it’s been a long time. And somehow he’s just kinda stuck. I’d like to think that the Mothman Museum and the Mothman Festival have a little bit to do with that, you know? Because it’s so popular and well known. But I don’t know! It’s just like people fell in love with Mothman and now he’s their boyfriend and (laughs) you see him on everything—in memes, and then all of a sudden Chicago is reporting all these sightings and I don’t know, it’s like he’s back! (laughs) People have this Mothman love. I don’t really know what caused it, it just kind of happened. It’s kind of like when things come back in style again. He’s back in style.

Mothman pin designed for West Virginia Folklife by Morgantown artist Liz Pavlovic. Photo by Emily Hilliard

EH: What are some specific local reactions to the museum and the festival?

AWM: Usually as far as the festival goes, locals will complain about the traffic. (laughs) And it’s funny you know, ’cause since the Silver Bridge collapsed in 1967—ironically 13 months exactly to the day from the first sighting of Mothman, and it was the 13th I-bar that caused it to collapse, so that’s kinda weird—but ever since then, Point Pleasant doesn’t boom economically like it used to. We have the bypass out here and a lot of people just kind of go past it. If it wasn’t for the Mothman Festival and the Mothman Museum and all the media coverage it’s had, I think people would just keep driving. As far as the museum goes, we don’t have a whole lot of locals in. It’s starting to pick up a little bit more. It’s more like you bring family that are visiting from out of town—locals bring ’em in and are like, “Hey, this is the place everybody goes.” It’s one of those kind of things. But everybody else loves it. Now business owners love it because it brings so many people to town and brings people through the doors that normally wouldn’t be here. And the tourism is good for that. But if it wasn’t here, we’d probably be struggling.

EH: What are the major employers here?

AWM: Major employers are in the town itself, we have a hospital, Pleasant Valley Hospital, and school systems. Then we have small businesses—have a lot of banks, not a whole lot of restaurants. The bigger employers are across the river, like Appalachian Power, AEP Kyger, Kyger Creek, those power plants, coal power plants are basically what it is. And another hospital across in Gallipolis, Holzer Hospital is a big employer and that’s about the gist of it. 

West Virginia Day meme via the Mothman Museum

EH: Do people still go to the TNT area and what would I find if I go up there?

AWM: Yeah, they go all the time. On a normal day you would find people hunting and fishing. At one time they had the record state bass in West Virginia. There is a farm museum, the West Virginia State Farm Museum is there, which is really cool. The Mason County Fairgrounds is in that area. But as far as the TNT part and the McClintic Wildlife Refuge, it’s different trails and things. The igloos are what the Mothman fans like to go to. We call those igloos ’cause they look like the shape of an igloo. It’s basically just a storage bunker. 

EH: Some of them are still in use?

AWM: Yes. They are privately leased from different companies. I think AEP across the river leases some. Probably 7 years ago or so, somebody was leasing one out and illegally storing explosives that they shouldn’t have been and it was a really hot day in like July or something and it exploded. You could see the flames flying up in the air from like a mile away. And the ATF came in and shut the area down.

EH: What’s the ATF?

AWM: The Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. So the government basically came in and shut the area down for months and months and it was a no-fly zone for months. There’s an airport right next to it, just a small local airport. But they’re investigating and I guess they found out the guy was harboring illegal explosives. The way those things are made is that—and it did its job—is that the concrete walls are so thick that if one would explode, it wouldn’t create a chain reaction because they’re all next to each other in a line. It’s just row after row. But you wouldn’t know it because it’s so covered like with brush. And this one, you can walk to it and the top is completely exploded off of it. It looks like something you’d see in like a zoo. Like an animal sanctuary—you have like tigers walking around inside, you know? It’s got this weird vibe to it.

But yeah, you would find the igloos and there’s also some remnants left over from the manufacturing over behind the farm museum—the viaducts. And if you go to the Mothman Festival and you do the hayride, it takes you right beside of those. They’re basically these tall stone structures and people used to joke and call it Stonehenge ‘cause that’s kind of what it looks like. Basically they used to pull train cars underneath and dump in all these hazardous toxic chemicals, so those are still standing. There’s a little bit of everything. It’s kind of like our own little Area 51 I guess you can say, so people are curious and they like to go up there and check it out.

Mothman as depicted in Fallout 76. Photo via Fallout 76 Fandom Wiki

EH: So tell me about how you worked with the guys from Bethesda Softworks [the creators of Fallout 76] and how that came about?

AWM: Basically one of the developers must have come to the Mothman Museum at some point because he was wearing one of our shirts. When they were coming out with all the media stuff about the game getting ready to release, he was wearing it. I saw it, and I was like, “Dad, you should totally try to contact him and see if we can get him to come to the festival,” ’cause they’re just in Maryland, which isn’t far away. So he did and just a shot in the dark, the guy answered us back and he’s like “Hey, I can’t come but I can get you in contact with the marketing people and maybe they can work with ya.” So that’s basically what happened. I ended up talking to a really nice girl and she said “We’d love to be a part of the festival.” This was before the game was released and so they came gave out a bunch of free stuff. People came from all over to see those guys, so it was really cool.

EH: So you have no idea it was gonna be in the game before that?

AWM: I had no clue, no. But that was our hint, that he was wearing a Mothman shirt. That’s why everybody suspected that it was gonna be a part of it, so just really good luck on that (laughs).

EH: Have you played the game?

AWM: I have not. I’m not a gamer. But I have watched videos on it. Since I handle the marketing for the Mothman Museum and the festival, I kind of had to know a little bit about it, so I at least watched, when they were doing beta testing. There were videos released for that and I was watching it and I knew that Mothman was gonna be in it and also the Flatwoods Monster was gonna make an appearance, which I thought was cool. The biggest thing was that West Virginia and Appalachia was represented which I thought was really nice.

Mothman cutout made by Nichole Westfall at Kin Ship Goods in Charleston. Photo by Emily Hilliard

EH: What do you think about how Point Pleasant and the museum are portrayed in the game?

AWM: I thought it was pretty cool, to be honest! One of the things that I thought was the coolest was in one of the videos, a guy goes into an apartment and there’s a letter on the wall and it says, “Hey Jeff,” something about losing the keys, “here you go,” and “I left you a poster” or something like that. And I just wonder if it wasn’t a nod to dad.

EH: Is his name Jeff?

AWM: Yeah his name’s Jeff. So I thought that was really cool. The museum looked really neat. We joke around about their being a cult church in the basement of the museum like there was in the game where you worship Mothman. But there’s not a basement in the museum (laughs)

EH: Is there a cult…

AWM: Yeah, in the game, you go into the basement and it looks like a place of worship for the Mothman and there’s these candles lit. And I know that you can go down to the riverfront here on the game and there’s Mothman eggs laying around. You can see the Mothman statue, which is by the museum, which is really cool. So somebody’s done their research, you know?

Map of West Virginia in Fallout 76

EH: And it’s one of the most identifiable things on the map [in Fallout 76].

AWM: Yeah, and the TNT area I’m pretty sure it’s in it too. But yes, that’s brought a lot of people to town too, even still. They still show up, come in the museum. I think last week a guy came in his Fallout gear, so we have fans from all over. And Bethesda, what was cool about them too is that they’ve been really generous with the Mothman posters. They designed those with the Mothman museum. They also gave us 2-3,000 of those Vault Boy masks just to give to people, so we’ve been giving those out to kids who come in.

EH: What can you tell me about people who come to the museum from different places? How do they know the story? And then I’ll ask specifically about people who are doing Fallout tours.

AWM: Yeah, there’s been a lot of media coverage. A lot of TV shows have come throughout the years. For example, I’d say 15-20 years ago, dad was on Unsolved Mysteries, talking about the Mothman. And Robert Stack messed up and called it Point Pleasant, Virginia instead of West Virginia (laughs) so we still laugh about that. People still get that confused for some reason!

Then had the Travel Channel several times, Discovery. We’ve had Monster Quest, different film crews like Small Town Monsters, which is one of my favorites. There’s just been a lot of news and media coverage and I think that’s really what has grown. It’s like a snowball effect over the years. Then of course the Fallout game came, so the hype about it is what drove a lot of people here. But they literally come from all over the world.

Felted Mothman created by artist Sarah Bachman. Photo by Sarah Bachman

EH: Why don’t you tell me about what’s in the museum?

AWM: Basically like I said, we have the movie props from The Mothman Prophesies. One of my favorite things are the handwritten police depositions from the eyewitnesses, The Mallettes and the Scarberrys. This is something that dad included in his book, The Mothman: Facts Behind the Legend, and then the Behind the Red Eyes book that he did. When he was doing his interview with Linda, she had given him these papers basically and it was—imagine after you’ve seen this creature, you go to the police. They separate them out into different rooms to make sure they’re not lying, and they give them a pen and paper and say “Here, write down your story.” And so the original depositions are in there on display, handwritten, depicting what it is and if you read all of them, there are very few discrepancies between them all. So we have those. We have a lot of newspaper clippings, press clippings. Ironically, my grandpa, my dad’s dad, had saved a lot of these press clippings from when the bridge had collapsed and even like Mothman stuff. My grandma gave it to him several years ago, when he was gonna open up the museum. Then there’s folk art and things like that. Just different pieces of interest that we have on display —that’s basically the culmination of things that make up the Mothman Museum. 

EH: With the folk art, are those things people donate or do you collect them?

AWM: Both. It’s a lot of donations. In the earlier days, we were collecting. Now people just donate.

Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin Mothman meme via the Mothman Museum

EH: Aside from the tours, what are the other things that happen during the festival?

AWM: During the festival we have different guest speakers on all different topics. A lot of ’em talk about Mothman, paranormal stuff, folklore stuff. We have live bands and entertainment. Tons of food vendors, which is my favorite—I’m a foodie (laughs). Of course the Mothman statue is like the Mickey Mouse of Disneyland. Everybody’s wanting their picture with it. A lot of cool vendors, merchandise vendors. And we are very specific with what vendors we allow come in, cause again we only have so much room. So it’s not like your typical like paparazzi, jewelry, that kind of thing. It’s more like local artists, people who have something niche that is related directly to paranormal, Mothman, men in black, UFOs, that kind of thing. Different activities for the kids. We always try to highlight all the local areas you can go and visit like Tu-Endie-Wei Park which is right down the road. Then we have the hayride at night on Saturday night. We have a historic state theater that sits vacant 363 days. It’s only used 2 days and that’s for Mothman Festival. So we open it up and Small Town Monsters film crew uses the projector on the screen to show their films and that’s been a big hit. So there’s a little bit of everything and it continues to grow.

EH: Nice! Well, is there anything else you’d like to add?

AWM: Not really, I think we covered just about everything! Basically if you want more information you can go to mothmanmuseum.com and there’s mothmanfestival.com. If you see any funny stupid memes on the Facebook pages, that’s usually me posting (laughs). Not the corny ones—that’s my mom!

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