Pick 5: Mothman

He’s the quintessential Appalachian monster. Like so much mountain lore, his origins tell a story about the decline of the natural environment at the hands of exploitative outsiders. According to legend, he rose from the acid-infected ruins of the West Virginia Ordinance Works on a cool night in 1966, but he’s best known for his appearance at the Silver Bridge collapse the following year. Locals interpreted previous sightings of the strange creature as a warning of the tragedy yet to come, which claimed the lives of 46 men, women, and children in 1967. In the years that followed, Mothman became a harbinger of doom, the sign of a bad moon rising.

Point Pleasant, West Virginia, has hosted its annual Mothman festival since 2002, the year John Keel’s Fortean-inspired book The Mothman Prophecies became a major motion picture starring Richard Gere. In post-industrial West Virginia, the festival is now a vital source of revenue for the dying town. Tourists can run in the Mothman 5K, watch the Miss Mothman pageant, take a bus tour of area Mothman haunts, or meet amateur cryptolzoologists. Although he remains thoroughly in the realm of the kitsch, his likeness occasionally appears on anti-fracking literature as a supernatural defender of the mountains.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the first Mothman sighting, and the 15th anniversary of Point Pleasant’s Mothman festival, here are 5 images that celebrate the patron saint of rural poverty line. Hail the misunderstood monster who’s still trying to save his small corner of West Virginia.


White Flight in the Heartland: The (Un)Built Landscape of Cairo, Illinois

To some degree, what compels those who seek to untangle Cairo’s complicated past is the refusal to believe that a town – an entire town – is an artifact of racism.

In May 2011, the governor of Illinois called for the evacuation of Cairo, a sparsely populated and predominately African American town located at the confluence of the flooding Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Years of neglect left the town’s levees in poor repair, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers assessed an imminent breach. The Corp of Engineers made the decision to intervene and perform a controlled breach to divert flood waters several miles upstream in Missouri, instigating a federal lawsuit that placed the interests of productive heartland farmers against socially and economically devastated black families. Although the Supreme Court dismissed the suit, the controversy served as an uncomfortable reminder that past struggles, when detached from collective memory, can quickly resurface in new battles.

Cairo, 2014. Photograph by Elizabeth Catte

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