Mythical Monday: Visiting a Haunted Hotel by Mae Clair

One of the ponds in the TNT Area of West Virginia

One of the ponds in the TNT Area of West Virginia

Those of you who follow my blog regularly know that I recently took a trip to Point Pleasant, West Virginia in order to continue researching my Mothman series of novels. This time, I was able to garner a much better understanding of how the “TNT AREA” is laid out, and visited a few specific locations I wanted to see. Originally used to store munitions in World War II, the TNT is now a wildlife management area that encompasses over 3600 acres. Riddled among dense woodlands, overgrown trails and algae-covered ponds is a network of concrete “igloos” where ammunition was once stored. These are built into hillsides, and covered by trees and grass, making them invisible when viewed from the air.

There are several roads connected to the TNT that I really didn’t have a feel for, including one where cars have been known to shut down or stall for no reason. After visiting, I now understand how they intersect, and was even able to snap a photo of a map for the TNT at the Mothman Museum (yes, there is one). The museum has recently moved to a new building, and it’s far nicer than before. Hubby and I chatted with the guy who runs it for a while, and I was able to pick up some good info and another map.

Metal fencing in front of the site of the old North Power Plant in the TNT area, West Virginia

Site of the old north power plant in the TNT

I also wanted to see the ruins of the North Power Plant along Fairgrounds Road. This is the location where the Mothman was first sighted in 1966. The power plant is gone but I was able to snap of photo of the ruins and location where it stood.

So what does any of this have to do with staying at a haunted hotel?

During my last trip to Point Pleasant, my husband and I stayed across the river in Gallipolis, Ohio. This time we stayed in downtown Point Pleasant in the Historic Lowe Hotel. This is a very old four-story behemoth built in 1904. As I have an old hotel in my novels, I wanted to get a feel for this one.

The owners were super friendly and the location put almost everything I wanted to do within walking distance (except the TNT). I can’t begin to relay the scope of this place—it was mammoth. With its long halls, old stairways, elaborate moldings and woodwork, there were times I felt like I stepped into the Overlook hotel in The Shining. Everything was furnished with antiques, and I do mean antiques—as if nothing had ever been changed. I opened the top drawer on the dresser and discovered an old songbook from the 1940s, the pages yellowed and tattered, inside. The sink in the bathroom had separate faucets for hot and cold water. I can’t even remember the last time I saw a sink like that. The second floor landing had a huge parlor with a piano, parlor benches and chairs, this even before we ventured down the hallway to our room.

So where does the ghost fit in? When I inquired why the hotel was billed as haunted (something I didn’t realize until our last night there), our host told us that a phantom had been seen occasionally on the third floor. Nothing much appeared to be known about this ghost but there was a picture someone had snapped hanging in the second floor hallway. Our host told us the spirit was visible in the photo so my husband and I checked it out. I wasn’t expecting a lot, but have to admit, the image of someone is definitely visible in the bottom right hand corner. I tried to grab a shot of it with my phone. Are you able to see the ghost?

Framed photo of ghost rumored to haunt the Lowe Hotel in West Virginia, apparition visible on right

Framed photo of ghost rumored to haunt the Lowe Hotel in West Virginia, apparition visible on right

We left the next morning without having encountered any spirits or experiencing anything that went bump-in-the-night (er, not that I would want to). No Mothman, no UFOs, no men-in-black. But I did meet some great people and came away with additional research notes on an interesting, historic town.

Mythical Monday: I Met the Mothman by Mae Clair

msearchteamLast week for Mythical Monday, I shared a bit about my recent visit to Point Pleasant, West Virginia and my search for the legendary creature, the Mothman.

So where exactly do you find a Mothman?

I wanted to look in the area where he was originally spied by two young couples on November 15, 1966 – a secluded region about eight miles north of Point Pleasant, locally known as the TNT area. During WWII the tract of about 8000 acres was used to store ammunition in concealed underground igloos. In 1983 it was put on the government’s Superfund list because of hazardous contamination, and underwent cleanup. It is now part of a Wildlife Management Area, but is still somewhat restricted. More than one igloo has since exploded.

My husband and I spoke with the store owner of The Point, a café and Mothman Souvenir shop in Point Pleasant who told us the government had only that week started allowing people back into the area where Bunker No. 3 was situated. Apparently, there had been an explosion nearby and the region had been closed off for some time. Bunkers 1-3 are where we wanted to head. Not only had the Mothman been seen in those areas, but there were reports of other supernatural happenings. Voices were heard, questions were sometimes answered by a disembodied voice and more than one photograph had captured a ghostly orb.

The man at the store gave us a hand-drawn map showing how to reach the TNT area. We got directions that included “past the fairgrounds” and turn right “at the Christmas tree farm.” He told us the turn off looked like a driveway but was actually a road. At that point we were to set our odometer and drive back precisely 1 mile and 2 tenths.

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We would pass several turnoffs on the way but were looking for one with an orange and green guard rail near a pond (there are ponds scattered throughout the TNT area). He advised we lock our car when walking back to the igloos – not that anyone ever bothered his, but it was a deserted area. He shared his own stories about visiting the igloos, including showing us a photo his wife had captured of an orb in one.  Given the igloos are dark inside, I couldn’t create a logical reason for the “thing” to be there. He showed us an enlargement with features that resembled a face.  Was I creeped out? Yeah, a little, but I still wanted to see the TNT area.

The first thing we came to was the sign welcoming us to the McClinic Wildlife Management area, a 2500 acre site of dense forests and steep hills which encompasses the TNT region. Nothing like driving into a deserted region and being greeted by a graffiti scrawled sign. Given the contamination that once ran rampant in the area, it was easy for my writer’s mind to conjure up visions of a zombie apocalypse.

sign

We started back the road and began looking for the guard rail our guide had told us about. There were several turnoffs, each overgrown and barred by a dilapidated one-arm gate or guard rail. Nothing here was indicative of “welcome.” If anything, it screamed “keep out.”  It many ways it felt like entering another world, one of dense greenery and overgrown foliage. There was something almost primeval about it. Perhaps it had to do with the ominous hush of the place, as if a thousand unseen eyes were watching our progress.

By that time, I remembered John Keel describing the strange feelings he had when visiting the TNT area in his book THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. There is definitely a sense of “something” lingering there. A kind of slow creepiness that seeps under your skin.

When we hit the preset mile mark on our odometer, we pulled over at the opening, discovering a makeshift gate with orange paint, but nothing green.

Jeep

Our friend at the store told us we’d also see a sign with a word painted on it, but he couldn’t remember what it said.  We found this sign, either someone’s names or perhaps a government marker for a specific region?

word

Given there was a pond in the distance, we assumed we were at the right place and walked a short distance back the “trail” (said very loosely). The air rippled with occasional birdsong, but the overall hush was nearly tangible. And intensely creepy.

opening

I knew we were probably a good walking distance from the bunkers. Hubby was in shorts and I was wearing capris, neither of us dressed for a trek through tick and chigger-infested woods. I also started thinking about how remote and isolated the area was, and decided I didn’t want to venture any further. Call me a wuss, but it was far too quiet! It was enough for me to actually see the TNT area where the Mothman had originally been spotted and which John Keel had wrote about extensively in his book.

So we climbed back in hubby’s Grand Cherokee and continued driving, pulling off occasionally to check the various openings. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed as if the surroundings grew denser and quieter the further we progressed. Cars have been known to stall on this road without explanation, a situation Mr. Keel experienced himself.

After a while I started wondering how far we’d driven. Everything looked much the same – green, overgrown and inherently wild. We only saw one other vehicle during our exploration, a battered old pick-up truck parked at one of the “openings.” Somehow, that lone vehicle made the whole thing even spookier.

Who else was back here? What if our vehicle stalled and wouldn’t restart like so many others? Would our cell phones work if we needed help?

Did I share these thoughts with my husband?

No.

Was I creeped out?

Hell, yes!

Finally, I said I’d seen enough and we took our time heading back, stopping to snap more photos along the way. The pick-up truck remained parked where we’d passed it, blanketed in an unnatural hush. Near the entrance we stopped to grab a photo of the groundwater treatment facility, bracketed behind barbed wire. It so effortlessly reflected the underlying oppressiveness of the area.

treatment

As secluded as it was, the TNT region was the highlight of the trip for me. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like in the pitch dark of night when the Mothman was sighted in 1966.  It’s still easy to recall the feeling and hush of that place, a sense I never would have known otherwise and which I hope to translate into my novel. Did I find the Mothman there? No, but I did get to experience his lair.

As for the Mothman himself, I had to be contented with the towering metal statue in Point Pleasant’s town square created by artist and sculptor, Bob Roach. John Keel was there for the unveiling in 2003 (sadly, Mr. Keel passed away in July 2009 at the age of 79).

statue

My visit to Point Pleasant is something I’ll remember fondly. It was interesting discovering a new area, friendly people, a beautiful riverfront park and the lingering taint of a legend that is the town’s claim to fame. Overall, I would definitely take a research trip again. There’s nothing like experiencing a topic you intend to write about first hand.

Now all I have to do is start writing my novel. I haven’t stopped making notes since I came back! And I even brought home a friend for daily inspiration . . . 😀

Meeting

Mythical Monday: In Search of the Mothman by Mae Clair

Recently, my husband and I took a trip to a small town in West Virginia called Point Pleasant. Our entire purpose for visiting was so that I could do research for a novel I intend to write drawing on the Mothman legend, UFOs and the Silver Bridge disaster of 1967.

It was a 6.5 hour drive, but thankfully, most of that was by scenic highway. Visiting the area, talking to some of the people who live there and experiencing the surroundings firsthand gave me a much a richer view than I would have found online or in books. I definitely owe hubby a trip of his choice for this one!

Point Pleasant is a riverfront town located on the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. Morning to night water traffic is steady with powerful riverboats pushing enormous barges of coal up and down the waterways.

barge

We found Main Street to be quaint but very old, positioned behind towering flood walls. On the opposite side of those walls lies a picturesque riverfront park with walking trails, spots for fishing, a large pavilion, open amphitheater and – most unique of all – endless hand-painted murals depicting the town’s history beginning in the early 1700s when it was a settler outpost.

muralsmurals2

The first night we were there a duo of musicians with steel stringed instruments set up in the amphitheater and we lingered to enjoy the concert.  I was shocked more people weren’t crowded about. The park was never busy, no matter when we visited. When there isn’t live entertainment, music is piped throughout by speakers mounted on the floodwalls. Talk about a place for a writer to linger!

singers

theater

But, my main purpose for being there was to learn more about the Silver Bridge disaster and the Mothman. The original Silver Bridge collapsed into the icy waters of the Ohio River on December 15, 1967 during heavy rush hour traffic, claiming forty-six lives. Later analysis showed it was carrying much heavier loads than it was designed to sustain and had been poorly maintained.

Many, however, believe the Mothman — a giant humanoid winged creature with glowing red eyes, spotted numerous times in the Point Plesant area beginning in November of 1966 — was somehow tied to the bridge collapse. Some believe him a malevolent form, others that he was attempting to warn the town of impending disaster. Whichever account you favor, it’s undeniable that after the Silver Bridge fell, sightings of the Mothman dwindled then ceased altogether. Coincidence?

According to legend, the town of Point Pleasant was originally cursed by a Shawnee Indian Chief named Cornstalk in the years preceding the American Revolution. Once at war with the white man, Cornstalk eventually made peace and became a friend of the settlers. Through trickery and deceit, he and his son were unjustly imprisoned and murdered. It’s said that with his dying breath, Cornstalk condemned the region and its people down through the ages. Some believe the Mothman is an extension of that curse.

Although there were numerous credible eyewitness reports of “the bird” (as he was originally dubbed locally), the legend of the Mothman didn’t truly take wing until 1975 when John Keel wrote a New York Times best-seller about the events. THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES  was later made into a movie in 2002, starring Richard Gere.

Having read the book, devoured the movie, and engaged in extensive online research — including much related to the Silver Bridge disaster – I was eager to discover the area myself. Did the Mothman still roam the skies of Point Pleasant?

Please join me next week as hubby and I set out in pursuit of this elusive urban legend, venturing into the remote “TNT Area,” said to be the site of an old Indian burial ground. Ghost hunters frequently visit the region, and it was featured on A&E’s Paranormal State.

Legend has it that even George Washington recorded “strange sightings” in his early surveys of the area and, if viewed by satellite, the region is “blurred out” in the same manner as Area 51.

Next week on Mythical Monday, I’ll be share my own experiences in this isolated region as my Mothman search continues! I hope you’ll join me  for the conclusion of my two-part blog.

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