Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Mothman -- Part II

As part of my pre-trip research, I once again dug out my copy of the venerable "Prophecies." I didn't have time to read the whole thing again but I did re-read the Mothman chapter and skimmed through the rest to jog my memory. I checked Netflix for any recent filmatic releases. Turns out there was a documentary released just last year called "The Eyes of the Mothman." It was to be screened for free on the Saturday night of the festival, but it would be difficult to fit such a large chunk of time into the limited day I would have there, so the night before I left, I streamed it. It is an exhaustive (2 and 1/2 hour) discussion of the Mothman legend, mostly via interviews with witnesses and experts, that could easily have been edited down by half. As far as logic and skepticism go, several of the assertions it makes are downright laughable (particularly the explanations it gives for the vague physical "symptoms" some of the witnesses experienced after their encounters and its dismissal out of hand that the Mothman sightings could be attributed to sandhill cranes -- more on that later). But overall it was a good update for me as I prepared to head up the river.

I had sketched out a rough outline of the day's activities. The only real appointment was the bus tour at 3 (I had made reservations by calling the Mothman Museum on Tuesday and giving them my credit card number). Then there was the hayride at 8. I wasn't too optimistic about a hayride but changed my mind after watching a youtube video of it from last year. It kind of spoiled things, but it showed me that it would be something worthwhile to do. The only problems would be the early departure and late return necessitated by the distance we would have to travel.

Saturday dawned early. No time for breakfast, so we stopped for gas at Kroger in London and picked up some cappuccino and a blueberry scone (yum) at Starbucks. We elected to give up 25 minutes of total trip time and take the scenic route through Eastern Kentucky via the Hal Rogers Parkway. I had never been past Hyden, so it was a unique opportunity for me. Hazard was bigger than I thought. It all looked pretty much the same, not exactly scenic but a nice drive nonetheless. There was an area just past Hazard that struck me as an engineering marvel: huge chunks of land containing who knows how many tons of dirt and rock had been moved by strip mining, the remaining mountains standing noticeably like bookends of what used to be. Almost as ubiquitous as the mountains were the billboards of one Eric Conn, social security lawyer. The yellow backgrounds and smiling images of the dapper Mr. Conn, suit jacket slung debonairly over one shoulder, seemed overdone even before I started to notice some of them prefaced with the tagline "love him or hate him, he gets the job done." This made me wonder why anybody would hate him, at least among those who would see his billboards and consider requesting his services. About the 20th billboard in there was one with a large red and white stamp placed diagonally on one side warning somebody "do not copy this sign." Not sure where that came from either. Another billboard, defaced with black spray-paint, questioned Mr. Conn's sexual orientation. Some people do hate him, apparently.

Our first stop was Fat Patty's in Huntington. I had chosen it as our lunchtime destination thanks to its #1 ranking amongst Huntington restaurants according to both tripadvisor and urbanspoon. It didn't disappoint. The worst thing was deciding which variety of hamburger to order...I counted no fewer than five out of the 19 listed that I would have liked to have tried. Cajun, hot sauce, Mexican, Italian, was like an ethnic hamburger place almost. I settled for the buffalo burger -- blue cheese and wing sauce. The fries were a little odd at first, almost like the oil was old, but they grow on you. Good stuff.

We routed the trusty GPS toward Point Pleasant. Huntington itself is pretty drab and run-down except for Marshall and the big buildings around 5th Avenue and the historic district. We were soon heading north on Ohio Route 7 on a scenic drive along the river. After a while, I noticed the latticework of a bridge up ahead. It was the Silver Memorial. As we pulled onto the bridge ramp, we were treated to a laugh from a bit of a side show going on in front of us. A white van began to slow almost to a stop up ahead, pulling onto the inside shoulder. We were the second or third car back in the line. Someone behind us honked. The van started moving again and the guy driving it hung his head and shoulders out the window, extended his left arm fully, and gave an emphatic one-fingered salute to a car that was impatiently trying to pass him. He continued to drive rather slowly as we crossed the bridge, but I was content to remain behind him so I could get a good look at Point Pleasant coming up on the left. I could see what was probably the Miss Mothman pageant going on down at the riverfront. We were still laughing as we pulled up alongside him at the red light. He looked over at us, scowling.

After some driving around, we found a parking spot close to the action. There were plenty of places to park (all of them free), distance being the only factor. I caught my first glimpse of festival-goers in the parking lot: a group of emo kids with Mothman t-shirts. The epicenter of the festival was the intersection of 4th and Main Streets, near the Mothman statue and the Lowe Hotel. There were the usual t-shirt and funnel cake vendors with tables set up on the sidewalks. What I noticed most of all about the area was the smell -- the typical festival odors of funnel cakes and grilled meats mixed with a very strong dose of mothballs. Yes, mothballs.
We only had a little time left before 3 o'clock and our bus tour. I stood in line to take pictures of Point Pleasant's most famous landmark: the Mothman statue, working into the more or less nonstop parade of people posing in front of it, then walked down to the riverfront to get some shots of the statues of Chief Cornstalk and General Lewis (which both remind me of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz). We headed up to the small Rtec-type bus and climbed aboard.

It was hot, and we were early. More people packed onto the bus. I remember the guy on the phone at the museum telling me that there were eight other people registered for our tour at the time I called. In the interim that number had apparently doubled; the bus was full. Our tour guide was Ashley Wamsley-Watts, the 27-year-old daughter of Jeff Wamsley, wearer of many hats in Mothman lore: Mothman Museum curator, webmaster, Mothman Festival co-founder, and author of two Mothman books. I recognized him from the documentary and saw him walking near one of the vendor booths as soon as we arrived. I hoped that the guy who likely is the most knowledgeable person on earth about the Mothman phenomena would be our tour guide, but it was not to be. Shortly after a Man in Black had boarded the bus and asked us if we had "seen any strange people around" while pretending to jot down notes on a sketch pad, we departed.



Blogger chet said...

speaking of Eric C Conn, I'm personally fascinated by the guy. Check out his youtube video where he hired Obama girl and Ralph Stanley to make a promotional video for himself. Another interesting story is that he offered a significant amount of money to a local high school to rename their high school gymnasium the "conn-dome" lol.
Anyway, enjoyed the blog post as always.

9:49 AM  
Blogger J said...

And Jesco White. Bizarre. I watched his other commercials too...they seem to exist in that gray area of "is he serious"?

12:45 PM  

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