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Legends and Folklore: Uncovering Appalachian Myths and Mysteries

When you wander out in the woods for long enough, you’re bound to see a thing or two that you can’t fully explain.


In the Appalachian Mountains, unexplained mysteries and legends are commonplace – and they sure are interesting. I recently got curious and decided to research a few of the most talked-about legends and myths of Appalachia, and let me tell you, what I read was both fascinating and a little eerie. Some things just can’t be easily explained, y’all.


That being said, let’s discuss a few of my favorite Appalachian myths, and y’all can come to your own conclusions about these mysteries.


Mothman


Our first bit of Appalachian legend takes us to the heart of Appalachia in Point Pleasant, West Virginia – a town in the eastern part of the state along the Ohio River. It was November 15th, 1966. Two young couples told police that they saw a strange, humanoid creature with red, glowing eyes standing on the side of the road outside “the TNT area”, which was the site of a former WWII munitions plant. They described this creature as a 7 foot tall, slender man with massive white wings.


This creature freaked the couples out, and rightfully so, y’all. They did what any sane person would do – they drove off as fast as they possibly could. But, this gets scarier. The creature chased their car to the city limits of Point Pleasant, all the while making horrible screeching sounds.


After the local newspaper reported the incident, more residents claimed to have seen this strange, winged creature. However, not everyone was convinced that such a cryptid existed. Wildlife biologist Robert L Smith at West Virginia University told reporters that these sightings fit the description of a sandhill crane – a large, American crane that can be as tall as a human man, with red coloring around its eyes. He hypothesized that one of these birds might have wandered outside of its typical migration route, as it’s not native to that part of West Virginia.


Of course, the Mothman story doesn’t stop there. On December 15th, 1967, the Silver Bridge – a suspension bridge completed in 1928 that crossed the Ohio River – collapsed under rush hour traffic, resulting in the tragic death of 46 people. Two of the victims were never found. While logic says that the bridge collapse was the deadly result of poor upkeep and excessive strain that compromised the bridge’s construction, some claim that the Mothman sightings were somehow linked to the tragedy.


If some part of you feels compelled to celebrate the weird, destructive forces of Mothman, you’re in luck! The Mothman Festival is held every year on the third weekend in September in, where else, Point Pleasant, West Virginia.



Google Street View of the Mothman Statue in Point Pleasant, WV


Bigfoot


Throughout history, many indigenous cultures in North America have told the legend of a towering, hairy creature that roams through the forest. Those who have witnessed these half ape, half man beings describe them as being 8-12 feet tall and covered in dark brown or black hair. Some of y'all may know this creature as Sasquatch, but in the U.S., he’s better known as Bigfoot.


The legend of Bigfoot in North America and the Appalachians precedes the name that has given the creature recent fame. In 1958 in Humboldt County, California, a bulldozer operator named Jerry Crew came across a set of large, human-like footprints in the Six Rivers National Forest. As it turns out, when Jerry talked with his coworkers about this puzzling find, he discovered that others in the area recently made similar discoveries of very large sets of footprints.


It was then that Jerry decided to contact his local newspaper about these unusual findings. And, as you can imagine, once the word got out, this story spread like wildfire. The media creatively dubbed the large footed creature Bigfoot, and the name stuck ever since.


While most of the Bigfoot sightings in the United States are concentrated in the PNW, Appalachia has had its fair share of supposed encounters. In the Appalachian Mountains, there have been Bigfoot sightings from the Adirondacks in New York all the way down to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. I reckon though that if Bigfoot is anything like the rest of us that spend time out in the woods, he may just be on the lookout for some peace and quiet (and for an escape from those daggum yankees).


Brown Mountain Lights


For decades, there have been sporadic reports of strange, star-like lights that appear on Brown Mountain in Burke County, North Carolina. Some say that these lights move rather slowly, while others have reported that they make quick, firework-like motions. Folks who have witnessed this phenomenon say that they look like glowing orbs, and are typically blue, red, orange, or white. Fittingly, these mysterious lights are known widely as the Brown Mountain lights.


The first sighting of the Brown Mountain lights is, interestingly, up for debate. Some date the first recorded sighting back to 1771, when German engineer John William Gerard de Brahm wrote about the lights in his diary – while others say that the lights were first seen in the early 1900’s. Whatever the case may be, the lights caused such a stir at the turn of the 20th century that the federal government got involved to investigate the origin of the lights. However, after the investigation concluded in 1922, it was concluded that the Brown Mountain lights were nothing more than distant train lights.


… or are they?


You see, if you decide to research the Brown Mountain lights, some sources will tell you that sightings date back to 1771, like we’ve already mentioned. However, skeptics say that this is nothing more than the work of storytellers who wish to spin the tale so that sightings pre-date electricity in the area, which would discredit the government’s train theory. Therefore, these folks say that the first sightings had to have been in the early 1900’s. The skeptics also argue that de Brahm might have never even visited North Carolina, so there’s no way that he could have seen the lights.


But, what’s especially strange about the Brown Mountain lights are the consistency and ongoing nature of the sightings – as some folks still claim to see them to this day.


For a more recent discussion of the Brown Mountain Lights, check out this interview with Dr. Dan Caton of Appalachian State University. It had me really wondering what the source of these lights may be!



So y’all, what do you think? It’s a mysterious place out in the Appalachian woods. Keep your wits about you the next time you decide to go wandering around, and keep an eye out for anything strange that you might see.


For more photos and explorations, be sure to follow The Wandering Appalachian on Instagram and Pinterest! Be sure when you're discovering new places to practice Leave No Trace principles. Take only pictures, and leave only footprints. Happy wandering, y'all



Footage of the Brown Mountain Lights, from research by Dr. Dan Caton of Appalachian State University.


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