Where you stand on mysteries such as the the Mount Misery Mothman comes down to belief. Are you a skeptic? Most people are, and the trend is growing with each passing year. As religion, and particularly the mysteries associated with religion fade into the past, superstition fades along with it.
And yet interest in the Mount Misery’s Mothman continues to grow. I still get emails from people looking for him. Why is this?
For the uninitiated, the Mothman is a creature which is obliquely dealt with in the film, The Mothman Prophecies and dealt with more directly in the book of the same name. Proponents of its existence believe it’s found throughout the world, as well as history. In this country, it’s usually described as being quite tall, very dark, almost black, like an impenetrable shadow, human in form but with expansive wings and no head. It typically has two glowing eyes, either floating above its body where a head would be, or in its chest, like a moth.
It’s been known to emit a loud cry, with bright lights including beams coming from its eyes. In some cases the light seem to burn a person’s eyes who see them, according to legend, permanently. Nobody seems to know what it means when you see it, though many believe it’s a portent of hard times ahead.
Hence the name, The Mothman Prophecies.
When the Mothman hit the big screen it was inevitable that people would hit the trails on Mount Misery. Sightings increased. The film made it to HBO and cable and the sightings continued. Then the film dropped off pop culture’s radar and the sightings dried up. That’s the skeptic’s view.
One would expect with the rise of the internet, that more people than ever would be seeing the Mount Misery Mothman, as it’s a poplar topic there. But in fact, there are very few sighting on Long Island.
Aerial mysteries in the skies over New York
Keel also reports that the sightings seem to have begun, or at least reports of them sprung up starting around 1966. He’s also the source of the first Mothman sighting in the area, attributed it to unidentified “neckers.” He further reported that many saucer and cigar shaped objects had been seen over Mount Misery.
A slightly more believable source would appear to be The New York Times, which reported on September 12, 1880, “One day last week a marvelous apparition was seen near Coney Island. At the height of at least a thousand feet in the air, a strange object was in the act of flying toward the New Jersey coast. It was apparently a man with a bat’s wings and improved frog’s legs. The face of the man could be distinctly seen, and it wore a cruel and determined expression. The movements made by the object closely resembled those of a frog in the act of swimming with his hind legs and flying with his front legs. Of course, no respectable frog has ever been known to conduct himself in precisely that way; but were a frog to wear bat’s wings, and to attempt to swim and fly at the same time, he would correctly imitate the conduct of the Coney Island monster. When we add that this monster waved his wings in answer to the whistle of a locomotive, and was a deep black color, the alarming nature of the apparition can be imagined. The object was seen by many reputable persons, and they all agree that it was a man engaged in flying toward New-Jersey.”
But those who would cite this article as a sighting of the Mothman has to discount the conclusions the Times jumped to.
“That this aerial apparition is a man fitted with practicable wings there is no reason to doubt … “The flying man is engaged in some undertaking which he cannot safely proclaim. In other words, he is an aerial criminal, a fact which explains the cruelty and determination visible on his countenance, and what can be the nefarious object which this probable wretch has in view? It cannot be simply theft and robbery, for it would manifestly be impossible for him, in his flying costume, to perpetrate burglary or highway robbery, or to pickpockets. It cannot be plumbing, for obvious reasons, neither can it be the sale of books published by subscription only. Yet the flying villain must have an object, and we have a right to assume that only a peculiarly nefarious object could induce a man to fly to New-Jersey or St. Louis in hot weather and without an umbrella or mosquito net. It has not escaped notice that of late Mr. Talmage has been wandering in the West in search of entertaining varieties of crime wherewith to embellish his sermons. It is also known that he returned to this City just before the flying man of Coney Island was seen.”
From the tone of the article it appears to be a take down piece on Mr. Talmage, who was a well known evangelist of the day. So though it’s often cited as evidence of the Mothman throughout history, particularly New York history, it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.
The Thunderbird metamorphoses into the Mothman
Those with a historical mind seek to tie native American mythology into the Mothman tale. It’s a variation on the Thunderbird myth, common to large swaths of the native American psyche. Including on Long Island.
The native Americans on Long Island certainly believed in the Thunderbird, which many people today theorize as the aboriginal north American ancestor of the Mothman.
The Thunderbird protected against the Great Horned Serpent, and was associated with rain, water and entities which sprang from the rivers and ocean. The Thunderbird was a shape shifter, able to take the form of whatever it chose, which is echoed in the Mothman’s ability to be seen as whatever form the viewer was inclined to see it.
Whether the Thunderbird was known to make its home on Mount Misery as urban legends suggest is unknown. Unfortunately, the only reports we have for the Mothman in this area appear after the film hit the theaters.
But there were reports of strange creatures in the area before.
John Keel states that the local expert on Mt. Misery in the sixties was a local D.J. named Jaye P. Baro, who not only spun discs on the radio but chased after them in the skies over Melville as well. According to Keel, Jaye managed to get a photo of a moving black object and described it as resembling a human, with a disfigured face, long black hair and dressed a long black garment. And from the look of photo, the creature had hands rather than wings It ran away into the bushes, and Baro and her accomplice ran in the opposite direction. The photo was published in Beyond magazine in July 1969, with an article on the mysteries of Mt. Misery.
Ms Paro’s article includes an eyewitness account of a resident who witnessed a fight to the death between the ghosts of two native Americans, while on a walk around her Mount Misery home. However, Ms Paro also refers to Mount Misery in an old book, Washington’s Spies, where it was said that the mount was a place where braves went to prove themselves. That however, is likely the Mount Misery in the Setaukets, further east.
Is Mount Misery Mannetto Hill?
The area known as Mount Misery is a part of Mannetto Hills. The name Mannetto Hills was once commonly used to describe West Hills as well. Over time the Northern Parkway split the two into how they’re identified now.
If you follow the elevation of Mount Misery down and to the south, you come to the site of Moscopas, once considered a sacred swamp. In a land deed for the Bethpage Purchase, dated 1695 transferring ownership of the area to Thomas Powell, and signed by, among others, Sowwamacus, Moscopas is described as a “hole of dirt and water.” It also spells out that the native Americans reserve the “liberty of hunting and gathering huckleberries.”
Mannetto Hill was almost certainly considered sacred. According to Daniel Tredwell, writing in 1853, Mannetto Hill was the home of the great spirit Manitou, and in fact it was originally called Manitou Hill. He goes on to claim that Manitou Hill was the radiating point of several native American traditions.
Later on Gabriel Furman, writing in 1874 related “About thirty miles from Brooklyn and midway between the north and south sides of this island is a hill known by the name of Manet or Manetta Hill This however is a corruption of the true name which was Manitou Hill or the Hill of the Great Spirit which appellation is founded on the tradition that many ages since the aborigines residing in those parts suffered extremely from the want of water. Under their suffering they offered up prayers to the Great Spirit for relief. That in reply to their supplications the Good Spirit directed that their principal chieftain should shoot his arrow into the air and on the spot where it fell they should dig and would assuredly discover the element they so much desired.”
“They pursued the direction dug and found water There is now a well situated on this rising ground which is not deep and the tradition continues to say that this well is on the very spot indicated by the Good Spirit This hill was undoubtedly used in ancient times as the place of general offering to the Great Spirit in the name and behalf of all surrounding people and was of the character of the hill altars so common among the early nations.”
We know where Moscopas was. It was filled in for the construction of the H.B. Mattlin Middle School, at the corner of Manetto Hill Road and Washington Avenue in Plainview, the site of the actual swamp being where the athletic field is now. During the early years of the school, it would frequently flood by water seeping up from the ground, which many joked was the native American’s revenge for filling in Moscopas.
It’s generally agreed by most historians, that Manetto Hill was actually where it is located now, in the village of Plainview. In fact, the high point, where it is assumed the chief shot his arrow from is located where the water tower is now. Which makes more sense. Granted, it would still take a helluva pull on a bow to get an arrow from there to Moscopas. But not nearly as much as from the high point of Mount Misery.
Even geologists seem to have considered the two line of hills as one. Consider this, from Charles Merguerian and J.E. Sanders “Pleistocene Geology of Long Island’s North Shore,” utterly fascinating reading by the way, quoting an earlier manuscript … “The Mannetto gravel was named from the Mannetto Hills (West Hills), on the crest of which just west of Melville some of the best exposures of this gravel on the island were found.”
So my guess, dear Miss Bronwen, is that most of the legends associated with Mount Misery which relate to the native Americans, were transferred there by mistakenly thinking it was Manitou or Mannetto Hill, which explains another subset of the myths of Mount Misery, that which claims the area was sacred or taboo to the early native Americans of the area.
Unless they considered all of Mannetto Hills sacred, then they wouldn’t have thought Mount Misery was out of the ordinary. And as they still hunted and gathered berries on its slopes, that seems unlikely.
That the confusion goes way back might also explain why early maps, and indeed even today, part of the road on the western slopes of Mount Misery is called Manetto Hill Road.
The bottom line
The internet is eaten up with reports of people going into the woods at Mount Misery at night and spotting the mothman, all in black with huge wings and glowing red eyes. My first inclination is to say “too much weed.” But I’m also reminded of a story back from southern Illinois where I grew up. A group had come down from Chicago to go deer hunting, and came into town to visit the game warden with the albino deer they had shot, which had curious black markings on it. I imagine the wardens eyes rolled at the description, and wasn’t in the least bit surprised to see the cow that they had bagged in the back of their truck.
Simply put, most Long Islanders aren’t used to the woods at night. I’ve been on Mount Misery at night, and it’s very dark. If you go down the trails and not just the wide path at the end of the northern section of the road, it’s easy to get turned around. And it’s easy to panic. To one not accustomed to the woods and the creatures that live there, it’s not surprising that one might not expect to see a large bird.
Particularly as in the 1960s, in the area of West Virginia where the Mothman Prophecies take place, the Sandhill Crane was quite often spotted, and those buggers can have a wingspan of about seven feet and an impressive shriek. Even owls can have quite an expansive wingspan, and at night, to someone already on edge and unfamiliar with the critters, it’s easy to see how someone can make a mistake. To have an owl light from a tree near you in the dark, the sound of the wings flapping and the shadow passing over you can be a frightening experience, and it’s easy to see how young people tanked up on beer might wet themselves trying to get away. Of course there is the red, glowing eyes issue, but even that can be explained by headlights or flashlights in many occasions.
So the bottom line … can you find the Mount Misery Mothman? My guess is it’s a fiction spread by people talking about John Keel’s book, The Mothman Prophecies, who hadn’t actually read it. They guessed that he writes about the creature being here. Which he doesn’t.
But could there be an echo from ancient native American legends? I do believe it’s possible for landscapes to contain memories. If you want to wander the dark woods of Mount Misery looking for it, or its decendents, the southern bit, the part enclosed by West Hills Nature Preserve is your best bet.