It had been a Friday night like any other in Chicago for John Amitrano. As he took a step outside the bar where he was working, however, he apparently noticed something strange in the sky above him. And according to Amitrano, the figure looked just like an ominous creature that people have been claiming to see in the U.S. for the past 50 years.
All across America, there have been numerous reported sightings of paranormal entities. In fact, there are specific branches of pseudoscientific inquiry dedicated to investigating the existence of such alleged phenomena and beings. Ufology delves into the subject of UFOs, for example, while cryptozoology seeks to demonstrate that creatures described in folklore actually inhabit our world.
Cryptozoology derives from studies by zoologists Ivan T. Sanderson and Bernard Heuvelmans. But despite its academic origins, the movement generally ignores scientific consensus and oftentimes actively opposes it. Specifically, this pseudoscience concerns itself with mythical creatures, such as the chupacabra and Bigfoot, that have never been proven to exist.
Bigfoot, sometimes referred to as Sasquatch, is generally described as a large creature that’s somewhat similar to an ape. It is reported to be hairy and to walk on two feet – leaving massive footprints trailing behind it. Indeed, those footprints have each allegedly reached up to 2 feet in length.
Numerous people have alleged that they’ve seen Bigfoot, with most reports having been concentrated in Washington, British Columbia and Oregon. And real or not, the creature has of course made a profound impression on American culture. Interest in the cryptid in fact remains strong right up to the present day.
Yet Bigfoot is far from the only so-called creature that’s of interest to cryptozoologists. The chupacabra, for instance, is supposedly a beast that feeds on the blood of goats. Moreover, numerous accounts of alleged encounters with the creature have been recorded – initially arising in Puerto Rico but since having spread as far afield as Chile and Maine.
But while there are countless more examples of people claiming to have seen other such mythical creatures throughout America, the one perhaps garnering most attention these days is the Mothman. Broadly described as a human-like creature with red eyes and immense wings, the Mothman is a supposed being reports of which have been made since the 1960s. Yet in 2017 a whole host of new alleged sightings were reported, including the one already mentioned from John Amitrano.
Amitrano had been at his place of work – a bar on Logan Square in Chicago. But then, stepping out into the night air, he reportedly noticed an aircraft overhead. “I saw a plane flying but also something moving really awkwardly under it,” he recalled in a January 2018 interview with Vice.
“It didn’t look like a bat so much as what illustrations of pterodactyls look like, with the slenderness of its head and its wing shape,” Amitrano continued. “This thing didn’t have any feathers or fur, and it didn’t fly like anything I’ve ever seen.”
What’s more, there were no less than 50 other alleged sightings of a similarly described creature in the same area throughout 2017. So, intrigued by the subject, Amitrano got in touch with Lon Strickler, who runs a blog dedicated to the paranormal that’s called Phantoms & Monsters. Strickler has followed events such as these for years – yet he claims that the recent Chicago Mothman sightings are unique.
“This group of sightings is historical in cryptozoology terms,” Strickler told Vice. “For one, it’s happening in an urban area for the most part… And [secondly] there are so many sightings in one period.” He also claimed that the sightings are evidence not merely of a Mothman – but, rather, of up to three Mothmen.
Strickler’s website, Phantoms & Monsters, contains other reports from people who’ve allegedly witnessed the creature – or creatures. “I happened to look up to my left when I saw an object drifting in the sky,” one such person reported to the site. “Upon closer look I was able to see [that] the object was dark grey in color and seemed to have a large wingspan.”
“The wings were about equal length, if not a bit longer than the object itself,” the individual continued. “They also flapped a few times but seemed to have glided more than flapped. I could tell the object was quite large. Easily ruled out a bird.”
This recent spate of apparent Mothman sightings is, however, certainly not the first. The alleged creature initially came to people’s attentions back in November 1966 after a group of men in West Virginia reported having observed a human-shaped figure flying above a cemetery. Other similar reports followed shortly afterwards.
Then a year later, the nearby Silver Bridge connecting West Virginia and Ohio collapsed, killing 46 people. It was later found that the bridge had been in bad condition and was bearing a lot more weight than it had been designed to handle. However, a link between the Mothman sightings and the collapse was forged locally, and some people even blamed the supposed creature for the disaster.
From then on, the Mothman legend became embedded in popular culture. In the mid-1970s ufologist and writer John Keel wrote a book called The Mothman Prophecies, which concerns itself with the reports of the Mothman sightings. And in 2002 this book was adapted into a movie of the same name, with a cast led by Laura Linney and Richard Gere.
The Mothman has certainly captured people’s imaginations, then, and it is even celebrated in some parts of America. In fact, a statue has been erected in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in honor of the legendary beast. But the question as to its existence still remains – and University of Chicago psychologist Dr. David A. Gallo has his own theory on the matter.
“Ideas about the supernatural can be culturally transmitted and socially transmitted,” Dr. Gallo stated to Vice. “When incidences of UFOs are reported in the media or represented in popular culture, more sightings happen. I’ve heard it called The Will Smith Effect.”
This argument suggests that people’s perceptions of the paranormal and cryptozoological are influenced by the culture and beliefs around them. So if, it’s argued, a person who’s already prone to believe in the Mothman subsequently hears a report about it, then they become more inclined to seemingly see it for themselves. And this phenomenon, Gallo believes, can account for the surge of Mothman sightings in 2017.
Despite such claims to the contrary, though, Amitrano is adamant that what he spotted that night really was the Mothman. “The reason I said something in the first place is that nobody wants to say anything [about such occurrences], because they don’t want to be perceived as a crackpot or a crazy person,” he told Vice. “[But] that doesn’t mean that those things don’t happen.”