Strange and stupendous stories with staying power.
Monsters, ghosts, and legends populate every reach of our peculiarly shaped state. But wherever they came from to start with, it’s the telling that keeps them alive. The stories we hear and get inspired to pass along, probably with a little adornment of our own—those tales live among us in the West Virginia landscape of our minds.
If this sampling of Mountain State stories that have one leg in reality, one in invention, and one that might have gotten pulled along the way says anything about us, we’re a people with a healthy respect for our dark woods and hollers and a twinkle in our eyes.
Monsters: Unusual anatomies
West Virginia’s Mothman has achieved true fame. But our state has many other charismatic creatures—and, in recent years, a growing affection for most of them.
One evening in September 1952, three friends saw a light streak across the sky and land nearby. They collected more friends and adults and hiked together in its direction. Just over the top of a hill, the group smelled sulfur and saw a pulsing red light and a tall figure in a pointed hood that glided toward them. It was the only sighting, but a powerful one—its infamy only grows.
Travelers in the far eastern panhandle might be challenged by a black dog with a red mouth and glowing eyes. The Snarly Yow mainly lurks around South Mountain, Maryland, but ranges into West Virginia, too. If you encounter it, don’t worry—it will fill you with dread, but it hurts no one, then disappears.
On June 18, 1964, dozens of Grafton residents launched a monster hunt. They were motivated by a short item in the morning paper about teens who’d been monster hunting the previous night. What it didn’t mention is that those teens were pursuing something the newspaper’s own reporter had seen: Near the Tygart Valley River late the night of the 16th, reporter Robert Cockrell had seen a huge, seven-to-nine-foot creature with seal-like skin and no apparent head. As reports trickled in, the hunting parties grew over several days to overwhelm the town, so the newspaper came out dismissing the hunts and sightings, and the fever died down. Half a century later, the riverside woods outside Grafton are still thick enough to hide in.
Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, reported across the state and nation for many decades, eludes capture, yet has managed to become widely familiar. But the creature first reported in the 1990s and often called Sheepsquatch seems to center on West Virginia and is more elusive still. Sightings in various West Virginia locations—more in the lower-elevation western counties than in the eastern mountains—paint a picture of a light-colored, woolly, horned creature that walks upright and may be as much as nine feet tall. It has sharp teeth and a tail, and paws or hands on its forelimbs rather than hooves. In some reports it flees—in others, it attacks.
If you’ve run across West Virginia’s most famous underground resident on a caving expedition, you’re among the few. Pictured on the cover of the Weekly World News in June 1992 was Bat Boy, the 10-year-old offspring of a woman and a batlike creature, said to have been discovered in Lost World Caverns in Greenbrier County—or maybe in a cave in Pendleton County. “His giant eyes see in the dark & his ears are better than radar, say scientists.” The paper went on to report Bat Boy’s adventures over the years and seems to have had an exclusive relationship with its subject.