From ghosts, to aliens, to “cryptids” (animals whose existences have been suggested but not proven), we’ve collected the creepiest, craziest urban legends that take place in West Virginia. If you see a mountain lion or a giant moth next time you peer out your window at night, don’t say we didn’t warn you…
You probably know the legend of John Henry, but did you know that legend might have taken place right here in West Virginia? The story goes that John Henry was an African-American working on railroad construction as a steel-driver, using his hammer to pound holes in rocks for explosives in order to blast the rock away. Historians have found that John Henry really did exist and probably worked at the C&O railway’s Big Bend Tunnel near Talcott, West Virginia. That means John Henry’s famous competition with the steel hammer took place at Big Bend—and so did his death. While John won the competition due to his extreme strength and stamina, his heart gave out and he died from stress shortly after. Talcott commemorates John’s legendary memory with a statue and an annual festival.
“Couples see man sized bird…creature…something!” The Point Pleasant newspaper probably described the legendary giant moth best. Possibly one of the most famous mythological creatures ever, the Mothman’s first known appearance can be traced to 1966, when several men were digging a grave near Clendenin. They saw something flying low above them, describing it as white and man-like with giant wings and glowing red eyes. More reported sightings followed, and explanations of the creature ranged from an alien, to a supernatural manifestation, to simply a large owl. Since then, the myth of the Mothman has been used extensively in the media, appearing in books, films and even video games.
The Flatwoods Monster
Braxton County may be home to West Virginia’s very own close encounter of the third kind. The Flatwoods Monster, or the Phantom of Flatwoods, was first spotted on a September night in 1952 by several young boys playing outside. The boys reported seeing a bright object fly across the sky and come to rest in a neighbor’s field. Believing they witnessed a UFO crash, they ran to tell their parents. When one mother went with the boys to investigate along with a National Guardsman, the group reportedly found a wide-headed creature with glowing eyes underneath an oak tree. A pungent mist covered the area, burning their eyes and noses. When the creature appeared to notice them, they fled in panic. It made a shrieking sound and took off into the sky. Skeptics have dismissed the case as an sighting, but those present that night would beg to differ—several suffered from mysterious symptoms after the incident, including throat swelling, irritation, vomiting and convulsions.
The Elusive Mountain Lion
Mountain Lions (or cougars) once roamed the hills of West Virginia, but went extinct around the turn of the 20th century. But in 2008, photos began to circulate showing a hunter posing with a mountain lion he had supposedly found hit by a car near Parkersburg. Later a story appeared in a tabloid; a night camera had captured another cougar near Clendenin. Paw prints were found nearby. While the original 2008 story has since been debunked (the mountain lion was actually found in Arizona, not West Virginia), there are definitely still some solid believers in the state’s mysterious feline mascot. There’s even a webpage for people to post their stories about mountain lion sightings in the state.
Over a hundred years ago, a poor, penniless woman named Jenny lived in an abandoned shed next to railroad tracks near Harpers Ferry. One night she was sitting by a fire she had made in a desperate attempt for warmth when a stray spark leapt out. The old shed was quickly engulfed in flames—and soon, so too was Jenny. Screaming, she ran out of the shed and straight onto the railroad tracks, where a train was speeding towards her. The conductor noticed a ball of fire in his path and tried to slam the brakes, but he was too late, and the train mowed down Jenny’s burning body. After the incident, train conductors have reported seeing a burning body running towards them on the tracks, but when they screech the train to a halt, the body is nowhere to be found. It is said that, to this day, if you’re in Harper’s Ferry at night, you can occasionally see (and hear) a screaming ball of fire running towards the station.