True Mysteries of Time and Space: The Mothman and Indrid Cold
A Brief History
I grew up an hour away from Point Pleasant in the city of Parkersburg, West Virginia. I wasn't around for the events of 1966-67, but I have been familiar with the stories ever since I can remember. One of the most credible sources for information was my father, who spent most of his adult life serving in the West Virginia State Police Department.
My dad didn't believe in hocus pocus, UFOs, or anything else he couldn't explain. That being said, he related stories of the Mothman sightings as though he believed that there was something to them.
He also spoke of Woodrow Derenberger's encounters with Indrid Cold. Again, he would say that he believed that something had happened to Derenberger on I-77, he just didn't know what. He had never met any of the parties involved personally, but he had spoken to many of his fellow officers who were familiar with the case.
My father was a born skeptic. I knew that if he had no explanation for the phenomena that occurred when he was a young state trooper then there had to be something to the stories. I would soon learn that, perhaps, the numerous eyewitnesses in Point Pleasant and Parkersburg had experienced things that cannot be explained by conventional wisdom.
Even though the Mothman was known to haunt the area of Point Pleasant/Gallipolis in the 1960's, it is also said to have resided in Parkersburg from time to time. A mysterious winged creature, larger than any bird native to West Virginia, has reportedly been seen in an area known as Quincy Hill.
Sporadic sightings used to occur, but I have not heard of any in recent years. For those who used to report seeing the winged creature, the multitude of chemical factories in the area, nicknamed "Chemical Valley", added to their fears. Some of them worried that the Mothman, if that is what they were seeing, may have been warning of a disaster on the horizon.
On April 27, 1978, a cooling tower collapsed at the Pleasants Power Station on Willow Island just outside of Parkersburg. The death toll was devastating--51 workers were killed when the scaffolding fell.
I remember my best friend being called out of class that day. We didn't know what had happened, but we knew it was bad. There was a flurry of activity in the hallways as teachers were leading distraught students to the office. My friend, whose father worked on Willow Island, was told about the collapse. Fortunately, her dad had not been injured. Other students were not so lucky.
I have heard from several people over the years that the Mothman was seen on Quincy Hill around this time. I don't know if it's true or local legend. All I do know is, foretold or not, it was a horrible tragedy that caused many local families untold grief and hardship.
The Night Visitor
The nightmare for the sleepy town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia would begin on the night of November 12, 1966. It was then that five men who were digging graves in the local cemetery claimed to have witnessed something they couldn't identify flying over their heads.
The gravediggers reported that the creature they saw was the size of a man with some human facial features, but the similarities ended there. Unlike any man they had ever seen, the thing was as black as night with a wing span of around ten feet and eyes that glowed as red as two hot coals.
The men watched in amazement as the birdlike creature swooped down from the treetops and circled them from above before disappearing into the darkness. They would soon discover that they weren't the only ones who had seen the mysterious night flyer.
Various people in the surrounding area began to report strikingly similar encounters. The creature seemed to be making its rounds all over town. Although witness accounts varied, everyone seemed to agree that the being with blazing red eyes possessed wings that stretched out like blankets in the sky.
Some of the witnesses were sure that what they had seen had been a winged man while others identified it as a bird larger than any they had ever seen before. Still others described it as something in between human and animal.
The sightings would continue for several months. Some people would claim to have been chased by the creature, barely escaping with their lives. On several occasions, it was seen flying high above the houses and treetops as it quietly observed the onlookers below. No one knew where the unwanted visitor would show up next or what it was doing in their otherwise peaceful community. That is, until tragedy struck.
The Silver Bridge connected the town of Point Pleasant with its sister city of Gallipolis, Ohio. On December 15, 1967, the suspension bridge was packed bumper to bumper with rush hour traffic. Christmas was around the corner and both lanes were lined with shoppers and commuters alike as they tried to make their way home. For many among them, it was not to be.
Before anyone realized what was happening, the bridge suddenly collapsed under the weight of the idling vehicles. Seventy-five cars plunged into the icy waters of the Ohio River. It was all over in a matter of seconds.
Forty-six people lost their lives that day. The tragedy remains, to this day, one of the worst bridge disasters in U.S. history. The communities of Point Pleasant and Gallipolis were both devastated by the loss.
Not long after the bridge collapsed, some people began to wonder if the mysterious arrival of the birdlike creature, that was now known as the "Mothman", had been a sign of impending doom. What made the theory plausible to many was the simultaneous appearance of an even stranger being in a city not far from Point Pleasant.
Encounter on a Dark Highway
On the night of November 2, 1966, Woodrow Derenberger was returning from a sales call in Marietta, Ohio to his home in nearby Mineral Wells, West Virginia. Woody, as he was known, had driven this same stretch of I-77 more times than he could count. This night, however, would be one he would never forget.
Derenberger was being extra cautious that night due to a sudden downpour of pounding rain. Cars were passing him, but he took no notice. That is, until one vehicle blew by him only to swerve in front of his car before coming to an abrupt stop.
Forced to a screeching halt, Derenberger found his progress blocked by something he had never seen before. He would later describe the craft that had cut him off as resembling an old fashioned "kerosene lamp chimney." In drawings that have been rendered since the incident, the object looks like a stingray with a narrow set of wings.
Whatever the impatient driver had been commandeering that night, it had not been like any car on the market in 1966. According to Derenberger, it had hovered above the roadway, not on it. He could not recall it ever touching down on the pavement.
As Derenberger watched, a man slowly exited the vehicle and approached his truck. Once the man was clear of the craft, it had lifted higher into the air and remained there, floating approximately forty feet above the ground.
The man, who was now within a few feet of Derenberger's driver side door, was described as having a dark complexion and standing about six feet tall with long, black hair which he had worn slicked back away from his face. He sported a metallic blue suit and a grin that spread from ear to ear.
Derenberger knew that he should have been frightened by the sight of this stranger, but he wasn't. He went on to report that the man spoke to him, but not with words. Instead, he had communicated telepathically.
The man assured Derenberger that he meant him no harm. He described himself as a visitor from another dimension who was curious about the planet Earth and its inhabitants. He introduced himself simply as "Cold."
After questioning Derenberger about the surrounding area, specifically the city of Parkersburg, the man then bid Derenberger farewell. Before leaving, he had specifically asked that the encounter be made public. He communicated that he wanted people to be aware that visitors from his planet were among them. He added that they had been quietly mingling with Earthlings for some time.
With that, Cold returned to the craft that awaited him. It lowered itself as he climbed aboard. Derenberger watched as the vehicle rose into the night sky and disappeared. Shaken and dazed by the events of the night, he then made his way home.
The Media Blitz
When Derenberger arrived home, his wife could immediately sense that something was wrong. Even so, she was not prepared for the story he had to tell as he sat her down and related his experiences with the man known only as "Cold."
As outlandish as the story was, Derenberger's wife had not doubted it for a moment. She could clearly see that something life-altering had happened to him that night. She suggested that he call the police.
While dialing the telephone, Derenberger's hands began to shake so violently that he had to hand the receiver to his wife. She recounted the story she had just heard to authorities. She was informed by the officer on duty that hers was the third call he had received that night describing strange occurrences in the area.
Word of Derenberger's encounter with Cold spread like wildfire throughout the community. The local television affiliate requested that he sit down for an interview. Upon his arrival at the station, he realized that the media weren't the only ones interested in his story.
Derenberger soon found himself face to face with representatives from the United States Air Force, law enforcement and the local airport. Everyone was lining up to hear what Derenberger had to say.
In front of a captive audience, the mild-mannered sewing machine salesman went over the events of November 2nd. Newspaper and television outlets were hanging on his every word. That night, his story would hit the local papers and blanket the airwaves. Soon, it would be national news.
The being identified previously as "Cold" was now being called "The Grinning Man" by the media. People far and wide couldn't get enough of the story. Derenberger's life, and the lives of his family, would never be the same. The firestorm had begun.
Witnesses began to come forward almost immediately to claim that they, too, had seen the strange hovercraft on the night of November 2. Unexplained lights that burned brightly in the sky only to suddenly vanish before the eyes of spectators were also reportedly seen that evening.
Most of the townspeople who chose to tell their tales wished to remain anonymous. They didn't want to invite a media circus or public scrutiny into their lives. For Woodrow Derenberger, it was already too late. His name had been made public and people from all over were coming out of the woodwork to get a piece of him.
An Unlikely Friendship
Derenberger claimed that he had begun receiving telepathic communications from Cold on a regular basis shortly after their initial encounter. He said that a "funny feeling" would come over him just before a voice entered his head. During his interactions with Cold, Derenberger would always be reassured that he was in no danger. Cold repeated that he only wished to observe and learn from his human confidant.
On one occasion, Derenberger returned home from work to find his mysterious friend, who by now had given his full name as Indrid Cold, waiting for him in the backyard. This time, however, he had not come alone. He had brought along his navigator who he introduced as Carl Ardos.
Cold had sensed that Mrs. Derenberger was frightened of him so he did not attempt to enter the house on that visit. He and Ardos remained outside for hours in spite of the chilly weather. They communicated to Derenberger that they were visitors from the fourth dimension. They described their home planet, Lanulos, as being very similar to Earth.
The extraterrestrials claimed that life on Lanulos mirrored that of Earth in many ways. For example, just like humans, his people married and raised families. Cold himself said that he was the father of two children with a third on the way. He said that his planet had oceans, rivers and fields just like Earth. There were, however, some distinct differences.
On Lanulos, residents lived well past one hundred years of age. Although they eventually died, it wasn't unusual to live for nearly two centuries. He described his people as peace-loving with no knowledge of hate or violence. Wars were unheard of in their world. They had no political system, choosing instead to govern themselves.
Derenberger attested to the fact that Cold never once asked him anything that could have remotely been considered a threat to our national security. The visitors from Lanulos were focused solely on the habits of the people, animals and even plant life on Earth--nothing more.
After some initial hesitation, Mrs. Derenberger had finally allowed Indrid Cold into her home. She would later corroborate her husband's claims that the family had played host to travelers from the planet Lanulos. Over time, Cold would become a frequent houseguest.
Indrid Cold explained that he, and others like him, could only remain on Earth for short periods of time. According to him, the people of Lanulos aged in reverse if they stayed away from their home planet for too long. If they overstayed their time restrictions, they risked losing their memories. Such an event would render them unable to operate the craft that would return them to Lanulos. He went on to say that this was the reason that his visits only lasted for a few hours at a time.
The Ugly Side of Fame
The Derenbergers had become local celebrities seemingly overnight. They would soon learn that all that glitters is not gold. Soon, the family would long to have their old lives back.
The trouble started with unsolicited phone calls at all hours of the day and night. Some would simply be hang up calls while others would be people claiming that they were, in fact, Indrid Cold. Many of the anonymous callers would ridicule and tease whoever answered the phone. The Derenbergers would change their number several times over the ensuing years, but the harassment continued unabated.
On one occasion, two trespassers hid in the trees on the Derenberger's property hoping to catch a glimpse of Indrid Cold. They had even armed themselves in the event of a confrontation. The pair would later claim that they had witnessed a large, black car pull into the driveway. As they watched, a man dressed in black had exited the vehicle and approached Woodrow Derenberger.
The two men had spoken for several minutes before the man in black returned to his car and drove away. There would be no spaceships or visitors from faraway planets that day. For the would-be alien hunters, the whole day had been a disappointing waste of time.
Derenberger's claims seemed, at times, a bit outlandish. He would go missing for long periods of time only to turn up again with stories of how he had been taken, by spaceship, to Lanulos. While there, he said that he had spent time with many of the planet's residents. They had been friendly and welcoming, just as Cold had described. These new claims were met with more skepticism than Derenberger had anticipated.
The media blitz and hail of public scrutiny that followed proved to be too much for Mrs. Derenberger. She divorced her husband in 1967. Woodrow Derenberger's life would continue in a downward spiral as he subsequently lost his job, home and just about everything that he held dear.
Following the demise of his marriage, Derenberger moved away from Mineral Wells in an effort to leave the past behind. His only wish was to start life over again someplace far away from the prying eyes of curiosity seekers and reporters.
The frenzy over Indrid Cold eventually died down, but was never entirely forgotten. Woodrow Derenberger remarried and returned to the Parkersburg area to settle down and live out the rest of his days. He was still viewed by many as an oddity. After all, he was someone who had claimed to have a telepathic connection to a being from another dimension.
At one point, possibly doubting his own sanity, Derenberger had consulted with a local psychiatrist. The doctor could find no evidence of mental illness, or any other psychosis, that would have explained his unwavering belief in the being known as Indrid Cold.
Curiously, shortly after his session with Derenberger, the psychiatrist claimed to have had communication with someone who identified himself as Indrid Cold. The nature of their contact was never made public. What is known is that--according to the psychiatrist--the conversation had taken place not in person or by phone, but telepathically.
Throughout all of the upheaval in his life, Woodrow Derenberger maintained an ongoing relationship with Indrid Cold. Their intergalactic connection had taken a toll on Derenberger, not only personally, but also physically. Following any communication from Cold, Derenberger would suffer a blinding migraine headache that would leave him temporarily incapacitated. Even so, he remained receptive to the messages for the remainder of his life.
Woodrow Derenberger passed away in 1990 at the age of seventy-four. Not once in the years that followed his first encounter with Indrid Cold did he voice any regrets about their meeting. Despite losing his family, livelihood, home and reputation, he had stood by his story. According to those close to him, Derenberger and Cold never lost contact with one and other.
Coincidence or Something More?
It has long been speculated by some that Indrid Cold and the Mothman were somehow connected. Their initial sightings were within one hundred miles of each other and only days apart. Still, if they really did exist, the motives for their visits seemed to be on different sides of the spectrum.
Cold, according to Woodrow Derenberger, was simply a visitor from another planet who was interested in learning about the people of Earth. He did bring misfortune to one family, but not intentionally. If he had possessed ulterior motives, Derenberger would surely have known and sounded the alarm.
In contrast, tragedy followed on the heels of the appearance of the Mothman. Was it merely a coincidence that the Silver Bridge collapsed in the months following the mysterious creature's arrival in Point Pleasant? Some people believe that this entity's arrival was an omen of the disaster which lie ahead. Others claim that the Mothman was seen on the bridge just before it collapsed.
So many stories have arisen involving the happenings in Point Pleasant and the Parkersburg area in 1966-67 that finding answers to the multitude of questions is nearly impossible. It is, in the end, up to each individual to decide for themselves what they believe.
Speaking only for myself, I think that the witnesses in Point Pleasant did see a winged creature in the year leading up to the bridge disaster. I do, however, tend to lean towards a more practical answer as to its identity.
One theory as to the Mothman's true identity flies much closer to home. It has been speculated that the winged creature that was spotted in Point Pleasant was actually a migrating sandhill crane. The bird averages three feet in height and has a wing span of up to eight feet. It also sports red markings on its face which could account for the red glowing eyes that many witnesses reported seeing. The birds have been known to get thrown off course, landing them in unfamiliar territory. This could account for some of the bizarre behavior that witnesses in Point Pleasant reported seeing.
Point Pleasant now plays host to an annual Mothman festival each September. People come from far and wide to have their pictures taken with the Mothman statue that now adorns the town. During the weekend festivities, memorabilia is sold, guest speakers appear and movies are shown. It is quite the spectacle.
As for Indrid Cold, this one is a little more problematic. I believe that Woodrow Derenberger did encounter something on I-77 that was not of this Earth. I've heard too many accounts, including those that came second hand from my father, that convinced me that Cold was real.
Derenberger's holding on, steadfastly, to his story even when it would have been in his own best interest to abandon it, also convinced me of its validity. He suffered greatly as a result of his relationship with Indrid Cold, but he refused to deny the existence of his friend.
Derenberger did not get rich from his notariety, quite the contrary. He had everything to lose and nothing to gain by sharing his story. And, yet, he stayed the course. There is always the chance that Indrid Cold is still visiting Earth and will befriend someone else someday. Perhaps, he already has.