Friday, December 23, 2011

The Curse of Cornstalk, Night Before Christmas

This is not typical Christmas fare, but in response to questions I have received concerning the Silver Bridge collapse; and certain rumors of supernatural influences; I am posting the following update for your edification and enjoyment alone. Weirdness is not uncommon in these parts, and whether this disaster was due to curses or crypto-zoological causes, I will leave for you to decide.

The following is the history of the legendary chieftan and Shaman Cornstalk, whose curse it is said, still wreaks havoc over Appalachian residents.

The Curse of CornstalkPoint Pleasant has seen its share of devastating floods and fires; some attribute it to the dying curse of the great Shawnee chieftain, Cornstalk.
On October 10, 1774 a great battle took place between Virginia militiamen led by Andrew Lewis, and a multi-tribal confederation led by the Shawnee warrior, Cornstalk; this battle took place at the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers, later incorporated in 1794 as the town of Point Pleasant. The Native American tribesmen were duped by the British-loyalist Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, into believing the militiamen were coming to sign a peace treaty. The confederation suffered a massive defeat, never to return to the area to fight again; the militiamen suffered heavy casualties also. Dunmore's intent was to divert the attention of the colonists away from independence from Britain by stirring hatred between colonists and Native Americans. Because of the British interests in the battle, some have declared this battle to be the first of the American Revolution; detractors label it the last battle of the border/Indian wars.

Upon Cornstalk's demise as the result of an ambush, he reportedly with his dying breath cursed the area for 200 years. [There is some evidence that the "curse" was actually a fictitious plot element of a local play during the early 1900s.] His "words" spurred many a discussion upon each unfortunate occurrence in the town during that time span, including floods and severe fires that seemed to plague the downtown through the years, up through a cowardly, murderous hostage situation at the Mason County Courthouse in 1976.

(Photo is postcard image circa 1930 of the Cornstalk monument in its former location on the Mason County Courthouse lawn. In the early 1950s it was moved, along with the chief's remains, six blocks south to Tu-Endie-Wei State Park at the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers, scene of the battle described above.)

                      And now for a very common phenomenon
                       in my region...The Legend of MOTHMAN.

Point Pleasant, West Virginia

West Virginia has played host to two famous monsters, both within a span of a dozen years. In 1955, a 12-foot-tall space creature landed in a flying saucer and terrified the town of Flatwoods. And in 1966-67, a monster nicknamed "Mothman" performed a similar frightfest on the citizens of Point Pleasant.

Mothman was made into a Hollywood movie in 2001 and thus is more than a monster -- he's a celebrity.

Mothman arrived in Point Pleasant in November 1966 in classic style, scaring couples in parked cars and eating farmers' dogs. He was described as seven feet tall with a barrel chest and a piercing shriek.

His most memorable features were his ten-foot batlike wings and his huge, red, glowing eyes. And unlike the Flatwoods monster, Mothman didn't spook and run. He hung around for over a year, building an impressive roster of over 100 fear-struck locals who claimed to have encountered him.

Fortean researcher John Keel heard the stories and came to Point Pleasant to see what was happening. He compiled what he found in a 1975 book, The Mothman Prophecies, which was later turned into that 2001 Richard Gere film.

Some people thought that Mothman was a mutant, spawned from local chemical and weapons dumps. Some thought that he was the "the curse of Chief Cornstalk," a Shawnee leader who had been treacherously murdered in Point Pleasant in 1777, and who had finally gotten around to exacting his revenge.

Things got ugly on December 15, 1967, when the Silver Bridge, which connected Point Pleasant to neighboring Kanauga, Ohio, suddenly collapsed into the Ohio River, killing 46 people trapped in rush-hour traffic. Some claimed that the catastrophe was triggered by a sonic boom from Mothman's wings. Others believed that Mothman had been sent to warn the people of Point Pleasant, although his message was obviously lost in translation. Whatever the connection may have been, Mothman disappeared after the bridge fell down. Maybe he simply felt that Point Pleasant had had enough.
Mothman remained an obscure bogeyman until 2001. Then the movie based on John Keel's book, The Mothman Prophecies, came out, and the town realized that this was its one chance to make something good out of its monster. On the day that the film opened, West Virginia's secretary of state announced that Point Pleasant's old KFC would be converted into a Mothman visitors' center, and that a 20-foot-tall Mothman sculpture would be commissioned.

Things didn't turn out quite that grand. In 2002, Point Pleasant held its first Mothman Festival. In 2003, Gunn Park was renamed Mothman Park, and a 12-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture of Mothman was unveiled. It is a unique civic monument, an over-the-top effigy that you'd expect see on the handle of a Barbarian collectibles knife, not on a downtown street in West Virginia. Its football-size red eyes were meant to be lit from behind at night, but sponsorship funding came up a little short.
In 2005 the Mothman Museum and Research Center opened across the street from the statue, run by monster booster Jeff Wamsley. It's a small place, only open on weekend afternoons, but it does display some of the props from the film, and it sells an assortment of Mothman souvenirs. Weekday visitors with an urge for Mothmanabilia can walk a block south to the Harris Steak House, which has its own assortment of t-shirts, books, DVDs, Christmas ornaments, Beany Babies (unofficial), comic books, and license plates for sale.

Even Chief Cornstalk has a memorial in Point Pleasant. A four-ton stone obelisk, marked simply "Cornstalk," stands in Point Pleasant Battlefield State Park down by the river. The Chief's surviving remains -- three teeth and a few bone fragments -- are sealed in the center of the obelisk, perhaps to ensure that his curse is safely locked away.

The only people who don't have much to feel happy about in Point Pleasant are the victims of the Silver Bridge collapse. They have a memorial, too, at the spot where the bridge once entered the town. But their names are inscribed on lowly bricks, and you have to step on them to read the bronze plaque that lists only the names of the town's politicians...Read More
And for the latest Mothman conspiracy theories Read This.

To me, the real spirit of Christmas lives on in the memories I have of watching this man on his own show, with my family close by.

Now to let y'all know that I have not lost my mind, or my Christmas spirit, I will close with what I believe to be the best rendition of "Let It Snow" ever done.

This is being sung by my one and only Homie--Deano Martin...and in the company of his favorite sidekicks..."The Golddiggers".

Have a very Merry and Joyous Christmas...
Back in a few days...


Gorges Smythe said...

With the murder of Chief Logan's family and Cornstalk, the whites certainly deserved some curses, though I don't believe in them. As for the mothman, I think he's just E.T. waiting to find a way home.

tha malcontent said...

A very Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah to you and yours and to all your readers as well.


boilerdoc said...

Merry Christmas Scott!

Scott said...

We are all cursed and it shows in what we have allowed to happen in; and to our great nation. Mothman scares the dickens out of naive gullible folks and thet'ts a good