Ghoulish stories about the Athens area, including hauntings, myths and mysteries are kept on Alden Library’s fifth floor in the “spook file,” a folder packed with yellowing news clippings.
The file, maintained by Ohio University Archivist Bill Kimok, has been available to visitors of The Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections for decades.
“One of the reasons we have the spook file is because we had students who were doing the collecting of materials in the first place,” Kimok said. “Someone probably thought ‘well this is pretty cool stuff,’ so they started and other students would add to it afterward.”
Kimok said interest in the file waxes and wanes, but he remembers a particular increase in curiosity after the release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Several film students who intended on making similar productions exploring Athens’ own local legends spent time with the spook file that year, he said.
“People who come up to look at it don’t just spend five minutes taking a look, they spend a good part of their afternoon or morning reading about everything that’s in the spook files,” he said.
Stories exploring the hauntings of Wilson Hall, the alleged pentagram connecting local cemeteries and the practices of satanic cults in Athens can be found in the file.
A peculiar local legend of a sinister winged creature with glowing red eyes, Mothman, also appears in the spook file in several news articles from the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The first Mothman sighting was reported in November 1966 by two married couples driving together around midnight near West Virginia’s McClintic Wildlife Sanctuary. In the shadow of an abandoned power plant once used to fuel World War II army munition operations, the couples spotted a pair of glowing red eyes peering at them from a group of bushes, according to a previous Post report.
Barbara Grueser, administrative English department secretary, was 16 years old when the Mothman legend was born. She lived in Meigs County, less than 20 miles from the area where the creature was spotted and later she found herself surrounded by monster mystery chatter.
“Those were scary things and they weren’t things I wanted to pay attention to seriously,” Grueser said of the reported sightings.
Some residents tried to keep the mystery alive by hanging black trash bags on clothes hangers in trees near the site, Grueser said. She and a few of her girlfriends went out looking for the Mothman one night, but didn’t see anything.
The spot where sightings originated, known to locals as the “TNT area,” lends itself to the proliferation of spooky stories.
“It would be just like ‘War of the Worlds’ or ‘When the Worlds Collide,’ ” Roger Bennett, a former Athens Messenger reporter who covered the original Mothman sighting in 1966, said in a previous Post report. “It’s isolated, desolate, no lights, dark and these buildings looking like they had been destroyed by the nuclear holocaust.”
Bennett wasn’t the only one who thought the abandoned military ordinance complex would make a great sci-fi flick.
Paranormal researcher John Keel wrote a book based on the Mothman sightings titled “The Mothman Prophecies.” His book was later adapted into a film by the same name, released in January 2002.
The myth continues to flourish in Point Pleasant, though no proof of the Mothman’s existence has ever been found. Every year, one weekend in September is reserved for the Mothman Festival, and a Mothman museum operates year round.
“I think they kind of hope it will bring people in to help the economy,” Grueser said. “They say the Mothman has really helped the region.”