Capitalizing on the Legend of the Flatwoods Monster Mar 14, 2019 0:53:43 GMT -5 Sam likes this
Post by Graveyardbride on Mar 14, 2019 0:53:43 GMT -5
Capitalizing on the Legend of the Flatwoods Monster
FLATWOODS, W.Va. – When it comes to unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, Flatwoods is no Roswell, New Mexico, but the small Braxton County community is embracing its own tale of alien visitation and enjoying success as an offbeat tourist destination.
The Flatwoods Monster legend, which dates to Sept. 12, 1952, is gaining attention again, thanks to a new History Channel TV series, a video game and documentary. And now there’s a museum in nearby Sutton that’s drawing visitors eager to learn about the bizarre event that happened on a Flatwoods hilltop. Sixty-seven years ago, a woman and six boys saw what has become variously known as the Braxton County Monster, Flatwoods Monster or Phantom of Flatwoods. The “monster” sighting coincided with a wave of UFO reports over the eastern part of the United States in 1952.
Fireball in the sky. The incident began when the boys, playing football at the elementary school, saw what they took to be a fireball or meteor fly over the town and then appear to land or crash on a hilltop overlooking the community. Accompanied by Kathleen May, mother of two of the boys, the group followed a path to the hilltop, where a glowing, red object pulsated in a field. Moments later, they came face-to-face with the Flatwoods Monster.
As a means of nurturing the Flatwoods legend, the Flatwoods Monster Museum opened in October 2017 at 208 Main St. in Sutton, sharing space with the Braxton County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Museum visitors can learn about the Flatwoods Monster, as described by the witnesses. Based on their descriptions, early artists’ renderings depicted what the witnesses saw as approximately 12-feet-tall with an Ace of Spades-shaped head, glowing, red eyes and claw-like hands. Despite the monster-like illustrations at the time, at least one eyewitness said it appeared to be mechanical in nature – a structured machine of some type – rather than a flesh-and-blood creature. “One common thread that seems to go through the whole story is that it definitely seemed extraterrestrial in nature,” said Braxton County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Andrew Smith. Whatever it was, it garnered national news coverage when it happened, ranking as one of the top 10 news stories of 1952.
Smith also serves as the museum’s curator and is always on the lookout for Flatwoods Monster-related items. When the CVB offices moved from the Flatwoods outlet mall to Main Street in Sutton, he realized the roomier quarters would be ideal for housing a museum dedicated to the area’s famous legend. When the signs went up in the windows, the museum’s popularity took off. “As soon as we slapped the stickers on the window, making it [the museum] official, the traffic has far outpaced our expectations, that’s for sure,” Smith continued.
Out-of-town travelers as well as local residents have embraced the Flatwoods Monster Museum. According to Smith, many out-of-state travelers know about the museum through the internet or by using various smart phone travel apps that direct motorists to unusual roadside attractions. “In the busy season, during the summer, it’s probably one-fourth in-state [travelers)]and three-fourths out-of-state.” Visitors from other countries have also signed the guest book. Smith said a recent check of the guest book revealed that travelers from 27 states had visited the center and museum. Visitors from Hong Kong, Germany, Ireland and Australia had also signed the guest book. “And not everyone signs the guest book,” he added.
Monster media: TV shows, film and a video game. UFO enthusiasts have made pilgrimages to the museum to learn more about the 1952 occurrence and several other similar events that happened in the same time frame. The actual site where the monster was seen is on private property and not accessible to the public, Smith explained.
The legend of the Flatwoods Monster received a boost recently through a new History Channel television series entitled Project Blue Book. The show is a fictionalized account of astronomer J. Allen Hynek’s investigations into UFO sightings around the country as part of the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, which sought to explain the increasing UFO reports of the 1950s and 60s as misidentifications of natural phenomena. Hynek famously labeled a Michigan sighting as “swamp gas,” but as the bearded astronomer continued to investigate cases for the Air Force, he became convinced that a small percentage of UFO reports could not be explained away as any type of earthly phenomena.
The second episode of Project Blue Book dealt with the Flatwoods incident and although there were some embellishments for dramatic effect, Smith insisted the episode remained true to the basic core of the story. “The writers and producers of that show really seemed like they dug in to pull everything they could out of that story,” he said.
Museum visitors have also learned of the Flatwoods Monster from a recent documentary film about the incident produced by a company called Small Town Monsters. The film, The Flatwoods Monster: A Legacy of Fear, premiered last spring at the Elk Theater in Sutton.
Additionally, the video game Fallout ‘76 prominently features the Flatwoods Monster. The game takes place in West Virginia and includes quite a bit of Mountain State folklore. “The monster is one of the characters you can battle in the video game,” Smith explained, adding that Point Pleasant’s Mothman and the Grafton Monster are also featured in the game.
Tourist attraction. During peak travel season in the summer, Smith said museum visitors tend to be younger, but all ages are drawn to the Flatwoods Monster Museum. “Anybody that’s interested in anything strange or paranormal, they come; whether that’s kids who convince their parents to get off the Interstate, or retired folks who are driving around the country in their RVs.”
The Flatwoods Monster Museum is self-guided, but Smith is happy to answer visitors’ questions. The museum part of the center also has a monitor on which a continuous loop of videos help to explain the Flatwoods Monster legend. There are also vintage newspaper articles, drawings, photos and large illustrations of the Flatwoods Monster. There’s even a Flatwoods Monster costume on display that Smith dons for special events. He has appeared as the Flatwoods Monster during the Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant.
Soon after the museum opened, Smith realized that visitors like to buy souvenirs. There are plenty from which to choose, including T-shirts, shot glasses, monster lanterns, patches, postcards and bumper stickers, to name just a few. The ceramic monster lanterns are among the museum’s best sellers. The first monster lanterns were produced in the 1960s, when Sutton resident John Gibson came up with the idea as a fundraiser for the Braxton County Jaycees organization. “We wanted to do something for the county, so we got some (monster) molds made and started producing the lanterns,” Gibson explained at the time.
Flatwoods Monster Chairs. In December 2014, the CVB (Braxton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau) commenced developing the Flatwoods Monster Chairs trail. Planning began when Andrew Smith, Executive Director of the Braxton County CVB, started drawing up ideas for the chairs. After many refinements, local contractor Allan Johnson was hired to build the 10-foot-tall chairs. “The idea was to build and place chairs all over Braxton County and give them all a unique paint job,” Smith said. The first one was built and placed in May 2015. Slowly, new locations were secured and more chairs were built, painted and placed. “Five chairs in total have been made and they are scattered all over the county,” he added. This project helps raise awareness of the legend and helps the chosen locations attract business. The giant chairs can be found at the following locations:
Flatwoods Municipal Building: 5 Doctors Lane, Flatwoods;
Days Inn and Suites: 350 Days Drive, Sutton;
Holly Gray Park: 401 County Route 15/9, Sutton;
Café Cimino County Inn: 616 Main Street, Sutton; and
Elk River RV Camp: 360 Little Buffalo Road, Gassaway.
Sources: Ben Calwell, The Charleston Bazette-Mail, March 2, 2019, and the Braxton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau.