The Bizarre True Story Of The Flatwoods Monster

The country roads of West Virginia are, at least so go the stories, notoriously full of monsters and cryptids. The most famous creature associated with the Mountain State is of course the Mothman of Point Pleasant, the star of both spooky movies and bizarre memes. Other, lesser-known beasts said to dwell in those hills include the enticingly named Sheepsquatch, the Grafton monster, and the Blue Devil. But somewhere in between the notoriety levels of the Mothman and the Ogua lies one of the most visually iconic creatures in all of cryptid lore: the Flatwoods Monster.

The Flatwoods Monster can be recognized at a glance. As Roadside America describes, you'll know it by its enormous height — over 10 feet tall — its glowing red face shaped like a playing card spade set with bulging eyes, and its green body dressed sensibly in a skirt for the summer. It might also make itself known by levitating and spewing poison gas at you. While some cryptids such as Bigfoot have been (allegedly) sighted hundreds of times, the Flatwoods Monster made one memorable appearance in 1952 to a handful of eyewitnesses in the small town of Flatwoods, West Virginia, in Braxton County in the middle of the state. Locally, the monster is known as the Green Monster, as attested to by a sign in town that reads "Welcome to Flatwoods, Home of the Green Monster." But what's the story behind the sighting of a monster so memorable that it's still so prominent six decades later?

The story of the sighting

According to History, it was at dusk on September 12, 1952, that six boys, one mom, and a dog allegedly witnessed the strange arrival of the Green Monster in the tiny town of Flatwoods, which at the time had a population of less than 300. Two brothers — Ed and Freddie May, age 13 and 12, respectively — were playing in the schoolyard with their 10-year-old friend Tommy Hyer when they witnessed a strange streak of red light careen across the sky and land with a crash nearby. The Mays went to get their mother to go check it out, at which point they were accompanied by a few more boys, one of whom brought his dog. As Roadside America explains, the locals soon found themselves face to face with a 10-foot-tall monster that let out a shrill hiss and started to float above the ground towards them through a shroud of mist. The oldest boy among the group, 17-year-old Gene Lemon, was a National Guard member who claimed to have seen a pair of bright eyes in a tree, followed by the emergence of the red-faced, green-bodied, claw-handed, pointy-headed monster we all know and love today.

The seven witnesses and the dog all fled in terror — one contemporary of the boys claiming that one of them wet his pants — and were soon violently ill, which they claimed was due to a poison gas shot at them by the monster. Later visitors to the site found no sign of the monster or UFO, but smelled an unexplained "sickening, burnt, metallic odor."

Close encounters of the bird kind?

As History explains, the story of the sighting made the local news, with the newspaper proclaiming, "Seven Braxton County residents on Saturday reported seeing a 10-foot Frankenstein-like monster in the hills above Flatwoods." It was subsequently picked up by national radio and newspaper outlets, with Mrs. May and Gene Lemon appearing on CBS News to talk about what they had seen. The attention paid to the encounter led to an investigation by the U.S. Air Force as part of Project Blue Book, the government investigation into alleged UFO sightings and alien encounters. Part of the reason that such stories were taken so seriously was not a sincere belief in the extraterrestrial, but Cold War concerns around Russian bombers appearing in American skies.

However, in the years since the Air Force's investigation into the Green Monster sighting, a much more mundane explanation — and one that will be very familiar to cryptid and UFO fans as the explanation for everything — has been set forth for the Phantom of Flatwoods: meteors and an owl. The streak of red light seen by the May boys that September dusk was likely just one of the fairly common meteors appearing in the night sky; one had been reported that night for West Virginia and adjoining states. And the giant clawed monster? Probably a barn owl perched up on a tree, with the foliage beneath creating the illusion of a green skirt, and its extended talons creating the image of small, claw-like hands.

Merchandising a monster

As Daily Mail WV explains, cryptid tourism has become something of a cottage industry in West Virginia, and the Flatwoods Monster is one of the biggest draws. Braxton County — the Monster is referred to informally as "Braxxie" — holds an annual Flatwoods Monster Fest in celebration of the famous alien encounter, which includes a parade, live music, carnival games, a house decorating contest, and — perhaps most crucially — a pancake breakfast. There is also a dedicated Flatwoods Monster Museum as part of the town's visitor center on Main Street that has become a common destination for curious tourists enticed by the Monster's many appearances on various History Channel shows and the video game "Fallout 76." The Museum includes a piece of the oak tree where the witnesses claimed to have encountered the Green Monster.

According to History, locally crafted souvenirs are a big money maker for the people of Flatwoods, including one resident who has sold over 1,000 12-inch-tall ceramic figurines of the Monster out of a gas station next to a Shoney's, says Roadside America. Bumper stickers, shot glasses, and t-shirts are available, as is a double cheeseburger known as the Flatwoods Monster Burger at a local diner, which also includes a painting of the Monster that serves as a photo op. Perhaps most interesting, the local visitors' bureau has constructed a collection of five enormous monster-shaped chairs for tourists to take their picture in. Tourists who can show photos of all five chairs will be rewarded with a "Free Braxxie" sticker. Free from whom? Well, the Men in Black, of course.