On the Trail of the Lake Michigan Mothman
Directed by Seth Breedlove | Small Town Monsters
Back in 2019, Small Town Monsters released a documentary called Terror in the Skies, which focused mainly on flying cryptids such as the Thunderbird and modern-day pterodactyls. But they did briefly cover another winged, flying creature: Mothman. This wasn’t the traditional Mothman of Point Pleasant, though. The accounts covered in Terror in the Skies were focused on sightings of Mothman in and around Chicago. On the Trail of the Lake Michigan Mothman takes a closer look at these alleged sightings, as well as some of the controversy surrounding them.
It’s a bit difficult to discuss the Lake Michigan Mothman sightings without addressing the elephant in the room. Namely, the infighting and territoriality of the main paranormal investigators who have been researching the case from the beginning. The bulk of the sightings started being reported in 2017, and most reports were sent to MUFON. But soon after, some other investigative groups got in on the action as well. These were Lon Strickler of Phantoms and Monsters, Tobias and Emily Wayland of The Singular Fortean Society, and Manuel Navarette of UFO Clearinghouse.
Initially, there seemed to be a common perspective amongst the different groups. But as time went on, things started to break down, and two distinct camps formed. The MUFON side seemed to have some doubts about these Chicago Mothman sightings, while Strickler, the Waylands, and Navarette believed there was something to them. But before long, there was even infighting within the believer camp.
Researcher Allison Jornlin, who was with Phantoms & Monsters, started expressing concerns about the eyewitness testimonies. She pointed out some discrepancies in timings and weather conditions from some accounts. Most of the stories that were being submitted were either anonymous, or their names were not being shared. Something that can easily cast doubt on stories that are already hard to believe. Soon, a very public war between Jornlin and the others erupted on social media, with accusations of bullying and harassment on both sides. And the controversy continues to this day.
On the Trail of the Truth
Honestly, because of all that, I was a bit unsure of how this documentary would turn out. But I should have had more faith. Director Seth Breedlove doesn’t disappoint, and tackles the controversy head-on. He and STM alum Heather Moser head to Chicago to investigate, and they jump right into the differing viewpoints. Both sides get fairly equal time here, which is refreshing, yet also a staple of any Small Town Monsters offering. There is always a balance, and while Jornlin is briefly mentioned and shown here, she doesn’t speak. I’m guessing that’s more due to her not wanting to, rather than her being purposely excluded.
But it’s not all paranormal investigator melodrama here. A flying something was seen by many people, and that part at least cannot be denied. Breedlove and Moser interview two witnesses who claim to have seen the Mothman. Or at least, a creature that vaguely resembles Mothman. It’s another issue that many have with these Chicago-area sightings. This Mothman is similar to the one from Point Pleasant, but there are also a number of key differences that set it apart. It makes one wonder how much of it is based on what the witnesses actually saw, and how much is just subconsciously absorbed from the zeitgeist.
Breedlove even has his own encounter with a large, winged creature, that he captures on film. After slowing down and stabilizing the images, he easily debunks it as a large bird. But it’s a great example of how a certain mindset can make one believe, if even for a moment, that a large, flying humanoid is terrorizing the skies over Chicago.
Asking the Tough Questions
The hallmark of every Small Town Monsters film is honesty. If the subject matter is silly, the STM teams leans into it (see Momo), while still trying to be respectful of the source material. They’ve never been about blind acceptance, or trying to convince their audience one way or the other. The material is presented, and ultimately it’s up to the viewer to decide what’s really going on. When it comes to the Lake Michigan Mothman, there are a lot questions that need to be asked. And Breedlove has no problem asking them.
The main question seems to be why seemingly any and all reports of this Chicago Mothman get reported to the same three sites? The ones who all collaborate and are believers? On the surface, it does seem suspicious. And some in the paranormal world have even accused the group(s) of manufacturing the stories. Breedlove even admits that he himself has been accused of some “guerilla marketing” and fabricating these reports in order to pump up interest for Terror in the Skies.
But Tobias Wayland has a perfectly simple answer: search engine optimization. People Googling around for “flying humanoid in Chicago” will inevitably come to websites that have been publishing their research of flying humanoids in Chicago. It’s not an answer that will satisfy those who believe that Strickler, Navarette, and the Waylands are just inventing stories to sell books or get website hits, but it does make the most sense.
More Cryptic Issues
As for the anonymity of witnesses, that’s a harder question to answer. On the one hand, yes, witnesses deserve to have their privacy respected. But on the other hand, we live in a time where the paranormal is more accepted than ever. Out of literally dozens and dozens of cases, why were only two people willing to be interviewed here? A desire for privacy is fine, and completely understandable. But if other, independent researchers cannot validate the claims by having direct contact with the witnesses, it will merely creates more questions than answers. And sows more division and doubt. Do these people exist at all? Did they really see something? Or are they just hoaxing the researchers for laughs? We can never truly know.
Personally, I can see both sides here. As an investigator myself, I know full well about discretion and protecting the identity of my clients. And there needs to be some territoriality. Many of us have been the victims of being too open and transparent and then having other researchers try to discredit our findings in order to promote their own. But at a certain point, there is the “put up or shut up” factor. When you have 50 or 60 alleged “witnesses” and none of them are willing to go on record, then you can’t really blame people for questioning the validity of such lofty claims. Similar criticisms were leveled at certain researchers of UFO contactless in the 1950s. It’s a fine line to walk, and I don’t envy any of these investigators.
But I appreciate the fair and balanced viewpoints presented here. I’m still not sure where the truth lies. And honestly, we may never know.
The Mothman of Point Pleasant was an enigmatic entity, confusing the populace just as much as it terrified them. The Lake Michigan Mothman isn’t much different. But whereas the Point Pleasant creature seemed surrounded by UFOs, Men in Black, Indrid Cold, and other forms of high strangeness, the Chicago Mothman has more earthly mysteries surrounding it. Who are these anonymous witnesses? Are they being forthright in their accounts? And most importantly, do they even exist at all?
On the Trail of the Lake Michigan Mothman is a rare gem of a paranormal documentary, an almost existential look into its own subject matter and its origins. Paranormal or otherwise. Mothman once again makes a name for itself as a fascinating cryptid, but Breedlove deftly examines the far more interesting aspect of the human factor in the aftermath. And it proves once again that sometimes, the mysteries surrounding a monster are more baffling than the monster itself.
On the Trail of the Lake Michigan Mothman releases tonight at midnight on most VOD & Streaming platforms