POINT PLEASANT — Its been about a month since Mothman devotees descended upon Mason County for the Mothman Festival, and now that the dust has cleared (and the wings are still), one of the people behind the festival speaks about what it all means.
Jeff Wamsley is one of the co-organizers of the festival, a local educator and a co-author of a book about Mothman. The Mothman Festival is one of the largest events in the area, bringing in an estimated 4-5,000 tourists each year - literally doubling the size of Point Pleasant. However, most people who attend the festival are not from the area. In fact, many local people don’t attend it with opinions about it ranging from indifference to thinking it’s just plain silly.
When asked what he feels is most misunderstood about the festival, Wamsley said: “I think the Mothman festival has grown into something much bigger than an event limited entirely to the Mothman story. It has given people a chance to come together each September, see old friends and make new ones, and at the same time explore the history and mystery of our town. A lot of small towns don’t have this luxury like Point Pleasant does. We have so much to see and offer the people that travel here from all over the globe. So it’s not all about the Mothman all of the time.”
The true devotion of people in love with the folklore of Mothman and the history of Point Pleasant was evident at the festival this year when a rainy Saturday didn’t slow the crowd. These are people who book hotel rooms a year in advance and stay as far away as Huntington and Charleston when local hotels are full. All of those people crammed into downtown and spending money throughout Mason County reminded Wamsley, and many others, of the days when he was a kid, when the streets of downtown would be packed with cars on a Saturday.
“Each year after the festival we go out and talk to restaurants, hotels, and retail stores,” Wamsley said. “Every year they are breaking sales records. People email me all the time about how friendly the folks are here in Point Pleasant. They aren’t used to a real hometown feel when they come here from somewhere like New York or Los Angeles.”
Speaking of New York, at this year’s festival Matt Pellowski, who produced the DVD “Mothman: Eyes of the Mothman” a few years ago, was following Wamsley around with a film crew. Pellowski is looking into a pilot TV series about some of the places he has worked, the people and some of their everyday experiences, though Wamsley concedes, he hardly calls the Mothman Festival weekend an everyday experience. Still, he was game to promote Point Pleasant as are the people who end up attending the festival.
“I look at the people who have been coming here for 12 years now, they never miss the festival and continue to support it no matter how bad the weather might be,” Wamsley said. “It’s a lot like a family reunion for many people. It’s just that 5,000 people are in the family. We have never had one incident from any of these visitors. They look forward to coming to Point Pleasant.”
Wamsley said with each passing year, he and fellow organizers/volunteers like Carolyn Harris, Ashley Wamsley Watts, Jeremy Pitchford, John and Tim Frick and Josh King, are thinking up ways to improve the festival. He stresses he cannot and does not pull this festival off alone. He also gave kudos to the City of Point Pleasant Street Department crew and sponsors.
“As soon as each festival ends we are looking for ways to improve and make the event bigger,” Wamsley said. “We are running into some issues with parking now but I have always viewed that problem as a good thing. When I was kid you couldn’t find a parking spot on Main Street so to see the streets filled with parked cars makes me feel good.”
“I think it is essential to keep the ball rolling, new events, new attractions, etc.,” Wamsley explained. “People do not realize that we work on a really tight budget. We pay for our own event insurance, and other festival related expenses. I try to feature local bands at the festival, I’m a musician and I know how good our local talent is, we want visitors to see all museums and points of interest while they are here and I would like to see them visit us not only during the festival in September but all year round.”