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Flatwoods Monster.
The Flatwoods Monster was known for its eerie green glow.

The Monster That Wouldn't Die

Flatwoods, West Virginia

Until only a few years ago, the Flatwoods Monster was more popular in Japan than it was in Flatwoods. But times have changed, people are more open-minded, and Flatwoods is no longer afraid to boast that it was once visited by a hideous space-demon.

It happened at dusk on September 12, 1952. 32-year-old beautician Kathleen May, 17-year-old National Guardsman Gene Lemon, and five younger boys climbed a hill to see a "flying saucer" that had landed. Instead they saw something horrifying. Standing roughly 10 feet tall, surrounded by a strange mist and stench, was a "monster" with a round, red face; eyes like searchlights; and a green body or suit with a cowl-like shape over its head. Some of the witnesses said it had claws. Some said it was floating. Everybody ran away, and when others eventually returned to the site, all that remained were traces of the mist and stench. It was later theorized that the monster and its spaceship, alien to our atmosphere, had literally evaporated.

Flatwoods Monster.
Witnesses Gene Lemon and Kathleen May pose with a drawing of what they saw.

The Monster was seen for only a few seconds, by seven people, and has never been seen again. At the time, most of the people Flatwoods hoped it would vanish from memory as quickly as it had from West Virginia. As late as 2011, when we interviewed local resident John Gibson about his ceramic Monster Lamps, he asked that we not use his name. The whole situation struck us as sad. Flatwoods was a town with a very cool monster, but the locals had given it the cold shoulder.

Flatwoods Monster.
Original artist's sketch of the Monster from 1952.

That began to change when young Andrew Smith became director of the Braxton County Visitors Bureau. "I'm sick of hearing about the monster," was the common sentiment he recalled at the time. But he knew that another West Virginia town, Point Pleasant, was enjoying tourism success with its monster, Mothman, and believed that Flatwoods' monster was at least as worthy of the public's affection.

Realizing that a 10-foot-tall monster would make an impossibly expensive statue, Andrew decided to combine the idea of a public tribute with a classic tourist configuration: the giant chair. Starting in 2015 he had five 10 foot-tall wooden Monster Chairs built, each uniquely painted by himself, and placed at key points in Flatwoods and neighboring communities. They were a hit, not only with tourists but with locals as well. Encouraged, Andrew began showcasing Monster memorabilia in the Visitors Bureau office. He had a seven-foot-tall "Braxxie" mascot made by the same company that had designed Point Pleasant's mascot Mothman. He brought Braxxie to the Braxton County booth at West Virginia's annual tourism fair in 2017. "That was an epiphany for me," he said. People were coming up to the booth, saying, "Holy crap, it's the Flatwoods Monster!"

In late 2017 the Visitors Bureau moved into a much larger office, and Andrew was able to expand his memorabilia display into an official Flatwoods Monster Museum. He's also been able to transform John Gibson, the Monster Lamp guy, into a no-longer-anonymous celebrity. "Now he gets interviewed all the time. People just flock to him, ask for his autograph," Andrew said. "He loves it."

Flatwoods Monster.
Monster photo-op in Flatwoods stands near the spot where it terrified the town.

The only place in Flatwoods that hasn't embraced its monster heritage is the hilltop where it was originally seen. The property owners are leery of the Monster's renewed popularity, and tourists are forbidden. Andrew hopes that he can eventually persuade them to see the light -- cast by the glowing eyes of Flatwoods' eerie, menacing, and now finally acceptable monster.

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