Tea’s Weird Week: Let’s Talk About the Dang Old Chicago Mothman
Hey, it’s the first Tea’s Weird Week column of 2023! I started this column in 2019 and kept up with it weekly for years, but this year I have many projects to work on, so this column will be sporadic and when I have time for it, but I’ll have a column atleast a couple times a month. Hopefully the TWW podcast will return soon, too.
I’ve not had any writing published this month, but I’ve got some articles lined up for the next few months for a variety of publications that I’m excited about. One is a project I’ve been working on over the last three years that is finally seeing the light of day, an article titled “The Chicago Mothman: Red-eyed Creatures and Green-eyed Monsters,” a two-part article that is the cover story for the February issue of Fortean Times, with the second part appearing in the March issue. In April, I will be packaging the article, as well as some “bonus material,” as an e-book.
When reports of a “Mothman” (also called the “Lake Michigan Mothman,” “Chicago Bat,” and “Chicago Phantom”) creature haunting the Chicago area began to circulate in 2016, I, of course, had a strong interest as my homebase of Milwaukee is just north of Chicagoland. As the story unfolded, I became more interested in what was going on behind the reports rather than the reports themselves. In 2020 I visualized writing a longform piece on the entire case and began interviewing people associated with the investigation. I ended up interviewing 12 people between January and May 2020. As you can see, the project soon had extra time for interviewing and the massive undertaking of transcribing the interviews (my least favorite and most time consuming aspect of writing) during pandemic quarantine. I’d work on transcribing for an hour, then doomscroll the news for a bit.
I thought I would be a good person to write this because even though I obviously have a strong interest in the paranormal, I think I’m good at viewing the field and the people involved in it objectively because I’m not deeply immersed in it. It is one of my interests, but one of many. I don’t belong to any paranormal teams or groups. I get invited to paranormal events and conferences once in awhile, but not often cause I got no “star power.” I don’t have a reality show where a nightvision camera follows me as I roll around on the ground screaming about ghosts and that’s what you need to succeed in that field.
Of the 12 people I interviewed about the Chicago Mothman case, I know some of them and some I don’t, but I didn’t have an agenda against anyone. I just wanted to report the story.
I worked on it and re-worked it. I struggled on how to present the story. At one time, I was inspired by the great Chicago oral historian and author Studs Terkel (1912-2008) to present the case as an oral history. Studs was best known for this style, where he would record stories from a wide array of people and compile them to tell a story of American life. He won the Pulitzer for The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two and his book Division Street is a classic oral history and examination of race, class, and everyday life in Chicago. In these volumes, Studs let the people do the talking while he used his skills quietly as an editor. Studs was one of Chicago’s most famous voices. I don’t know that Studs had any interest in the paranormal — but I think he would have at least humored this strange story as it spread across his beloved Chicagoland, from Oz Park to the lakeshore to O’Hare to the neighborhood of Little Village.
I decided to ditch the oral history format (though you’ll see an element of that in the e-book) because it’s a lot harder than it looks. I opted for a more traditional article presentation and sent it across the pond as a submission to Fortean Times, the great British magazine dedicated to all things weird.
Publishing is a funny business. Sometimes it moves really fast, other times it just goes on forever and a day. And so now, about 3-years after I began the project, I’m glad to say it’s done and in print. At least that’s what I hear, I haven’t received my copy as it takes time to ship from Jolly Old England, and I’m told extra time as a postal strike is going on over there.
Anyway, it’s done! I did it! But what exactly the hell is the Chicago Mothman? Unidentified creature? Aliens? Owl? Interdimensional beings? Demons? Internet hoax? I’ll let the investigators speak for themselves and let you puzzle on the mystery, as I have.
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My latest books are:
Brady Street Pharmacy: Stories and Sketches (2021, Vegetarian Alcoholic Press)
American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness (2020, Feral House)