The Living Legend, John Gibson
If you’re a Flatwoods Monster fan there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the Flatwoods Monster Lantern. The lantern, like the one pictured in the hand of John Gibson to the right, was original produced by the “Jaycee’s” (which stood for the Junior Chamber of Commerce.) The Jaycee’s were a group of young business owners and community leaders who’s goal was to change Braxton County, West Virginia for the better. In the early 1960’s the Jaycee’s decided to start a fund raising effort to help fund the counties first kindergarten program. After many ideas were discussed the idea of making a novelty item based on the Flatwoods Monster was agreed upon and they set off to make a lantern. One of the members was a house paint distributor so they took advantage by utilizing his supplies in the final product. Originally the lanterns were painted with this member’s red and green paint. The wire handle from a one gallon bucket was used as a handle for the lantern attached at the head and a 1 quart paint can lid would fit into the base of the lantern and hold a candle.
One of the leaders of the Laycee’s was John Gibson. It was his idea to take advantage of the fame of the Flatwoods Monster in order to raise funds for the area. He knew travelers would be interested in the local lore, as well as residents. John was childhood friends with one of the eye-witnesses, Neil Nunley, so he grow up being telling the story of the Flatwoods Monster as he had heard it from his friend who experienced it first hand. After seeing the wide and fast spread of the monster story, which culminated in a TV interview with eye witnesses on national television, Gibson always knew that this story would be important to the area. While some residents chose to ignore the story or dismiss it, Gibson kept the story alive by telling it to who ever would listen.
Lanterns were sold at special events in the area as well as along the side of the road during high traffic times of the year. The group would often set up along West Virginia route 5 to sell the lanterns to travelers. Before the interstate highway was built, route 4 was the road you had to take in order to drive from northern West Virginia south, and vice versa. To capture attention they would often mount an 8 feet tall sign in the ground that was made from a sheet of ply-wood and painted to resemble the lanterns they had for sale. When the lanterns were first produced the sale price was $5 each, accounting for inflation that would be about $50 today.
For many years the Laycee’s sold their lanterns for various fund raising efforts, but some time in the 1970’s the group disbanded. After the group dissolved, John found himself in possession of the molds for the lantern. Seeing that the legend of the Monster was growing dim he decided to keep producing and selling the Monsters on his own.
Gibson has been a contributor to most investigations into the monster and the sighting at Flatwoods. He was crucial in helping Frank Feschino track down information for his book, “The Braxton County Monster.” Gibson has also kept an extensive personal archive of anything monster related, mostly old magazines, newspaper clippings and articles.
The ceramic monster lanterns are still in production today. Gibson has these unique items hand made in Marietta, Ohio by a ceramic artisan. Each piece is hand molded, fired, and painted. These lanterns are available locally at the Days Inn gift shop, Exxon convenience store, and Sister’s Antique Mall. All three located within one mile of exit 67 of I-79. To purchase a lantern online, CLICK HERE.