By Sarah Mansheim
Long before the Kardashians dominated the magazine covers in the check-out lines, folks have been checking out the tabloids for the latest gossip on celebrities and politicians, and for years, the most far-fetched and supernatural headlines dominated the cover of the now-defunct Weekly World News.
The Weekly World News was usually located toward the bottom of the magazine racks, and while its contemporaries, the National Enquirer and the National Examiner, would tout the latest John Travolta or Elizabeth Taylor gossip, the Weekly World News featured such off-the-wall headlines as “I Was Bigfoot’s Love Slave,” and “Dick Cheney is a Robot!”
On June 23, 1992, the tabloid published its first story about a half-bat, half-child found in a cave in Pendleton County, its headline shouting “Bat Child Found In Cave!” alongside a photograph of a grotesque, screaming child with pointed teeth and ears.
The Bat Boy issue was the second-biggest selling issue of the Weekly World News, and a cultural phenomenon was born. Bat Boy became a sort of “mascot” for the Weekly World News, and over the years, the tabloid reported on his goings-on, which included living in the subway tunnels under New York City and switching his endorsement from John McCain to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
The Weekly World News was shuttered in 2007, and Bat Boy hasn’t been heard from since. Until now.
Greenbrier County native Mark Passerby has revived the story of Bat Boy with an online documentary “The Hunt for Bat Boy” about a group of scientists searching for the elusive creature deep within the ground at Lost World Caverns (where other Bat Boy stories have previously placed his whereabouts).
Bat Boy lore at Lost World will not be lost on the thousands of Greenbrier County elementary school kids who have toured the caverns on field trips – the story of the legendary half-boy, half-bat has been told to them all over the years.
The docu-series is set to air online in August at www.huntforbatboy.com and on YouTube; the trailer is available for viewing now. The series follows a group of cavers and scientists as they follow reports that Bat Boy has been spotted in the deep recesses of the caverns.
“The Hunt for Bat Boy” features Passerby, a longtime cave expert who grew up near Lost World Caverns; Bob Kirk, team expedition leader; cryptozoologist Willow Kelly; world renowned deep cave and diving expert Jim Heagy, who is seeking revenge on Bat Boy because he believes he is responsible for killing his dog and area livestock; deep caving expert Keith Sweeney, who believes that Bat Boy is actually part of a massive civilization that exists deep under the Earth’s surface; well-known local geologist, caver and founding member of the West Virginia Association of Cave Studies (WVACS) and West Virginia Cave Conservation, Bill Balfour. He is providing expert advice on the unique nature of Lost World, and its location on a massive fault that pushes the limestone layer over two miles into the earth and how it has potential to become the world’s deepest cave; and supervisor of PBS of West Virginia and team reporter Chuck Frostick, also an avid caver and WVACS member.
Kelly told the Mountain Messenger The Hunt for Bat Boy is a “great story with an environmental twist.” As the trailer says, “Deep secrets will be revealed underground.”
Passerby says Bat Boy has always been the subject of local cave lore, and last winter he was inspired to make a film about the supernatural celebrity after a day caving. Passerby has never made a movie, but is a professional video editor with access to a lot of state-of-the-art equipment, including hand-held video cameras that can shoot in the dark. Much of the documentary is shot underground, and even underwater. Passerby says his lack of experience in filmmaking is actually an advantage: he can build the story in a unique and compelling way.
Bat Boy fans can find merchandise such as T-shirts, plushies and statues at the Lost World Caverns booth under the Grandstand at the State Fair, just in time for the series to go live online. Passerby says the 3-5 minute episodes will be released every two-to-four weeks beginning mid-August. Viewers can go to huntforbatboy.com and sign up for new episode alerts.
“I think this is how people view media now. The average person who watches YouTube watches it for an average of 45 minutes a day,” says Passerby. And beginning next month, we’ll all be able to spend a few minutes of our day deep in the earth following “The Hunt for Bat Boy!”