KITTANNING — Way back in 2001, the people of Armstrong County’s seat submitted themselves to a dark, mysterious world delivered by the major motion picture “The Mothman Prophecies.”
At the time, dozens upon dozens of townsfolk, including the late former county Commissioner Jim Scahill, suddenly were committed to the silver screen alongside the movie’s stars — Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Debra Messing and Will Patton.
Leading up to the filming of Mothman, it was made apparent by the movie’s director Mark Pellington that the 1850’s Greek Revival-style county courthouse that tops off Market Street, the Gothic style former county jail, added as a wing to the courthouse in the 1890s, and, perhaps most importantly, the 1933-built steel girder Kittanning Citizens Bridge across the Allegheny River played parts in the movie maker’s decision.
In the film, the town portrayed Point Pleasant, W.Va., where on Dec. 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge — an eyebar chain suspension bridge built in 1928 and named for the color of its aluminum paint — collapsed under the weight of rush-hour traffic, resulting in the deaths of 46 people.
To reenact a similar disaster in the movie, the bridge was packed for roughly a week’s time, from end to end, with more than 140 cars rented by Mothman Productions for the purpose of filming the production’s climactic scene.
“Those vehicles sat on that bridge idling for 12-15 hours straight at one point. To see what they did on film, how they made it collapse with the special effects was something … sort of our 15 minutes of fame,” said Mathews, adding that he and some fellow police officers traveled one year to Point Pleasant. Spans such as the one in Kittanning are reflections of a past age of American architecture representing a specific time period in history.
That’s what helps make Kittanning such a popular destination cinematically speaking, Mathews said.
“It’s all with the landscape and the bridge and the old architecture … but it was the river with the bridge that started it all,” he said. “As more and more bridges are getting replaced, overhead girder bridges are getting harder to find. There are more and more more jersey barrier-types. So girder bridges like the one here are what people are looking for.”
The courthouse got its moment in the spotlight during a Christmas themed event in Mothman, while Scahill was tabbed to portray Santa Claus in the scene.
“That was a cold shoot there …. I got the outer perimeter … and Richard Gere comes out of the County Seat restaurant, and he’s leaning against the wall, and a very large gentleman came out beside him.
“I said, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Gere, this man is with you?’ He just said, ‘Yes that’s right.’”
Otherwise, the overhead girder bridge was the center of the production’s activity.
“The bridge is responsible for pretty much every scene and every show that’s been filmed here … ‘My Bloody Valentine’ being the exception,” Mathews said.
The Leader Times is a Sample News Group sibling of The Indiana Gazette.