The Mysterious Thunderbird?

On April 26 1890, reader of Arizona’s Tombstone Epitaph found themselves staring at an astonishing headline: “Found in the Desert: A Strange Winged Monster Discovered and Killed on the Huachua Desert.” According to the article, two men on horseback shot a gigantic flying beast down using Winchester rifles. Over 120 years later, cryptozoologists continue to research this story, hoping to find evidence of this strange creature. What is the Thunderbird?

The Legend of the Thunderbird?

The Thunderbird legend has its roots in Native American mythology, particularly in the cultures that resided in the American Southwest and Great Plains. It was supposedly a giant bird that shot lightning out of its eyes. Its wings were so large that when flapped, they created thunder. Interestingly enough, fossils show that the Thunderbird may have a factual basis. The now-extinct Teratornis merriami, which boasted a wingspan of 11-12 feet, lived in North America as recent as 10,000 years ago.

The 1890 Thunderbird Story

However, the creature killed back in 1890 was certainly not a teratorn. According to the article, the beast measured 92 feet long, resembled “a huge alligator,” and had wings which were “devoid of feathers or hair.” This description appears to suggest that the Thunderbird was something along the lines of a pterodactyl.

Of course, the reliability of this story must be called into question. Journalists of that time period were prone to making up outrageous stories in order to sell newspapers. And it’s important to note that no physical evidence for this story or any other Thunderbird-related story has ever been produced. Well, except for the photograph. Maybe.

The Thunderbird Photograph?

Oh the photograph doesn’t exist, mind you. Or at least it hasn’t been located by researchers yet. But plenty of people claim to have seen it. The supposed photo shows an immense bird nailed to the wall (or perhaps the roof) of a barn. Several men wearing western-style clothes stand in front of the bird. Their arms are stretched outward and each man’s fingertips touch those of the men next to him, creating a chain by which the bird can be measured.

Sean McLachlan over at Civil War Horror remembers seeing the photo. Or at least he thinks he does. But he attributes this to the interesting phenomena of “false memory.”

“My experience is just like other people’s, in that I have a very clear memory of the event and I no longer have the photo. Some people claim to have seen it in the possession of someone else. Others had a copy and lost it. In my case, I saw it in a magazine I didn’t buy. I have unwittingly become part of an urban legend.

Weird, huh? What’s going on here? Paranormal investigator Jerome Clark theorizes that the idea of the image is evocative enough to implant a false memory. Perhaps I read about the photo and created the memory? I wonder if ten years from now my writer friend will be writing another book on monsters and will be pulling her hair out trying to find that image of the Thunderbird she remembers seeing.” ~ Sean McLachlan, The Thunderbird Photo and False Memory Syndrome

Sean might be right. After all, if such a photo truly existed, cryptozoologists would’ve tracked it down by now right? Well, it certainly seems like that would be the case. Then again, the original Tombstone Epitaph article was long believed to be an urban legend as well until Mark Chorvinsky at Strange Magazine tracked it down with help from the University of Arizona.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, is the Thunderbird real and does it still soar through the skies? It’s extremely unlikely. If such a massive creature still lived in North America, it’s hard to believe that the legions of bird watchers would’ve failed to seen it. The 1890 story is slightly more believable, but not by much. The incredible claim that a pterodactyl-like creature survived for that long requires incredible evidence. And unfortunately, such evidence doesn’t exist (or at the very least hasn’t been found yet). The only way to possibly prove it would be if someone trekked out to the Huachua Desert and managed to locate the skeleton.

In the meantime, here’s the text from the original article in the Tombstone Epitaph. Does it describe a real creature? Or was it just a wild story concocted by a reporter with a highly active imagination? I’ll let you decide…

Tombstone Epitaph – April 26, 1890


A winged monster, resembling a huge alligator with an extremely elongated tail and an immense pair of wings, was found on the desert between the Whetsone and Huachuca mountains last Sunday by two ranchers who were returning home from the Huachucas. The creature was evidently greatly exhausted by a long flight and when discovered was able to fly but a short distance at a time. After the first shock of wild amazement had passed, the two men, who were on horseback and armed with Winchester rifles, regained sufficient courage to pursue the monster and after an exciting chase of several miles succeeded in getting near enough to open fire with their rifles and wounding it.

The creature then turned on the men, but owing to its exhausted condition they were able to keep out of its way and after a few well directed shots the monster partly rolled over and remained motionless. The men cautiously approached, their horses snorting with terror, and found that the creature was dead. They then proceeded to make an examination and found that it measured about ninety-two feet in length and the greatest diameter was about fifty inches. The monster had only two feet, these being situated a short distance in front of where the wings were joined to the body.

The head, as near as they could judge, was about eight feet long, the jaws being thickly set with strong, sharp teeth. Its eyes were as large as a dinner plate and protruded about half way from the head. They had some difficulty in measuring the wings as they were partly folded under the body, but finally got one straightened out sufficiently to get a measurement of seventy-eight feet, making the total length from tip to tip about 160 feet. The wings were composed of a thick and nearly transparent membrane and were devoid of feathers or hair, as was the entire body. The skin of the body was comparatively smooth and easily penetrated by a bullet.

The men cut off a small portion of the tip of one wing and took it home with them. Late last night one of them arrived in this city for supplies and to make the necessary preparations to skin the creature, when the hide will be sent east for examination by the eminent scientists of the day. The finder returned early this morning accompanied by several prominent men who will endeavor to bring the strange creature to this city before it is mutilated.

Do Alligators Live in New York Sewers?

On February 10, 1935, a 16 year old boy named Salvatore Condulucci was shoveling snow into an open manhole. Suddenly, he saw movement and shouted, “Honest, it’s an alligator!” But are sewer alligators real things? Or is this just an urban myth?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 9 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

Sewer Alligators

I actually mention the 1935 sighting in my book. It’s perhaps the most famous account of a sewer alligator living in New York City. According to the original newspaper article, Condulucci and his friends fashioned a slipknot and hauled the gator to the surface. It was surprisingly big, measuring almost eight feet long and weighing 125 pounds. Upon reaching street level, the creature, starved and cold, snapped at the boys with its powerful jaws. They proceeded to beat it to death with their shovels.

Afterward, the neighbors speculated on the sewer alligator’s origin. They finally decided that it must’ve somehow taken refuge on a steamer in the “mysterious Everglades.” Then it sailed to New York where it fell into the water. It swam into a sewer conduit which led to its eventual discovery. After being killed, it was taken away by a sanitation truck to be incinerated.

After a brief spurt of alligator sightings in New York during the 1930s, it would be almost seven decades before the next alligator was reported. In the summer of 2001, a small gator was caught swimming in Central Park’s Harlem Meer. But other than that, there’s not much to report…that is, unless we consider the stories of Teddy May.

A Sewer Safari?

In his fascinating 1959 work, The World Beneath the City, Robert Daley recounts conversations he had with Teddy May, who is somewhat of a “sewer legend” in New York. May’s exact job title is uncertain although it’s believed he might have held the position of Foreman or District Foreman.

According to May, he once discovered a colony of two-foot long sewer alligators. He believed that they had been sold by unscrupulous pet dealers to satisfy a Depression era fad for painted turtles. How did May handle this menace to his beloved sewers?

“Within a day or two of admitting that there really were alligators in his sewers, Teddy May was able to face the problem of eliminating them. A few months later they were gone. Some succumbed to rat poison. Others were harassed by sewer inspectors into swimming into the trunk mains, where the Niagara-like current washed them out to sea. Some were drowned when blockages filled their secluded pipes with backwash–to the very top. And a few were hunted down by inspectors with .22 rifles and pistols–not as part of the job, but as sport–possibly the most unusual hunting on earth, a veritable sewer safari.” ~ Robert Daley, The World Beneath the City

May was known to be a yarn-spinner and most historians are doubtful that this “sewer safari” ever took place. In fact, these same historians usually doubt the veracity of the 1935 account as well. Back then, newspapers were known to print outrageous stories in order to sell papers. And the fact that the sewer alligator was incinerated before it could be photographed does merit some suspicion.

But could an alligator survive in the sewer? The answer seems to be yes. While New York’s above-ground climate isn’t conducive to gators, its sewers are an entirely different matter. Sewers are actually quite warm, due in part to decomposing waste, and a gigantic rodent population is readily available as a source of food.

“As noted from alligator growers and authorities…the darkness in the sewers is not a problem for gators and actually increases growth in these animals. Also, the temperature is routinely high (easily 95-97 degrees F with +60% humidity). Food, breeding materials, and access to other environments are not in short supply in the NY and other urban sewers. Alligators are also able to resist infections in lots of nasty conditions…I stand behind my sense that alligators could and may have already bred in the sewers.” ~ Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman

A Sewer Alligator…in Chaos?

Of course, all this is not to say that sewer alligators do live in New York – only that it’s possible. Since much of Chaos takes place in the tunnels and sewers deep under New York, it was only natural that my hero Cy Reed would come face-to-face with one of these fabled creatures. And unfortunately for him…well, I’ll let you read it for yourself…

Suddenly, the alligator reared upward. The movement was so fast I didn’t have time to react.

Its head turned toward me and I saw its eyes. They were red as blood, yet dark as night. As I stared into them, I felt like I was looking into the soul of the devil himself.

The gator lunged at me. My instincts took over and I dove to the south. As I rolled through the water, I seized the machete from my waist with my free hand.

I rose to my feet. The gigantic alligator was just a few feet away. I backed up, trying to get some breathing room.

It followed me.

I backed up farther. It continued to follow me, gnashing its teeth in the process. Looking down, I studied the small puny objects in my hands.

I’m going to need some bigger weapons.David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David Meyer

That alligator, as you’ll find out, is far more mysterious and deadly than even Cy realizes. Well, that’s it for today’s entry in the Chao book club. Tomorrow, we’ll be leaving New York City and traveling to Japan in order to peel back the layers of the mysterious Minamata disease that plagued that country during the 1950s. I hope to see you then!


Chaos Book Club

A Hunt for…Yetis?

The Yeti, aka the Abominable Snowman, is a mysterious cryptid said to live in the Himalaya Mountains. It’s widely considered a mythological creature. But not all scientists agree. And now, some of them are launching an expedition to search for the Yeti. So, is the Yeti a legend? Or could this new expedition possibly bear fruit?

The Legend of the Yeti?

The exact origins of the Yeti mythology remain shrouded in mystery. But according to H. Siiger’s The “Abominable Snowman” chapter in Himalayan anthropology: The Indo-Tibetan Interface (edited by James F. Fisher), the creature predates Buddhism in the Himalayas, as a factor in both folklore and religion.

During the late 1800s, knowledge of the Yeti began to seep into the outside world. During the 1900s, it became famous. While leading the Everest Reconnaissance Expedition in 1921, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury spotted strange, man-like footprints. Howard-Bury thought they belonged to a grey wolf which had made double tracks in the soft snow. His guides claimed they belonged to Yeti. Later, this name was mistranslated into the famous moniker, “Abominable Snowman.”

But the Yeti really came into its own in 1951 when Eric Shipton photographed large footprints while climbing Mount Everest. These photos have proven highly controversial over the years. However, subsequent expeditions reported similar discoveries and explorers began to investigate the possibility of an unidentified species living in the Himalayas. But physical evidence remained elusive.

The Mysterious Yeti Hand?

Around this time, rumors began to spread that the monastery at Pangboche possessed a Yeti hand, which it used as a ritual artifact. Tom Slick, an oil tycoon and adventurer, was determined to examine it. One of his associates, a man named Peter Byrne, supposedly stole some bones from the hand and replaced them with human bones. Byrnes smuggled the bones into India at which point actor Jimmy Stewart (yes, that Jimmy Stewart) smuggled the bones out of the country. Sir Edmund Hillary later investigated the hand left at the monastery. Not realizing that he was looking at a combination of the original hand and a human hand, he declared the relic to be fraudulent. The bones recovered by Byrnes were later analyzed by the TV program Unsolved Mysteries, which decided they were “near human.” Unfortunately, the hand disappeared shortly afterward, making future tests impossible.

Slick wasn’t the only person during that time period to believe in the Yeti. Recent revelations indicate that the U.S. government considered the Yeti to be a bonafide creature during the 1950s. It even set rules for expeditions hoping to discover one.

“The first rule required that expeditions buy a permit. The second demanded that the beast be photographed or taken alive. ‘It must not be killed or shot at except in an emergency arising out of self defense,’ wrote Embassy Counselor Ernest Fisk on November 30, 1959. And third, any news proving the existence of the Abominable Snowman must be cleared through the Nepalese government which probably wanted to take credit for the discovery.” ~ Paul Bedard, U.S. News

Recently, scientists from Russia, the United States, and other countries announced an expedition to Siberia to “hunt down the Yeti.” The effort will focus on the Kemerova region which has experienced a large increase in sightings over the last two decades. Is this a fool’s errand?

The Yeti: A Real-Life Cryptid?

I find cryptozoology to be an interesting field of study. At its best, it combines elements of zoology and folklore.

“The zoology-based cryptozoologist looks at the mystery animals being investigated by the folklore-based cryptozoologist, and thinks that they are highly unlikely to exist as real animals. The folklore-based cryptozoologist looks at the often rather mundane animals being investigated by the zoology-based cryptozoologist and thinks that the creatures concerned are so ordinary that they’re probably nothing to do with cryptozoology. A dedicated cryptozoologist – who combines investigation of both of these fields – is interested in both areas, and finds both real animals, and entities that exist only in folklore, of equal research interest.” ~ Darren Naish

After a long period of disrepute, the field is finally started to gain some interest from the established scientific community, thanks in large part to the recent Cryptozoology: Science of Pseudoscience conference conducted by the Zoological Society of London. At that conference, Henry Gee (Senior Editor of Nature), Dr. Michael Woodley, Dr. Charles Paxton, and Dr. Darren Naish argued convincingly that it’s possible to conduct scientific studies with cryptozoological data.

From my perspective, the most believable cryptids are so-called sea monsters. The ocean is a vast place and its depths remain largely unexplored. And while I rarely trust eyewitness testimony, it’s difficult to ignore the cases of the Daedalus Sea Serpent and the Valhalla Sea Serpent which involved experienced sailors and respected zoologists, respectively.

Land-based cryptids are another matter. Unlike a deep ocean, land doesn’t easily hide skeletons. And the commonly-held theory that cryptids bury their own kind, while possible, doesn’t constitute proof. Still, there have been a few famous cases of supposed mythological land-based creatures being discovered in nature:

“A list of species have been discovered following the investigation of either local tales and legends, or fleeting observations of what were (at the time) mystery animals. One of the great classic examples is the Okapi. Referred to as the Atti and thought to be a donkey-like equid, it had been mentioned in passing by Henry Stanley in 1888. It was on the basis of this anecdotal information that Harry Johnston went in successful pursuit of it. Just two recent examples of this sort of thing include the Kipunji Rungwecebus kipunji (discovered in 2006 following observations of a mystery monkey) and the Burmese snub-nosed monkey Rhinopithecus strykeri (discovered in 2010 following investigation of local reports about a “monkey with an upturned nose”).” Darren Naish, Scientific American

All in all, I think the Yeti is one of the more believable land-based cryptids. Unlike Bigfoot, it resides in the frigid, treacherous Himalayas. Few people live in that area and the conditions make it difficult to search effectively.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Assuming that the Yeti is a truly unique species, what is it? One intriguing possibility is presented by Igor Burtsev, who is connected to the most recent Yeti expedition.

“When Homo sapiens started populating the world, it viciously exterminated its closest relative in the hominid family, Homo neanderthalensis. Some of the Neanderthals, however, may have survived to this day in some mountainous wooded habitats that are more or less off limits to their arch foes.” ~ Igor Burtsev, International Center of Hominology

This may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. The recent discovery of Homo floresiensisin Indonesia shows that other hominids were still alive as recently as 12,000 years ago. This has led some scientists, most notably Henry Gee, to think that “perhaps stories of other human-like creatures might be founded on grains of truth.”

Where is the Valhalla Sea Serpent?

In 1905, Edmund Meade-Waldo and Michael Nicoll spotted a sea serpent off the coast of Brazil. What makes this encounter unique amongst sea monster sightings was that both men were trained, respected zoologists. So, what did they see?  And is it possible that the Valhalla sea serpent actually exists?

The Valhalla Sea Serpent?

At approximately 10:00 AM on December 7, 1905, Edmund Meade-Waldo and Michael Nicoll were conducting a scientific expedition aboard the Valhalla, fourteen miles off of Brazil’s northeast coast. Both men were Fellows of the Zoological Society of London, with particular expertise in the field of birds.

I saw a large fin or frill sticking out of the water, dark seaweed-brown in color, somewhat crinkled at the edge. It was apparently about 6 feet in length, and projected from 18 inches to 2 feet from the water. – Edmund Meade-Waldo

Meade-Waldo went on to report that the creature’s head and neck rose seven or eight feet out of the water. Its head “had a very turtle-like appearance” and along with its neck, was colored dark brown on top and white towards the bottom. Nicoll added that the neck was about six feet long and wriggled as it moved. He saw a large brownish-black patch beneath the surface of the water, but was unable to distinguish its shape. The fin, he thought, looked like a large piece of ribbon seaweed. A few years later, Nicoll reported in his book, Three Voyages of a Naturalist, that “this creature was an example, I consider, of what has been so often reported, for want of a better name, as the ‘great sea serpent’.”

But was the Valhalla Sea Serpent really a Sea Serpent?

A few minutes later, the Valhalla sea serpent was gone. Interestingly enough, Nicoll was convinced that the so-called Valhalla sea serpent wasn’t a serpent at all, but a a mammal. The Valhalla incident is, along with the Daedalus sea serpent incident, one of the most credible accounts in history of a “sea serpent.” And indeed, Meade-Waldo later commented that the creature he saw “might easily be the same.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

To my knowledge, no one has ever called their observations into question. While the evidence is meager and incomplete, it is also difficult to refute. If these two respected zoologists were correct in their observations, its entirely possible that the world’s oceans hold at least one more mammoth creature waiting to be discovered.

What was the Bloop?

In 1997, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) detected a strange noise in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. After several repeated incidents, the sound vanished, never to be heard again. What did the bloop sound like? And what was behind the strange noise?

What was the Bloop?

The Bloop was a powerful, ultra-low frequency underwater sound. During the summer of 1997, it was detected several times by a hydrophone array in the Pacific Ocean, southwest of South America. After that summer, the sound never returned.

“[The Bloop] rises rapidly in frequency over about one minute and was of sufficient amplitude to be heard on multiple sensors, at a range of over 5,000 km.” ~ NOAA

Speculation about the Bloop’s origin continues to this day. Dr. Christopher Fox, who named the Bloop, doesn’t believe that it originated from humans or a geological event. In fact, he thinks it came from an animal due to the fact that “its signature is a rapid variation on frequency similar to that of sounds known to be made by marine beasts.” There’s just one problem with his theory. The Bloop was far louder than noises caused by any other ocean-based creature, including whales. So, whatever caused the Bloop is either bigger than a whale or far more efficient at generating sound.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Is it possible that the Bloop was some sort of sea serpent, similar to the one reported by the 1840 voyage of the HMS Daedalus? It seems possible but until the Bloop decides to resurface again, the best we can do is speculate.

Do Sea Serpents Exist?

In August 1848, several crew members aboard the HMS Daedalus spotted a gigantic sea serpent measuring over sixty feet long in the North Atlantic. Were they correct? Did the Daedalus Sea Serpent actually exist?

The Daedalus Sea Serpent?

According to paleontologist Dr. Darren Naish, the answer is a qualified “maybe.” On July 12, the Zoological Society of London held an event called, “Cryptozoology: Science of Pseudoscience.” This represents the most recent attempt to provide a scientific basis for cryptozoology, the study of unproven animals.

The huge number of ‘sea monster’ sightings now on record can’t all be explained away as mistakes, sightings of known animals or hoaxes. At least some of the better ones – some of them made by trained naturalists and such – probably are descriptions of encounters with real, unknown animals. – Dr Darren Naish, University of Portsmouth

According to Dr. Naish, the Daedalus Sea Serpent is one of those not-so-easily explained monsters. It was spotted by Captain McQuhae as well as several of his officers somewhere between the Cape of Good Hope and St. Helena. They described it as exhibiting a four foot head and a body that measured over sixty feet long. It moved quickly, with little vertical or horizontal wavering and remained visible for about twenty minutes.

It passed rapidly, but so close under our lee quarter that had it been a man of my acquaintance I should have easily recognized his features with the naked eye…The diameter of the serpent was about fifteen or sixteen inches behind the head, which was, without any doubt, that of a snake; and it was never, during the twenty minutes that it continued in sight of our glasses, once below the surface of the water; its colour, a dark brown with yellowish white about the throat. It had no fins, but something like the mane of a horse, or rather a bunch of sea-weed, washed about its back. It was seen by the quarter-master, the boatswain’s mate, and the man at the wheel, in addition to myself and officers above mentioned. – Captain McQuhae

After it was reported, the accuracy of the sighting was questioned in The Times, a daily national newspaper based out of Great Britain. Biologists suggested that it might be an elephant seal or perhaps, an upside down canoe.  But Captain McQuhae and his men never wavered in their opinion that they’d seen a sea serpent.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, did the mighty Daedalus Sea Serpent exist? For that matter, do any sea serpents exist? It seems possible. After all, the ocean is a gigantic place and most of it remains unexplored. In addition, over the last twenty years, eight large marine species have been discovered, including a benthic ray in 1995 that measured over ten feet long.

I hardly ever trust eyewitness accounts of unknown monsters. However, due to their many years of experience and respected judgments, I find the testimonies of Captain McQuhae and his officers difficult to ignore. Until someone finds actual, living sea serpents, we can’t prove their existence. But in my opinion, accounts like the one from the Daedalus give us a reason to keep looking.

Bigfoot’s DNA?

So, the other day I wandered over to Cryptomundo and noticed an exciting announcement about Bigfoot.  A group known as the Sanger Paranormal Society claims to have found possible DNA evidence of the elusive Bigfoot.

“The reason that we’re holding this press conference is because we have potentially what may be the best evidence of the existence of what the Indians have called them for hundreds of years -Sasquatch,” – Allen Thomas

New Evidence for Bigfoot?

The best evidence ever?  Well, that sounds promising!  So what is this evidence you ask?  A smeared car window.  Apparently, the vehicle was abandoned in California’s Sierra National Forest during a snowstorm.  When a member of the Sanger group returned, he discovered what may or may not be paw prints on the glass of his window along with nearby footprints.  That’s right.  They didn’t actually see what touched the window.  They just assumed it was Bigfoot.  Good lord.

The Society hired a forensic expert named Mickey Burrow to study the smudges and prints.  Now, they are looking for funds to pay for a DNA analysis.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

I don’t know about you but there’s nothing here to make me think this is anything other than  bear.  The Society has absolutely no evidence to support its claim that these smudges were left by Bigfoot.  And the fact that they called a press conference BEFORE getting a DNA analysis is, to me, a big red flag.

I’ve been reading Bigfoot news for years now.  Unfortunately, credible physical evidence is in short supply.  And outside of some miracle, I don’t expect these smudges or prints to add anything to the debate.  In the meantime, the best proof available to us, in my opinion, continues to be the somewhat controversial Patterson-Gimlin film.  It’s over forty-years old, but it’s the best we’ve got!