The Legendary Thunderbird Photo

James_H

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they do both look a bit staged and aged, IMO
 

GNC

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Wasn't the second photo debunked in the FT a couple of years ago, maybe in the Thunderbird photo article? I'll have to see if I can find it...
 

OldTimeRadio

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Pseudo-Pterodactyl

Ringo, the second photograph is definitely a modern forgery, for two reasons, the least important first:

1. The Union soldiers are middle-aged men. The Civil War, ESPECIALLY on the Union side, was a YOUNG MAN'S CONFLICT. Therefore the gentlemen in the photograph are Civil War RE-ENACTORS.

2. After this modern photograph was taken, leading Fortean and cryptozoologist Loren Coleman....BOUGHT THE PTERODACTYL PROP! He OWNS it!
 

PeniG

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These photos aren't very old. One of them was produced by the Blair Witch people for use as a prop in their short-lived TV series, and released on the internet as "the Thunderbird photo" for kicks.

I thought it was a pretty slick bit of art, as it looks enough like the Thunderbird meme floating around to fool the uninitiated, or at least give them pause, but is so wrong in detail that anyone who is familiar with the Thunderbird Photo saga will reject it at once. This is the sort of thing that creative team was really interested in - art that is close enough to real Fortean life to almost look authentic, but not quite close enough to not be recognizable as art. Going slick was a big mistake for them.
 

MrRING

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Just recently on another thread, somebody posted a Thunderbird photo that was different from the examples on Loren's website. Does anybody remember which thread has it, or did I just dimension-shift again from a world whee that happened?

Whatever it was, the thread wasn't on Thunderbirds...
 

James_H

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it was about large scale false memories, or somesuch. I'll jhust go and look.
 

MrRING

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Thanks - this one certainly looks authentic...

thunderbird.jpg
 

Graylien

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MrRING said:
Thanks - this one certainly looks authentic...

That's not the way I remember it. I remember it being pinned up to a wall inside a barn. I spoke to a friend about it recently and - trying not to lead him too much - simply asked him if he remembered seeing a victorian photograph of a giant prehistoric looking bird. He remembered seeing it in The Unexplained and thought that it was hung up in a barn with a small crowd of curious onlookers milling around it (I don't remember the onlookers myself). He wasn't aware that it was called a Thunderbird, though, and had no knowledge of the controversy.
 

rjmrjmrjm

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H_James said:
http://www.forteantimes.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=13992&start=30 there y'are

I'm rather alarmed that when I click on this link there is no thread of that name. Paranoia or conspirisy?
 

James_H

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Ah, I think the last few pages (which I linked to) have now been moved here!
 

OldTimeRadio

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graylien said:
"I remember it being pinned up to a wall inside a barn. I spoke to a friend about it recently and.... [h]e remembered....that it was hung up in a barn with a small crowd of curious onlookers milling around it (I don't remember the onlookers myself). '

My own memory (almost certainly a confabulated one) is of the specimin hanging on the outside door of a log cabin. Curious spectators (seven or eight men) stand around, as your friend suggests.

But of course this dates from the 1880s, NOT the Civil War of 1861-1865.
 

tattooted

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Like Graylien, I remember a picture of a huge bird displayed against the inside wall of a barn. But I don't remember this being a pre-1900's photo. Although it was B&W, it didn't have the sepia tint, old-time feel to it. I'm pretty sure the date on the text was early 20th century. I also "remember" that the text said the bird was shot in some one of the bible belt states--either Kansas or Oklahoma. So if there are lost pictures, maybe there are a couple of them? Is that more or less plausible than only having one T-bird picture removed from the record/memory of the world?

TheOrigDesperado wrote:
What's always surprised me is the narrow-mindedness of these zoological experts, who place strange and somewhat arbitrary limits on the sizes of creatures, based purely on the maximum size yet recorded.
I have always wondered if the "t-birds" might not just be extremely large members of an already known species. I used to work with a lady who grew up on a farm in Texas in the 1950's and '60's. She was an unimaginative sort, not given at all to tall tales. But one time we got started talking about how many species of venemous animals--spiders, scorpions, snakes, centipedes, etc. there are in Texas, and how dealing with them was a just a part of life on the farm, versus how very few dangerous critters we have here in Iowa. She then matter of factly told me that huge, ugly, bald vulture-type birds were a problem too, and that her sister, as a fairly chubby eight-year old, was carried off about six feet in the air by one until the girl kicked at it enough to make it drop her. My friend said that attack wasn't considered unusual and there was never any official inquiry or pursuit of the bird.

It was until many years after I had lost touch with her that I realized how unique her story was and started to wonder about her description of the bird as being like a vulture. Aren't vultures carrion eaters? Do they ever carry off live prey? Could even a over-large vulture fly off with a 40-50 pound animal? Are there other known bird species currently existing in the US that could do this? You sometimes hear of eagles carrying off lambs, but I always assumed this meant fairly young lambs.
 

plusk

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Hi guys,

Just for the record, I have a clear memory of the Thunderbird photograph, although I saw it just under 50 years ago. There's a barn, the critter nailed to it and some 12 men or so lined up in front of it, one of the guys wearing an Abe Lincoln type top hat. I saw it in 1957 in "Life" magazine. We were living in a refugee camp at the time and the magazine was in the communal TV room, where magazines tended to lie around for several months, so it may have been in any issue from 1956/7. If by some bizarre chance anyone has access to the magazine from that period I'm sure its there. I sent this info to Mark Chorvinsky a couple of years ago, but sadly, heard he'd died recently.
 

Xanatico

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Tattooted: I don't think the problem is so much the idea that there is a unknown species of large bird. It is the size itself that is the problem. I think it is considered that a bird that large due to the construction would not be able to fly, that it's wings would be too weak as they would also have to support their own weight. But some say thunderbirds might be using warm air currents coming from the ground and use that to help them. I remember something about how sightings supposedly coincided with thunderstorms from mexico that would have those kind of currents.

When I was in Sweden almost 20 years ago, I remember we were told that an eagle had tried to grab a toddler some years earlier. It only managed to get a few meters before having to let go again. I think birds in general have very little weight capability.
 

PeniG

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For the record, when during my research for 11,000 Years Lost I would refer to "thunderbirds" to archeologists they always understood me (correctly) to mean teratorns. The teratorn was a scavenger larger than the California Condor which died out during the "megafaunal extinction" period at the end of the Pleistocene. (The quotes are because not all the extinctions were of megafauna, though most were, and I'm pushing my theory that examining the microfaunal extinctions would be a fruitful line of research.) American Thunderbird myths can be plausibly sourced in folk memories of teratorns reinforced by fossil remains of flying creatures such as pterosaurs. I'm posting illegally from work, so I don't have the reference to hand, but I own a book discussing the relationship between fossils and Indian traditions at home and I'll cite it tonight for those interested. Fossil Myths of the Native Americans or something of the sort.

The Texas woman's story of the child attacked by a vulture-like bird sounds exactly similar to stories circulating during the 1970s "big bird" flap, only (if I read the post correctly) several years pre-dating it. Can you remember where in Texas she was from? Vultures - turkey and black - are the most often-seen large birds, but they are not normally regarded as nuisance birds or dangerous and the behavior described is not typical of them. Vultures ignore humans unless they're threatening or appetizing, and they don't look appetizing till they're dead - vultures cannot digest fresh meat. A threatened vulture defends himself by projectile vomiting, not by pecking or grabbing, neither of which (with his relatively weak feet and beak designed for tearing well-rotted meat) is nearly as effective as a good strong well-aimed barf of half-digested carrion. You can imagine how much fun this makes ringing them!

The point is that, if the story is true (which I'm willing to assume for the moment, though I must point out that memory is fallible, everyone will tell tall tales under the right circumstances, and if you tracked down the sister you might find that it "really" happened to a friend of her's) it is highly anomalous. A vulture couldn't physically do it and wouldn't want to do it to begin with. As the knight said, it's not a question of where he grips it - it's a simple matter of weight ratios.

You can't, however, convince some people of that; and it must be admitted that a sudden confrontation with a large bird can exagerrate the size of the bird enormously. I have a friend who claimed to have met a Great Horned Owl easily big enough to have carried him off when he was a child - it flew up as he was passing and scared him, and has been magnified in memory. Or it might have been a fairy owl - I wasn't there.

As a birdwatcher, I'm intimately familiar with the difficulty of judging bird sizes without a reference point. Quite familiar birds and animals can seem huge if they're close enough or unexpected enough. Also, once the bird is out of the eye, and you start scrambling through your references to ID it, you begin to distort the field marks. Well, I do, and I project this onto other people, but I know how easy it is, especially if the bird didn't give you a good angle or there's something funky about the lighting. Pelicans (a bird which fairly shouts: "I'm descended from dinosaurs!") change size shape constantly in flight as they teeter on the air currents at eye-straining distance. My husband has seen a black spoonbill (probably a lighting effect). I once saw an archeopteryx in New Orleans (it turned into a blue jay when I stared at it).

These sorts of things have to be taken into account when interpreting a story; but they don't, in and of themselves, prove anything about a particular experience. One thunderbird sighting could well be of an anomalous creature and another one of whooping crane in unexpected context. Unlike reports of anomalous mammals, however, I am pretty sure that there's no breeding population of enormous birds in the United States. Birds that size don't care who sees them and have to range widely to get enough food to live. Because of the relative ease with which birds can be spotted, ornithology is one of the best-covered subjects in American biology, and gets an additional boost, post-Peterson, by the popularity of birdwatching as a hobby. They would be known to science by now.

But hey, I thought the ivory-bill was extinct. If I was wrong about that I could be wrong here; or for all I know they could spend most of their time in remote areas of Canada.
 

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Is it just me, or has the photo at the top of this page already been "outed" as a group of men (from whatever era) standing around a very long dugout canoe? The "head" in the middle is just a bunch of camping stuff bundled in canvas, and you can clearly see that the "wingtips" make much more sense as the ends of a hollowed-out boat.

Like everyone else here, I have this feeling that there is a genuine Thunderbird picture out there somewhere (and I say picture because I don't expect it to be a photograph, I'm afraid) but this one isn't it. Unless, of course, it's a Pterasaur in a canoe...
 

Iris

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Xanatico that post about the eagle in Sweden reminded me that I had seen a picture of the woman who had been that toddler in a mystery magazine of some kind a few years ago, holding the torn dress. I remembered her because she looked very like one of my sisters. I always wondered how big an eagle it would have to have been to have picked up a child.
 

tattooted

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PeniG--I really don't remember the part of Texas, except I remember being surprised that people farm at all in Texas--from all the cowboy movies I thought that it was a rugged rocky place covered with cattle. My friend corrected my assumption, and I got the idea that where she lived was a sort of greenbelt? definitely flatter and a lot less arid than other parts of the state, where there were a lot of family farms as opposed to cattle operations.

Actually, come to think of it, my "impressions" are probably pretty useless. Reminds me of that Jack Handy math quote:
Instead of having "answers" on a math test, they should just call them "impressions," and if you got a different "impression," so what, can't we all be brothers?

Sorry, Peni.
 

GreenJeanz1

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I think the one that could be a canoe is the one that used to be on the old freakylinks site, which had a mixture of hoaxes and true forteana as promotion for the identically named FOX show(which didn't last long). Which ones were fake and which were real I can't remember.

However, I have a memory of seeing the thunderbird-pinned-to-the-barn photo as well. It would've had to be online, at that, because I don't really have any books about the paranormal and being homeschooled I wouldn't have had access to any library books! I've actually been out of the loop on this subject, I didn't know the thunderbird on the barn photo was seemingly GONE. :shock:
 

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Is it just me, or has the photo at the top of this page already been "outed" as a group of men (from whatever era) standing around a very long dugout canoe?

I thought that this photo, or at least a very similar one, had been shown to be a hoax involving a modern day civil war re-enaction society? From memory what gave it away is that the "soldiers" were far too old (most civil war fighters would have been in their teens or early twenties) and probably a little too overweight for the period as well.
 

OldTimeRadio

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Quake42 said:
"I thought that this photo, or at least a very similar one, had been shown to be a hoax involving a modern day civil war re-enaction society? From memory what gave it away is that the 'soldiers' were far too old (most civil war fighters would have been in their teens or early twenties) and probably a little too overweight for the period as well."

Let's not forget that there are TWO DIFFERENT Union-Army-soldiers- with-dead-pterodactyl photographs currently in circulation. While one of the photos shows "Civil War soldiers" who are middle-aged men (and therefore almost certainly Civil War re-enactors), the OTHER one (the "dugout canoe" photo) shows much younger guys. There is no doubt whatsoever that the first photo is fake (Loren Coleman now OWNS the pterodactyl prop!) but the second is still officially up for grabs.

I believe both are fake, of course, for reasons I'll go into in a subsequent post.
 

PeniG

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Okay, flat (much of Texas is flatter than an Iowan can imagine - and Iowa looks flat to the rest of the country!), not arid, farms - that's probably somewhere in the coastal plain, north of the Valley (flat, dry, citrus orchards) and south of Houston (so humid clothes can mildew on the line before they dry), or blackland prairie country, north near the Red River/Oklahoma. The Valley - by which we mean the Rio Grande Valley, which doesn't actually have a river valley - was the center of the Big Bird flap in the 70s. It can't be up around Louisiana or the Big Thicket, although there's farming up there, too, or she'd have mentioned the trees. The Germans in central Texas farmed and put in orchards, but they call that area Hill Country for a reason.

As for your impressions - the story's all I really care about. If you could have remembered a town or county name I could theoretically have poked around a bit or gone birdwatching there, so much the better, but life is rough. I make a point of going birding down to the coast at least once a year (birder heaven during migrations) and I'll keep my eyes and ears open but, as I said, I don't think that was a real bird. Tall tale or fairy bird, can't tell which.

I'm afraid I'm always going to take stories told by Texans to outsiders with a grain of salt, though, because it's hard to resist the Texas mystique. People have expectations, and you find your accent deepening and your stories getting ever so slightly more - emphatic - because you're making them so happy. Bigfoot Wallace used to say that, when he went east, nobody believed his true stories and he had to fib in order not to be called a liar.

I'm afraid the dugout-canoe pterydactyl doesn't look remotely like it was ever alive to me. In any case, everyone knows the Thunderbird photo has cowboys in it...
 

OldTimeRadio

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Civil War photographs were taken with glass plate negatives. The result was a crystal clarity of image in which the stitches can oftentimes be counted on the uniform jackets. (Another way of expressing this is that photography over the past 150 years has been a trade-off of sharpness of detail for ease of both camera use and developement. Not many photographers, avocational or professional, want to carry 50 or 60 large glass plates around with them.)

The finished photographs were then printed on a very thin paper which was carefully glued down to a heavy cardboard stock, as much as 1/8th of a inch thick. The cardboard backings were very slightly convex. Carefully archived away from excess sunlight, insects and so on they are often in as pristine a shape today as when they were first made.

But our two Civil War pterodactyl photographs seem to have been snapshots shot on ROLL FILM - a process which wasn't even invented until 20 - 30 years AFTER the Civil War.

P. S. That very word, snapshot (originally an advertising buzz word), gives an additional insight into what I was talking about in paragraph one.
 

PeniG

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Forgot to do this last night. Y'all seem to have borne the disappointment with patience and philosophy. :)

Fossil Legends of the First Americans, by Adrienne Mayor, 2005, Princeton University Press - which has a European branch so maybe the people on this board can get hold of it locally. The same author has a similarly-themed book for Europe, The First Fossil Hunters, which may be of interest on other cryptozoological subjects.

The primary topic is to explore how indigenous cultures regarded, interpreted, and explored the abundant fossil resources of the continent. This naturally involves many summaries of thunderbird legends. Missing from modern Big Bird flaps is the association with water and water monsters in Indian legends, which she deduces results from the way new fossils erode out after a rain.
 

Graylien

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Missing from modern Big Bird flaps is the association with water and water monsters in Indian legends

I'm just re-reading Keel's Mothman Prophecies and he comments that many UFO/entity/birdman sightings take place near lakes and rivers. Which is certainly borne out by many cases in the UFO literature.
 

stu neville

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Not to mention Black Dogs refusing to cross water, leys associated with underground streams and rivers, in some legends vampires being unable to cross rivers (or was that werewolves?)...

Broadly speaking, water shows up in nearly all Fort categories in some way or another, which does tend to imply that it has some sort of under-investigated properties.
 
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