Incident Location: Airspace over Los Angeles, California, United States of America
Important Details to Consider: In 1942 the United States was thrust into the theater of World War II, having declared war against Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany two months prior in December 1941. The paranoia of Japan attacking or invading was strong across the Pacific United States. On February 23rd 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast of Ellwood CA and launched a salvo of ordnance into tidal refineries. While this was a symbolic attack with minimal damage caused, this attack put US coast defenses on edge and could have affected the clarity and reasoning of servicemembers for days after.
Event Description: During the night of February 24th, 1942, multiple sentries and naval vessels reported witnessing flares and lights within the vicinity of their coastal defense positions. Naval Intelligence declared an alert warning that an attack could be expected within the next ten hours. The alert was called at 7:18PM, and lifted at 10:23PM, with no further signs of activity reported from the south Californian coast. The night remained calm until the early morning of February 25th, when at 2:15AM defense radar stations detected an unidentified target 120 miles west of Los Angeles. Minutes later anti-aircraft batteries were alerted and thousands of Air Raid Wardens rushed to their gunnery positions; they were given the instructions of Green Alert, ready to fire. During this time the American Airforce elected to keep its pursuit aircraft grounded, reluctant to send a scouting squadron against an enemy force of undetermined size. Radar continued to track the singular target as it reached mere miles from the coast, before disappearing from radar altogether. At 2:21AM a blackout was ordered, and the defense information center was flooded with reports of “enemy planes” spotted by numerous AA stations and outposts. Planes were reported near Long Beach at 2:43AM, and an unnamed Coastal Artillery Colonel reported “about 25 planes at 12,000 feet” over Los Angeles. Fighter Operations Command received a possible sighting of a balloon over Santa Monica at 3:06AM, and the Air Force controller in charge at the time immediately ordered firing upon the balloon, adamant that it was a German or Japanese engineered zeppelin. Attempts were made to dissuade the young officer, however, under the threat of discipline and an attack on American soil, the order was sent out. At 3:16AM the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade opened fire on the object spotted in the skies about Santa Monica. Reports after this time were vastly different and conflicting, with some stations reporting “swarms” of hostile aircraft dancing between their sights, numbering between one and several hundred, at altitudes of 1,000 feet to 20,000. Size and speed were also of great variance, with witnesses describing aircraft traveling at extremely slow speeds, to planes streaking across the Golden State’s sky in excess of 200MPH. The reported enemy raiders dropped no bombs, and 1,440 rounds of anti-aircraft munitions were expended with no incapacitated targets. The frantic defense eventually subsided, with guns firing sporadically until 4:14AM, when Naval Intelligence issued the “all clear” to defense stations, and the blackout was lifted at 7:21AM. Once order was restored, no downed enemy aircraft were found, however, multiple building and vehicles were damaged by shell fragments, and five civilians died indirectly during the one-hour defense, two perishing from heart attacks from the intense assault, and three dying in automotive accidents caused by the frantic confusion.
Aftermath: Hours later, acting Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox held a press conference, stating the incident was a false arm due to anxiety and “war nerves.” A report given to Washington D.C. from the Western Defense Command explained the credibility of the attack was questioned by field officers before the blackout was even lifted, and predicted: “that most previous reports had been greatly exaggerated.” However, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, head of the War Department, announced the belief that one to five unidentified aircraft had been active over Los Angeles. He offered the theory that the mysterious craft were either commercial planes fielded from enemy locations in Mexico or hidden in the Californian countryside, or launched from Japanese submarines. He concluded that regardless of the method, the air raid was meant to locate coastal defense positions, as well as spread hysteria through the civilian population. This extreme conflict in reporting from the War Department and Navy threw the United States press and people into the vigorous discussion, with the Washington Post calling the handling of the incident “a recipe for jitters.” They berated military authorities for their “stubborn silence” in the face of widespread uncertainty. Furthermore, they stated that the War Department’s theory of commercial planes “explains everything except where the planes came from, whether they were going, and why no American planes were sent in pursuit of them.” On February 28th the New York Times expressed concern that the more the event was studied, the more incredulous it became, explaining “If the batteries were firing on nothing at all, as Secretary Knox implies, it is a sign of expensive incompetence and jitters. If the batteries were firing on real planes, some of them as low as 9,000 feet, as Secretary Stimson declares, why were they completely ineffective? Why did no American planes go up to engage them, or even to identify them?… What would have happened if this had been a real air raid?” These questions were never answered by the War Department, presumably out of fear of exposing the weakness in American air defenses. Eventually, the event faded from the public eye, with no reasonable explanation put forward by the War Department or Navy. However after the end of the war, Japanese military officials did state they did not send any planes over the area at the time of the alert, however, they did admit that submarine-launched aircraft were used over Seattle. In 1983, the US Office of Air Force History advised that all evidence points to meteorological balloons and high strung nerves being the culprit behind the “attack.” Ellwood CA has seen an attack a day earlier from a Japanese submarine, and the coastal defenses employed the use of meteorological balloons to gather information of wind speed, which would be vital for the use of their guns.
What was the origin of the lights and flares that were spotted off the Californian coast the night before the incident occurred?
What was the object reported on radar 120 miles off the coast of Los Angeles the night of February 24th, 1942?
Why did the object on radar disappear, and why was a blackout ordered afterward?
Why were no aircraft scrambled to investigate the airspace, when the threat of an attack to a major American city would highly outweigh the cost of losing reconnaissance aircraft to a large enemy force?
If the attack was caused by commercial aircraft, Japanese submarine based scouting planes, or weather balloons, why was no debris or crash site located for any of these proposed objects?
Why would the Navy and War Department issue conflicting reports?
The Tikoloshe, found in Zulu mythology is said to be small, imp-like creatures that possess various forms of magical powers. The Zulus describe the Tikoloshe as being about as tall as a typical Gnome or Gremlin. Their heads are similar in appearance to that of a teddy bear’s head which has a large, boney protrusion running from the forehead to the back of the skull. They use this protrusion to “head butt” other creatures if necessary. Still, others believe that the Tikoloshe appears more like a large human-like bear who possesses immense physical strength. They are able to become invisible by swallowing a pebble and are said to favor sour milk, “snuff”, and women.
Tikoloshe are mischievous beings that often enjoy targeting schoolchildren. When the Tikoloshe attack, they usually leave the children with long, itchy scratches on their backs, arms, and legs. One such attack of this sort was said to have occurred near Johannesburg, South Africa in a town called Soweto. A creature resembling the Tikoloshe terrorized an entire school for an unspecified period of time. It became so prevalent however that the children in the area eventually nicknamed the Tikoloshe, “Pinky-Pinky”.
Most often, Tikoloshe are said to be seen only by those that have been cursed in some way by a Shaman. Zulus typically state that they have never seen the Tikoloshe. Many others, however, believe that is not true. They believe that many people actually do see the Tikoloshe but will never state it publically for fear that the Tikoloshe will eventually return to seek retribution. People fear them so much that they will go to extreme measures to prevent any additional attacks or retribution by the Tikoloshe. They will stack bricks under their bedposts so that their beds are raised at least three feet off of the floor. By doing this, their hope is that the Tikoloshe will be unable to reach them while they are asleep. Once the Tikoloshe have been discovered a witch doctor must be summoned and use his magic to banish them from the area.
Similar sightings of the Tikoloshe have been reported by the Bantu tribe in neighboring Zimbabwe. The Tokoloshe, as the Bantu know them, have the same general appearances as those given by the Zulus but with one big difference. The Tokoloshe, according to the Bantu, also have a large penis which the Tokoloshe slings over one of their shoulders. The Tokoloshe’s primary activities remain the same though according to Bantu folklore. They carry out mischievous attacks against children or can even be summoned to cause trouble for others. They can also be used to simply scare someone or to even cause death. When the Tokoloshe are not otherwise occupied they make love to their witch mistress who afterward provides them with milk and food.
Stories that tell of diminutive humanoid creatures, running the gamut from magical and spiritual to decidedly material in nature, are a widely dispersed feature of human folklore. Nowhere in the world however does the possibility of fiction maturing into fact hinge so precipitously close, and yet so frustratingly far, to confirmation than in the Indonesian islands of Southeast Asia and Oceana.
On the largest of the exclusively Indonesian islands, Sumatra, local legend has persisted for centuries of an indigenous primate known as the “Orang Pendek” (literally, “short person”). Everyone from the Suku Anak Dalam (an indigenous Sumatran forest-dwelling people) to the island’s local villagers, to the Old Dutch colonists and modern Western visitors, have all described the same animal. The accounts delineate the Orang Pendek as a short ape standing roughly 1 meter (3 feet) tall, covered in short hair, possessed of a strong chest and arms, and, perhaps most importantly, habitually bipedal.
The discovery of an extant habitually bipedal primate anywhere in the world would be huge news, as human beings are currently understood to be the only surviving members of the habitually bipedal primate clade, hominins. A small handful of individuals, most notably conservationist Debbie Martyr, have been looking for the Orang Pendek in Sumatra for over a decade (recently National Geographic even funded an expedition to search for the elusive dwarf). Many, including Debbie Martyr, claim to have seen the creature, but to this date, no hard quantifiable and/or testable evidence has surfaced, not even a blurry photograph. The most substantial body of evidence currently available to a serious investigation would be the amassed accounts of locals.
Believers cite the sheer quantity and uniformity of sightings and legends among Sumatran witnesses as strong evidence, as well as the fact that among local mythology replete with magical beings the Orang Pendek is particularly non-magical, just another animal of the island (one fond of raiding crops). Critics point to the same vastness and diversity of local superstitions as an indication of just how seriously this legend should really be taken (not very). They attribute reported sightings to misidentification of the island’s native documented animals, such as Gibbons, Sun Bears (the world’s smallest bear), and maybe even rare Orangutans. All three of those animals are capable of brief periods of bipedal locomotion.
Interest in the Orang Pendek has been heightened somewhat in the last several years due in no small part to one of the most significant paleoanthropological discoveries of the last decade. Just a few islands to the southeast of Sumatra is the comparatively smaller isle of Flores. Here a similar folk-story to that of the Orang Pendek endures; that of the Ebu Gogo.
The Ebu Gogo are described by locals as also being roughly 1 meter tall, long-haired and pot-bellied, having protruding ears, an awkward gait, and noticeable length in their arms and fingers. What is so intriguing about the Ebu Gogo myth though is that in 2004 a team of Australian and Indonesian paleoanthropologists discovered the remains of a hominin species in Flores’ Liang Bua Cave that seems to match the Ebu Gogo description well. The remains include an incomplete adult female skeleton (LB1), fragments from at least nine other individuals, and an assortment of stone tools.
Though the interpretation of the remains is a matter of debate among scientists, the prevailing view is that they represent an entirely new species of hominin; Homo floresiensis. The female specimen would have stood barely 3 feet tall and exhibited a surprisingly small cranial capacity of only 417 cm3, roughly the same as a chimpanzee’s (for comparison, a modern human’s cranial capacity is roughly 1100-1700 cm3 and Homo erectus, which was known to inhabit the nearby island of Java and from which H. floresiensis is believed to have diverged, boasted an average of 900 cm3). Some researchers have proposed that H. floresiensis does not actually represent a new species, but is instead a human specimen which suffered from a severe pathological growth disorder known as microcephaly. This hypothesis has been largely rejected, however, and the current dominant hypothesis is that they represent a population of H. erectus who diverged into a new species through a process known as “Island Dwarfism” or “Insular Dwarfing”. In these instances, the relative scarcity of resources on smaller islands presents a unique set of challenges to organisms who reside there. This means that smaller individuals with lower caloric and dietary requirements than larger individuals will be selected for and ultimately be more reproductively successful. Indeed, the Stegodon, a type of dwarf elephant, is also known to have inhabited Flores contemporaneously with H. floresiensis and was even a likely prey animal for them.
One of the more astonishing factoids about the H. floresiensis case is that there are strong indications that they continued to live on the island until at least 13,000-12,000 years ago when a volcanic eruption is presumed to have wiped them out. This is remarkably recent survival in the spectrum of hominin evolution and it has been suggested that the modern Ebu Gogo myth stems from either a collective cultural memory of past co-habitation or even that a small, isolated population of H. floresiensis survives to this day on Flores. The case of H. floresiensis, either way, prompted the following remarks from British paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Henry Gee in the journal Nature…
“The discovery that Homo floresiensis survived until so very recently, in geological terms, makes it more likely that stories of other mythical, human-like creatures such as Yetis are founded on grains of truth.
In the light of the Flores skeleton, a recent initiative to scour central Sumatra for ‘orang pendek’ can be viewed in a more serious light. This small, hairy, humanlike creature has hitherto been known only from Malay folklore, a debatable strand of hair and a footprint. Now, cryptozoology, the study of such fabulous creatures, can come in from the cold.” – Henry Gee
P. Brown et al. A new small-bodied hominin from the Late Pleistocene of Flores,
Indonesia. Nature. Vol. 431. 28 Oct 2004.
A. Brumm et al. Early stone technology on Flores and its implications for Homo
floresiensis. Nature. Vol. 441. 06 Jan 2006.
Dunning, Brian. Orang Pendek: Forest Hobbit of Sumatra. Skeptoid # 77.
The moon was bright, and the air was cold during the witching hour this night in Silver Cliff. The wind cut cold as it rode over the hills and danced through the gravestones on its way through the valley. Other than the cemetery, there was nothing but short prairie grasses to surf upon as it raced to the other side.
While we wandered through the graveyard, hoping for a glimpse of a discarnate spirit loitering around its headstone, a night bird sang to us. Its song was gently floating throughout the valley, carried by the wind. It felt like a scene from a spaghetti western. We were a band of solemn, quiet, and patient paranormal investigators, watching and waiting to experience the unique phenomena that the Silver Cliff cemetery was known for.
Jason Cordova of the Metro State College Crypto Science Society had gotten permission from the city of Silver Cliff for his group to spend the night in their famous cemeteries. Some people quiver with fear at such a thought, but I was shaking with excitement like my Chihuahua when she sees me grab her leash.
Separate but equally strange
There are two cemeteries, one for the Catholics, and one for the Protestants. The prior being Silver Cliff Cemetery and the later is called Cross of the Assumption. Cross of the Assumption has a large white cross in it that appears to glow in the bright moonlight. Each is known for being host to glowing balls of light that meander from cemetery to cemetery and wander among the gravestones. The Silver Cliff website (now defunct) describes the phenomena: “The cemetery is famous for it’s unexplained ‘dancing blue lights’ seen on occasion and featured in the August 1969 National Geographic Magazine, Volume 136, No. 2.” These lights have been seen for many years.
Having heard the legends, we had to take a look for ourselves. When word got out that the college paranormal group was heading out there, some press took an interest. We had a reporter from the Southern Colorado Public Radio, a Denver Post reporter, and a few other lookie-loos come along. Read the Post article here.
We strategically set up our tents in different quadrants of the cemeteries so that we could have as much coverage as possible. We equipped everyone with radios, set up audio devices, prepared cameras and camcorders, and then buckled down.
Strange sights and sounds
One of the first things I noticed was that contrary to other reports, lights would reflect off of the gravestones. Although many are old and weathered, finely polished granite does not lose its reflectivity easily. Many headstones produced a reflection. I caught myself getting excited about a light in the corner of my eye only for it to turn out to be a reflection. Even though there are just a few houses and buildings that make up the town, and they are a mile away or more, reflections of their lights could be seen. The graveyard is still used, so not all of the gravestones are old. You can get a great deal on a plot. Over time I began remembering the locations of the shiny headstones so that I would not make a mistake again.
We soon observed another odd phenomenon. We could hear unusual sounds. I had not heard of reports of strange noises at the cemeteries. However, we soon discovered the source of the sounds. The cemeteries are on top of some rolling hills in a big valley. There are cows way off in the distance, and the wind carries their voices. Once in a while, you can hear them, making for an even more eerie experience.
All of these sensory experiences are magnified when you are spending the night in a graveyard. I can’t help but wonder if some people’s experiences are related to these effects. Still, this would not be able to account for all reports. One paranormal group had witnessed the strange glowing lights moving from one cemetery to the other.
As night turned to morning, and as the wee hours of the morning grew longer, one by one investigators retired to their tents. Many of us continued to wander the area alone, or in groups, or sit silently observing until everyone fell prey to the Sandman. I think I only slept an hour or two before the sun was up in its full morning glory.
Unfortunately, no one had any personal ghostly experiences that night. It was a clear night with a full moon, and the ideal conditions for the “Ghost Lights” is said to be when there is no moon and cloud cover. We were hoping for a damp night, but we had no such luck.
On a side note, my friend Rick and I were walking around enjoying the beautiful scenery in the morning. Silver Cliff is located in the Wet Valley right up against the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It is an incredible sight. As we were enjoying the view with a lovely, and clear high country sky, we heard a jet coming into the valley. It sounded like it was very low, and it was getting unusually loud. I always like to watch planes, and often you see awesome military jets flying around in the mountains of Colorado, especially in that area, it is near a military training zone. Rick and I looked for the plane excited to see what it might be. It got closer and closer, and it sounded like it flew right over us, but we never saw a thing! Rick and I looked at each other bewildered. Neither of us had experienced anything like that. We heard the jet enter the long valley, fly through it, and leave, without catching a single glimpse. On top of that, it sounded as if it was flying very low and right over us. Just then a city worker drove up in a truck. We explained what we experienced, and he said it happened all of the time. He didn’t know what the heck was going on. It was as if the military was flying invisible jets.
Like I said it is near a military zone. It is possible that the jet was flying just on the other side of the mountain range so low that we couldn’t see it. I have seen them doing mock dogfights just over the smaller Wet Mountains east of there, but from experience, it sure sounded like it went right over us.
When we got back, it was time to analyze all of our findings. No one got anything of note, except for me. I had placed a sound recorder on a tombstone that I felt was in an exciting location. I talked to the occupant of the grave and thanked him, and apologized if I was disturbing him, just in case. I didn’t want some zombie crawling out of the ground and chucking my recorder at me. I also made sure that the recorder was as far away from where we were perched as possible so that it wouldn’t record our conversation. Although we were careful to speak quietly.
Listening to this recording in the office while I was working, I was shocked to hear moans. Every few minutes for half an hour, I could hear a very distinct moan. It was incredible and undeniable. My mind was spinning trying to figure out if there was a conventional answer for these strange sounds.
Still in awe of what I had found, we had another camping trip, this time to look for UFOs. Late at night, sitting around the campfire, my buddy Rick took a deep breath and let out this loud, long yawn. It was as if Chewbacca was sitting right next to me. It immediately hit me, that was the friggin’ moan I had heard on my recorder. It wasn’t a ghost; it was Rick’s Chewbacca yawn!
So we didn’t collect any evidence that night, but we do plan on going back. With all of the witness testimony, there must be something to the stories. Plus, I love the look on people’s faces when I tell them I am going to camp out in a cemetery for the weekend.
This story was originally posted in the now defunct Denver Examiner.
Strictly defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, a Thunderbird is… “In North American Indian mythology, a powerful spirit in the form of a bird. By its work, the earth was watered and vegetation grew. Lightning was believed to flash from its beak, and the beating of its wings was thought to represent the rolling of thunder. It was often portrayed with an extra head on its abdomen.” (“Thunderbird”)
The contemporary cryptozoological usage of the term, however, has deviated significantly from this image; shedding most, if not all, of the mythological and spiritual trappings of supernatural powers in favor of a more materialistic phenomenon. To the typical cryptozoologist a Thunderbird is a cryptid (a biological organism, whether extinct or “new”, thought to exist but which remains unconfirmed by the scientific community) which is believed to be a predatory bird, larger and perhaps stronger than known species, indigenous to the North and South American Continents. Modern sightings and eyewitness accounts of Thunderbirds usually liken their morphology to that of an eagle, hawk, or condor; though a minority of them claims instead, a more reptilian appearance which would suggest perhaps some kind of bat or relic pterosaur.
Cryptozoology.com has this to say:
“Modern reports of Thunderbirds arise from various locations in North America, with a large occurrence from Pennsylvania to the Central states. Mark A. Hall, one of the foremost investigators of the Thunderbird story, gives the following description of the avian cryptid drawn from numerous sightings:
“The bird is distinguished by its size and lifting capabilities exceeding those of any known bird living today anywhere in the world. Wingspan estimates are necessarily all guesswork. But observers sometimes have had the benefit of a measurable object for comparison or the benefit of time to observe a resting bird. The results most often provide sizes of 15 to 20 feet. The bird at rest or on the ground appears to be four to eight feet tall. Typically the coloring of the birds overall is dark..”
Remarkably, a bird of 15 feet in size would be the largest bird known in the world today. The largest wingspan known on a living bird is that of the wandering albatross (diomedea exulans) with a wingspan to 12 feet, and while not a predatory bird, it still boasts an impressive span. The Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) and the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) are among the largest predatory birds in the world, with the Andean condor reaching a wingspan of 10.5 feet and the California condor (the largest North American predatory bird) reaches a wingspan of up to 10 feet. These are all truly marvelous birds and respectable in their majesty.
But consider the Thunderbird, reputedly capable of lifting a deer or a person from the ground. The current predatory birds are not equipped with grasping feet that are strong enough to hold much weight, instead, they live primarily as carrion eaters and are only seldom predatory, and then usually on smaller animals. Reports of the Thunderbird, however, describe lifting deer and humans off the ground.” (“Thunderbird”)
IN MYTH AND LEGEND
North American First Nations: The Thunderbird is an entity of no small prominence within the mythos of many indigenous North American tribes, particularly those of the Great Plains, Pacific Northwest Coast, and American Southwest. Artifacts depicting them have been discovered at least as early as the Mississippian religious and cultural period of American prehistory (roughly 900 – 1600 CE) in a region known as the ‘Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. Within this social structure, Thunderbirds were believed to be powerful inhabitants of the realm of order and stability, the upper of three tiers into which the Mississippian cosmology was divided.
To the Comanche people of the Great Plains;
“The thunder often appeared as a great bird, somewhat like an eagle, but much larger. The Thunderbird made the thunder and lightning and storm and rain. It was dark blue, or showing the color of cut lead like a thundercloud, with red zigzag markings extending from its heart to the tail and wing tips. It went south at the approach of winter and returned from the warm country with the Sun, bringing the heat and the rain. In its talons the bird carried arrows with which to strike its enemies; therefore, the Indians believed that the eagle on our coins is a Thunderbird. Its shadow was the thundercloud ; it produced lightning by rapidly opening and closing its flashing eyes; thunder was the sound made by the flapping of its enormous wings, and the downpour which followed was from the lake carried on its back.” (The Comanches, Lords of the South Plains, p. 198)
Both the Micmac and the Passamaquoddy nations of the Northeastern Atlantic coast tell stories of a type of Thunderbird which beat its wings to produce a powerful wind to agitate the sea, so as to dissipate the slime that accumulated when it was stagnant. The Passamaquoddy, who believe strongly in magic, even tell of a small village of shape-shifting Thunderbird people far to the north beyond mystical mountains which “…drew apart, back and forth, then closed together very quickly.” (Voices of the Winds, p. 317), squashing those attempting passage who weren’t agile enough.
The Winnebago, or Ho-Chunk, tell a story of an orphaned boy being kidnapped by malevolent Thunderbirds and held captive in the mountain-home of the Thunder Spirits, where they planned to devour him. He was saved from that grisly fate by a pigeon hawk whom he had befriended in his youth.
Numerous First Nations, from the Nuu-chah-nulth, to the Kwakwaka’wakw, Sioux, Ojibwa and more all tell unique and often exciting tales about this majestic spirit. Regardless of geography and culture however, whether a singular entity or a species, the creature is consistently portrayed as a massive predatory bird which commanded weather and expressed a similar temperament. Cunning, and powerful, it was not to be trifled with.
Wikipedia makes the intriguing claim that “Cryptozoologists also posit that the Thunderbird was associated with storms because they followed the drafts to stay in flight, not unlike the way a modern eagle rides mountain up currents. Noted cryptozoologist John Keel [of Mothman fame] claims to have mapped several Thunderbird sightings and found that they corresponded chronologically and geographically with storms moving across the United States.” It is difficult to find other sources corroborating this statement, but it certainly makes sense when one thinks on it (It should be noted that Forensic Meteorologist Joe Soebel, interviewed on the History Channel program, Monster Quest did confirm that large birds do follow rising currents of air preceding thunderstorms).
Big Names In Big Birds Around The World: Legends of giant birds are not restricted solely to North America of course. In ancient Mesopotamia, for example, there is an Akkadian myth which tells of Anzu, a lesser divinity with the body of a giant bird and the head of a lion who is so large that its wing flaps cause storms and whirlwinds.
More well-known is the legend of the Roc, made famous by the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. That self-same book also describes the Roc twice more in a pair of stories involving Abd al-Rahman. The Roc was reputedly a bird of ridiculous proportions, able to snatch up elephants and eat them or carry boulders large enough to drop on and sink the ships of certain Arabian heroes. Its eggs were so large that Sinbad mistook one for a dome-shaped building.
The Venetian explorer of the 11th and 12th centuries CE, Marco Polo, described Rocs inhabiting Madagascar in his Book of Travels. In one instance he relates the story of the great Kublai Khan receiving a gift of a Roc feather from Madagascarian envoys which actually turned out to be the frond (a leaf or leaflike part of a palm, fern, or similar plant) of a Raphia palm.
Also supposedly sighted by the Islamic explorer, scholar, and judge, Ibn Battuta, the mythos of the Roc is likely derived from an earlier legend, that of the Garuda. Hindu stories thousands of years old tell of the solar bird, Garuda carrying off giant snakes and elephants to feast upon, something attributed to the Roc as well, indicating a probable link between the myths.
Though nowhere near as commonplace in the public eye as the clamoring reports of Bigfoot and Champ sightings, there has been a relatively steady flow of eyewitness claims concerning oversized ornithological oddities in North America for just over a century now. Some of the more significant ones are described here.
Written In Stone: The first well-known case of recent times comes from the American Southwest in the late 1800’s; it is also perhaps the most controversial incidence, having almost developed a mythos all its own.
The story is that a pair of cowboys in Arizona shot and killed a large avian creature which is sometimes described as a bird and others as a featherless reptilian thing. The pair hauled the carcass back to the nearest town where they secured it by a nail or lash up to the side of a barn with its wings outstretched. Then six men stood fingertip-to-fingertip in front of it to demonstrate the immensity of the beast’s wingspan and a photograph was taken which, according to anecdote, was published in the local newspaper, the Tombstone Epitaph in1886. Those who have scoured the paper’s archives, however, have seen their hopes of rediscovering this photograph frustrated. The closest nugget turned up has been a story printed by the Epitaph on April 26, 1890, about a 16-foot bird found in the desert by some ranchers. The claim that the Epitaph even printed this photograph is a dubious one in and of itself, having been made in a 1963 article of Saga magazine by Jack Pearl entitled “The Monster Bird That Carries Off Human Beings!”
Regardless, the story of this photograph has piqued the curiosity of many people. Owing to its own phantasmal nature the search for the ‘missing’ picture has almost become as big a mystery as the search for a real Thunderbird. Over the last century, several people have claimed to have seen or held the photograph; the most prominent among them being the late Ivan T. Sanderson, a prolific naturalist and writer who’s detailed studies of exotic animals did much to expand our limited understanding of their behaviors and ecosystems during his time. Sanderson had an especial interest in subjects cryptozoological and claimed to have at one point owned a copy of the Epitaph photo which, upon being loaned to an acquaintance in the 1960’s, never found its way back to him.
In the inaugural years of the new millennium the short-lived television program, Freaky Links staged a similar photograph (featured on the cover of this writing) depicting a group of Civil War soldiers standing triumphantly over the cadaver of what appears to be a prehistoric pterosaur which they shot dead. This promotional fake, meant to galvanize interest in the TV series, was intentionally designed to be reminiscent of the legendary Epitaph photo, leading to a moderate revival of interest in the elusive still-frame.
Researcher, Jerome Clark, has suggested that the description of this photograph is vague and evocative enough to possibly implant a sort of “false memory” in people, which would corroborate the idea that no such picture was ever actually taken. In general, the Tombstone Epitaph photograph is regarded as an urban legend.
Lowe vs. The Thunderbird: Quite possibly the most well-known modern Thunderbird sighting is the story of one of the creatures attempting to abscond with a small boy from Lawndale, Illinois. Cryptozoology.com describes the dramatic event, which to this day the protagonist resolutely swears did happen:
“Perhaps the most controversial inclusion of the Thunderbird capable of lifting a human comes from 1977 in Lawndale, Illinois. It was here that on July 25, 1977, towards 9:00 pm a group of three boys was in the backyard. They saw two large birds coming, and as the birds came in closer they went after the boys. Two of the boys escaped, but the third, Marlon Lowe, did not. One of the birds clamped onto his shoulder with its claws and proceeded to lift the ten-year-old boy about two feet off the ground for a distance of at least 30 yards. With screams of distress calling adults outside and coupled with a series of blows by the 65-pound boy, the bird finally released him. The boy was relatively unharmed, with psychological damage instead of physical.” (“Thunderbird”)
This is the only well-known modern account of a Thunderbird actually attacking a human being, barring some ambiguous piece of testimonial stowed away in the filing cabinets of obscurity. For that reason, as well as the unusual strength attributed to Marlon Lowe’s attacker, this account is unique among tales of a unique creature.
Witnesses to the incident described a bird resembling a Cathartidae, a family of bird comprised of seven species of New World condors and vultures. This is especially strange because vultures and condors do not have grasping feet like those of an eagle or hawk, but rather flat feet for walking, like that of a turkey (i.e. the Turkey Vulture). Various experts interviewed on the mildly sensationalistic History Channel program, Monster Quest agreed that while a large bird of prey is capable of moving relatively large volumes of weight, to actually pick up and carry something as heavy as a 65 lb. boy the bird (with grasping feet) would have to be very large and at least twice as heavy as the object being carried, probably in the 150 lb. range in Lowe’s case (even the Andean Condor does not usually exceed 33 lbs. in weight). Of course, just such a bird is what Marlon Lowe and eyewitnesses described…
Footage; Two of a Feather: During the very same year as the reported attack on Marlon Lowe, just 5 days later and in the same state, another man claimed to have captured a pair of Thunderbirds on film. Chief AJ Huffer had been hearing reports of giant raptors and decided to take his video camera out on the hunt. On the morning of July 30, 1977, while rowing the placid waters of Lake Shelbyville he spotted a nesting pair of exceptionally large birds. Huffer managed to capture a 100-foot roll of color film of the creatures which has since become essentially the less-famous Thunderbird equivalent of the Patterson Bigfoot film. A local TV station aired Huffer’s material too controversial reception, with Department of Conservation officials identifying the animals as Turkey Vultures.
The History Channel’s program, Monster Quest managed to get three different experts to examine the footage. The first, Dr. Mike Wallace of the Zoological Society of San Diego was very convinced that the animals were Turkey Vultures. Dr. David Hancock, historian and eagle biologist at the Hancock Wildlife Research Center, also came to the conclusion that the pair were Turkey Vultures. Dr. Patrick Redding, on the other hand, Director of the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, was presented as being less certain regarding identification. Calling one of the animals “very much larger” then an eagle, Turkey Vulture, or Black Vulture, he could only say that it appeared to him to be closer to the size of a condor.
Illinois had been a relative hotbed of Thunderbird sightings, especially in the ’70s. The footage captured by Chief Huffer is intriguing because it, at the very least, proves the presence within the state of two medium to large sized raptors apparently matching eyewitness descriptions. There were two animals present at the Marlon Lowe incident 5 days earlier, even though only one attacked him. A fully-grown Turkey Vulture or condor would certainly seem massive next to a 10-year old boy.
From the Lone Star to the Land of the Midnight Sun: Since the onset of the new millennium there have been a small handful of noteworthy Thunderbird sightings. Listed chronologically they occurred in Pennsylvania (2001), Alaska (2002), and Texas (2007).
On September 25, 2001, a 19 –year old boy claimed to have seen a raptor with a 10-15 foot wingspan flying over Route 119 in South Greensburg, Pennsylvania. A small handful of other sightings sprang up throughout the state that same year as well.
CNN.com reports a string of sightings in the Alaskan villages of Togiak and Manokotak during 2002. Local pilot, John Bouker claimed that he and his crew while en route to Manokotak saw one of the animals. At an estimated distance of 1,000 feet (300 meters), he called it “huge”, with a wingspan of about 14 feet. Officials of the US Fish and Wildlife Service attributed the sightings to a Russian bird, the Steller’s Sea Eagle, which can weigh up to 20 lbs and have a wingspan up to 8 ft.
Finally, a series of similar sightings were reported in and around San Antonio, Texas during 2007.
HYPOTHESES: WHAT THEY COULD BE
Excluding hoaxes and eyewitness claims made for publicity’s sake, most instances of people legitimately believing to have seen a living Thunderbird could easily have been caused by anything from the power of suggestion, to lack of sleep, to mistaken estimates of the size of real avian animals. History Channel’s Monster Quest actually performed a clever experiment to test that last one out. Creating a kite in the shape of a bird with a wingspan in excess of 20 ft they flew it over a park and asked passersby to observe it and then give them their best guess as to wingspan. Interestingly, not a single participant was able to accurately guess the size. To make matters worse for the Thunderbird mythos the model was flown in a clear line of sight and participants had all the time they needed to observe the thing. Given that some eyewitness accounts are of brief, sometimes frantic glimpses, with the occasional added problem of obscured vision due to tree lines or time of day, this experiment, though hardly conclusive, is a point against the possibility of Thunderbirds.
Certainly, certain circumstances conspire against their chances of reality. In addition to the problems of accurately sizeable sightings, the phenomenon faces another two roadblocks. First, there is the problem of food supply. Angelo P. Capparella, an ornithologist from Illinois State University, contends that there just isn’t a large and plentiful enough trophic base (especially in regions where sightings are common) to support any kind of breeding population of birds that large. She also points out that the legions of competent and enthusiastic bird-watchers in the continental United States would probably have spotted something by now, were these creatures a reality.
Still, working on the assumption that at least some of the sightings are of exactly what they claim; that living, record-breaking raptors are real phenomena, then the most probable explanations are:
Relic Species; the Teratorns: Some cryptozoologists point to the extinct Teratorns as a possible explanation for modern-day Thunderbirds. “Teratorn” refers to an extinct avian family from North and South America called “Teratornithidae”. This family and its three current constituent species are the largest flying birds known to have ever existed. The Teratorns are understood from scattered fossils ranging from the Miocene (23.03 – 5.33 mya) to the Pleistocene (1.8 mya -10,000 ya) epochs. These animals were birds of prey which bore a strong resemblance to modern-day vultures and condors.
The most common and well-understood, Teratornis merriami, known primarily from the Rancho La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, California, stood roughly 0.75 cm (29.5 in) tall, had a wingspan of 3.5 – 3.8 m (11.5 – 12.5 ft), and weighed roughly 15 kg (33 lbs). (Campbell, 1980)
The most awe-inspiring member of this family is Argentavis magnificens, discovered by Dr. Kenneth E. Campbell and Eduardo P. Tonni in 1980. This Argentinean raptor stood roughly 1.5 m (4.9 ft) tall, had a wingspan of 7 – 7.6 m (23 – 24.9 ft), and may have weighed up to 120 kg (264 lbs), though newer estimates seem to place it around 60 – 80 kg (140 – 180 lbs). (Campbell, 1980)
The other species, Aiolornis incredibilis, is poorly understood due to the highly fragmentary nature of current fossil evidence. However, it does appear to have been larger than T. merriami. All of these specimens offer conclusive proof that avian predators at least as large as the stories of Thunderbirds did exist at one point within the planet’s history (relatively recently in geologic terms, too). Here cryptozoologists point to the possibility that some Teratorns, though rare, continue to exist today. The majority of modern sightings describe animals that match the description of a Teratorn very closely.
Relic species (also known as Lazarus taxon), or species that were thought to be extinct but which later have been discovered to be alive and well, are not unheard of. The poster-child for this kind of thing is the famous Coelacanth fish, an Order of lobe-finned fish that first appears in the fossil record roughly 410 mya in the Devonian Period and thought to have gone extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period 65 mya until its rediscovery off the coast of South Africa in 1938. There are other examples of course, but none so dramatic. It is tempting to point the finger at the Coelacanth as proof of the possibility, but it must be remembered that a large fish remaining undiscovered underneath the vastness of the ocean is an entirely different thing than one of the largest birds in all of history remaining undocumented on one or two continents. Still, it is possible, if unlikely.
The most immediately encouraging thing to take from the Teratorns is that they definitively prove that there is no inherent impossibility of raptors growing as large as the Thunderbirds. The argument that birds “just can’t get that big” is not a valid one. The flip-side to this is that for birds to get that big what they feed on probably does too. The epochs in which the Teratorns lived were rife with what are called “megafauna”; animals which grew to absolutely monstrous proportions such as mammoths, giant sloths, dire wolves, and even the Teratorns themselves. As the millennia passed and the majority of Pleistocene megafauna began to dwindle and die out (possibly due to over-hunting by early humans) there would likely have emerged a tremendous selective pressure on these organisms favoring a smaller size corresponding to smaller food. Again we see that the modern Thunderbird phenomenon begs the question: “What do they eat?”
An alternative version of the Relic Species argument occasionally suggested, is that Thunderbird sightings are actually of Relic Pterosaurs (sometimes massive flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs during the Mesozoic era). This, however, to be frank, seems somewhat less likely than the Teratorns.
Individual Anomalies; Gigantism: Another intriguing possibility is that Thunderbirds are not a separate unique species or genus, but rare individuals from extant and documented species. Variation in size is common among individuals within populations, but occasionally it goes beyond the generally defined parameters. Gigantism is a “condition in which an animal or plant is far greater than normal in size. … among animals, gigantism is usually the result of hereditary and glandular disturbance.” (“Gigantism”, The Columbia Encyclopedia)
Of course this not an exacting examination of the effects of gigantism, but these simple calculations can serve as a compelling illustration of the potential of the condition. The possibility of gigantism as the culprit behind Thunderbird sightings is a tempting one; both because it does not stumble over the problem of food supplies for breeding populations and it could easily explain the generally elusive nature of this phenomenon.
In humans, gigantism can be caused by excessive growth hormone secretion in the anterior pituitary. When this occurs within a growing and developing child it can lead to startling results, such as the case of Robert Wadlow. Born in 1928 he became the tallest man on record; 8 feet 11 inches tall and still growing by the time of his death at age 22. The mean height of U.S. males from 1960-62 (still roughly 20 years after Wadlow’s death) was 69 inches (5.75 ft). (Ogden et al, 2004) Wadlow was 107 inches at the time of his death, fully 64% larger than a fairly representative average.
If we take the average wingspan of a Turkey Vulture, 67-70 inches (5.58-5.83 ft) (Cornell Lab of Ornithology), and increase that by 64% we would have a wingspan of 110-115 inches (9.16-9.58 ft). If we did the same to a California Condor, whose wingspan is already 109 inches (9.1 ft) (Cornell Lab of Ornithology), then the result would be a wingspan of 170 inches (14.1 ft.). That is as large as the extinct T. merriami (as well as some modern Thunderbird sightings).
This composite, it should be pointed out, is only intended to be a cursory overview of the Thunderbird phenomena and does not go into all the excruciating detail that the author perhaps typically prefers. For those who share such enthusiasm for the minutia, the following sources will serve as good springboards.
Wikipedia. It is not as rigorously reliable as more reputable sources. However, it is always a good idea if you know little to nothing about a subject to give it a quick Wiki so as to break into the topic while at the same time often finding links to good references and source material.
Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds. By Mark A. Hall and affiliated with Loren Coleman, both well-known cryptozoologists, this book should serve as a solid introduction to the phenomenon. Published by Paraview Press (2004).
Big Bird!Modern Sightings of Flying Monsters. By Ken Gerhard, another recognized name among cryptozoologists, it should provide another solid overview of the phenomenon. Published by cfz (2007).
Monster Quest: Birdzilla. A 45-minute episode of History Channel’s well-known program, it is actually worth a look. There are instances where it falls back on these kinds of programs’ typical sensationalism and “much ado over nothing”, but overall it is actually a solid installment with genuine experts consulted and a refreshingly objective approach.
The aerodynamics of Argentavis, the world’s largest flying bird from the Miocene of Argentina. This a very interesting experiment published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2007) in which the Teratorn’s discoverer, Dr. Kenneth E. Campbell, teams up with others to try and determine how exactly this massive bird would have flown. Was it a glider or a flapper? The insight gained could just as easily be applied to possible modes of flight for Thunderbirds.
Shadow of the Thunderbird (Cryptids Trilogy, Book 1). By Dallas Tanner, this is actually a work of fiction; but it is well-researched and looks to be a ripping good mystery yarn if you’re looking for entertainment. Published by Trilogus Books (2008).
“All About Birds”. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dec. 2008.
On episode 4 of the podcast, Folklorist Savannah Rivka Powell takes us on a haunted history tour of Estonia. Hear tales of Estonian mythology, treasure-guarding spirits, werewolves, runic songs, magic, sauna rituals, epics, and folk legends as she discusses paranormal topics from an academic perspective. Savannah is currently working on a master’s degree in Folkloristics and Applied Heritage Studies at the University Tartu in Estonia.
Do they exist? I hear all the time, “If they exist, why isn’t there any evidence?” Well, what kind of evidence? Witnesses? Thousands of people who have seen them? Stories dating back to the indigenous peoples of this continent. The fact is, that Native American Tribes all over the continent have names for this creature tells us much. It was seen and interacted with, and the names often tell of the perceptions of the tribes toward this creature. Then, there are stories from trappers and miners and settlers in this country. Even a president.
Just to show a few of the names: Zuni Indians-Atahsaia, “The Canibal Demon.” Dakota (East)/Sioux Indian, Chiha tanka, “Big Elder Brother.” Seminole Indian, Esti Capcaki, “Tall Man.” Cherokee Indian, Kecleh-Kudleh, “Hairy Savage.” Yakama/Klickitat Indian, Qui yihahs, “The Five Brothers.” Iroquois/Seneca Indian, Ge no sqwa, “Stone Giants.” Note that these names come from the southeast, the Mid-Atlantic region, the plains, the Northwest.
The response? Academics scientists and skeptics, who simply dismiss the accounts. Somehow they believe that, even though they may have never set foot outside a city, that they know more about the natural world that the ones who live in the midst of it. What other evidence?
Verbal reports: Besides the above-mentioned reports, there are literally thousands upon thousands of reports of modern people who have seen something. Many come from long before Sasquatch became so iconic, from a time when people had no idea what they were seeing. There are Bigfoot websites all over the internet. Each has its own section with reports. The BFRO website has probably the biggest and best-organized section of reports.
One of my favorites is one about a woman who is camping in southern Colorado. She comes out of her tent and is face to face, twelve feet away from a female and her youngster. They stare at each other and then the creature lopes away. Bears don’t lope. And, just to counter the next comment, she had worked at a bear rescue/rehab facility and knew bears. While I personally don’t know her, a number of my friends do. She is no wacko.
The response? What were they smoking? Were they drinking? Invariably, these are the most intelligent comments that critiques can muster. Photographic and video: There are hundreds and hundreds of photos and videos. Now I am hard to impress and will not accept any blobsquatch picture or anything where someone has to say, “Look, see, there are the eyes, there is a nose.” No, I don’t buy that. But, even after weeding those out, there are at least a hundred interesting videos. And there are thousands of photos.
The response? It’s fake. It’s a bear. It’s shadows. It’s pareidolia. (seeing faces in clouds). It’s a bear. A guy in a monkey suit. That seems to be the most common, knee jerk reaction.
Audio evidence: There are numerous recordings of vocalizations, most notably the Ron Moorehead recordings. These recordings have been studied by linguists from the University of Wyoming. The conclusion was that it is a language with syntax. The response? Pretty much silence or just calling it babble.
Physical evidence: Hundreds of plaster casts exist of footprints and handprints taken from all over the world, which are remarkable in their similarities with each other. Hair samples and scat samples also exist. These have been tested for DNA numerous times but truthfully, I am not prepared to discuss this line of evidence. This is way out of my realm of expertise. The response? It’s just a bear paw. I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t a Bigfoot because Bigfoot doesn’t exist.
So what it boils down to is that Bigfoot doesn’t exist because there is no evidence because you discount all the evidence. Perhaps what people are really saying is, “Prove it.” But, the evidence is not proof. But it leads to the truth. But let me lay a bit of wisdom down: Cynicism is not wisdom nor is it a sign of intelligence. Skepticism, however, is crucial. Let’s look at the famous Patterson Gimlin film. It’s a microcosm of the entire issue. In Geology there is a concept called a “type section.” It is where a rock formation is first formally studied and anytime a geologist has a question as to whether a particular outcrop is, say, the Fountain Formation, the geologist will compare it to the formal type section in Fountain Colorado.
The PG film is the type section for Bigfoot study. Let’s look deeper as to why. These two men, Bob Gimlin, and Roger Patterson went out looking for Bigfoot. Massive perseverance paid off and after a month of riding, they came across one. And they were prepared. More or less as they almost did not get the film. Even though they were looking for the creature, when reality gobsmacked them, they almost did not get it. Roger had trouble getting the camera from the saddle bag. He was running, looking for a better vantage point. He fell in the creek, all while Bob stood by with a rifle at the ready. And, amazingly, to this day, there has not been a film as clear and informative.
It is important to remember that the images from that film have become iconic. They are engraved in our culture. But these two men did not even know what they were looking for, only that they would know it when they saw it. What is remarkable is that so many of the videos taken since have shown a remarkable resemblance to the creature on the film.
Before we go any further, we need to talk about the claim that the film is debunked, that someone claimed to have been in on the hoax. It’s important to note the fact that even though someone claims to have been in on it does not make it so. And yet, people tend to hang on to those ideas and dismiss any evidence to the contrary. There is a picture out there that supposedly shows the suit that Roger Patterson had made, indicating that he was prepared to hoax a sighting. That Roger was a bit of a sketchy character has never been questioned. He may have even been prepared to perpetrate a hoax. But Patterson and Gimlin actually did find what they were looking for and ultimately it was not necessary! Patterson may well have been sketchy but even sketchy folks can have great moments. Note that the suit, in the picture in question, is BROWN. Look at the film. The creature is decidedly and unequivocally BLACK! Or to put it another way, how could they have had this suit made when they did not know what it looked like?
Let’s digress for a moment. How many folks have seen a gorilla on a street corner, often twirling a sign to advertise a sandwich shop or a car wash? Has anyone, ever once said, “Oh my God! It’s a gorilla on the loose! Call the police! Or has anyone gone to the primate house at the zoo and lamented all those people in monkey suits? If you have, please contact me. If you haven’t, I ask you, “Why?” The answer is because the proportions are all wrong. Arms too long or too short. Legs are wrong. The posture is wrong. In short, you never did those things because A MAN IN A MONKEY SUIT DOES NOT LOOK LIKE A MONKEY! Or, has anyone ever donned a monkey suit and tried running through the woods? Running gracefully in big old fake feet with a big helmet that restricts your vision is not easy so I would imagine. I have never actually tried it. Again, if you have, let us know. So the most common reply, “A guy in a monkey suit,” just really does not make sense. Not even a little bit.
Now let’s go back to the PG film and the events surrounding it. Within days of the sighting, there were numerous pictures made of the footprints and at least ten plaster casts made of the footprints. These prints told an amazing story, especially connected with the footage. They showed a creature with a foot that was very different from a human. A person would not be able to create a print like it. It flexed in the middle and not at the toe. It did not have an arch. It had what is called a “compliant gait,” where the feet strike the ground in a line, not side by side.
Now, ranchers are smart people. You have to be to do the work that they do. But could these two have been able to create a whole new kind of foot design and create models to fake the contrived prints? That stretches credibility. Would they have thought to attach breasts to the monkey suit? Maybe, but somehow, I don’t think so.
So, back to the fakery issue. If it was faked, did the hoaxer have a 42-inch stride? And later a 68 to 72-inch stride when investigators tracked it into the woods where it appeared to break into a run. Did the hoaxer have a 14 in barefoot print? Did the hoaxer weigh roughly 700 pounds? That is what it took to make a similar indentation in the sand bar.
Using this film as our type section we compare it to all other videos (and footprints and handprints and other evidence) that come to light. The resemblance between them, from California to Kentucky to China is remarkable. It is, in fact, astounding.
Unidentified Flying Objects, more commonly known as UFOs, are a fascinating subject for study as they have amassed large amounts of controversy and skepticism over the years. The most controversial aspect of this subject can arguably be expressed as the belief by some that they are extraterrestrial in origin. By definition, a real UFO cannot be identified, and thus the origin of the object must then be considered. If the origin is not extraterrestrial, what other possibilities remain? Should Top-Secret military test aircraft could be considered? Perhaps the millions of people who claim to see UFOs are simply misinterpreting explainable phenomena. If this is the case, then what is to be said for the thousands of cases that remain unexplained even after rigorous evaluation? What cannot be denied throughout the study of UFOs is that people are definitely experiencing something, and a percentage of those experiences continue to be unexplained.
The case for the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs might begin with some numbers which discuss the possibility of life on other planets. In 1961, Dr. Frank Drake came up with the Drake equation. This equation took into account all the aspects of our galaxy and came up with a number of worlds capable of producing intelligent life capable of technological communication. The number derived from the Drake equation was 10,000 in the Milky Way Galaxy alone, and there are billions of more galaxies beyond ours. The percentage of probability that there is intelligent life somewhere else mathematically exceeds 100%. If we can conceive that there are other forms of life out there, can we then conceive the possibility of that life being able to get here?
One of the most valid arguments skeptics hold against the possibility of existing alien aircraft says that it would simply be impossible for extraterrestrial life to get here. Present day technology does not hold any current knowledge of a working craft that would be able to travel the distances required to make the trip; at least not in any reasonable amount of time. Physics does, however, yield theoretical possibilities of long distance space travel.
Alpha Centauri is the closest star to our sun and is a distance of 4.2 light years away. At our current technology and at the speed with which we are able to reach the moon, it would take over 100,000 years to get there. Einstein’s theory of Relativity also gives us a universal speed limit, in which we cannot exceed the speed of light. Even if we could near this speed, it would still take over four years to get near this star. One alternative notion of space travel, however, utilizes the theoretical bending of the fabric of space itself. Rather then the conventional belief that the shortest distance between two points has to be a straight line, this type of theory allows us to bend that line as if folding a string to bring the two endpoints together. The equations of general relativity allow for the theoretical possibility to bend the fabric of space and take a shortcut, otherwise known as a wormhole. Although certainly not conventional, the theory is still a mathematical possibility. There have been many scientists throughout history that have publicly claimed their opinions regarding the impossibility of technologies that we now hold today. Who knows what we might be capable of in 100, 500, or even 1000 years.
Another consideration to be made in the investigation of UFO sightings is the credibility of the source from which they come. UFO investigation in the past has often been greeted with much criticism. Many people claiming to have had experiences which they could not explain have been hesitant to come forward. During an investigation, consideration is taken as to the credibility of the witness, whether at the time of the sighting, Air Force or commercial plane activity in the vicinity, and so on. Once the identifiable activity is insufficient to explain a sighting, then the event, and/ or the object witnessed, can be categorized as unidentifiable.
The majority of reported UFO sightings began after an event that took place on June 24th of 1947. On this date, an American businessman by the name of Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine separate unidentified flying objects while flying in his private plane near Mount Rainier, Washington. He described the objects as having lights of various colors and moving very fast, much faster than any flight that we were capable of at the time. This report received a large amount of public and media attention and began a trend of many subsequent UFO sightings, including the famous Roswell incident in July of 1947.
The Roswell, New Mexico incident also garnered much hype. The incident began when a rancher named Mac Brazel reportedly found strange material strewn about his property which he could not identify. He brought some of the material homes and reported his find to the authorities. Two commanding officers from the Roswell Army Air Field were sent to investigate; Major Jesse Marcel and Captain Sheridan Cavitt. At first, a press release was issued by Army Command at Roswell stating that a “flying disc” had been recovered. (qt. in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ufo.) Later this statement would be retracted, and the explanation of top-secret weather balloon material would be offered to the public as an explanation for the debris. There was even a picture taken of Major Jesse Marcel holding the supposed weather balloon debris. Most accepted the army’s explanation of a weather balloon at this time, and the hype surrounding the incident largely subsided.
It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that the Roswell incident became an interesting subject to the public once again. Then retired Major Jesse Marcel stated publicly that the weather balloon story was an elaborate government cover-up, and that the material which he is seen within the above-mentioned photograph was not the same as what was recovered from Mac Brazel’s property. He stated that the army had indeed recovered material that was likely from a flying disc and extraterrestrial in origin. Although often debunked by reports released by the government, the story still holds the attention of many. There have been hundreds of first and second-hand witnesses that have testified to seeing things that support Mr. Marcel’s retracted account of events and an elaborate cover-up orchestrated by the United States government.
Some have hypothesized as to why so many UFO sightings seem to have sprung up at this time, seemingly beginning with the report of Kenneth Arnold. UFO investigators may have two possible answers to this question. First of all, one could argue that the evidence for UFOs stems back much further than 1947. There have been reports of strange sightings in newspapers as far back as at least the 19th century, long before Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers had their first flight in 1903. Some of the reports from this time have witnesses describing objects in the sky as “disc-shaped” or “torpedo-shaped” and “flying at wonderful speed”, long before the terms flying saucer or UFO had ever been coined. (qt. in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ufo)
An argument can also be made that people have been seeing strange things in the sky long before even these reports occurred. Older reports are much more difficult to assess then new ones since there is no way to prove or disprove their accuracy. Some reports have been interpreted as being natural phenomena of which we are now aware, such as comets, meteors, or atmospheric phenomena. Others, however, are not so easily explained away. One example may be the April 14th, 1561 incident in which there were reportedly many objects that filled the sky of Nuremberg, Germany that does not fit conventional descriptions of any known astronomical or atmospheric anomalies. There have even been some ancient cave paintings that have been interpreted by some as showing people observing what resembles discs in the sky above.
The second argument that may be made to explain the timing of the multitude of UFO sightings might have to do with what humans were experimenting with at the time. By 1945 the United States had developed operational nuclear weapons, which they then used to attack the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima during World War II in 1945. It was a revolutionary and frightening move in the direction of advanced warfare. If indeed an extraterrestrial society with intelligence surpassing ours were aware of our existence, it might then be reasonable to assume that the interest in our species would have heightened during this time.
Not all reported UFOs remain unidentified. In fact, 95% of all reported UFO sightings can be explained by known phenomena. The large majority of these are often uncovered as being hoaxes, misidentified aircraft, or naturally occurring phenomena. Despite these possible explanations, a large number of Americans believe that UFOs exist. According to one poll taken by Industrial Research and Development Magazine in 1979, only 8% of the 100,000 polled said that UFOs definitely did not exist. 27% said they definitely did, 34% said probably, 12% were undecided and 20% said probably not. Of those that considered the possibility of UFOs, 44% believed that their origin was outer space. (Friedman, 209)
Although polls can be notoriously inaccurate, it does bring into question the trust of the government by the general public. Of most known cases of UFO sightings, government cover-up is often alleged. What conclusions can be made when the government makes allegations to debunk the witness’ claims? If the people having sightings are deemed reliable after investigations, then it is up to us whether or not they are to be believed. If the decision is made that the witness is believable, then it must be concluded that the government’s explanation is not. Indeed, it has become notorious in UFO lore that the government explanation of notorious incidents does not often match the descriptions given by eye-witnesses.
One such incident, which holds much validity in the category of reliable sources and physical evidence, occurred in December of 1980 in the Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk, England. The incident occurred in the vicinity of two military bases; Royal Air Force Woodbridge and Royal Air Force Bentwaters. Both were being operated by the United States Air Force at the time. The first sighting occurred in the early hours of the morning on December 26th by two USAF patrolmen. They reportedly described flashing lights that appeared through the trees. They were joined by others from the base, including a technical sergeant specializing in aircraft accidents. Upon their return, they reported an extremely close encounter with a UFO and statements were taken.
The next night, strange lights were again seen. Another group of military officials were enlisted to investigate. Included in the group was then Deputy Base Commander Colonel Lieutenant Halt who brought with him a Dictaphone to record their findings. In the area where the UFO had been seen the previous night, the group observed high levels of radiation by a Geiger counter. The men also observed damage to trees and strange indentations on the ground where the UFO was supposed to have landed. Samples of some of the damaged organic material were taken, as well as photographs and measurements of the indentations found at the sight. The group then began to witness anomalous lights, changing colors and weaving through the trees and behaving in a way they were unable to explain. The lights reportedly seemed to be under some kind of intelligent control, and at one point moved high into the sky and shot beams of light back down into the forest and at the base.
After the incident had occurred, Deputy Commander Halt made a report of what they had witnessed. It was then decided by higher-ranking government officials, as stated by Colonel Halt, that no public statement regarding the sightings would be made. Later, it was reported by some of the witnesses that they were forced to sign a paper stating that the lights that were observed that night were nothing more than a lighthouse beacon off in the distance. This was the official explanation offered by the government for this particular incident. In rebuttal to this explanation, Admiral Lord Hill Norton, former Chief of Defense Staff for the UK, stated “One explanation is that it actually happened as Colonel Halt purported; the other explanation is that it didn’t, and in that case one is bound to assume that Colonel Halt and all his men were hallucinating”. (Out of the Blue, documentary interview)
The government has since made the statement that the incident at Rendlesham is of no defense interest. This also reaffirms that the report made by Colonel Halt and the audio recording of the incident were all the result of nothing more than a mistaken sighting of the lighthouse beacon, according to the government. To this, Admiral Lord Hill Norton again refutes, by saying “That the Colonel of an Air Force base in Suffolk and his merry men are hallucinating, when there are nuclear-armed aircraft on base, must be of defense interest. If indeed what he says took place did, and why on earth should he make it up, then surely the entry of a vehicle from outer space, certainly not man-made, to a defense base in this country, also cannot fail to be of defense interest.” (Out of the Blue, documentary interview)
One other case in which the official government explanation does not seem to match witness descriptions is the mysterious Phoenix lights incident of 1997. A number of pictures and videos were taken of mysterious lights above the city. Many witnesses described distinctly seeing a very large triangular craft, with lights on the bottom traveling slowly overhead. Some reported that they were very close to the craft and described it in great detail. By some accounts, the craft was reportedly almost a mile wide. The official explanation given in this case was that the lights reported to be a UFO were actually military test flares. Governor Symington promised the people a full investigation into the matter. When a press conference was called to address the issue, the Governor introduced the “guilty party” and brought in a man dressed in a comical alien suit. (Out of the Blue, 6/19/97 press conference) Many of the people of Arizona reported feeling like this only meant that their concerns had never been taken seriously and that they never would be.
In the myriad of UFO sightings, each case is looked at individually from an investigator’s point of view. Each individual witness’ story is scrutinized and compared with subsequent statements to search for inconsistencies or validating points. Of the millions of Americans that claim to have seen UFOs, most express frustration at the government’s refusal to take their claims seriously. Most also speak of witnessing amazing technology of which we humans are not yet capable. Is this not a subject of which the government should be concerned? Is it also possible, given the many eye-witness accounts, that the government does, in fact, have knowledge of extraterrestrial visitation and has kept it classified all these years?
The repercussions on our society of a discovery of this magnitude should not be taken lightly. To prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that intelligent alien life forms exist would perhaps be the most important discovery in all of human history. It is for this reason that investigation into UFO phenomena should continue, and with vigor. To completely deny the possibility of the existence of UFOs is to deny the claims of millions and millions of people, and implies mistrust of what our race has become. If just one of these reports were factual, the implications would be astounding. It is so important, especially in our present state, to seek that trust in our fellow human. It may just be the key to opening doors that could yield a possibility beyond all imagination.
Friedman, Stanton T. Flying Saucers and Science: A Scientist Investigates the Mysteries of UFOs. New Jersey: Career Press, 2008
“Unidentified Flying Objects.” Wikipedia.org 2008 Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ufo “Out of the Blue” UFO Investigation Documentary, Narrated by Peter Coyote. SciFi Channel. June 2008
Matthews, Rupert Alien Encounters New Jersey, Chartwell Books Inc. 2008
The Crypto Science Society journal began as a means to document the semester proceedings when the organization was founded as a student group at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. The journal is a compendium of research and writing, submitted and conducted by society members.
Studies may incorporate methodological approaches from various disciplines, reflecting the diverse educational backgrounds of the society members, such as; Aviation and Aerospace, Engineering, Education and Literature, Anthropology and Folklore, Art, Integrated Healing Practices, Curanderismo, Environmental Science, Ecological Restoration, Psychology, and the Occult.
Members are welcome to submit their research and findings for review by the committee and are published upon approval.