Sunday, January 27, 2008

American Thunderbirds: Attack of the Giant Vultures

<---Seven-year-old Marlon Lowe with his mother Ruth, after being carried in the talons of a giant unidentified bird, July 1977.

"A belief once widespread among North American Incian tribes held that great supernatural flying creatures, known as Thunderbirds, cause thunder and lightning. They accomplish the former by the flapping of their wings, the latter by the closing of the eyes. Thunderbirds also war with other supernatural entities and sometimes grant favors to human beings. They are frequently depicted on totem poles."

--Jerome Clark, Encyclopedia of Strange and Unexplained Physical Phenomena (1993)

The link between the mythical thunderbird and the "real" giant birds of modern reports is problematic for cryptozoologists (who study unknown animals), but there is no doubt that stories of the existence such creatures--that is, mammoth, predatory birds--have circulated for centuries in rural America. Pennsylvania is perhaps the most "active" region for Thunderbird encounters, as they continue to be reported from the Black Forest/Alleghany county region, Pine Creek/Kettle Creek areas, and along the Susquehanna river. The birds are described as grey or black, with white ring-necks and white-tipped feathers, with large talons and a wingspan of 15-25 feet (larger in some descriptions). Thunderbird accounts have been traced well into modern times, and continue to be issued nearly every summer. Unfortunately, no comprehensive accounts have ever been published, so far most printed material is spotty, confined mostly to short accounts in local newspapers.

On July 25, 1977, ten year old Marlon Lowe was playing in his yard with three friends when two large birds came at the children. One of the birds swopped first at his friend, who jumped into an inflatable swimming pool to escape, then proceeded to attack Marlon. The boy, weighing approximately seventy pounds, was grabbed by the straps of his sleeveless shirt and lifted over two-feet off the ground, screaming furiously and beating it with his fists all the while. His parents, Jake and Ruth Lowe- who were sitting on the porch at the time, watched their son fly nearly forty feet in the talons of what looked like a monstrous vulture. The bird dropped the boy and the two raptors continued south toward Kickapoo creek. According to the witnesses, the birds had curved beaks, white ringed necks and 10 foot wingspans. Needless to say, the family suffered a great deal of ridicule in the community, and were treated as though they had concocted the story for attention. Despite the bad publicity, the family never retracted their story, not made any profit from the event. Consequently, for the next several dats a series of sightings were reported after Marlon's attack (now referred to as the Lawndale Incident) from across Illinois and Indiana. Using these numerous reports, investigators were actually able to trace the trajectory of the birds' flight. It is interesting to note that some of these witnesses were unaware of the Lawndale
Incident, remaining untouched by the publicity.

Wanda Chappell, who saw a huge bird at 7am on her farm in Odin, Illinois on August 11th, issued a detailed account, "It looked like a prehistoric bird. It was really fantastic. The head didn't have any feathers, and it had a long neck, crooked, kind of "s" shaped. The body was covered with feathers...couldn't tell much about the feet, but it had long legs." Mrs. Chappell estimated its wingspan was 10-14 feet.
Hall, Mark. Thunderbirds!: The Living Legend of Giant Birds. Cryptozoology 9 (1990): 94-96.

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