Friday, December 20, 2013

Creature of the Month The Beast of Le Gevaudan by Micah Hanks


Among the curious and frightening locales and periods where one might ever dread to live, France in the 1760s might stand out amidst the nightmares of men, particularly those of superstitious sensibilities. For across the French countryside in those years, it is well remembered that a beast so fearless and cunning had existed that small armies had been enlisted to stop the spread of its influence.

France is a country where legends about werewolves would become particularly memorable following these events, for while history tells us that the beast that scoured the countryside of southern France was a wolf, its grisly appetite has caused it to be remembered as perhaps being something more. Thus, to this day, there is debate over what, precisely, terrorized the empty land known as Le Gevaudan, toward the outskirts of the famous and hilly Auvergne.

Some legends do indeed tell of this beast being wolf-like, while other more obscure sources tell us that the creature, remembered today as the Beast of Gevaudan, had been something more. The creature was supposedly far to large to be a common wolf, and the creature also was said to be capable of standing upright as a man did, particularly when it had cornered its prey. Some would tell that the beast was a ghoulish entity who drew its blood from the bodies of those it claimed as victims, while others still felt that the monster was perhaps Satan himself; clearly any land or people scourged with a presence so vile and unrepentant in its hatred for humankind must be punishment from God, if not purely the work of the evil one.


 While those legends have, and will no doubt still persist, what we do know of the beast is that it’s earliest appearances began in 1764, at which time a woman claimed to watch a group of bulls among cattle she had been tending fending off a large wolf-like beast that approached her in a pasture in the eastern Gevaudan region. While this witness would see the beast and live to tell about it, several others were killed that same year, with the recurring trend being that these deaths seemed to nearly always befall lone individuals who tended to their livestock. Curiously, the victims were also quite often found to suffer the greatest injury around the neck and head.


Deaths would continue to proliferate throughout the region, and by the arrival of the early winter months, it had been suspected that this creature might possibly not be acting alone. Could the creature have merely been a lone wolf, in the most literal sense? Or if there had indeed been more than one of the beasts, perhaps it had been a small pack of the creatures roaming the region, which had created this illusion of prolific killings by a single, murderous animal. Then again, if the latter had been the case, witnesses had still seemed perplexed at the fact that they never were able to see more than one of the monsters at any given time. The identity of Gevaudan’s beast, and that of its alleged kindred, remained a mystery.

Looking at the history of the creature’s activity in the region of Gevaudan, there are other problems that begin to arise from these early narratives. In most instances, the victims had been nameless, and with the perspective of historical skepticism applied, perhaps more likely the stuff of legend than the essence of any factual narrative. This would change somewhat the following year, in January of 1765, when the creature attacked twelve-year-old Jacques Portefaix and several other children near La Coustasseyre. The party managed to survive, and even chase away the beast by grouping together, a story which became renowned throughout the region, even garnering the attention of King Louis XV, who awarded Portefaix with a sum of 300 livres for leading his companions against the assault of the beast. This sum of money would change the life of the young Portefaix, who went on to receive a state-funded education, in addition the finances he had been awarded, though he would ultimately pass away at the early age of 32. However, throughout his life, Portefaix had remained interested in the beast, and was said to have authored a report on the monster and its attacks, which detailed the story of he and his companions, as well as the general strife shared by the people throughout the region in knowing of the lurking monster’s presence. The document was never recovered, though speculation about its contents has continued over the centuries.

Following the Portefaix incident, King Louis XV became very interested in the so-called “Beast of Le Gevaudan,” and enough so that two expert wolf-hunters were employed and tasked with the capture and killing of the beast. These men, Jean Antoine Vaumesle d’Enneval and his son, Jean Francois, would succeed in killing a number of Eurasian wolves in the area, although attacks that were appended to the mystery beast would continue nonetheless. Louis XV chose to employ a new hunter to stalk the animal, this time choosing his Lieutenant of the Hunt, Francois Antoine, in June of that year. Antoine would succeed in killing a number of wolves as well, though one was purported to be very large, and after it had been killed in September of 1765, this animal was preserved by taxidermists and sent to Versailles.


On receipt of the wolf, Louis XV was impressed enough that he awarded Antoine with a large sum as a prize, just as young Portefaix had been given earlier. However, the celebration would be short-lived; by December, attacks would resume, causing further panic throughout the region, and renewed interest in discovering whether the wolf killed using the king’s own harquebus firearm had been merely one of a small pack in the area, of if perhaps this new streak of killings had been perpetrated by something else entirely; perhaps it was the same killer who had unabashedly terrorized Gevaudan for two years already.

Attacks would continue for the next several years, before a breakthrough came in the summer of 1770, near the Sogne d’Auvers. It was here that a hunter named Jean Chastel managed to deal the death blow to what was actually believed to be the single Beast of Le Gevaudan, though the accounts of precisely how this transpired seem to vary. Chastel was known to most often carry a double-barreled shotgun, though on the June 19 he likely had been carrying more than one weapon while he pursued the beast as part of a large hunting party. The most popular rendition of the story holds that Chastel had positioned himself by a small set of bushes along the corner of the Sogne, where he knelt to read a bible he carried with him. As he prayed, he could hear the hounds off in the distance as they run with the other members of the party that worked their way amidst the brush that scattered the hillside. Then, Chastel glanced up to see that the beast had appeared, and it stood glaring at him. Curiously, the monster which normally would attack a human on sight now paused and watched Chastel, who purportedly finished his prayers before lifting his weapon—in this case it was the flint-lock rifle he carried, rather than the shotgun—and firing a projectile that launched through the trachea, the Beast of Le Gevaudan was finally killed.


The various legends surrounding the tale also include the notion that in order for the beast to be destroyed, Chastel had been required to use a silver bullet that a priest had blessed, in keeping with fables about silver projectiles and their legendary and devastating success rate in killing lycanthropes. Another theory focused more on how Chastel had been permitted, rather strangely, to complete his prayer before lifting his rifle for the killing shot; in either case, it would seem that divine intervention must have been involved to some degree… unless the game had been rigged, of course. Skeptics argued that Chastel had not relied so much on intervention from a higher power as he had been provided foreknowledge that the beast wouldn’t attack him; but how could this have been? The only possible solution, many would contend, had been that Chastel had actually trained the creature, though proof for such a claim has never been supported with any reasonable evidence.

So what was the beast that Chastel killed, and which has remained he stuff of legends in the centuries since its famous rampage across Le Gevaudan in the 1760s? In likelihood it was a wolf, though other theories have been proposed over the years, including a History Channel documentary in 2009, which contended that the “monster” had actually been a species of longhaired Hyena. Other theories involve similar exotic interpretations, ranging from lions and tigers, to some unknown animal of large and beastly proportions, perhaps the final existing remnant of its kindred. Perhaps the most damning commentary provided on the creature was given by none other than Robert Louis Stevenson, whose recollection of the beast that was sent to Versailles presents us with a less-than-spectacular remembrance of the Gevaudan monster:

[T]his was the land of the ever-memorable Beast, the Napoleon Bonaparte of wolves. What a career was his! He lived ten months at free quarters in Gévaudan and Vivarais; he ate women and children and "shepherdesses celebrated for their beauty"; he pursued armed horsemen; he has been seen at broad noonday chasing a post-chaise and outrider along the king's high-road, and chaise and outrider fleeing before him at the gallop. He was placarded like a political offender, and ten thousand francs were offered for his head. And yet, when he was shot and sent to Versailles, behold! a common wolf, and even small for that.

It is unclear whether the beast Stevenson describes was the actual creature killed by Chastel, or the wolf that had been preserved earlier, which Antoine had been awarded for killing in 1767. Our thoughts would lean heavily toward the latter.

            Ultimately, the identity of this mysterious Beast of Le Gevaudan may never be known. The circumstances surrounding its death seem to shed no more light on it than the records of its murderous habits while it existed. Whether a wolf, or perhaps something greater and more exotic in nature, there is little doubt that the legends surrounding the creature may have served in the further mystification of its legacy. Had the creature merely been a large and particularly ravenous wolf, one thing would certainly hold true of this story regardless: as is so often the case with such reports, the beast, whatever it may have really been, will likely be remembered as something far more horrid and monstrous—even supernatural, by some accounts—when compared with the real possibilities as to what was killed at the Sogne d’Auvers in 1770. We may never know what it was, precisely, but we know with certainty that this “beast” will never be forgotten. 

SOURCES:

1)     Steiger, Brad. Real Monsters, Gruesome Critters, and Beasts from the Darkside. Visible Ink Press, 2010.
2)     “Jacques Portefaix.” Website. Accessed December 13, 2013. http://betedugevaudan.com/en/jacques_portefaix_en.html
3)     “Le Tir de Chastel” Website (French Language). Accessed December 13, 2013. http://www.labetedugevaudan.com/pages/militaires/tir_chastel_02.html
4)     Stevenson, Robert Louis. Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. 1879.


Micah Hanks is a writer, researcher, lecturer, and radio personality whose work addresses a variety of scientific concepts and unexplained phenomena. Over the last decade, his research has examined a variety of approaches to studying the unexplained, cultural phenomena, human history, and the prospects of our technological future as a species as influenced by science.

He is author of several books, including Magic, Mysticism and the Molecule, Reynolds Mansion: An Invitation to the Past, and his 2012 New Page Books release, The UFO Singularity. Hanks is an editor for Intrepid Magazine, and consulting editor/contributor for FATE Magazine and The Journal of Anomalous Sciences. He writes for a variety of other publications, and produces a weekly podcast, The GralienReport, which follows his research.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Positive News of the Week


New Solution to Lost Keys

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Prosthesis Restores Function to 
Damaged Brain

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Jean Fernandes to the Rescue

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First Homeless-Shelter Hotel

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Toy Box that Opens with Kid's Fingerprint

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Fox for the Holidays

About a month ago we had a cat and two kittens come to our door crying for food.  So we've been leaving cat food out in hopes in keeping them fed as we hit the cold weather months.  Today shortly after arriving to the office we found we've had another friend taking advantage of our vittles.

Figured we'd share a picture of our new friend :-)


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Weird News of the Week


NASA has hopes for Garden on the Moon

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Operation Dead-Mouse Drop

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US Football Celebrations Register as Minor Earthquakes

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Fertility Charms find Resurgence in Beijing

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Ghost Hunt goes Bust

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Positive News of the Week


4 Ways Doing Good can make you Healthier

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Satellite Built by Students Launched

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6-Year Old Donates Savings to Typhoon Victims

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An Airport Wedding

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Lieutenant Uses Facebook to Prevent NJ Teen Suicide

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Pong Reimagined on Philly Skyscraper

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Creature of the Month The Owlman of the Woods by Nick Redfern


It is a large, humanoid, flying monster with glowing red eyes and huge, powerful wings. It strikes fear into the very heart of all those that encounter it. It’s the infamous Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, right? Nope, wrong. Although it is just about the closest thing that Britain has to the bizarre beast made famous in John Keel’s now-classic book, The Mothman Prophecies. Its name is the Owlman.


    In 1976 the dense trees surrounding Mawnan Old Church, Cornwall, England became a veritable magnet for a diabolical beast that was christened the Owlman. The majority of those that crossed paths with the creature asserted that it was human-like in both size and design, and possessed a pair of large wings, fiery red eyes, claws, and exuded an atmosphere of menace. No wonder people make parallels with Mothman.

    It all began during the weekend of Easter 1976, when two young girls, June and Vicky Melling, had an encounter of a truly nightmarish kind in Mawnan Woods. The girls were on holiday with their parents when they saw a gigantic, feathery “bird man” hovering over the 13th Century church.

    It was a story that their father, Don Melling, angrily shared with a man named Tony “Doc” Shiels. I say “angrily” because Shiels was a noted, local magician who Melling came to believe had somehow instigated the whole affair. Or as Shiels, himself, worded it: “…some trick that had badly frightened his daughters.” Shiels denied any involvement in the matter whatsoever. But that was only the start of things.

    Another one to see the Owlman was Jane Greenwood, also a young girl. She wrote a letter to the local newspaper, the Falmouth Packet, during the summer of 1976 that detailed her own startling encounter: “I am on holiday in Cornwall with my sister and our mother. I, too, have seen a big bird-thing. It was Sunday morning, and the place was in the trees near Mawnan Church, above the rocky beach. It was in the trees standing like a full-grown man, but the legs bent backwards like a bird’s. It saw us, and quickly jumped up and rose straight up through the trees. How could it rise up like that?”

    Two fourteen year old girls, Sally Chapman and Barbara Perry, also had the misfortune to have a run-in with the Owlman in 1976. At around 10.00 p.m., while camping in the woods of Mawnan, and as they sat outside of their tent making a pot of tea, the pair heard a strange hissing noise. On looking around, they saw the infernal Owlman staring in their direction from a distance of about sixty feet.

    Sally said: “It was like a big owl with pointed ears, as big as a man. The eyes were red and glowing. At first I thought that it was someone dressed-up, playing a joke, trying to scare us. I laughed at it. We both did. Then it went up in the air and we both screamed. When it went up you could see its feet were like pincers!”

    Barbara added: “It’s true. It was horrible, a nasty owl-face with big ears and big red eyes. It was covered in grey feathers. The claws on its feet were black. It just flew up and disappeared in the trees.”

    While there were rumors of additional sightings of the creature in the immediate years that followed, it wasn’t until the summer of either 1988 or 1989 that the Owlman put in an appearance that can be documented to a significant degree. In this case, the witness was a young boy, dubbed “Gavin” by my good friend Jon Downes (who wrote an entire book on the winged monster, titled The Owlman and Others), and his then girlfriend, Sally. The beast, Gavin told Jon, was around five feet in height, had large feet, glowing eyes, and significantly sized wings. It was a shocking, awe-inspiring encounter that Gavin and Sally never forgot.

    As was the case in the immediate post-1976 era, a few reports from the 1990s and 2000s have surfaced. Chiefly, however, they are from individuals who prefer not to go on the record - something which has led to understandable suspicions of fakery and hoaxing. But, one could also make a very good argument that going public about having seen a monstrous “birdman” in English woodland would not be the wisest move to make.

   Today, and getting ever-closer to 40 years since the original encounters occurred, the matter remains the undeniable controversy that it was back then. For some researchers, Doc Shiels is the man to blame. They perceive him as a trickster, a faker and someone not to be trusted. Jon Downes, however, suggests something else – something with which I concur.

    Namely, that Shiels – dubbed the “Wizard of the Western World” – has profound knowledge of “magic.” And by that, I don’t mean people pulling rabbits out of hats. We are talking, here, about something far stranger, something ancient, and something filled with swirling mystery.

    In a review of Doc’s excellent book, Monstrum, I noted:  “[Doc’s] is a world filled with a deep understanding of the real nature of magic (chaos and ritualistic), the secrets of invocation and manifestation, of strange realms just beyond – and that occasionally interact with – our own, and Trickster-like phenomenon. Doc’s is also a domain where, when we dare to imagine the fantastic, when we decide to seek it out, and when we finally accept its reality, we perhaps provide it with some form of quasi-existence.”


    Perhaps Doc, in a decidedly strange way, really did play a role in the formation of the Owlman legend. But, such was the allure of the beast it quickly stepped out of the world of imagination and story-telling, and right into the heart of the real world. And on that last point, be careful what you wish for, lest you unleash into our reality a monster that has no intention of returning to that domain from which it was originally created, imagined, or invoked… 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Weird News of the Week


Sheep Stolen from Wool

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Math with Legos & a washing machine

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"Thanksgivukkah" Donuts

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Noise Pollution caused by Pianist?

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Dangers of Pandora's Box

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Positive News of the Week


Entire School goes Pink

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Diabetes Prevention with 7-cent Vitamin?


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The Science of Coffee


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German Shepherd Saves Newborn


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GiveBackFilms practices 
Random Acts of Kindness


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UK commisioner creates pensions for Police Dogs


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A good man and his good deed
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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Weird News of the Week



The Creepiest Pair of Pants Ever

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Chupacabras in Mississippi?

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Squirrel Vandalizes Bicycle

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14-Foot Facial Hair

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Bigfoot Hotspot in New York

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Yvonne Smith, founder of the Close Encounter Research Organization International (CERO), and Robert Salas. (Credit: Sean Casteel)

Aliens and Nukes

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Creature of the Month - Living Pterosaurs by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart


            Professor Challenger, who with the two local Indians was in the van of the party, stopped suddenly and pointed excitedly to the right. As he did so we saw, at the distance of a mile or so, something which appeared to be a huge gray bird flap slowly up from the ground and skim smoothly off, flying very low and straight, until it was lost among the tree-ferns.
      “Did you see it?” cried Challenger, in exultation. “Summerlee, did you see it?”
      His colleague was staring at the spot where the creature had disappeared. “What do you claim that it was?” he asked.
      “To the best of my belief, a pterodactyl.”
            (--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World, Chapter 8; 1912)1


(0.    Pterosaur from movie…1,000,000 Years BC)

      It’s hard to imagine a scene of dinosaurs without great Pterosaurs soaring overhead. It used to be thought that they were mere gliders, incapable of flapping their vast wings for sustained flight. They were envisioned hanging upside-down from cliff faces, like bats, and dropping into a gliding swoop. But it is now the consensus that the smaller ones flew as well as birds, and the truly huge ones, such as Pteranodon (with a 27-ft wingspan) and Quetzalcoatlus (with a wingspan of forty feet!) could take off as easily as a kite into a light breeze, and soar aloft for days, scarcely moving their mighty wings, much like albatrosses. Evidence has emerged that some of them migrated across entire oceans to reach their nesting grounds.
      The first vertebrates to evolve true flight, Pterosaurs (“winged lizards”) were flying reptiles with their front limbs modified into wings of webbed skin like the wings of bats. Since the wing is supported by an enormously elongated little finger, they are also called Pterodactyls (“wing-finger”). They were furry, evidently warm-blooded, with large and sophisticated brains. They ruled the Mesozoic skies from 228-65 million years ago. In the terminology of Medieval Dragonlore, they would be called Wyverns.


Fig. 1. Pteranodon.

      The Wyvern (or Wivern) is a kind of flying serpentine Dragon with bat-like wings, two avian hind legs with eagle talons, and a long barbed tail. Basically, it is a Pterosaur, like ramphorhynchus. Variants include the Sea-Wyvern, which has a fish-like tail. Wyverns have been described as the largest form of Dragon, able to prey on such huge creatures as elephants and rhinos. In Heraldry, the Wyvern symbolizes war, pestilence, envy and viciousness. The default coloration of a Heraldic Wyvern is green with a red chest, belly and under-wings.


Fig. 2. Heraldic Wyvern.
     
Pterosaurs still alive?

      Although they are supposed to have been extinct for 65 million years, sightings of apparent living Pterosaurs are still reported from time to time.
      Snallygaster (or Snollygoster) was a Pterosaur-like beast said to inhabit the Blue Ridge Mountains near Braddock Heights, Maryland, USA. The first German settlers in the 1730s were terrorized by a monster they called Schnellgeiste (“quick spirit”). It was described as half-reptile, half-bird, with a metallic beak and razor-sharp teeth. It swooped silently from the sky to carry off its victims and suck their blood. Seven-pointed stars to keep the Snallygaster at bay can still be seen painted on local barns.


Fig. 3. Snallygaster

      In The Illustrated London News (Feb. 9, 1856, page 166) it was reported that workmen cutting a tunnel for a railway line, between Saint-Dizier and Nancy, in France, were blasting through Jurassic limestone when a bizarre winged creature tumbled out of a cavity. It fluttered its wings, made a hoarse croaking noise, and dropped dead. According to the workers, the creature had oily black leathery skin, a 3.22-meter wingspan (10-ft 7-in), four long legs with “crooked talons,” joined by a membrane. The size of “a large goose,” it had a long neck, and a mouth full of sharp teeth. The body was brought to Gray, where, a paleontology student identified the animal as a Pterodactyl anas [“wing-fingered duck”—a non-existent species]2
      This incredible story is simply a hoax. At the time, many exquisite fossils were being extracted from Bavaria’s Solnhofen Limestone (which would later yield the famed Archaeopteryx). Each of these discoveries was triumphantly announced by German paleontologists. The tunnel in question was through limestone of similar age to the Solnhofen beds, so some French wags decided to do the Germans one better.3


Fig. 4. Pterodactylus on ground

      In Feb.-Mar. 1909, residents of Braddock Heights, Maryland (previous haunt of the legendary Snallygaster) reported sightings of a creature with “enormous wings, a long pointed bill, claws like steel hooks, and an eye in the center of its forehead.” It screeched “like a locomotive whistle.” The Smithsonian Institute offered a reward for the hide, and President Theodore Roosevelt considered postponing an African safari to personally hunt for the beast. But after the initial flurry, nothing more was heard of it.
      From late 1975 through early 1976, people along the lower Rio Grande valley between Texas and Mexico reported a wave of “big bird” sightings. The avian anomalies were described as impossibly huge, with membranous wings like bats, and often cat-like faces.
      In January 1976, two sisters, Libby and Deanie Ford, saw a large strange “bird” standing by a pond outside of Brownsville, Texas. They said it was as tall as a person, all black, with a face like a cat. Later, they identified it from a book as being a pteranodon. Given their description, this seems like a very odd identification indeed; a pteranodon’s head looks like a pickax, not a cat! Here is an example from a 1965 sighting by Patty Carson at Guantanomo Bay, Cuba:


Fig. 5. Gitmo Pteranodon.

Pterosaurs in the Old West

      One of Ray Harryhausen’s best stop-motion animation movies was Valley of the Gwangi (1969), featuring a lost valley in Mexico where prehistoric animals still thrive. Some of the most dramatic scenes feature a Pteranodon which attacks mounted cowboys, who then capture it. This may have been inspired by a remarkable petroglyph (rock painting) of an apparent pterosaur, painted high on a cliff face, directly under a cave, near Thompson Utah.


Fig. 6. Pterosaur petroglyph near Thompson, Utah.

      In April of 1890, two cowboys in Arizona allegedly killed an enormous bird-like creature with smooth skin and featherless leathery wings like a bat. Its head resembled that of an alligator. They said they had come upon it in the desert, and it was apparently sick or wounded. The animal managed to take off and fly about half a mile before sinking to the ground again, where the cowboys finished it off with rifles.
      Harry McClure was a young man living in Lordsburg, New Mexico in 1910 when the two cowboys came to town, telling of their encounter 20 years earlier. 60 years later, in a letter to the Summer 1970 issue of Old West Magazine, McClure recalled their description of the creature: “Its eyes were like saucers; its two legs and feet up at the front part of its body were the size of those of a horse; its hide was leathery, instead of feathery. It lit on the ground once at a safe distance from the two cowboys, but it took to the air again soon afterwards only to come down again a second time...”4


Fig. 7. Cowboy wrestling Pteranodon, from Valley of the Gwangi.

      According to the account published in the April 26, 1890 edition of Arizona’s Tombstone Epitaph, the cowboys paced off the dimensions of their monster as an astonishing 92-ft long, with a wingspan of 160-ft! The cowboys cut off a wingtip and took it into the town of Tombstone. Plans were made to skin the creature for a museum, but nothing further was ever reported.5
      But another version of the story is that they dragged the entire carcass back to town, where it was pinned, wings outstretched, across the entire side of a barn. This time, its wingspan was said to be “only” 20-30 ft. This account—supposedly with a photo—was reprinted in 1969, but no one now seems to be able to track down a copy, and the hunt for the elusive photo has itself become a cryptozoological quest. Here is a photo I came across which may or may not be the one:


Fig. 8. Pterosaur supposedly shot in the late 1800s.

      A more recent sighting in the American West occurred southwest of San Antonio, Texas, in January 1976. Three schoolteachers were driving to work when a large flying creature swooped low over the highway at about the height of the phone poles. It cast a shadow across the width of the road, and by that the women estimated its wingspan as 15-20 ft. They said they could see the bones of the bat-like wings through the grey membrane that covered them. Later, at school, they pored through encyclopedias and found a picture of what they had seen. It was a pteranodon. This story was reported in the San Antonio Light, Feb. 26, 1976.6
      Another intriguing photo purports to show a dead Pterosaur surrounded by Civil War soldiers, but no further information on it seems to be available:


Fig. 9. Photo of trophy pterosaur during Civil War.

South American Pterosaurs

      Legends of giant flying creatures in South America predate the arrival of the Conquistadores, and continue into modern times. Indeed, some of these were surely an inspiration to Arthur Conan Doyle for setting the locale of his “Lost World” in Venezuela.    In April of 1868, mine workers in Copiapo, Chile, were preparing for supper when they sighted “a gigantic bird, which at first we took for one of the clouds then partially darkening the atmosphere, supposing it to have been separated from the rest by the wind.” As it flew over their heads, they could see that its immense wings were not feathered, but webbed in skin like those of a bat. This story was reported in the July, 1968 issue of The Zoologist.7
      In February of 1947, Mr. J. Harrison of Liverpool, England, was navigating an estuary of the Amazon when he and others observed a flight of five huge “birds” flying down the river in a V formation. In an unpublished letter to the Fortean Times, Harrison said: “The wingspan must have been at least twelve feet from tip to tip. They were brown in colour like brown leather, with no visible signs of feathers. The head was flat on top, with a long beak and a long neck. The wings were ribbed…just like those large prehistoric birds.”8 Here is the drawing he enclosed with his letter:


Fig. 10. J. Harrison’s drawing of a “prehistoric bird” he saw over the Amazon in 1947

      And in 1992, the Australian weekly magazine People reported a close encounter between a small commuter airplane and a huge flying reptile over the mountains of Brazil. The creature appeared alongside as the plane was preparing to land, and the pilot had to veer away to avoid a collision. Stewardess Maya Cabon said: “Here was this giant monster flying right next to the plane. He was only a few feet from the window—and he looked right at me. I thought we were all going to die.” U.S. anthropologist Dr. George Biles, one of the 24 passengers aboard, elaborated: “This was a classic case of a white pterodactyl with a giant wingspan. Of course, I’ve heard the rumors for many years that these prehistoric creatures still roamed the Amazon. But I was skeptical like everybody else. But that wasn’t an airplane or a UFO flying beside us. It was a pterodactyl.”9

African Pterosaurs

      From swampy regions of Zambia, Congo, Angola, and Kenya come reports of Kongamato (“Overwhelmer of Boats”). Numerous reported sightings of these large, leathery-winged flying creatures have led cryptozoologists to speculate that there may be a relic population of Pterodactyls still living in Africa. They are colored black or red, and are named for their proclivity of capsizing canoes. Frank H. Mellon, in his In Witchbound Africa (1923),10 described them as smooth-skinned, with toothy beaks and wingspans of 4-7 ft. Another witness said the wings made a loud thunderous noise when flapped. When they are shown pictures of pterosaurs, all witnesses immediately identify them as Kongamoto. It is far more likely, however, that these creatures are actually Hammerhead Bats (Hypsignathus monstrosus), Africa’s largest bat species. They are dark gray with black wings spanning three feet, and have elongated, dog-like snouts.
      In 1925, southern Rhodesia produced reports of a Kongamato attack on a man in a swamp, and reports issued from Africa in 1928, 1942, the 1950s, up through modern times, including a colleague of cryptozoologist Roy Mackal’s who saw one in 1988.11


Fig. 11. Kongamato attack, by William M. Rebsamen

      Either the same or another gigantic black pterodactyl-like creature was encountered in 1932 in the Assumbo Mountains of the African Cameroons by zoologist Ivan T. Sanderson and naturalist Gerald Russell in 1932. As they were crossing a river, it dived at them, then flew away. Apparently the size of an eagle, it had “pointed white teeth set about their own width apart from each other” and “Dracula-like wings.” They saw it again that evening. Locals called the creature Olitiau. Sanderson later speculated that the beast was probably an exceptionally large specimen of the Hammerhead Bat. But there’s a huge gap between the 3-ft wingspan of the Hammerhead, and the 12-ft span Sanderson estimated for the Olitiau!


Fig. 12. Olitiau.

      Guiafairo is a great grey flying creature reported from West Africa, where it hides in caves and hollow trees during the day, emerging only at night. It has clawed feet and a human-like head. Cryptozoologists speculate that it may be an unknown species of giant bat, or another example of the Hammerhead Bat.


Fig. 13. Guiafairo by Ian Daniels

New Guinea flyers

      Gigantic flying predators have also been reported in Papua New Guinea. Called Duah, they have a 24-foot leathery wingspan, a long, toothless beak and a large head crest, precisely matching the image of a Pteranodon. Likewise, they are oceanic fish-eaters, though there are reports of vicious and fatal attacks on humans.


Fig. 14. Duah by William Rebsamen.

      Another Pterodactyl-like creature has been reported from the jungles of New Guinea since the 1950s. The Ropen (“Demon Flyer”) lives in caves along the islands of New Britain and Umboi, and flies only at night. It has leathery wings spanning 3-4 ft, a narrow, tooth-filled beak, a head crest, webbed feet, and a long tail culminating in a diamond-shaped flange. It is said to feast on decaying flesh, harassing funerals to attack the corpse. The description of the tail sounds uncannily like a Rhamphorynchus, believed to have been extinct for 65 million years, but they didn’t have head crests. I have personally visited several of those islands, climbed their cliffs, and explored their caves. Alas, I found no pterodactyls, only fruit bats.


Fig. 15. Rhamphorynchus

      It is virtually certain that these New Guinea sightings are all of large fruit bats, most likely the Bismark Flying Fox (Pteropus neohibernicus), with a wingspan of 5.5-6 ft. Recognized by science as the world’s largest living species of bat, it is native to New Guinea and the Bismark Archipelago.


Fig. 16.  Bismark Flying Fox (photo by Michael Pitts)

Eyewitness Account

      Here is a fascinating eyewitness account of a sighting of living Pterosaurs in Cuba in March of 1971. The witness was a Marine named Eskin Kuhn, who reports:

 

      It was a beautiful, clear Summer day. I was looking in the direction of the ocean when I saw an incredible sight. It mesmerized me!
      I saw 2 Pterosaurs flying together at low altitude, perhaps 100 feet, very close in range from where I was standing, so that I had a perfectly clear view of them.
      The rhythm of their large wings was very graceful, slow; and yet they were flying and not merely gliding, like turkey vultures do here in Ohio.
      The rate of their wings was more like that of crows, perhaps a little slower; but very graceful. The structure and the texture of the wings appeared to be very similar to that of bats: particularly in that the struts of the wings emanated from a "hand" as fingers would; except that a couple of the fingers were short (as for grasping) and the other ran out to the tip of the wing, others back to the trailing edge of the wing to stretch the wing membrane as a kite would.


Fig. 17. Eskin Kuhn's Pterosaur drawing from life.

      The Pterosaurs I saw had the short hind legs attached to the rearwardmost part of the wing, and they had a long tail trailing behind with a tuft of hair at the end.
      The head was disproportionately large, with a long crest at the back, long bill, long neck with a crook in it. The chest of the creatures was similarly prominent, protruding forward like the prow of an old ship.
      The vertebrae of their backs was noticeable, mostly between the shoulders. I would estimate their wingspan to be roughly 10 feet.12

      The excellent drawing Eskin Kuhn made of the creatures he saw strongly matches images of a great blue heron in flight, with its neck crooked and its long legs trailing straight out and together. The “tuft”-tipped tail of Kuhn’s drawing accords with the webbed feet of the heron. And the heron even has a backward-sweeping crest of feathers on its head which resembles the crest of a Pteranodon as Kuhn drew it.


Fig. 18. Great Blue Heron in flight

 Flying Monkeys

      Hsigo— (or Hsiao) These Chinese creatures are exactly like the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. They have apelike bodies with a dog’s tail, a birdlike head, a human face, and wings—though they are not described as wearing bellhop uniforms! They are probably based on fruit bats, or “flying foxes,” of India, Asia, Indonesia and Australia. These monkey-size bats are not related to the other insectivorous bats, but are genetically closer to primates, and thus really are a kind of “Flying Monkey.”  


Fig. 19. Hsigo

      Ahool Reported from Java and Vietnam, these are giant bats of an unidentified species. Named for their cry, they are said to be the size of a year-old child, dark grey, with a head like a monkey. These would certainly seem to be large fruit bats. The Ahool, however, is said to be a fish-eater which, if true, would mean it has to be something else.


Fig. 20. Mauritian flying fox in flight (photo by Gregory Guida)

      Alan Mischievous half-human, half-bird creatures from the forests of the Philippines. With extended fingers on their backwards-facing feet and stubby toes on their hands, they spend much of their time hanging upside down from trees. They are often very helpful toward humans and have served as foster parents to several legendary heroes whom they found lost in the forest as babies. This description, and the locale, strongly suggest a large fruit bat, such as the Malayan Flying Fox.


Fig. 21. Flying fox hanging upside down

      Orang-Bati (“Men with wings”) Predatory nocturnal flying primates from the obscure Indonesian island of Ceram—the second largest island in the Moluccas group. The natives of Ceram describe these soaring simians as approximately five feet tall, with black leathery wings, blood-red skin, and a long thin tail. Emitting a “mournful wail,” they are said to abduct infants and small children. During the day they retreat into a network of caves in an extinct volcano, Mount Kairatu. This description, and the locale, strongly suggests a giant fruit bat—probably, again, the Malayan Flying Fox.


Fig. 22. Malayan Flying Fox

      Vietnamese Night-Flyers Flying humanoids with bat-like wings, sighted by three U.S. Marines in 1969, near Da Nang, South Vietnam. According to the soldiers’ report, three naked, hair-covered, feminine figures, all approximately five feet in height, flew over their post in the dead of night. The Marines claimed they could hear the flapping of their leathery black wings. These were certainly Malayan Flying Foxes, of which the females (which have two thoracic breasts like humans) can have wingspans of six feet, although they weigh only up to 3.3-lbs.


Fig. 23. Vietnamese Night-Flyer by Tam Songdog

      Sassabonsum is a huge evil fruit bat in the folklore of Ghana, West Africa. With red hair, hooked wings, and backwards-pointing feet, it swoops upon people and carries them off at the bidding of the Mmoatia, or pygmy sorcerers. As with the Kongamoto, Olititau and Guiafairo, this is probably the Hammerhead Bat.


Fig. 24. Hammerhead bat

      In his 1972 book, Investigating the Unexplained, Ivan Sanderson suggested another possible identification for these oversized bat-like creatures; that they may represent a hitherto-unknown enormous species of microbat (Microchiroptera), commonly referred to as “insectivorous bats,” “echolocating bats,” “small bats,” or “true bats.”13
      In contrast to the doglike snouts of fruit bats, or megabats (Megachiroptera), microbats have the flattened monkey-like faces described as characteristic of all the above “flying monkeys.” While most of them are insectivorous, some of the larger species hunt birds, lizards, frogs, or even fish—behavior that is often mentioned in regard to these cryptic creatures, and does not occur among any of the megabats. Even vampire microbats exist, though only, as far as is known, in South America.


Fig. 25. Microbat

      According to native witnesses, when Ahools are seen on the ground, or perched like a bird on a tree branch, they fold their wings at their sides like a bird, as do all microbats. Megabats, on the other hand, wrap their wings around their bodies like a cloak. Ahools are also said to be able to stand upright on two legs, and in doing so their feet point backwards. Again, only microbats can stand erect (though they seldom do so); megabats can stand only on all fours, or hang upside down from tree branches. But it is true that the hind feet of all bats point backwards.14
      The difficulty with this hypothesis is that microbats are well-named. They are all quite tiny, with the largest, the Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus), attaining a wingspan of only 13 inches. A microbat with a 6-12 foot wingspan seems like an incredible stretch, with nothing in between. However, I have had personal experience which may help put this matter into perspective, so to speak.
      One night when we were lying outside watching a meteor shower, a pale ghostly shape swooped down out of the sky, circled our blanket, and then soared off. In the light of our candle, it seemed huge—at least a three-foot wingspan! Even though we knew it had to be a bat, we all agreed that our first impression was of a pterodactyl! So I immediately went to my library and looked up local bats, and lo and behold, there it was: a Pallid Bat (Antrozous pallidus). They eat ground-dwelling crickets and scorpions, so they swoop rather than flitter.


Fig. 26. Pallid Bat

      But the thing is—they have a wingspan of no more than 12 inches. So how come it appeared so immensely large to us? Well, as I explained in my article on Sea Serpents, in the sky, as in the open ocean, there is no objective basis of comparison against which to measure an object. A creature flying overhead could, for all you know, be three feet above, and have a 3-foot wingspan. Or it could be ten feet above and have a 10-foot wingspan. Especially at night, there is no way to know. So, like the fisherman whose catch got away, we declare for the largest size. The pallid bat is nearly white on the underside, and it reflected so much illumination from the candle that it appeared to be much larger than it really was.


Fig. 27. Distance perspective diagram by OZ

      In addition, as I also mentioned in the Sea Serpent chapter, there is the factor of the automatic “zoom lens” mode that our brain goes into when we see something highly alarming. This evolutionarily adaptive mechanism creates an exaggeration of size in our mind’s eye, just as it does in a camera when we use the zoom lens. And thus are creatures of ordinary size transformed into giants.
      As much as I would love to know that somewhere on Earth, pterodactyls still ride the skies, I’m afraid I will just have to settle for extra-large bats.

Pterosaurs in the movies

      Pterosaurs and Wyverns have been featured in many movies, in both prehistoric settings of the “Lost World” genre, and as flying Dragons. Pterosaurs are routinely included among dinosaurs, although there have been a few films where they appear in modern times—often hatching in the heart of a volcano from long-dormant eggs. As pterosaurs really were ancient “flying dragons,” it is perfectly reasonable that the appearance of some film dragons should be based on their anatomy, rather than on the less-justifiable model in which two bat-like wings are affixed to the body of a quadrupedal reptile. Excellent examples of such “Wyvern” dragons appear in Dragonslayer (1981) and Dragon Storm (2004).
      Rodan (Radon in Japan) is a well-known fictional Pterosaur, introduced in Rodan, a 1956 movie from Toho Studios, which created the Godzilla series. Like Godzilla, Rodan was also modeled after a real prehistoric reptile. The Japanese name Radon is a contraction of “pteranodon” and also suggests radiation. Radon is referred to as Rodan in the U.S., possibly to avoid confusion with the atomic element Radon. He was initially portrayed as an enemy of Godzilla, but they later became allies against more dangerous monsters.15


Fig. 28. Rodan

      Here are a number of films featuring living Pterosaurs, Wyverns, and Bat-monsters—omitting those which take place during the Mesozoic Age, or on other planets. The commentary is by Seth Tyrssen:
      The Lost World (silent -1925) This is the original version of the famous story, and it still holds its own today. The then-new art of stop-motion animation brought a variety of prehistoric beasties to life, including some very life-like “flying lizards.” King Kong (1933) saw the art of stop-motion animation carried to new heights, and one of its best scenes shows the great ape battling a pteranodon at his mountain retreat, as the hapless heroine Fay Wray looks on…screaming, of course. Rodan (1956) was one of Eijii Tsubaraya’s early works. Japanese animation, as seen in this and a whole slew of Godzilla movies, will never win any awards for realism, but Rodan (like all the others) is amusing because it’s so bad, it’s good. Rodan appears to be a basic pteranodon, more or less. The Land Unknown (1957) and The Lost World (1960) join the ranks of several other bad remakes.
      One Million Years BC (1966) is actually a remake of the earlier 1,000,000 BC but featured Raquel Welch in her first major role. The pterosaurs and other monsters are credibly done. The Valley of Gwangi (1969) featured the work of Ray Harryhausen, and in spite of a silly premise, is actually quite good. Harryhausen’s realistic Allosaurus shares space with some well-done pterosaurs, and even an Eohippus, the first tiny horse. The Land That Time Forgot (1974) is more notable for lovely Caroline Munroe than for its creatures, clearly not up to the standards set by Harryhausen, but that was probably due to the obviously low budget. Dragonslayer (1981) gave us the first really impressive dragon since Disney’s animated “Sleeping Beauty,” complete with an engrossing plot.


Fig. 29. Vermithrax Perjorative, from movie Dragonslayer (1981)

      In The Lost World (1992), John Rhys-Davies and David Warner are wonderful, as the philosophically sparring Professors Challenger and Summerlee, respectively. Though the story was seriously altered for “political correctness,” it’s a tolerable version, with tolerable–though not great–critter-animation. Jurassic Park II: the Lost World (1997) Like its predecessor, this one had pterosaurs that looked incredibly real. The special effects folks really did their homework on these films. Jurassic Park III (2001) continues the excellent standards set by the first two films, with a whole host of realistic creatures. The Lost World (BBC-TV, 2001) At last, a worthy remake! Bob Hoskins (of “Roger Rabbit” fame) is teamed with James Fox, and a wide variety of well-done dinos. In this one, his pterosaur escapes into London, never to be seen again. One of the few remakes worth watching. Dinotopia (TV, 2004) was a beautiful miniseries based on the exquisitely-illustrated books by James Gurney.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003) magnificently capture Tolkien’s fantasy-world, with striking realism. The “pterosaurs” in this case are more dragon-like, as they carry the dread Nazgul warriors on their backs. Dragon Storm (TV, 2004) has John Rhys-Davies as a rather nasty and treacherous king; the dragons are well done, and carry a lame plot fairly well. King Kong (2005), directed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame, is, if possible, even better than the original. Infinitely better than the sorry attempt years earlier, that brought Jessica Lange to stardom. Its excellence extends to the dino-critters of all types. Pterodactyl (TV-2005) was a brutal made-for-TV production involving a flock of unkillable man-eating pteranodons hatching today in a remote mountain wilderness and hunting down students and military commandos. The critters were quite realistic, even if the plot wasn’t.


Fig. 30. Pteranodon attack, from Pterodactyl (2005).

References:

1.      Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan, The Lost World, Hodder & Stoughton, 1912.
2.      Keel, John. A, The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings, Doubleday, 1970; 1994.
3.      Sanderson, Ivan, Investigating the Unexplained: A Compendium of Disquieting Mysteries of the Natural World, Prentiss-Hall, 1972.
4.      Hall, Mark A., “The Mystery Of The Thunderbird,” Fortean Times, 9/10/2000.
5.      Ibid.
6.      Michel, Johnl & Rickard, Robert J.M., Living Wonders: Mysteries & Curiosities of the Animal World, Thames & Hudson, 1982.
7.      Corliss, Richard, Strange Life, Sourcebook Project, 1976.
8.      Michell & Rickard, Op cit. p. 50
9.      Childress, David Hatcher, “Living Pterodactyls,” World Explorer, vol. I, no. 4, 1994.
10.  Michell & Rickard, Op cit.
11.  Childress, “Living Pterodactyls,” Op cit.
12.  Kuhn, “Eskin Kuhn's Excellent Adventure,” About Paranormal Phenomena, 2007
13.  Sanderson, Op cit.
14.  The Shadowlands
15.  Wagner, Stephen, “Did Pterosaurs Survive Extinction?” paranormal.about.com, 2007.
16.  Childress, Op cit.
17.  Coleman, Loren, “King Kong’s playmate: Kongamato,” Cryptomundo.com, 2007.
18.  Wagner, Op cit.


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