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).


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?”, 2007.
16.  Childress, Op cit.
17.  Coleman, Loren, “King Kong’s playmate: Kongamato,”, 2007.
18.  Wagner, Op cit.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Positive News of the Week

There are a Lot of Good People in this World

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Gold Leaf grows on Trees?

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This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine

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Fruit that Keeps Doctors Away

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Puppy Love

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Medstar helps special kids scare up some Halloween fun

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Look through Missing Files and Hidden Archives with Nick Redfern

Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, government agencies have declassified millions of pages of documents on numerous subjects. 

But there are other files, many of a far more intriguing nature than those the government has already released. They’re the ones that agencies haven’t released.

They include the files that supposedly can’t be found, that are suspiciously “missing,” as well as the top-secret papers that agencies admit exist but which they are determined to keep hidden from us. The reason: to prevent the truth behind some of the biggest conspiracies of all time from ever surfacing.

Enter Nick Redfern and his new book:

For Nobody's Eyes Only

Here we share an excerpt from Chapter 9: A Celebrity Sorcerer Goes Spying

Born in 1875, in Leamington, England, Aleister Crowley was, and for many still is, the ultimate occultist. He’s also a man who, decades after his death in 1947, has developed a significant and devoted following in the world of the rich and famous. Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page once lived in an old and creepy house that Crowley owned. Its name is Boleskine House and it is located on the shores of Scotland’s infamous and equally creepy Loch Ness. Former Black Sabbath vocalist and reality TV star, Ozzy Osbourne, co-wrote a song about the master magician titled “Mr. Crowley.” The magician’s photo appears on the cover of the Beatles’ 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And a bust of the man himself can be seen on the back cover of the Doors’ 1970 compilation record, 13. Add to that various references to Crowley in the musical output of David Bowie, and you have a man and an occultist with near-rock-star-like status and legend. But there’s far more than that to the man who Ozzy made famous.
Aleister Crowley, also famously referred to as the Great Beast, was someone who harbored a profound and amazing secret: for years he worked in an undercover, and unofficial, capacity for British Intelligence. Don’t, however, expect the British Government to confirm this or release any secret files anytime soon on its relationship with, and to, Crowley. Never mind. British officials may have deemed us unworthy of knowing the magic-filled truth, but that doesn’t mean we can’t uncover that same truth via good old investigative techniques. Before we get to this latter point, though, let’s head back to the beginnings of the Beast.

From the church to the loch
Aleister Crowley was the son of a noted brewer and, ironically, someone who was brought up in a devout Christian environment and taught in an evangelist school. This was hardly surprising, given that his father, Edward, was a full-brown preacher. We can, perhaps, deduce from all of this that young Aleister, when he began to look in distinctly different areas for spiritual comfort and enlightenment, was demonstrating far more than a youthful, spirited rebellion. Certainly, by his teens Crowley was already displaying a deep interest in, and a fascination for, magical rituals and the ancient secrets of alchemy. At the age of 22, he joined a body called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical order which was founded in Great Britain during the late 19th century. It practiced theurgy which, essentially, is the process of using complex rites and rituals to command an audience with a supernatural entity or deity. One of those who taught Crowley a great deal about theurgy was a man named Alan Bennett. He was a member of the Golden Dawn, and someone from whom Crowley learned much about strange and dark realms beyond our own, and how the uncanny things that inhabited these other realms could be summoned forth. Crowley also developed an enthusiastic passion for travel, which took him to such diverse locations as Paris, London, and Mexico, the latter where he achieved the status of a 33rd Degree Mason.

As the 20th century began, and as he reached the age of 25, Crowley headed off to the wilds of Scotland and the home of the world’s most famous lake-monster: Loch Ness. While at Boleskine House—which backed onto an equally old and atmosphere-filled cemetery, a place where it was rumored an ancient witch coven practiced its dark and evil rites—Crowley wasted no time in living life to the full. Weekend-long, wild sex parties and midnight rites held on the shores of the ancient loch were just two of the many highlights. Some of the paranormal phenomena that Crowley allegedly conjured up at Boleskine House supposedly led a maid to flee in terror, never to return. A local workman who did chores for Crowley reportedly went completely mad. Then there was the butcher from a nearby village who died while slicing meat. He carelessly severed an artery and bled to death on the cold, stone floor of his own shop. This was no accident, claimed Crowley. How did he know this? Simple, according to the man himself, the butcher had billed him for a quantity of meat; but instead of paying the bill—as most of us would do—Crowley chose to write the names of various demonic entities on the bill and send far more than a bit of negative and lethal energy in the direction of the butcher’s workplace.

A scarlet woman and a thing called Lam
For the first three months of 1918, Crowley was on the receiving end of various messages that, in essence, were telepathically transferred to him by a woman named Roddie Minor, or as Crowley preferred to call her, his scarlet woman. History has shown she was not Crowley’s only scarlet woman; but she was certainly one of the most significant. And for a very good reason: Minor’s messages were reportedly coming from supernatural entities that varied wildly from the demonic to the angelic. Crowley wasn’t interested in just receiving messages, however. Echoing back to his theurgy-based studies of the late 1800s, Crowley was wholly intent on using ritual and rite to actually call forth the entities behind the messages and, then, have those same entities manifest before him. Crowley knew more than enough of the occult world to say for sure that the old adage of “be careful what you ask for” held true; ominously so, too. Unlocking and then opening the doors to dimensions very different to ours was one thing. But successfully banishing back to those same dimensions whatever kind of paranormal creature might come through, was another matter entirely. Nevertheless, Crowley was not one to be deterred so easily. As a result, he embarked on something called the Amalantrah Working.

It might sound like the plot of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most nightmarish, ghoulish tales of dark terror. According to Crowley, however, it was all too amazingly true. The Amalantrah Working saw Crowley commence upon a complicated, ancient ritual while under the influence of both mescaline and hashish—at the same time. Not surprisingly, Crowley was quickly rendered into a manifestly out of this world-style condition of consciousness. It was while in this highly altered, stoned, and trippy state that Crowley encountered a somewhat sinister, foreboding, and judgmental-looking creature that called itself Lam. With a large bald head, penetrating eyes, and withered body, Lam was practically the identical twin of the strange, hairless entity that stares famously forth from the cover of Whitley Strieber’s 1987 alien abduction-themed book, Communion. Crowley, however, didn’t consider Lam to be an extraterrestrial in the way we understand the word today. For the magician who knew no boundaries, Lam was an Enochian entity. It was a term inspired by the Enochian Call, a language that had been developed by Dr. John Dee, a magician of renown in Britain of the 1600s. Notably, and eerily echoing the Communion parallels, Dee and a colleague, Edward Kelly, had their own ritual-born encounters with ominous, diminutive humanoids that soared the skies and surfed the dimensions. They did so in what Dee described as a small blazing cloud. Or in what, today, we might well term a UFO. Crowley, having invited Lam into his presence and having survived to tell the tale, was far from done with courting controversy.

Crowley’s death: fakery and reality
In 1930—demonstrating a flair for both controversy and black humor—Crowley decided to fake his own demise. In September of that year, he spent time in the Portuguese city of Cascais. At the appropriately named Boca do Inferno (the Mouth of Hell), a water-filled rift that sits within the seaside cliffs of the city, Crowley put his plan into action. He had help from Fernando Pessoa, an acclaimed Portuguese poet and publisher. The story was that Crowley died in the choppy waters of Boca do Inferno. It was a story that the world’s media quickly reported upon. It was, however, all an outrageous lie. A highly satisfied and amused Crowley quietly and stealthily left Portugal, and duly laid low for a while. His resurrection took place three weeks later in Berlin, Germany. The dead magician, his followers were delighted to learn, was not quite as dead after all.

In 1944, as war raged across Europe and the Pacific, Crowley published a title for which he has become renowned: The Book of Thoth, which described his usage of, beliefs surrounding, and philosophies concerning, tarot cards. It was to be his last major achievement. Crowley died on December 1, 1947 at age 72. Had it not been for serious addictions to both morphine and heroin, he might have lived longer. Regardless, Crowley’s name, influence, and role in the development of 20th century magic all live on; perhaps even within the secret-filled corridors of power too.

Crowley the spy: the early years
Created in 1883, the Primrose League was a body designed to uphold and disseminate right-wing, conservative views amongst the British population and the media. In other words, it acted as a kind of unofficial publicity machine. Playing a key role in the creation of the league was Lord Randolph Churchill, father to the acclaimed British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, who successfully steered the British people through the turbulent years of the Second World War. Interestingly, the initial meeting that led to the creation of the group was held at the Carlton Club, on London’s St. James’s Street. A prestigious locale that was practically a second home to the movers and shakers of conservatism, the Carlton Club is, today, well known (unofficially, at least) for the many and varied employees of MI5 and MI6 that are among its elite members. That alone makes it all the more intriguing that there is a connection between Aleister Crowley and the Carlton Club. In his youth, the controversial magician was a full-blown member. Crowley’s role was to spy on those powerful figures in politics that were firmly against conservative principles. Perhaps this was where Crowley got a taste for the secret world of espionage that was soon to follow.

Bolstering this possibility is a story suggesting that Crowley’s decision to join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, while not undertaken at the orders of British Intelligence agents, was hardly frowned upon by leading establishment figures. And for one good purpose: within the Golden Dawn was a man named Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. He was an unusual and enigmatic character—a vegan, a Freemason, and someone vehemently against smoking (when it was practically de rigueur to puff away like a chimney). Despite his standing with the Freemasons, who were, and still are, dominated by powerful establishment figures, Mathers is known to have harbored a secret interest in radical politics and extremism. Crowley, the story goes, was encouraged by late 19th century English spymasters to apply at least some of his time with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn to closely watching Mathers, and monitoring with whom he spoke and where he went. Ominously, Mathers died in 1918, under mysterious circumstances. Additionally, his death certificate lacked a cause of death, his body quickly vanished, and no grave or memorial stone exists for him anywhere. It was almost as if someone, perhaps someone wielding great power from within the heart of London’s secret, inner-world, wanted the man gone for good. And maybe they got exactly what they wanted.
Aleister Crowley didn’t shy away from his bisexuality. One of those with whom he had a sexual relationship was Victor Neuberg, a publisher, poet, and writer. In 1909, Crowley and Neuberg made their first of a number of trips to Algiers, the capital of Algeria. The reason was to engage in sex-based magical rituals that followed the teachings of the aforementioned Dr. John Dee. Or was that the reason? Or maybe, more correctly, was it the only reason? Could it have been the case that this is what Crowley, and possibly British spies, wanted people to think? Algeria was under French rule at the time that Neuberg and Crowley were in residence. As a result, the local police, titled the Services des Affaires Indigenes, had both men solidly in their sights. They held suspicions that Crowley, in particular, was doing more than a bit of spying on the French military for the British Government, and using his occult-based actions as an ingenious cover story. Maybe those same police officers knew something on which, today, we can only speculate and theorize.
Around this same time, Crowley got mixed up with a man named Karl Theodor Reuss. Not only was Reuss heavily into the occult, he was also a member of the Illuminati and a Freemason. And, in the late 1800s, he just happened to work for the secret police of Prussia. This was a body so feared that it led Adolf Hitler to model the equally feared Gestapo on its ruthless methods of interrogation and data collection. One operation in which Reuss is known to have played a role occurred in London around 1885 or 1886. It was Reuss’ task, at the secret orders of the Prussians, to find a way into the Socialist League to determine its funding, membership, and plans. Since it was Reuss who made Crowley a member of a religion-based body, the Ordo Templi Orientis, it seems safe to say they shared a fair degree of common ground.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Crowley played a prominent role in helping the war effort. At the time, Crowley was living—albeit just for a few years—in the United States. While in the States, Crowley made a number of vehemently anti-British statements. These were actually brilliant, collective subterfuge. The plan, drawn up by intelligence agents, was for Crowley to cultivate his seemingly traitorous character and infiltrate groups that were anti-British and pro-German, and then report back to London on what he had uncovered. To bolster the idea that Crowley was an outrageous traitor, government personnel—working with contacts in the media—inserted faked stories into the pages of influential and widely read British newspapers about his supposed lack of allegiance to Britain and the flag. The result: this significantly helped Crowley gain the trust of those pro-German figures in the United States that Crowley was actually working against. Then there was his relationship to the world of spying during the Second World War.

Finding the Crowley files is no easy task
Richard B. Spence, a consultant to the Washington, D.C.-based International Spy Museum, and a professor of history at the University of Idaho is the one person, more than any other, who has tried to get to the heart of the connections between British Intelligence and Aleister Crowley. Before we get to the matter of missing documents, it is worth noting Spence’s thoughts on Crowley: “He was such a disreputable and even evil character in the public mind that arguably no responsible intelligence official would think of employing him. But the very fact that he seemed such an improbable spy was perhaps the best recommendation for using him.” To be sure, those are wise words (Spence, 2008).
Spence devoted a great deal of his time trying to uncover official files on Crowley from British Intelligence. It would be more than fair to say that Spence was given the definitive runaround. In early 2003, as a result of his inquiries with MI5, Spence was assured that the clandestine agency had never compiled any files on Crowley, whatsoever. That might have been just about okay, had it not been for the fact that shortly afterwards a document surfaced from within Britain’s National Archives—specifically a 1930s-era document generated by MI5—that referenced a file on Crowley. This was a major breakthrough. Except for one thing: MI5 informed Spence, when he made inquiries about the status and nature of the referenced file, that—wait for it, you know what’s coming—it could not be found. MI5’s response regarding the frustratingly missing dossier was of the type that, as we have seen time and again, government staff routinely trot out when troublesome questions are asked of them. The file was supposedly destroyed in the 1950s, by which time it was perceived as being of no meaningful use or value anymore. A similar comment was made with regard to yet other file references to Crowley that Spence uncovered soon afterward.
Such a situation is mirrored in the United States. Nevertheless, regarding Crowley’s time spent in the States when the First World War was raging, Spence discovered a document that originated with U.S. Army Intelligence and which may add a high degree of credence to the claims concerning his alleged espionage-based activities for the British during this period. In part, the Army’s report stated clearly that Aleister Crowley was an employee of the British Government, and that he was in the U.S. on official business, the nature of which the British Consul in New York had full awareness.
It’s also worth noting that Jack Parsons—a rocket scientist and a Crowley devotee who held a Top Secret clearance with the U.S. military in the 1940s, and whose declassified file has been withdrawn from the FBI’s Website—was investigated by the FBI and U.S. military intelligence in 1950. The combined files on Parsons make it clear that American officials knew all about the history that existed between Crowley and Parsons. This included the fact that, in 1942, Crowley personally chose Parsons to lead the Agape Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis in California. Since the FBI is the American equivalent of Britain’s MI5, and MI5 is known to have put together files on Crowley (even if, MI5’s staff claim, such files cannot be located today), the possibility that there may have been a transatlantic sharing of data between intelligence agencies cannot be ruled out.
But why should such seemingly extreme measures have been taken to try and expunge any evidence of Aleister Crowley’s connections to the domain of international espionage at all? The Second World War was a long time ago. The First World War was even further back into 20th century history. What’s the problem with sharing such old secrets in this day and age? The correct answer may well be the one that has been provided by a former U.S. intelligence officer, W. Adam Mandelbaum. He has noted that from the post-First World War era, and right up until the early part of the Second World War, Crowley “did in some capacity or other serve the needs of British Intelligence, working for MI5.” Of relevance to the theme of this book—hidden and missing files—Mandelbaum says: “Given the political fallout that would have resulted from making this involvement public, it should be no surprise that there is a paucity of documentation concerning Crowley’s intelligence efforts” (Mandelbaum, 2002).  By now, no, it certainly is not a surprise!
From famous people, we now turn our attention to a collection of secret projects, the existence of which many official insiders have done their best to bury.
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