Watch out! Pterodactyls everywhere...Not!
- Mysterious Monsters Research Topic Study Guide
The Modern Pterodactyl Photo Is a Hoax
When people argue that pterodactyls or their relatives still exist in
the modern world, they sometimes point to the evidence provided by a
famous photograph purporting to show a pterodactyl—like bird
killed by Arizona cowboys around 1890. The photo supposedly appeared in
a magazine in the 1950s, and a few parapsychologists claim that they
remember seeing it. However, several researchers in recent times have
scoured all kinds of archives and have been unable to find the photo.
Although that photo, if it ever existed, appears to be permanently lost,
a similar photo can be found on the Internet today. It purports to show
Civil War soldiers with a dead pterodactyl.
Many Internet users believe it is proof that pterodactyls did-and still
might- coexist with humans. Since most scientists believe pterodactyls
are long extinct, proof of their current existence would be big news
However, Massimo Polidoro asserts in the following article that the
Civil War photograph is definitely a fake. He provides evidence that it
originated on a website for a fictional television program about the
paranormal, and he is dismayed that the photo was co—opted from
the website and is currently circulating the Internet as supposed
evidence of a historical anomaly. Polidoro and others argue that the
rumored western cowboy photo, if it actually existed, was a fake as
well. Polidoro believes there is no evidence that pterodactyls have
existed anywhere since the end of the dinosaur age.
Polidoro is a stage magician, an investigator of the paranormal, the
author of several Italian books on the paranormal, and the head of
Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle Affermazioni sul Paranormale
(CICAP), an Italian skeptics organization.
Most people know about the plot of Jurassic Park, the Steven Spielberg
movie inspired by the Michael Crichton bestseller: dinosaurs are brought
back to life thanks to the wonders of genetic engineering. The dinosaurs
were so real that the movie instantly became a huge success. It was
obvious that a new Crichton book and subsequent Spielberg movie, The
Lost World, would be produced. Again a fantastic success and more
sequels to come (though with Crichton and Spielberg still more or less
involved, but not in the limelight anymore).
Not many, however, know that the original idea for dinosaurs still
living in the modern era and interacting with humans dates back to 1912
when Arthur Conan Doyle, then already a worldwide celebrity thanks to
the adventures of his cool private detective Sherlock Holmes, published
one of his most famous novels, The Lost World. It was not a coincidence-
nor a theft-but a tribute to the old master, then, that Crichton would
give the same title to his own book.
In Doyle's book, a group of explorers, led by the energetic Professor
Challenger, sets sail for a lost land in South America (a place where
Crichton would stage his stories as well) and discovers that dinosaurs,
long believed to be extinct, still live. The group survives a million
adventures and then is able to make it back to London. At a public
lecture at Queen's Hall they try to convince a skeptical audience of the
wonders they witnessed but words, drawings, and fuzzy pictures are not
enough. The only thing that could have an effect would be the presence
of a real creature.
And the creature is there: "A large square packing—case was slowly
carried forward and placed in front of the Professor's chair. All sound
had hushed in the audience and everyone was absorbed in the spectacle
before them. Professor Challenger drew off the top of the case, which
formed a sliding lid.
Peering down into the box he snapped his fingers several times and was
heard from the Press seat to say, 'Come, then, pretty, pretty!' in a
coaxing voice. An instant later, with a scratching, rattling sound, a
most horrible and loathsome creature appeared from below and perched
itself upon the side of the case. The face of the creature was like the
wildest gargoyle that the imagination of a mad medieval builder could
have conceived. It was malicious, horrible, with two small red eyes as
bright as points of burning coal. Its long, savage mouth, which was held
half—open, was full of a double row of sharklike teeth. Its
shoulders were humped, and round them were draped what appeared to be a
faded gray shawl. It was the devil of our childhood in person."
That's the description of a pterodactyl, the ancient prehistoric winged
reptile that lived between 144 and 65 million years ago. When Doyle
wrote his book, dinosaurs and pterodactyls were of course long gone.
Imagine how fantastic it would be if, somewhere, somehow, some dinosaur
were still alive; that's exactly what many believe the Loch Ness or the
Ogopogo "monsters" are, or what other mysterious creatures could be.
Animals that lived when dinosaurs roamed are still with us and will
probably still be here for a long time, such as sharks, crocodiles, and
turtles, for example.
Yes, you'd say, but there's a huge difference between a lone,
mysterious, gigantic creature that is said to live in a lake-but of
which nobody seems to be able to take a decent picture-and animals that
any school kid can meet at an aquarium. Okay, one could answer, but what
do you say about the fact that prehistoric creatures that were thought
to be extinct are still found to be alive? That's what happened with the
coelacanth, for example, of which a living specimen was discovered only
in 1952. And, surprisingly, "new" animals can still be found in our
small world: animals such as the okapi, the Komodo dragon, the mountain
gorilla, the Manchurian brown bear, or the giant panda, were all
discovered only in the twentieth century. Even to this day, huge and
unexpected new creatures can be found: What would you call, in fact, the
chance filming by an underwater expedition in May 2001 of a big,
strange—looking, and neverseen— before squid (more than
seventeen feet long)?
Now, you'd probably admit that the possibility of finding an unexpected
"dinosaur," or at least some creature that lived millions of years ago,
appears to be more plausible. But, would you be ready to stretch your
willingness to the point of imagining a real, living pterodactyl, flying
through North America? Some people did.
It all began in April 26, 1890, when the Tombstone Epitaph, an Arizona
local newspaper, published a sensational story: "Found in the Desert-A
Strange Winged Monster Discovered And Killed On The Huachuca Desert." In
it the monster was described as "a huge alligator with an extremely
elongated tail and an immense pair of wings."
The monster had been sighted and shot by two ranchers who were returning
home from the Huachuca Desert. When the creature was certainly dead,
they proceeded to make an examination and "found that it measured about
ninety—two feet in length and the greatest diameter was about
fifty inches." The wingspan, "from tip to tip," was about 160 feet. The
wings, as in the pterodactyl, were "composed of a thick and nearly
transparent membrane and were devoid of feathers or hair, as was the
Unfortunately, according to the story, the two cowboys left the monster
where it was and only cut off a small portion of the tip of one wing as
a souvenir. A search, however, was to be sent next day "for examination
by the eminent scientists of the day." No trace of the bird or of the
commission's report, however, has ever appeared. Harry McClure, a
youngster early last century in Lordsburg, New Mexico, when the two
ranchers came to town, remembered the episode. He had friends who knew
them well and thought the story was not a hoax. Was the creature
photographed? No, it was not, according to McClure, and in any case the
Epitaph did not carry any pictures with its article.
Others, however, think differently. Writer Jack Pearl told about the
Epitaph story in a 1963 issue of Saga Magazine and explained that the
strange bird was brought to town and photographed. It was put in a wagon
and, after reaching Tombstone, was nailed to the wall of a barn: six men
stood before it with their arms outstretched touching fingertip to
Pearl, however, seems to have gotten many details wrong, as Mark Hall
clearly explained in Fortean Times magazine, and the story of the
picture has never received any corroboration.
There were many, though, who remembered seeing such a photograph, or a
photocopy of it, in the hands of Ivan T. Sanderson, the famous
naturalist and Fortean author who died in 1973. Apparently, Sanderson
gave the photocopy to two young men who travelled into the heart of
northern Pennsylvania to inquire about reports of giant birds in that
region and lost it in the course of their search. All kinds of
publications were searched, from National Geographic to Fate magazine,
including all the back issues of the Epitaph, but no traces of such a
photo were ever found.
"The numerous vague recollections of seeing this missing photograph,"
concludes Hall in his article, "might well be erroneous. Like many
others, I have spent many hours looking for it and like them I will
continue to look. Everyone who reads about this phantom photograph has
the same desire to see it for themselves." And then, after many years, a
mysterious picture emerges from the Internet.
In the spring of 2000 a new Web site (www.freakylinks.com) appeared and
published a sensational photograph showing a group of what appeared to
be Union soldiers before the carcass of a massive pterodactyl! The
editor of the site, Derek Barnes, claimed that the photo was found in
July of 1998 "squeezed between the pages of a 70's cheesy paranormal
book bought at a thrift store." The photograph, sepia tinted, scratched,
bent, and torn on the edges, appeared to be very impressive and,
apparently, its authenticity was verified by various experts.
One historian had identified the men's uniforms as "typical of Union
Volunteers around 1861-1862." Another expert, an "M. Nance Darbrow,
professor of paleontology from the University of Florida," asserted that
no one at that time could have known about pterodactyls, as the first
fossils were not discovered in North America until 1871.
"This photograph," commented Barnes in his Web pages, "is either going
to be the biggest paranormal news scoop of the century or it's going to
make me the biggest fool on the planet. Or perhaps both."
Was, then, the holy grail of cryptozoology located at last? Alright, it
did not have the cowboys standing before the bird but civil war soldiers
instead. Was it perhaps a different pterodactyl? Fortean Times ran a
very skeptical article about this photo in its May 2000 issue,
concluding with these words: "We believe he's a hoaxer but a clever and
wellinformed one as the site is full of excellent fortean jokes- e.g.,
the rather disgusting photo of a toilet bowl thoughtfully snapped after
some unfortunate had just vomited frogs."
Further doubts soon emerged after the magazine's article was published.
Various readers wrote to pinpoint several details in the photo that led
to the conclusion that the photo was a fake. First of all, the men
pictured were obviously reenactors, "given the undue proportion of
over—age and overweight members in their ranks-the average Civil
War soldier was a scrawny youth of nineteen." Such groups of
re—enactors are quite common in the States and, among them "there
is a much higher proportion of older and fatter members than in the
original armies." The clean and neat uniforms "also mark them out as
re—enactors rather than the real thing."
Their poses, also, are "too naturalistic for an 1860s photograph"; if
you've ever looked at photos from that period "you can see there are a
dozen subtle differences in the way they stood, the way they held their
heads, the looks on their faces, and what they did with their arms and
hands while they were being photographed."
Finally, all doubts were confirmed when it was discovered that the site
was connected to the creators of The Blair Witch Project. FreakyLinks
was in fact the title of an upcoming TV series, and the site was
designed to promote interest in it. The show star was actor Ethan Embry
and his character was named "Derek Barnes, Editor of an Internet Web
site that investigates the paranormal."
As expected, the experts quoted in the site were imaginary, just as the
pterodactyl that was only a stage prop courtesy of Fox.
The cryptozoologists' hope of having finally found real proof of a
living pterodactyl in the modern era, then, returned to the world of
dreams. But if somewhere an unknown magazine or book truly contains an
old picture of a mysterious bird, it will hopefully be found some day.
Based on the principles reflected above and Keith's Sisman's previous
comments, the future results appear to be that Keith and Dr. Bert are
going to be viewed as two of "the biggest fools on the planet".
P.S. Of course, we might opine that Keith knew all of this before he
started "baiting" us with it. That's just his way, or so it has seemed.
- Keith wrote to the coCBanned list, in part:
> Now now Rob, I never said theWell, according to published reports, it is as worthy of investigation,
> pictures were genuine, I've even
> cast doubts on one.
> What I have said is that this is
> worthy of examination.
> Someone is lying, or this is the
> second greatest story in the last
> 2000 years!
for purposes of proving the existence of recent day pterodactyls, as
that "Rock 'n Reel" is for purposes of proving the young age of the
Both are old stories that do not appear to be what Dr. Bert and Keith
have tried to make out of them.
Now, Dr. Bert has presented a case for the "Rock 'n Reel".
Indeed, it warrants investigation, but not for purposes of proving the
claims and evidence support a young-earth.
Typically, the good brethren in the churches of Christ have been
reluctant to call their "Pope" in Montgomery to account for such
promotions; the "Rock 'n Reel" being only the latest and most obvious
We're still waiting for so little as an investigation by the good
brethren (or evidence that such has even begun) such as Keith
recommends, and so much as a public statement from Dr. Bert regarding
his intentions regarding his public obligations in the "Rock 'n Reel"
- While Keith's account might not be credible, it would be nice to get
some full disclosure as to how Keith came to be promoting that recent
pterodactyl story as if it had merit.
Interesting that, while he proposed the recent pterodacty claim
warranted investigation (as opposed to investigating the history of the
hoax or whatever it was/is) and even claimed he ordered a book from the
recent pterodactyl promoters as if he was going to try and "dig into the
details", he didn't admit to doing so little as I did to find the more
credible opposition reports.
Keith is much more capable than I to do that Internet thing.
Similarly, it would be nice, as I have previously opined, to get to the
"rest of the story" regarding how Dr. Bert came up with that "Rock 'n
Reel" thing and how, after much promotion on the seminar circuit, he
decided to go Internet with it?
Will we ever know the history of such things amongst us? Unlikely, but
it doesn't hurt to ask!
Having asked, and having had the promoters refuse to submit to a little
of the popular "transparency" regarding public issues they promote under
the guise of being public charities worthy of tax exemptions (i.e., Dr.
Bert's Apologetics Press which is currently asking for $2.5 million more
from its supporters; tax-deductible, of course), it does give us some
insight into their problems.
- Cassondra writes, in part:
> This story is beyond hystericallyYeah, but I really don't think Keith and Dr. Bert appreciate being
> funny! At first I thought it was an
> effort at satire, but it became so
> much more humorous - and so
> much sadder - when I realized
> that some of these folks are serious.
> I doubt this pterodactyl story could
> have flown far anywhere but cyberspace.
laughed at when they try these things out on us!
Even with out the Internet, it appears such stories could have and
probably have flown far amongst the churches of Christ folk. That isn't
at all funny, and I've tried to do my "feeble" part to deal with the
P.S. Can you believe it? I had to send in $43.00 in sales taxes to the
City based on my take from the garage sale!
- Keith writes, in part:
> It is not my account, but anKeith,
> article posted on the web.
> I have serious doubts.
> This post will the basis for an
> email to the owners of the web
> site. They need to answer some
> questions, especially as to what
> expertise has judged these
> pictures as coming from the era
> Please don't associate me with
> the article, I have my doubts as
> listed here, which are worthy of
> reply from the web site owners.
"Your account" that I had reference to was what the story you didn't
tell us, haven't told us, about how you came up with the pterodactyl
promotion and how you came up with the decision to promote it as if it
Deny it if you will.
What was that you said to Todd about his heart.
Certainly, we already know how you tend to back off stuff like that and
cover yourself in "english humor". Just say you were kidding as part
your technique of prodding people.
Again you demonstrate some reasonable principles of skepticism (a little
late, but a good sign).
You should not allow yourself to get so distracted with the old
pterodactyl story, as worthy of an exposition as that might be.
You and the other good brethren should be using you principles and
skills of skeptical inquiry as to Dr. Bert's source for his Maury statue
claim and his most recent "Rock 'n Reel" promotion (two of a number of
problems Dr. Bert has been neglecting).
Like you, Dr. Bert has a story to tell about how that "Rock 'n Reel"
story came to his attention and his decision, despite a lack of
compelling evidence, to publicly try to make like it was evidence
supportive of his hobby.
- Keith wrote to the coCBanned list, in part:
> This post will the basis for anHMMM! You know, it has always been a problem getting the good brethren
> email to the owners of the web
> site (recent pterodactyl claims).
to be open and honest about their dealings with such public issues.
It will be interesting to see if Keith actually publishes the entire
record of his correspondence with that website.
Not that I'm that interested, but such would be an important part of the
Those informed in such matters are probably familiar with the fact that
a number of people have actually engaged Dr. Bert regarding some of Dr.
Bert's blunders which I have tried to pursue.
Almost without exception, the record of such correspondence, despite my
efforts to have everyone deal with such public issues "on the record",
has been kept secret.
So it is that even to this day, we don't know the story of how Dr. Bert
came to include his "Rock 'n Reel" claims in the A/P seminars or more
recently to publish them on the Internet (and who knows where else) or
what his intentions are regarding the legitimate criticism of his
Similarly, we don't know the story of how he came to secretly remove his
moon-dust blunder from his website.
Similarly, we don't know what his indicated unquestionable source was
for his false Maury statue claim.
Similarly, we don't know the complete story of how the CRSQ may have
deliberately deceived Dr. Bert into believing I produced a certain
letter they published and having Dr. Bert write a letter (i.e., under
Trevor Major's by-line) in response and claiming what he thought was my
production was a "feeble attempt".
Similarly, . . . Well, you get the picture.
Chasing old pterodactyl claims, as if Keith didn't already know they
could not be substantiated, may be a worthy effort, but in the present
context, it appears to be a simple diversionary tactic. One of several
that have been put up since inquiry was requested concerning Dr. Bert's
"Rock 'n Reel" claims.