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Historical Events  Science
Tombstone thunderbird

Cryptozoology

MMDE: A photograph from 1886 exists showing a huge flying creature

Current: No photograph from 1886 exists showing a huge flying creature

The little-known science of cryptozoology is little-known for good reason - it seeks to identify beings from fossil records and urban myths which don't actually exist or at least have no definitive proof for their existence. Things like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and the Abominable Snowman and so on.

The Mass Memory Discrepancy Effect related to this is known as the Tombstone Thunderbird, the "Thunderbird" being a huge (light aircraft-sized) flying creature which has been reported at various times throughout human history.

In the 1960's a photograph was supposed to have been published of a creature killed near the town of Tombstone in the Arizona desert in 1886, and being described as looking like a pterodactyl.

Was there a photograph?

The reference to the photograph was in a Saga magazine article by Jack Pearl who claimed it had been published in the Tombstone Epitaph in 1886. The picture was supposed to show the dead creature nailed to a wall, with a 36 foot wingspam and six men stanging in front of it, each with their arms stretched out to illustrate its size.

Fate magazine in late 1963 said the photograph had been published in newspapers all over the country. It was even claimed Ivan T. Sanderson showed it on Canadian television, but no copies of the show have been found.

There have been a few fakes created down the years, including the one shown here. Many people actually claim to remember seeing this photograph, although no record of it can be found, which makes it a candidate for the Mass Memory Discrepancy effect. 

There is another side to this story, however. The town of Tombstone was a gold/silver mining town in great decline in the late 1880's. It is suggested that if some enterprising individual were desperate to revive its fortunes with tourism or otherwise attract more people there, some kind of prosperity might return.

Mark Hall, the author of "Thunderbirds: America's Living Legends of Giant Birds.", says the black and white image of cowboys standing by a barn in front of a huge bird hanging up on it is powerful enough to seem to be real. Later, people remember the act of imagining this image the first time they heard of it, and its this act of remembering the first imagining it which has now been half-confused with a memory of the real thing itself.

He says:

The status of the infamous ‘Thunderbird photograph’ has remained the same for years. A lot of people think they have seen the picture. Everyone wants to see it. But no one can produce a copy.