Forgotten contemporary sighting account from Illinois might just hold the clue that could explain the giant bird accounts from the summer of 1977.
The summer of 1977 was chaotic for central Illinois news media. The most talked about local story was the multiple sightings of giant birds throughout the region. These numerous accounts commenced with the alleged attempted abduction of young 10-year-old Marlon Lowe by one of these birds on July 25th. A black bird with a white neck ring reportedly swooped down on the undersized boy and, grabbing him by his shirt, briefly raised him from the ground before dropping him—ostensibly from a blow from the boy’s flailing hands.
Exactly what type of birds these were has been argued and debated by cryptozoologists and brave ornithologists now for the past almost thirty years. Next summer will mark the three-fold decade anniversary of the sightings.
Some of sightings have been told countless times on paranormal internet websites, while others, such as the fact that one of the birds alighted just outside a softball outfield fence while the game was progressing—the umpire actually stopped play and all the participants gawked and the avian immensity, have remained for whatever reason neglected. One particular contemporary event that has been complete ignored might just hold the clue that could explain the crazy events of that summer.
On July 22th, just three days prior to the now infamous Lawndale incident, a rural New Holland man [New Holland IL is 20 miles from Lawndale] saw an exotic bird on their farm. An account from the Lincoln Courier described it as such:
“It was larger than a turkey,” said Kenneth Knollenburg, describing the bird on his farm. “I’d guess it weighed 25 pounds or so.” He said the bird was a dull gray with a white neck, small beak and a crest of feathers on its head, hee [sic] added. The bird’s wingspan was estimated at four feet.
“It wasn’t afraid of people,” the New Holland farmer explained. “We wondered at the time if it hadn’t escaped from a zoo.”
Knollenberg, who lives tem miles west of Lincoln on Fifth St. Road, said his family first noticed the strange bird at their farm around 7 p.m. Friday. “It was sitting on top of the barn,” he said. The bird was making a “loud, trumpeting noise,” he added.
Knollenberg said the bird, which flew from rooftop to rooftop of his farm buildings, came down to the ground to eat some corn which the family had thrown out for it to eat.
“It acted like it was used to having people around,” the farmer said. “You could walk up to it, within 50 or 60 feet, and it wouldn’t fly away. It wasn’t afraid of people.”
Knollenberg said the bird flew away sometime after nightfall. He and his wife, by looking in the encyclopedia, said the bird closely matched the identity of an African crested crane.
Mrs. Jake Lowe, Marlon’s mother, had likewise insisted that, after extensive library research, the bird that had attacked her son was a California condor.
Talk of thunderbirds aside, this forgotten New Holland account testifies to the fact that exotic birds were on the loose in central Illinois in late July of 1977. Had a dealer in illegal wildlife accidentally (or on purpose) released a number of exotics? Even with new laws enacted in the early 1970s cracking down on the trafficking of wild and exotic animals, such practices were still unfortunately widespread. Another article from 1977, carried by the AP on August 5th, told of a large-scale, exotic reptile smuggling ring being busted. In it, attorney David Marston noted that “the mentality among the zoos in this country…is ‘if you can get an animal, get it.’”
These puzzle pieces seem to infer that perhaps young Marlon was indeed “attacked” by a black market California condor...or an African vulture...or a [insert a large exotic bird of your choice--never underestimate the animal trade black market!]. The “attack” though was far more likely an attempted shoulder landing, modified by a rightfully panicked boy. These huge birds and the African crested crane were perhaps escapees or releasees and—finding themselves in the foreign environment of central Illinois—didn’t live long enough to create but the small collection of sightings we have today from the latter weeks of July 1977.