Sunday, October 08, 2006

Neglected Event May Reveal Much About Illinois' Giant Birds of '77

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.

17 comments:

Someone said...

Hum, good theory.

overdriver said...

i was in 4th grade in Atlanta illinois just down the road from lawndale on old rt66,we used to ride our bikes down lawndale hill,my mom kept me away from there for a while due to the sightings.

eric said...

I studied English at MacMurray College, and would love to be at your assistance in researching and compiling data for your next book, if it would be of any help to you. My name is Eric, and I can be reached at 217-371-9970.

Brenda said...

I can't believe the Piasa bird hasn't been mentioned on this site. It's even on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources site- here's the link

http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/Parks/R4/PRM/Piabrd.htm

The exotic birds being released intentionally or accidentally has a little merit, but it doesn't explain sitings the Native Americans and early explorers had of the birds.

For more information try doing a search on the Piasa bird...I always get quite a few results...

Brenda

Scott Maruna said...

In response to Brenda's comment on the Piasa Bird...Actually, I have written an entire book on the Piasa Bird! You can find information about it on my home page (www.swampgasbooks.com). I haven't mentioned it here in that I do not want to use this blog as a cheap pitch for my books. Eventually, I may do apost about it though...in the mean time, here is a teaser: the Piasa petroglyph, I believe, is more traceable to a bull shark than a bird.

Anonymous said...

That description sounds absolutely nothing like a California Condor. A Sandhill Crane perhaps?

Scott Maruna said...

I think the last commenter missed my point...I was not saying that the crested bird was one and the same as the one in the Lawndale incident, rather I was noting how, just prior to the affair, a very different exotic bird was sighted in the vicinity, leading credence to the idea that the Lawndale birds were escaped exotics (along with the crane). Thanks

Animal said...

Grey and white...crested head..not extremely large yet able to pick up a boy. Hasn't anyone ever heard of a Harpy Eagle? They prowl the canopies of the Amazon taking down sloths and howler monkeys, and are said to be the strongest, largest, and most powerful of raptors along with the Martial (sp?) Eagle.

Scott Maruna said...

Again, I don't thnk "animal" understood my premise. The crested bird was not the same one that picked up Marlon Lowe. It was just another exotic bird sighted in central Illinois within two a two week period, in addition to the Lawndale "thunderbird".

unitedcats said...

There was a previous small cluster of giant bird sightings sometime during 1968-70 in northern Illinois. I was a kid living in Crystal Lake and it made an impression on me at the time. Contemporary newspapers should make mention of it.

darren e. logan said...

I was around 6 years old in '77 and living in Lincoln IL.(9 miles from Lawndale, 7 miles from New Holland) a lot of my friends mentioned the big birds for a few years after the Lawndale incident.
i remember feeling frightened and at the same time in awe and hoping to actually see one, though i never did. I do vaguely recall seeing the shadow of one on the ground flying overhead, but that could easily be atributed to an imaginative memory, considering i was so young and it was so long ago.
The bird(s) were still being talked about when i was in my early teens and living on the edge of town. Some had even taken to believing it could be a pterodactyl, hehe. oh, the imagination of kids as we get swept up in the unknown!
The next time I am visiting family back in Lincoln I am going to have to ask around and see what memories others have of the event.

Michael said...

I saw a giant bird then and will never forget it. it was in Kankakee, along the river, at Elks Country Club.
here is an account i just wrote to some of my friends:
I remember once in Illinois, when I was shagging balls (that means pulling a golf ball collector behind a golf cart), there was a forest nearby the driving range, and an old logging road going into it. It was a sort of forbidden pace, as it was pretty primeval beyond the country club, but I took a drive in the cart up there, and this gigantic huge bird, its wing span the width of the forest road, swooped down on me from behind, and then up again into the forest. It turned out to be most likely a giant condor, as there were sightings at the time and even a reported case of a baby being taken by one.

skitters said...

My family saw a large bird in the Lincoln area in the 1970's. We were driving from Beason going east to Lincoln. There was a very large dark bird about 6 miles southeast of Lincoln flying southwest. Later that day we heard the reports of other people sighting what was possibly a condor.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I too witnessed a "giant bird" sighting when I was ~13 years old (1972/3) In any event, I can remember to this day exactly where I was standing in my childhood neighborhood (Tucker, GA) when I saw this enormous/huge bird (if that's what you want to call it) sweep across the sky. I believe my grandmother who was living with us at the time also witnessed the event.

Ron said...

I still remember to this day living in central Illinois 1977 I was ten and my best friend and I saw this huge bird fly over Salisbury after hearing of several sighting in the area and of the boy being picked up in Marion. Granted I was 10 years old but I can clearly remember seeing this huge bird then a week later nothing was ever said again.

Anonymous said...

I seriously it was the African crested crane. i've seen those in person and they could not had picked up a 10 year old boy.

Anonymous said...

I also seen this bird in 1977 when I was 5 years old. It was huge and I will certainly never forget it. I lived in Northern Illinois at the time.