"In the year 1886, the Tombstone, Arizona, Epitaph, which helped make Wyatt Earp famous, published a photograph of a huge bird nailed to a wall. The newspaper said it had been shot by two prospectors and hauled into town by wagon. Lined up in front of the bird were six grown men with their arms outstretched, fingertip to fingertip. The creature measured about 36 feet from wingtip to wingtip."
— Jack Pearl, "Monster Bird That Carries Off Human Beings!" SAGA, May 1963
If you think you've seen the picture described above, you're not alone. Going back more than 50 years, witnesses believe they've stumbled across this haunting image in newspapers, magazines and books, even on TV or online (although there are many fakes). Invariably, when they retrace their steps to locate the source of the photo, it's not there - like it's been wiped from the pages of history.
The illustration at the top of this page is just one compelling example of the image seared into people's memories. There are many variations. Did this photo really exist? If so, what exactly does it depict, and what does it mean for our understanding of the natural world?
Have you seen the Missing Thunderbird Photograph? I'd love to hear your story. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: "Thunderbird" has become a collective term for large, unexplained birds, greatly divorced from the Thunderbird's spiritual importance in Native American beliefs. I always strive to make that distinction on this website.
"The Lost Thunderbird Photo" illustration courtesy of Andrew Minniear