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the tale of the
belvidere bird


Above: Reconstruction of a Teratorn.

THIS STORY IS being posted solely for purposes of allowing users to beta test the site. When it was originally posted on Memorial Day weekend in 2009 it had been posted just for fun -- a solve-it-yourself mystery from the Air Force's Project Sign files with the following instructions...

The task at hand is simple: just browse through the following three short news articles (only the second one of which actually appears in the Sign file). Then consider Dr. J. Allen Hynek's (astro-physicist consultant to the Air Force) brief analysis and conclusion.

Next, place yourself in the position of an Air Force investigator, and post your own theory, (including whether you agree with Dr. Hynek).

But the task at hand here is beta testing, and so this post is presented solely to beta test the page format and layout -- although admittedly it is a fun story.

V-1 launch. Left: Shoshone rock glyph of the Thunderbird.

IT IS KNOWN without question that giant birds once roamed the skies. Known as Teratorns, the fossils of the largest -- known as argentavis magnificens -- is believed to have soared along the thermal currents using a wing span of 20 to 25 feet to support its 150 pound mass, dominating its airy realm six million years past. But there are a profusion of modern legends of giant birds of prey as well, the best known of which is the Thunderbird -- who was said to carry off buffalo and whose flapping wings were believed to cause thunder.

Just how all this came to be tied into one incident in the files of Project Sign -- the Air Force's first official investigation into the UFO phenomenon -- is not known, but can be deduced. The complete file consists of a sole news article:


Because the article was published in the Dayton, Ohio paper, where Project Sign was located, it was natural that it would come to its attention. And since it was headlined 'Companion to Flying Saucer' -- and especially since one of the witnesses was the former commander of an Army air base -- someone probably thought better safe than sorry, and gave it a file of its own.

But Project Sign conducted no actual investigation -- which did not deter its successor, Project Grudge, from conferring on it a solution, as provided by consultant astrophysicist Dr. J. Allen Hynek. And that explanation would also be the official Air Force solution when Grudge's successor, Project Blue Book, closed up shop in 1969.

THOUGH NOT INCLUDED in the file, diligent research shows it all started with an April 9, 1948 United Press wire story:

Prehistoric Bird Latest Sky Spot

Belvidere, Ill., April 9 (UP) - A farmer and a truck driver reported today that they had seen a bird "bigger than an airplane."

They believed it might be a visitor from another planet.

The giant bird was reported by Robert Price and Veryl Babb. Price said he saw it while working near his barn on his farm near Caledonia, Ill.

He said it had a long neck and "what I suppose were its feet trailing behind it."

Price said he and his wife both watched as the "monster bird," flapping its powerful wings, flew off to the northeast.

Babb, a Freeport, Ill., truck driver, reported seeing the bird at a different location on the same day.

"I saw the bird but at first I didn't say anything because I thought people would laugh at me," Babb said. "When I read that Price had seen it I decided to report all about it.

"When I spotted the thing it was coasting. It was bigger than an airplane and reminded me of one of those prehistoric monsters I learned about when I was in school."

THERE THE MATTER might have died, had not the former commander of an Army air base stepped forward to back up the story (note: the following is the unedited version of the story which appears in the Project Sign file):

ST. LOUIS - (UP) - A retired Air Force colonel and a 12 year-old boy last night backed up the report by two Belvidere, Ill., residents of spotting a "monster bird."

It was either the same mysterious bird of gigantic size they saw or one just like it, they said.

Col. W.F. Sigmund, former commandant of the Army air base at Kearns, Utah, said he observed the creature at about 11:30 a.m. last Sunday while horseback riding four miles north of Alton, Ill.

James Trares, 12, said he saw the bird flying over his home in suburban Glendale, Mo. about three months ago. Both Siegmund and the boy said they were apprehensive of telling anyone about it until they read the United Press dispatch from Belvidere.

THE BELVIDERE report quoted Robert Price and Veryl Babb as saying the bird was "bigger than an airplane" and flapped its wings.

Siegmund, now sales manager for the Western Cartridge Co. at Alton, said he didn't see any flapping of wings but he was sure it was a huge fowl and not a type of aircraft.

Siegmund was riding with a companion, Col. Ralph Jackson head of Western Military Academy, at the time. Jackson, however, was talking to a farmer and didn't see it, Siegmund said, "and I didn't mention it to him because it looked too incredible."

"At first I thought there was something wrong with my eyesight," Siegmund said. "But it was definitely a bird, and not a glider or jet plane."

He described the creature as about the size of a small pursuit plane and said it was flying northeast at an altitude of between 4,000 and 5,000 feet.

"TWO ARMY planes had just flown over in the same direction, and I thought at first it was a pursuit craft following them," Siegmund related. "But from movements of the object and its size, I figured it could only be a bird of tremendous size."

The Trares boy said he spotted the bird in the air one evening at sunset and ran yelling into his house to tell his mother. He said it was gray-green in color and about the size of an airplane.

And for a while, it was filed and forgotten (except for the official Air Force 'solution').

BUT DAYS LATER there was yet another report, though it never made it into Air Force files:

Maybe Pelican Pete's in Illinois

ALTON, Ill. - (UP) - An "enormous" bird, first reported sighted two weeks ago, was seen flying over the outskirts of Alton shortly before noon yesterday.

E.M. Coleman, a former salesman, and his 5 year-old son, James, said the bird was flying at about 500 feet and "cast a shadow the same as that of a Piper Cub at the same height."

Coleman said it was an "enormous, incredible thing with a body that looked like a naval torpedo."

He said he was in his yard in Alton's northern outskirts when he saw a shadow thrown over his house and that of a neighbor.

"There was no sound of motors, and I thought at first it was a glider," Coleman said. "Then I saw it flap its wings. It would soar for a time and then flap.

"It appeared to be gray and black in color and was much larger than any eagle, albatross, pelican or flamingo I've seen," he said. "It appeared to have set down about half a mile west of my house."

The bird was first sighted here by Walter F. Siegmund, a retired Air Force colonel, while horseback riding north of Alton. Siegmund said it looked about the size of a small pursuit plane. Two residents of Belvidere, Ill., earlier reported seeing a similar bird.

Siegmund said he had been doing considerable research on birds since sighting the fowl and had concluded it was an albatross or condor that had wandered far from home. S.B. Heckler of the St. Louis Audubon Society said it was probably a huge pelican.

Coleman said it didn't look like either of those to him though.

Coleman said his son was in the yard with him when the bird flew over. They called to neighbors, "There's that big bird" but by the time the neighbors ran out of their houses the fowl was out of sight.

Coleman said James and some of his friends were planning to search the area, along the Mississippi River, where the bird appeared to have alighted today in the hope of finding some trace of it.

DR. HYNEK GAVE his considered opinion, based on the sole news article in Sign's files:

Incident #123 -- Alton, Illinois -- 11 April 1948

There is nothing of astronomical character in this incident.

If one considers Colonel Siegmund's statements apart from the considerably less reliable ones of the other observers, it would seem that the object may really have been a bird.

Curiously, the bird's reported immense size went unremarked.

News Story

Above: "Giant bird" sightings continue even today.

AND THERE you have it, with considerably more information than either the Air Force or Dr. Hynek had to work with. Their official solution was that the flying thing -- as large as a small airplane -- was a bird.

So... what's yours?

go to comments on this entry


1. According to the April 18, 1948 edition of the Charleston, West Virginia Daily Mail the Belvidere Bird was in fact a glider: "Saturday, Bill Gesell of Belvidere, another of those who saw it, put his foot down on the tale and said it definitely was an airplane-towed glider. Veryl Babb of Freeport, the truckdriver, said he had to agree."


Bird Through Window

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