Civil War Soldiers and Monster Photo

On April 9, 2013, in sighting in North America, by Jonathan Whitcomb

Update, January 24, 2017

*The original post, below the double pound (##) sign, was written in April of 2013. In early 2017, however, this old photo was declared to have a genuine image of a modern pterosaur. Please take that in context, for research continues and significant discoveries continue to be made in this remarkable photograph.

To learn about the new book on the “Ptp” photograph, see “Is Modern Pterosaurs a Creationist Book?


I know that an old photograph of Civil War soldiers next to an apparent giant dead Pteranodon (pterosaur) only indirectly relates to the Bible and Christian values, but it does relate to sightings of pterosaurs in North America. Just don’t confuse this photo with a hoax-photo that imitates it.

To begin, I do not present Photo #1 as overwhelming *evidence for the existence of a huge modern living pterosaur that has a head suggesting a Pteranodon; I interview eyewitnesses, and some of them report sighting details that have convinced me that huge pterosaurs live in this modern world of ours (rare and nocturnal as they may be; sometimes called “flying dinosaur” or “pterodactyl”). But for now, let’s examine this apparently very old photograph.

Is this a hoax of some kind? It shows six Union soldiers standing by a dead Pteranodon pterosaur or something at least similar in appearance

Hoax or Genuine? It’s controversial.

It seems that some people remember the above photograph in a book published around the middle of the twentieth century, many years before the first version of Photoshop was released in 1990. I believe I myself was one of those readers of a paranormal book with this photo. Regardless of our memories and regardless of whether or not those Union soldiers were playing an elaborate prank, there are problems with Photoshop hypotheses and I have found reasons to believe the above photo may be genuine, even though I still have doubts.

Before getting into details, note the photo below, which is unquestionably a hoax:

Hoax photo created for an episode of the Freakylinks television series

Hoax and imitation of the top photo

The Haxan production company made an imitation photo for one of their Freakylinks episodes, or to promote the episodes in general, around the late 1990’s; it looks like the top photo because it’s an imitation. Click for a closer look at the above image and notice two clues of a hoax:

  1. The “soldier” on the left is heavy-set enough to need to unbutton his shirt: a clue that we are looking at Civil War reenacting (20th century actors), for at that time a common soldier (not a general or a colonel) was rarely heavy set.
  2. The “creature” on the ground appears rather vague in features and the wings look like limp cloth: hardly a convincing giant flying creature.

Of course the ultimate prove that the second photo is a hoax is in the disclosure of the television production origin. In that context, it’s easy to see that it was imitating the older photo.

Return to Photo #1 – Must it be a Photoshop Hoax?

One blog writer (I’ll not mention his name) has been a skeptic, for some time, of reports of modern living dinosaurs and pterosaurs. On one of his posts, he provides what he assumes is valid evidence for Photoshop fakery (in what we here call “photo #1”). He makes no mention of the possibility that some persons say that they have seen this photo around the 1960’s (long before Photoshop existed); I have no idea if the blog writer is ignorant of that critical factor, but let’s look at his evidence.

But he points out apparent Photoshop manipulation, including the following:

One eskeptic points out what he thinks is a "halo" from a Photoshop hoax

I agree with this blog writer on this: It does appear, at first glance, that an unnatural lighter area is just above the head of soldier #6 (the man on the far right of Photo #1), and that this kind of appearance can indicate Photoshop manipulation. But let’s look deeper.

Assume for the moment that everybody who thought they remembered this photo from the mid-twentieth century is wrong in their memories. Assume that this photograph did not exist before the first release of Photoshop in 1990 (for the Mackintosh). Now look at the whole picture, all of Photo #1, and keep in mind the following:

Why would a Photoshop hoaxer paste an image of a Civil War soldier onto a background of tree branches? Would a hoaxer try to convince us that tree branches existed during the Civil War? Does anybody doubt that trees and Union soldiers lived at the same time, in the 1860’s? Why go to the trouble of cutting out an image of a soldier and pasting it onto a photo of trees? Why be distracted from the point of the photograph? How critical is the huge winged creature!

Now look again at this same magnified view of soldier number six.

A green arrow shows a clear separation between the head of the soldier and an apparent while line

A closer look reveals a separation from an apparent straight line and the man’s head. This light-colored line is somewhat similar to the horizontal line above the man’s head but it’s obviously not a Photoshop “halo” from a cut and paste manipulation. Actually this background has many light-colored tree limbs, appearing as white lines pointing in all directions. The line above the soldier’s head is probably just another of those branches.

But the critical point remains: A hoaxer would have little, if any, reason to paste an image of a soldier only a background of tree branches. Much more likely he would just paste an image of a monster onto a photograph of soldiers.

I am not declaring that the version of the photo that I have taken from the internet has no evidence of Photoshop manipulations. I do suggest that some of those have other explanations and that this apparent Civil War photograph needs to be researched more deeply.

What’s the Problem Regarding Civil War Pterodactyls?

Photo #2, above, can easily be found in online searches, too easily, and web surfers can easily be led to believe that any reference to a Civil War pterodactyl photograph is this hoax for Freakylinks. Few persons know about the differences between the two photographs and the weaknesses in the Photoshop hypotheses regarding Photo #1, for it takes an open mind and real work to gain greater knowledge and understanding.


Civil War Photo or Photoshop Hoax?

I read on one web site that many people had seen this photograph in one or more publications “between the 1950-ies and 1960-ies,” but the subject now is Photoshop hoaxes, for it seems that most of the recent skeptics offer that explanation for this photo. Is this a genuine image of an actual pose of Civil War soldiers with a giant recently-deceased pterosaur?

Civil War Pteranodon Photo

I read a comment somewhere, on some forum thread, about this photo. Somebody said that if some soldiers really had seen a giant pterosaur then it would have gotten into the newspapers. I disagree. Back then, newspaper editors would not take hold of a monster story when there were so many war stories to write about. Some huge bird would not have been nearly as interesting as how the latest battle had gone.


dinosaur Scutosaurus

Carbon-14 Dating and Dinosaurs (the shocking truth)


cover of nonfiction cryptozoology book "Live Pterosaurs in America"

Live Pterosaurs in America (third edition) nonfiction

Part of a review for the second edition (third edition is improved and expanded):

This is an updated review of the book and I am changing my rating to 5 stars. This book has been on my shelf for almost a year now. I pick it up every now and then and a part of me becomes more impressed by the book every time. . . .  I highly recommend this. You may find yourself almost believing in it, although that is not even the authors intent! Whitcomb painstakingly reviews every account for credibility and reason. This man is not a crank. He tries to weed out would be hoaxes and miss-identification. This is not a guy looking to create evidence to confirm his own beliefs. . . .

If you are interested in reading about this subject, this is definitely the book to get . . . This is well written and very hard to put down.

[Amazon review of 2nd edition, by “stevie” on October 23, 2011]

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Pterodactyl Hoax in The Illustrated London News

On March 7, 2012, in Uncategorized, by Jonathan Whitcomb

Not many newspaper hoaxes survive for many generations. The French railway-tunnel pterodactyl of 1856 is finally getting its obituary, albeit The Illustrated London News has no such obituary. Not that France is a fairy-tale country or that railway tunnels are figments of the imagination or that all nineteenth-century newspaper articles are always filled with lies; but a pterosaur that survives for ages embedded in rock and then survives a blasting explosion that knocks it out of that rock . . . well, that pterosaur is fictional. [Correction: it may have been reported as a discovery while workers were digging by hand, not from any blasting excavation.]

Not that it’s impossible for a flying creature to find its way into a railway tunnel and then vacate the premises after a blasting explosion; but the original newspaper article included, if my source is correct, something about the pterodactyl’s image being imprinted into the rock formation, thereby removing all doubt about where that creature had lived for millions of years (I’m joking).

I know that blasting explosions can cause clouds of dust, but the original story is said to have included a strange fragment on the demise of that pterodactyl: Immediately after expiring, its body turned into dust. Taken in context with the behavior of the creature right before its death—It fluttered its wings and made a croaking noise—turning into dust from extreme age . . . well, it makes the story extremely unbelievable.

Taken in context with other hoaxes in popular newspapers of the nineteenth century, this article in The Illustrated London News gives us no serious cause for believing in the “tunnel pterodactyl” of 1856. If that were not enough, there seems to be no source for the story, nobody who can verify anything about any pterosaur coming out of any tunnel in France.

Having blasted that old pterodactyl fiction, however, I recommend we keep an open mind to the truth when an eyewitness account shows evidence of credibility, just as we close a case when the falsehood of a story is shown by evidences of a hoax. I once played a joke with my wife, startling her with a realistic toy snake; but that joke did not make all snakes extinct (although my own existence could have become threatened).

I am sorry for the many Christians who may have been mislead by that hoax in The Illustrated London News, but we can learn from our mistakes and be more careful in reading old newspaper accounts of strange events.

The Illustrated London News Hoax

I have read that the original newspaper article included something about the creature’s image being found imprinted in the rock formation. I see several bits of evidence that point to a hoax, each one valid in itself. With no original source available, we can safely assume that this story is a hoax.

Pterosaur Hoax or Not?

I found that for those who could see the presence or absence of a tail (night sightings are often insufficient), 84% reported a tail that was long. If hoaxers played a major part, they would have described Pterodactyloids more than Rhamphorhynchoids, so the overwhelming preponderance of long-tails discredits any hoax hypothesis.

Why a Hoax Fails

Regarding hoax potential, perhaps the most obvious refutation of a combination of practical jokes is this: American hoaxers would most likely emphasize very large wingspan, to avoid any possibility of suggestions of misidentification of a large bird. But the data shows many estimates within the range of medium-to-large bird wingspans.

Hoax Potential – Pterosaur Wingspan

If some hoaxers gave “estimates” based on standard beliefs about long-tailed pterosaurs, and some hoaxers gave “estimates” based on standard beliefs about giant pterosaurs, the graph would have shown two peaks, with a deep valley in the top graph around “d,” (“e” and “f” in the lower graph), far different from the actual data collected.

cover of nonfiction cryptozoology book "Live Pterosaurs in America"

Third edition of Live Pterosaurs in America (nonfiction/cryptozoology)

From an Amazon review of the second edition of this book:

This is an updated review of the book and I am changing my rating to 5 stars. This book has been on my shelf for almost a year now. I pick it up every now and then and a part of me becomes more impressed by the book every time. . . .  I highly recommend this.

From a review of the third edition:

Mr. Whitcomb does a thorough job questioning indoctrination and the close-mindedness of the Western world. Reading so many eye-witness reports of people who have seen living pterosaurs in America was mind-opening, to say the least. . . . The passion that Whitcomb and the pterosaur witnesses feel about these investigations make this book a great read and keep the pages turning. If you are prepared to question the indoctrination society has imposed on you since childhood, you are ready for Live Pterosaurs in America.

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On the subjecty of hoaxes, a few years ago I found an online reference to a reported sighting of a “pterodactyl” that was said to have been seen flying through the sky with a family pet in its mouth (I will not go into detail about what kind of pet that was). I investigated the person who made that report; he was found to be unreliable, to say the least (I will not go into detail on that). I have also seen an apparent hoax on Youtube, what looks very much like a computer-3D model or a flying model airplane shaped like a pterodactyl. I know that some people make hoaxes. But that does not mean that every reported sighting of an apparent pterosaur is a hoax.

Skeptics often conveniently overlook details when they carelessly toss “hoax” out into the air; we don’t need more air pollution. Consider some of what has been written about experiences of eyewitnesses, as written in my scientific paper (peer-reviewed) that was published in the Creation Research Society Quarterly:

“Reports of Living Pterosaurs in the Southwest Pacific” (C.R.S.Q., Vol. 45, Winter 2009)

“Although Woetzel saw neither shape nor features during his ropen-light sighting on Umboi Island in 2004, his report is significant, for he was looking for the ropen and was prepared to take note of anything he saw. His description was distinctly unlike meteors or manmade lights . . . the object disappeared behind the crater-mountain system of Lake Pung . . . where other sightings have taken place, suggesting the ropen’s destination was that lake.” (page 207)

What is the point of Woetzel’s sighting report, in relation to skeptic’s generalized suggestions of hoaxes? Woetzel has been passionate in searching for living dinosaurs and pterosaurs in various parts of the world. He, like me, has written a scientific paper that was published in the Creation Research Society Quarterly. But he, like me, never saw any clear form or features of a pterosaur on Umboi Island. Other explorers (who have also passionately promoted the concept of living pterosaurs) have also returned from Papua New Guinea with no personal sighting of anything like a pterosaur. That practically eliminates a hoax as in relation to our investigations: We would not lie when telling everybody that we never saw a pterosaur. Woetzel and I and other American explorers encountered eyewitnesses of the ropen, and descriptions of that flying creature suggest a modern pterosaur far more than any bird or bat.

Why a Hoax Does not Explain Sightings

. . . look at Paul Nation . . . who explored in Papua New Guinea at least four times. If he had any desire to play a hoax, why has he said nothing about personally observing anything like any pterosaur? He tries to let people know about the possibility of the existence of modern pterosaurs, so why has he not lied and said that he did see a pterosaur? . . . he is honest and simply reports what eyewitnesses have told him and what he . . . observed in distant flying lights. . . . the final point: Honest people do not play pterosaur hoaxes.

Hoax Potential – Pterosaur Wingspan

If some hoaxers gave “estimates” based on standard beliefs about long-tailed pterosaurs, and some hoaxers gave “estimates” based on standard beliefs about giant pterosaurs, the graph would have shown two peaks, with a deep valley in the top graph around “d,” (“e” and “f” in the lower graph), far different from the actual data collected.

No Pterosaur Hoax

I proclaim that no combination of hoaxes made up any significant portion of the sighting reports that I have personally received. You don’t need to rely only on my word, however, for the overall data confirms the credibility of those eyewitnesses.


non-fiction book cover - Live Pterosaurs in America - third edition - with sketches

Nonfiction cryptozoology book 

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Ropens Over San Diego

On January 23, 2012, in sighting in North America, by Jonathan Whitcomb

Flyover in Southern California was no Joke

An eyewitness in San Diego, California, reported to me a sighting of two large flying creatures, apparent ropens, that he and his friend saw flying overhead on November 4, 2011. I believe that this is no joke, that they were pterosaurs. I quote some of what he wrote to me (with spelling and other corrections):

It was about 8 pm. I was at my friend’s house. The sky was super clear. We were standing on the street. I was watching the stars when from the west came this large dark object overhead. As it got closer, we noticed its huge wingspan; each wing was about 10 to 15 ft. It was gliding right above us . . . about 40 yards above us [but he said, “thirty yards” later, in a phone interview]. I began yelling at it to get its attention. We actually were excited; we had never seen anything like it. Then it suddenly stopped and turned around. . . . Then . . . we saw another one above us. It was like it was waiting for the other one to catch up, then they both left east.

He sent me more information by email, and I phoned him two days ago, asking questions and assessing his credibility. His phone demeanor and answers led me to believe that he was telling the truth, with no sign of any hoax. What he said and did not say were highly in his favor, and I have enough experience (over the past eight years of interviews) to make a judgement. I hope to soon talk by phone with the other eyewitness.

The man did not say explicitly that there were no feathers on the flying creatures, but some of his other descriptions suggest that they were featherless. There was enough moonlight and they were close enough: The eyewitnesses had a good view, considering it was at night.

Pterodactyl Joke North of San Diego

Here is the big problem. In August, three months before the sighting in San Diego, somebody in northern San Diego County played a dramatic joke with a statue. Tourists and others found a giant model “pterodactyl” grabbing the body of a surfer (the statue). Now I find it can be practically impossible to get any newspaper reporter in San Diego County to take me seriously. Who would now believe that two giant pterodactyls had flown over San Diego?

Prehistoric flying creature lands on Cardiff surfer statue

. . . on Saturday, early-morning joggers, surfers and power walkers spotted the most elaborate redesign yet: a huge prehistoric flying creature, a pterosaur maybe, swooping down over the surfer, with a painted backdrop of a volcanic eruption for context. Also, small palm trees and two velociraptors.

Hoax Potential – Pterosaur Wingspan

No hoax or combination of hoaxes played any significant part in ninety-eight eyewitness accounts of apparent pterosaurs. Those reports came from decades of records, taken mostly from my own interviews and accounts given to me directly from eyewitnesses.

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Hoax Potential – Pterosaur Wingspan

On January 2, 2012, in Uncategorized, by Jonathan Whitcomb

Wingpan estimates from eyewitnesses of apparent pterosaurs

No hoax or combination of hoaxes played any significant part in ninety-eight eyewitness accounts of apparent pterosaurs. Those reports came from decades of records, taken mostly from my own interviews and accounts given to me directly from eyewitnesses. A minority of those ninety-eight were taken from nonfiction books (like cryptozoology books), newspaper accounts, and online reports. One key to eliminating any hoax possibility comes from fifty-seven of those reports, the ones in which an eyewitness gave an estimate of the wingspan.

In the above graph, the verticle indicates the number of sightings within a particular range of wingspans. The letters indicate those wingspan estimates, for example: b=3.25-6.25 ft. (ten sightings) and f=15.25-18.25 ft. (six sightings). Actually, this graph seems to exaggerate the three-foot-to-six-foot range, for twenty-six eyewitness estimates were from 6.25 to 18.25 feet (c, d, e, f). In another graph (below), wingspans are divided in every two feet, showing a less pronounced peak on the left:

Another graph of wingspan estimates, at every two feet

In the second graph, the higher elevations around “e” and “f” (8.25 feet to 12.25 feet) demonstrate the honesty of the great majority of these eyewitnesses, for hoaxers would not have inadvertantly caused the high instances of estimates that are too large or too small, according to common ideas about pterosaurs. (And it defies reason to imagine hoaxers, over several decades and from various parts of the world, giving lies about wingspan estimates based on their foresight that some future investigator would analyze the overall estimates in this way.)

If some hoaxers gave “estimates” based on standard beliefs about long-tailed pterosaurs, and some hoaxers gave “estimates” based on standard beliefs about giant pterosaurs, the graph would have shown two peaks, with a deep valley in the top graph around “d,” (“e” and “f” in the lower graph), far different from the actual data collected. The fifty-seven wingspan estimates coorelate very well, however, with the following:

A number of species of modern pterosaurs live in various parts of the world, with smaller ones outnumbering larger ones and the giant ones being rare. Eyewitnesses who estimate wingspans are generally making those estimates with random errors, for many of the sightings involve flying creatures previously unknown to those eyewitnesses, making it difficult to judge distance and size.

Wingspan Estimates Eliminate Hoax

To put it in a nutshell, the fifty-seven wingspan estimates show a fairly smooth curve downwards toward the giant wingspans, and it is far too shallow a curve to have come from hoaxers who would have tried to fool people into thinking that the hoaxers had seen long-tailed pterosaurs. The reason for that is that those Rhamphorhynchoids are commonly believed to have been smaller pterosaurs with wingspans generally less than seven feet. The statistics show something far different.

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A book might be written on this subject of the objectiveness of eyewitnesses of apparent living pterosaurs, but this post will feature a few examples, sufficient for the point. Many excellent examples are probably left out, because so many sighting reports have been published, and a number of them appear have involved objective eyewitnesses.

Old Biologist – New Pterosaur Insight

Evelyn Cheesman was a respected British biologist when she observed, deep in the mainland of New Guinea in the early 1930’s, the strange flying lights which she would later describe in her book The Two Roads of Papua.

The lights could not reasonably be explained away as coming from the locals, for they were glowing in a somewhat horizontal formation, inexplicable as human-caused. But in more recent decades, a number of explorers have searched in Papua New Guinea for flying creatures that are reported to be bioluminescent. The flying creatures have names like “duwas,” “ropen,” “seklo-bali,” and “indava.” They are said, by natives, to glow as they fly at night. This seems to be what Cheesman saw many years ago. She would have been shocked at the suggestion that she had been observing living pterosaurs.

Cheesman was not looking for modern pterosaurs or any other cryptid. She was simply observing the lights and taking note how they appeared and how they behaved. Who would suggest that she was not being objective? (And hoax is inconceivable.)

Scott Norman, Pterosaur Eyewitness

Silent, with stars for a background, the dark creature flew twenty feet high, over a shed only twenty feet from Scott . . . there was no mistaking it: . . . a head three to four feet long, and a two-foot-long head-crest that reminded him of a Pteranodon. . . . [Wings] more bat-like than bird-like.

The point of Scott Norman’s sighting involves what he was expecting: either a bird, something glowing, or nothing. He was surprised to see a large pterosaur-like flying creaure, and it was NOT glowing. In addition, he pondered what he had seen, trying to be objective rather than overly enthusiastic: waiting before telling anybody. There was no hoax.

Orange County, California, Sighting

On page 17 of the third edition of my cryptozoology book Live Pterosaurs in America, an eyewitness report described the length of the long-tailed flying creature as “30 feet.” That was not a wild guess, for the apparent pterosaur flew low, just above and across a road that was thirty feet wide (I measured that road myself).

In July of 2008, I received a phone call from a man who reported a very large flying creature, seen one year earlier, in Orange County, less than one mile north of the University of California at Irvine. He described the dark gray or black animal as 30 feet long, with 15-16 feet of that being a tail. He saw the creature fly “at low altitude,” in front of his car, over the road (Campus Drive), into the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, in daylight.

SNW (anonymous) had no view of any feet and no good view of the head. He noticed that during the creature’s flight the tail was straight, as if it was “stretched out to be measured.” A flange, close to the end of the tail, he described as “triangle-shaped.”

The eyewitness was clear about remaining anonymous, for he was of a profession that demands a reputation for clear-minded thinking. But the nature of that profession, to me, made it clear that he had no desire to see a giant pterosaur or report one that he had not seen. He was simply reporting his experience to me. The report, with no evidence for a hoax, appears to be objective.

Objectiveness in the Investigations

I recently came to the conclusion that the Naga Fireballs of the Mekong River (Southeast Asia) are probably the bioluminescent glow of large insects. I briefly researched a few reports of these glowing orbs with hope that they may be related to the kor of Northern Papua New Guinea or the ropen of Umboi Island. It now appears to be no close connection except that there is another not-yet-classified bioluminescent creature . . .

Objective Ministries Site is a Hoax

There seems to be no professor named “Richard Paley.” Even “Fellowship University” is nonexistent. Although parts of at least some of the pages refer to real persons and at least one real expedition (by the real person Carl Baugh), “Objective Ministries” is a huge joke, with no actual plans for any expedition.

Notwithstanding the obvious hoax of “Objective Ministies,” legitimate eyewitness reports of living pterosaurs are not disproven by this hoax. One person telling a lie does not make all persons on the face of the earth liars, for seeing things that outwardly seem to relate to a particular hoax. The boy who lies by “crying wolf” does not make, by his lie, all wolves extinct.

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