Sunday, March 9, 2014

The 1977 Lawndale Illinois Thunderbird Attack

In 1977 a giant bird attacked and tried to carry away a ten year old boy in central Illinois in front of multiple witnesses. Actually, two giant birds attacked, but only one tried to carry the kid away. The mother witnessed the attack and chased after the bird yelling, the bird released the boy and the two birds flew away. The birds were described as:
“It had a white ring around it’s half foot long neck. The rest of the body was very black. The birds bill was six inches in length and hooked at the end. The claws on the feet were arranged with three front, one in the back. Each wing, less the body, was four feet at the very least. The entire length of the birds body, from beak to tail feather was approximately four and one half feet.”
The family reported the attack to police, and suffered ridicule and abuse for some time afterwards. And that’s the gist of it, read all the details here. The only other details I think are salient is that the dog reportedly didn’t bark at the birds, and this particular dog barked at everything. And the family went to some trouble to prove their case, even going so far as to hire some hunters to track the birds down. The hunters were said to have found and destroyed a giant bird’s nest. Curious, nu?
When all is said, I don’t think the details of the attack are terribly important in this case. At least for the type of analysis I am going to do. For starters I’m going to rule out hoax. The multiple witnesses and the fact that the perpetrators of the hoax didn’t try to profit from it also lends support to the idea that it wasn’t a hoax. It’s entirely possible it was a hoax, I’m not saying it isn’t a hoax, I’m just saying let’s look at other possibilities first. I also not fond of the typical skeptical analysis: “Well, it must be a hoax, what else could it be?” That’s neither a logical nor a productive approach.
So if it wasn’t a hoax, what was it? Well, a giant bird attack seems unlikely. It’s just really hard to imagine how a species of giant bird could remain undetected by legions of birdwatchers in the USA, among other problems. Maybe some local eccentric had giant birds that temporarily escaped, or maybe the birds were just eagles or hawks or some such and the witnesses panicked and “saw” much larger birds. The former seems really unlikely, and the later even less so since some of the witnesses saw the birds before the attack and noted their unusual size even then.
Hallucination? Too many witnesses. Mass hysteria? Well that certainly may explain subsequent sightings, but isn’t a particularly satisfying explanation for this particular incident. Aliens? Demons? Ghosts? Suffice to to say that while we can’t rule out exotic explanations like that, until we have some actual empirical evidence for same, they also fare poorly as an explanation for this event.
So what the hell is left? Is there anything that could explain why Mrs Lowe and her son, pictured above, are adamant about the attack taking place? And continuing to insist so even when they were getting pilloried for it by their friends and schoolmates? Well, yes, I have an idea. My suspicion is that Mrs Lowe (or possibly the son) suffered from some sort of Factitious Disorder. A factitious disorder is where someone feigns something is wrong with them in order to get attention basically. Munchausen syndrome is the old name for these disorders, they are now known to cover a  very broad range of behaviours. And people who have a serious factitious disorder can sometimes be both extremely manipulative and extremely effective in their manipulation.
In other words, the mother or the son imagined the attack and insisted that everyone else believe them. And for whatever reasons, the other “witnesses” decided that going along with the story was the path of least resistance. I can almost hear the husband saying “Of course I believe you dear, I hired two hunters to kill the bird, doesn’t that prove I believe you?”
Is this the explanation? Damned if I know. It’s a possible explanation though, and one that bears further examination. I’ve lately begun to suspect that psychology, and unfortunately disordered psychology, plays  a much bigger role in a lot of paranormal events than people have been willing to recognize. And not so much in that they weren’t willing to recognize them, more that the role psychology plays in people’s perceptions of the world is still very much underappreciated and understudied. The mind is an amazing thing, and the processes it goes through to “create” the world we perceive around us is amazingly complex, still poorly understood … and subject to myriad fail states.