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The Sixties Sightings

The publication of this interview in Strange #5 brought in many letters and phone calls from people who had seen the Thunderbird Photograph. Investigator/author Mark Opsasnick, who is well known to our readers, is one such person. I have been associated with Mark for over fifteen years. I have never known him to to confabulate and his memory is sharp. Mark still clearly recalls seeing the photograph:

While visiting Arcturus Book Service in Albany, New York in May of 1986 I was leafing through a number of old magazines in a box on one of the shelves when I saw the infamous Thunderbird Photo. I distinctly recall the creature was either pinned up or being held up against the barn by what appeared to be a group of cowboy-type individuals. However, not having an interest in Thunderbirds I failed to make note of the publication or any other pertinent data. At the time I didn't realize that it was a controversial topic since Bigfoot was my main interest then. However, later descriptions of that photograph seem to confirm that I did see the legendary Thunderbird Photograph.

In a later followup interview with Mark, he went into further detail, telling me that the photo took up an entire two pages and was black and white tinted blue. He also recalls that the magazine had a title like Male.

Another correspondent, Peter Johnson of Boulder, Colorado, recalled the photograph vividly:

When I was about 9 or 10 years old -- 1966 or so -- a group of us would ride our bikes to our local fire station and read the "adult" magazines in the firehouse mens' room. While Police Gazette was an obvious favorite -- there were also copies of True, Argosy, and Saga. It was in one of these that I saw the picture of the pteranodon (?) nailed to a huge barn door, with these bearded miner types in front. It was tinted brown or blue and was a 2-page spread with white writing, beginning an article or story, obscuring some of it.

Both Opsasnick and Johnson say the photo was tinted brown (Johnson) or blue (Johnson and Opsasnick) and was a two-page spread in a men's magazine, but Opsasnick remembers the creature as being a bird while Johnson recalls that it was a pteranodon. Keel also suggested that a men's magazine may have been the source.

"It Had To Be in the Fifties"

In 1993 Keel phoned me in response to the Opsasnick and Johnson letters that ran in Strange #12. He insisted that the photo would have appeared before 1966. "It had to be in the fifties," he told me. "I was talking to Ivan [T. Sanderson] about this in about 1965 or 1966, probably 1966. When I spoke to Ivan about this then, the photo was already missing." Keel is not the only veteran fortean who believes that the photo had to be published before the mid-'60s period when so many people think that they saw it. His contention was supported by the late fortean author/Strange Magazine contributor Vincent H. Gaddis. In our 1994 interview he had the following to say about the photograph:

You know that this the damnedest puzzle! Yes, I remember seeing it -- I don't remember where! I could draw the thing for you. It was a picture of a barn and the thunderbird was nailed to the side of the barn, and there was group of men standing just below it, looking up at it. And it said that it was from the Tombstone Epitaph. It was in a magazine. Not a book. It was in a magazine, but I don't remember which one because there are so many magazines that I have subscribed to through the years. I just remember seeing it years ago, and the description of others who have seen it is the same as mine.... My memory of it goes beyond Saga and True. Before those were published. My memory of it goes way back. I think that I saw it when I was still pretty young, and I'm 80 years old now, so it goes way back. That is what Keel was saying -- that it had to be before '64-66 when so many people think that they saw it -- it had to be, he thought, in the '50s. It's irritating -- you know that it existed and yet you can't find it.

Longtime fortean Robert J. Durant agrees with Gaddis and Keel -- he also believes that he saw the photo in one of the "men's magazines" around 1955 or 1956.

The speculation by Keel, Sanderson, Gaddis, and Robbins placing it in the 1950s is all retroactive. There are no known references to the photo in the 1950s. Their belief that the photo was from the '50s is duly noted, but retroactive recollections are problematic when doing a cultural study. More important to us will be the question of "first mention" -- when and where the Thunderbird Photograph was first written about. We will deal with this issue in some detail, as well as the apparent source of the Thunderbird Photo legend, in Section 6 of this article.

As T-bird photo sighters have come forth over the past decade, a question has arisen that may be worth considering: Did those people see a photograph, or an illustration of some sort? Next: Was it a Photograph or an Illustration?
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