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That photo was published in an issue of Strange Magazine 19 in 1998. It’s referred to as the “Ivan Verlaine” photo. It’s a complete hoax. Later, in Strange 20, Mark Chorvinsky showed how the photo was manipulated from “a posed photograph of the capture of the outlaw John Sontag,” in 1892.
If I had, I probably would have made several copies of it and been more careful
about preserving it for historical purposes. It came into my hands from a friend
who was equally interested in cryptozoology, much like myself. I'm sure it is
out there floating around, it's just a matter of time before it turns up. I
wouldn't be suprised if there is a jpeg of it on the internet somewhere, might
just require a good comprehensive online search.
Kurt F. Beswick, artist
Oculus Graphic Design
Just as a sort of personal postscript to this piece, when I first heard
this photograph described, I immediately flashed to an existing, real,
photo from the same period, that was evidently meant to illustrate the
size of the redwoods in California. In that picture, six men, looking
pretty ragged after chopping down one of those monster trunks, stand
fingertip to fingertip in front of it. According to the Beaman
Collection, who hold the copyrights to the redwood photo, that is one of
the era's most often reprinted images.
Most paranormal researchers consider this story to be a good example of Old West
creative writing on the part of the newspaper. But there may be a hint of truth
in it. In 1970, a man named Harry McClure claimed that he knew one of the
cowboys when he was a small boy. The real story, as the cowboy told the youth,
was that the creature they shot at had a wingspan of 20 to 30 feet. They did not
kill the Thunderbird, however, and returned to town only with their fantastic
One more intriguing element to this anecdote is that a photo was supposedly
taken of the great creature, held up with its wings spread by several
townspeople. Remarkably, many people recall seeing this photograph printed in
Fate, National Geographic or Grit magazine, or in some book about the Old West,
but as yet this photo has not been produced.
And while Fortean Times reports the quest for the photographic evidence of the great Thunderbird, a Michigan photographer has, perhaps, captured him in his native element: as a lightning strike from the bowels of thunderclouds in the sky.
"The lightning of a midnight storm has sculptured a Great Bird in the night sky over a beautiful bay on Northern Lake Michigan," says Jim O'Neil. "It was claimed this mystical bird was the connecting link between the Indian People and the Great Spirit --- a great protector, and showed himself upon their landscape, their waters, and their great natural cathedral."
O' Neil says the Thunderbird photo (which he sells in a limited edition), has become the “epitome" of all his work. His Upper Michigan Peninsula Shores Gallery features a series of his photographs of Thunderbird lightning here.