The Civil War Pterosaur Photo in Context

By the living-pterosaur crytozoologist Jonathan Whitcomb

Police officer William Lashomb was on the Parker Avenue Bridge, one afternoon in Massena, New York, around the summer of 2004, having just finished talking with a driver who had stopped on the bridge, when he saw something. A featherless light-greenish-gray creature was flying downstream, at first 15-20 feet above the surface of the Grass River but soon diving down to just a few feet above it, passing the officer.

He later told his wife about it, having no doubt that it was a prehistoric creature. He did not report the encounter to me until after he had retired.

In 2006, I had a long phone conversation with the retired police officer and he sounded credible. William Lashomb, however, is only one of many eyewitnesses who have reported to me a sighting of an apparent modern pterosaur. That’s a critical point in recent examinations of the Civil War photograph called “Ptp.” It’s not just a few American soldiers in the 19th century who have encountered an extant pterosaur, but people all over the world have observed them, including eyewitnesses in the 20th and 21st centuries. That is the context.

evidence that this photograph is genuine

Folded wings (inverted wings): evidence of authenticity for this old photograph

Before 2017, it seems that no skeptic mentioned the inverted wings in this photo. If Ptp is from before 1870, how did those soldiers know enough about pterosaur anatomy to create a model that had folded wings? If the photo is as old as it looks, that animal really is a pterosaur, but how do we know it is that old?

The scientist Clifford Paiva, a physicist in California, discovered a tree branch or block of wood under the foot of one soldier. That is evidence the photograph was taken before about the year 1870, when people needed to be kept motionless for many seconds when a photograph was recorded. I was delighted when he told me that news, early in 2017.

prop used under the shoe of one soldier

Prop used to keep shoe and beak motionless when the photo was taken

Taken in context with the folded wings, the prop discovered by Paiva is evidence the animal was an actual modern pterosaur, not any model constructed by those men.

Pterosaur Sighting Reports in Context

For those unaware of the many sighting reports of modern pterosaurs, that old photo can look very strange, even inexplicable. Yet one of the major criticisms that skeptics have thrown out in ridicule of living-pterosaur investigators has been the lack of photographic evidence for the existence of any non-extinct pterosaur. Critics have refused to believe any of the reported eyewitness sightings of extant pterosaurs and the “no photo” criticism has been used as one of their chief weapons.

We now have a clear photograph that shows the form and features of a modern pterosaur, albeit it’s apparently from the 19th century. Yet with at least one of their species surviving into the 1800’s, why would they now be extinct in all their species?


copyright 2017 Jonathan Whitcomb


The two scientists who discovered a modern pterosaur

Paiva found evidence that this is indeed an old photograph: Notice the tree branch under the beak of the animal. It was used as a prop to keep the man’s shoe as steady as possible . . . This is in keeping with photographic technique before about 1870.


Civil War pterosaur photo

After about 1870, photographers did not have such a need for keeping persons motionless, for snap shots were becoming common because of improvements in the technology. But we have additional evidence of authenticity in the [photo]: . . .


Pteranodon Photo

Cliff Paiva and I do not proclaim that the animal seen in Ptp must have been a species of Pteranodon. We simply point out that similarities in the head suggest that it was a modern pterosaur at least similar to a Pteranodon.


Kongamato pterosaur

According to standard models of Western science, pterosaurs lived long ago, in what is called the “late Triassic” to the end of the “Cretaceous Period,” that being thought to have been 65-220 million years ago. But according to some cryptozoologists, there is no evidence at all for the extinction of all species of pterosaurs. That idea that they are all extinct is just an assumption, not based on any solid evidence.


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Old Civil War Pteranodon Photograph

By modern-pterosaur expert Jonathan D. Whitcomb

The physicist Clifford Paiva and the cryptozoologist Jonathan Whitcomb jointly agreed that an old photograph (“Ptp”) contains an image of an actual modern pterosaur. Neither of them are declaring that this is a ropen (long-tailed) or that it must be a Pteranodon.

The Ptp Photograph

If you had asked me about this old photograph, of an apparent pterosaur, 25 years ago, I would have said that it’s probably a hoax. How much I have learned in recent years!

The photo was surely either from around the American Civil War period or from a reenactment of that time period. If it was done long after that war, it is surely a hoax. But if it comes from an actual photo that was taken between about 1860 and 1880, however, a hoax explanation is difficult to defend when objective examination is carefully done.

To adequately cover all the details might require much more than one blog post. Let’s do what we can with the space we have.

(click on the image below)

six apparent Civil War soldiers around an apparently recently shot giant "pterodactyl"

Figure-1: The photograph recently given the label of “Ptp”

This post is a response to a comment from someone on the Facebook group Living Pterosaurs of the World; I’ll use his first name—David:

OH< this is an old fake hoax picture.

Oh no, it’s not the one I was thinking of… but it still looks fake to me, and I looked at “the official blog-post announcement” and didn’t see any reason why it should be declared genuine. . . .

David did not provide a link, so I’m not absolutely sure that he looked at what I consider the official-announcement page. That’s OK; we can take it from here.

I cannot criticize him for being slow to recognize the authenticity of Ptp. If I call him “too slow,” then I myself risk being called the slowest living organism ever to have lived anywhere in this big universe.

I’ve been investigating eyewitness sightings of modern pterosaurs for over 13 years. I’ve probably spent more time on this branch of cryptozoology than any other person on the planet has spent, during that time: over 10,000 hours. I’ve also probably written more than anybody else has on this subject: eight editions of three nonfiction books, over 1,000 web pages and blog posts, and one peer-reviewed paper published in a journal of science.

How does that relate to me being a candidate for being labeled the slowest living organism in the universe? I’ve known of this photo for some time. It may have been the same image I saw in an old book at the Pasadena, California, public library, around 1968, and if I recall correctly, that book was not new even back then. Yet I was not able to come to any firm conclusion about the authenticity of the image of that apparent Pteranodon until this past Saturday, January 14, 2017.

On April 11, 2013, I published the post “Civil War Photo of ‘Unknown Bird’ or ‘Monster’,” giving my estimate of the probability of its authenticity at only 30%. How did I come to my present conviction that Ptp is genuine? A thorough understanding of how I arrived at that would probably require you to carefully read at least one of my books, and that would be just a beginning, for you’d then need to wait until I had written another book or until I had written a revised edition of one of them. Let’s instead get into a brief summary.

Direct Recognition

Anyone who has seen an image representing a Pteranodon head may see a resemblance in the Ptp photo. Mr. Paiva and I are not declaring, however, that the animal in this photo must be the same species as fossils of that type. Yet we see an obvious resemblance.

So what’s the problem? It’s a pterosaur of some type, obviously. So why do so many skeptics not only suggest it might be a hoax but insist it must be? At least part of it comes from generations of intense indoctrination into the dogma that all species of dinosaurs must have become extinct millions of years ago, and pterosaurs are commonly placed into the same convenient mental file as dinosaurs.

In other words, a direct observation would make it obvious that this is a photograph of a recently deceased pterosaur; it’s only a deeply-entrenched indoctrination that prevents us from comprehending what this photograph (Ptp) actually is.


pterosaur sketched by the eyewitness Patty Carson

Figure-2: Featherless flying creature seen at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1965


Beware of the Imitation Photo

Another photo came out years ago, apparently an imitation of the old Ptp photo. (I’ll not bother putting it up here; it’s easy to find online.)

According to Wikipedia, Freakylinks television episodes aired on the Fox Network from October of 2000 until June of 2001. One or more photos were taken, related to at least one of the episodes, of a few Civil War reenactors standing over something on the ground. It’s an obvious imitation of the original photograph, even to one of the central soldiers having his boot on the head of the “pterodactyl” (or whatever they called it). But those modern Civil War reenactors are more heavy set than the soldiers in Ptp, just as big around in the middle as . . . well . . . modern Civil War reenactors.

So what’s the problem? Many people can be confused because of the similarities. Since it became public knowledge that the Freakylinks photo was hoaxed, people can easily assume that they’re looking at a hoax photo when they see the original Ptp image.

Objective Evaluation

Curt glances and dismissals fail to disprove the authenticity of Ptp. How much better to examine one’s own attitudes and assumptions while looking at this old photograph! How much better to try to look at it objectively rather than to blindly follow careless remarks of a few skeptics!

Mr. Paiva is continuing to examine the photograph scientifically, and I am continuing to examine comments from skeptics. Much work remains to be done and much writing on the subject is essential. I ask you to use patience while this takes place.


copyright 2017 Jonathan Whitcomb


Live Dinos – Modern Pterosaurs

Ropen of Papua New Guinea (but includes a small image of the Civil War pterodactyl photograph in the top heading)

Skeptical Responses to Civil War Pteranodon Photo

The dead flying creature seen in the “Pteranodon photograph,” (Ptp) although it may be called a “pterodactyl” by some Americans and a “ropen” by others, could be a pterodactyloid pterosaur . . .

Modern pterosaur skeptics

Nobody questions the paleontologist’s expertise in fossils, including the bones of old pterosaurs. But can a cryptozoologist be an expert in eyewitness reports of modern “pterodactyls?” . . .

Expert on modern pterosaurs

Since early 2004, he has written over one thousand blog posts and countless  other web pages on living pterosaurs: mostly analysis of eyewitness reports . . .


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Ropen Reported to Snopes

By cryptozoologist Jonathan Whitcomb

I submitted the following comment to Snopes on January 12, 2017. If it is eventually published in full by them, then I’ll probably condense what’s written here:

I have been investigating reports of sightings of apparent pterosaurs for about 13 years, often getting emails from various parts of the world. A name now more-commonly used for apparent long-tailed living pterosaurs is “ropen,” which name comes from a few villages on Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea.

I led a brief expedition on Umboi Island in 2004, failing to see the nocturnal flying creature but getting a number of videotaped interviews of native eyewitnesses. (I am a certified forensic videographer; at the time of this expedition, I was videotaping for attorney firms, mostly in Southern California.) I found the native eyewitnesses to be highly credible, almost never hearing from them anything regarding their local superstitions about the ropen (which superstitions are common).

Since my expedition in 2004, I have written three nonfiction books about sightings of apparent pterosaurs (in eight editions). I have also written a peer-reviewed paper that was published in a journal of science. Some of my online writings, however, were written under two pen names, for a limited time. That resulted in criticisms, with some skeptics accusing me of dishonesty. I deny any desire to deceive anybody.

Yet a long-term criticism has been that eyewitnesses are dishonest. I have analyzed a number of characteristics in the details of what people report to me, however, and have found that, statistically, hoaxes have been eliminated as a viable general explanation. It is practically disproven in this sense: The overall sighting reports cannot have any significant contamination from hoaxes (several analytical methods were used to show this, each one working separately from the others).

Some skeptics have declared that all stories about ropens are false and that practically all of them come from me and that I have used deception in promoting believe in non-extinct pterosaurs. Yet I had returned from my 2004 expedition declaring that I had seen nothing unusual flying in Papua New Guinea. But critics appeared to be unhappy that I published much about my BELIEF in what eyewitnesses reported to me.

The point is this: The ropen can easily be dismissed as a general hoax because the possibility of non-extinct pterodactyls appears so hard to believe in Western cultures. Yet apparently-valid eyewitness sighting reports continue to come in, with some eyewitnesses revealing their real names.

American eyewitnesses include the following (partial list):

U.S. Marine Eskin Kuhn (Cuba, 1971)

Patty Caron (Cuba, 1965)

Sandra Paradise (Georgia, USA, 2008)

Brian Hennessy (New Guinea, 1971)

The late Duane Hodgkinson (New Guinea, 1944)



Both doubt and open to living pterosaurs, in a book review

A Whole New Level of Weirdness: Book Review of “Live Pterosaurs In America” (3rd Edition) [book by Whitcomb]

Ropen pterosaur

Youtube video of an interview with Duane Hodgkinson and Garth Guessman

Ropen of Papua New Guinea

Over the years of ropen investigations in this part of Papua New Guinea, some of the natives mention that the creature is hairy. Well, it just so happens that the “Pilosus” of Sordes Pilosus is Latin for “hairy.”


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