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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