Eyewitness Accounts... Page 36
Eyewitness Accounts... Page 36

Thunderbirds Over Western Pennsylvania

By "The Paranormal Pastor", Robin Swope

After reading the June 4, 2008 edition of Cryptomundo where Loren Coleman highlights the recent Thunderbird sightings in the Appalachians as reported by Stan Gordon, I reflected back to an incident that happened to me a few years ago in Western Pennsylvania.


I think I saw a Thunderbird myself in July of 2001

In 2000 I started working in a local graveyard in Erie County Pennsylvania. I had left association with Denominational churches a few years prior because of the many abuses of power and people that I had seen over the years. Eventually I started my own independent non-denominational organization called Open Gate Ministerial Services to offer services that you would normally find in a church to those who did not belong to any church or religious organization.

As an ordained clergyman of a small fellowship that acted as a church I performed Weddings, Funerals, Baptism/Dedications, and other services as needed to whomever needed them. But it didn't pay well. In fact I never asked for any fee, and lot of the time I never received one. But I liked that. It was very liberating.

But I still had bills to pay and knowing that I went out into the workforce to support my family while still being able to minister to others through our organization.

I ended up working at the graveyard as a gravedigger. I started off as a salesman, but I couldn't make a sale for the life of me. I'm just not the salesman type- especially cemetery sales which is harder than most. But there was an opening in the maintenance department and it paid above the average wage at the time so I jumped at the chance.

Most of the time it was pretty hard work. Digging graves and burying bodies. Then there were the disinternments, taking a body out of a grave to move it to another location-the less said about those experiences the better. But then during the summer months came the times we mowed the grounds and tended the greenery. I was usually assigned to mow the grounds during in the summer and it gave me ample time enjoy the outdoors and commune with nature.

It was one of those days in July of 2001 as I mowed the 23 acres of lawn between the mausoleum and the edge of the property dominated by a line of high tension wires that I saw something very odd. Obviously frightened by the sound of the mower, a gigantic bird had just launched out of the brush 25 yards to my right. If it wasn't so large I might not have noticed it.

The gigantic wings beat the air with dynamic effort and the avian was aloft and soring over the brush and past the sprawling high tension wires and the pillar that supported them. The bird was absolutely humongous and as it past the support tower I noticed that it's wingspan as it reached it's crest ran very close to the length of the towers upper supporting beam.

The creature quickly rose and then glided down past the treetops of the area where where we dumped the excess dirt from digging graves and soon slipped out of sight. It was strange, as a follower of all things Fortean I had heard of Thunderbirds since Elementary school but at this time I was betwixt amazement of what I had just encountered and actually comprehending what it was.

As the realization of what I had just witnessed came to fruition upon my numbed mind I remember jumping off the mower and screaming "YES!" in jubilation. I wanted to drive my mower back to the dumping ground to see if I could by chance catch another look at the strange bird that I had just beheld, to verify my adulation. But I knew that if I did so my boss (who worked us all like the Marines he once served with in Vietnam) would be very irate.

Anyway, the chances of actually finding the bird in the thick woods were going to be pretty slim. So restraining myself I went back to my mowing and glowed in the satisfaction of what I had just beheld.

But what had I just seen?

It was both similar to many large birds that I had seen in the area and yet very distinct. It looked downright primitive. It had no neck, a thin and very pointed beak and a long tail that ended with what looked to be a triangle. It was completely black or dark grey from head to tail with no visible markings on it except a small bulge of plumage under the neck that stuck close to the body.

Here is a rough sketch I made of what it looked like (the grey is added as a highlight, the right wing was also the same color).

Of all the workers in the field that day I was the only one to see it, which is no surprise since the others were scattered throughout the 90 acre property doing various assignments which gave no reason to look up into the sky.

After work I took my measuring tape to the tower and measured the length of the upper support beam by comparing it to the base which was the same length- 20 feet. So I estimated the wingspan of the creature to be anywhere from 15 to 17 feet in length. The only local bird that comes to anywhere near the size of the bird that I had just spotted was the Great Blue Heron. And to tell you the truth they do look similar in many ways. Here is a photo of one just for comparison courtesy of Eric Vaandering:

The wingspan of a Great Blue Heron runs 7 feet at the most. What I had just seen was at least twice that size. I had seen Herons quite frequently since a pair would often fly over our cemetery going to and from the various wet lands that encircled our property. In fact the year before when I first took the job, I had accidentally surprised one of the pair while it fished in the creek that ran by a military memorial.

I was only five feet away as it suddenly jumped out of the water in fright and quickly flew off. I don't know who was more frightened by our close encounter though, seeing such a large bird pop out of nowhere was pretty unnerving. But the avian that I saw that July in 2001 was a giant compared to the Herons that inhabited our local woodland.

So with a possible Thunderbird sighting in hand I did what any good lover of the paranormal would do, I reported it. I sent a letter to Fortean Times and they published it in the August 2001 issue No. 148. Only later did I discover that there had been another Thunderbird sighting in June of that year only 50 miles south in Greenville Pa.

The similarities between the two creatures are striking. Here is a description of the encounter as described by Stan Gordon in an October 1st 2001 posting at

June 13, 2001- "A resident of the town of Greenville, PA reported seeing a large bird the size of a small airplane from his living room. Greensville is a small town that lies near the border of Ohio and about half-way between Erie and Pittsburgh. The witness, Ray (Please note, the witnesses actual name is not used as he has asked for anonymity) upon futher inquiry during a phone interview on June 15, 2001, was able to flesh out the report as. Ray described the bird as fully feathered a dark brown or black color.

The back of the wings was a grayish-black. The body was not bulky and the overall appearance was not like any bird he had ever seen. As the house lies near Little Shedango Stream and the house overlooks a small pond and woodlands, Ray was extremely familiar with the birds and other wildlife in the area including bald eagles, vultures and storks.

Ray stated that the bird flew in from the South at a distance of 200-300 yards from the window and landed on a large tree beside the small pond. As it flew in he saw a shadow first and thought it was an ultra light aircraft that are used in the area by some neighbors. The bird landed and remained on the tree for 15-20 minutes, and then took off again to the South. Ray estimated that the wingspan was equivalent to some of the ultra lights he has seen in the area, around 15 feet of wingspan and upwards of 5 feet of body size.

Was it the same creature? If not then it had to be of the same species.

I worked for the cemetery for five more years after this sighting and I never saw the creature again. But I was watching the skies for it, that was for sure.

I did see a lot of other strange things at Erie County Memorial Gardens in the years I worked there but nothing could compare to my chance encounter with this unknown cryptid. The encounter was breathtaking.

Source: Robin Swope; "The Paranormal Pastor", Robin Swope


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