Mythical Monday: Thunderbirds and the Mysterious Disappearance of Tom Eggleton by Mae Clair

I can’t believe two weeks have swept by since I last posted on my blog. It’s true what they say about summer — life slows down and seems to move in fast-forward at the same time. Or maybe that’s just my own topsy-turvy view of warm weather months.

The first week of the July, I was on vacation. Seven whole days of relaxation, goofing off and neglecting my daily routine. Last week, I couldn’t seem to return to the flow, especially with several new projects coming onboard at my office.

Today, I am happy to return to Mythical Monday with a post on the Thunderbird.

These enormous winged creatures have been an integral part of Native American folklore down through the ages, but original Thunderbird legends date back thousands of years and can be traced to Egypt and Africa. With wingspans of twelve to fifteen feet or more, the Thunderbird has been known to carry off small animals, children and even adults. It is a formidable avian spirit, able to shoot lightning from its beak and summon the roar of thunder with a clap of its powerful wings. It is a storm spirit, a harbinger of change.

Dramatic sky

Surprisingly, there have been numerous sightings of Thunderbirds in the 20th and 21st centuries. My home state of Pennsylvania is abundant with them. The story I’d like to share, however, dates back to the late 1800s, a bizarre tale that beings on a hot summer evening in August 1897.

On that date, nineteen-year-old Thomas Eggleton decided to hike to nearby Hammersley Fork in order to mail his mother a letter. He told his employer, a farmer, where he was headed, then set out on his evening trek. It was likely a walk he’d undertaken numerous times in the past without incident.

But Tom never arrived in town, nor did he return to the farm the next day. Worried by his absence, the farmer traced Tom’s footsteps in the dirt, following the path he had taken toward Hammersley Fork. No doubt he had visions of Tom, always a reliable young man, injured and lying somewhere along the path. Much to his dismay, the farmer lost Tom’s tracks outside of town. Unwilling to abandon the effort, he enlisted others with bloodhounds. The dogs were able to pick up Tom’s scent and his trail was tracked to the middle of a bridge where it simply vanished.

Old Wooden Bridge through Heavy Forested Path

Unable to understand how the young man’s scent could cease to exist in the middle of a bridge, the people of Hammersley Fork, feared the worst. They dragged the river, but Tom’s body was never found. Spooked by the odd circumstances, the locals began to murmur among themselves about a thunderbird.

A few insisted they had seen a massive bird in the vicinity shortly before Tom’s disappearance. Surely it must have snatched him away and carted him off to a distant place from which he couldn’t return. With the flames of fear stoked, schools closed for a period of two weeks until the panic eventually dwindled and passed.

It wasn’t until four years later that news of Tom Eggleton surfaced again. On that day, the farmer who had employed Tom received a letter from him. Thankful to learn the boy was still alive, he eagerly tore open the envelope but his excitement gave way to shock. Tom relayed how he had only recently awakened in a South African hospital with no memory of his past or how he’d come to be there. All he could recall was that he had worked for a famer outside of Hamersley Fork.

Had Tom been abducted by a Thunderbird? Had it snatched him off the bridge as many locals speculated, or had he somehow slipped through a hole in time? The mystery of Tom Eggleton has no definitive answers, but whispers and rumors of Thunderbirds remain.

This story was relayed in the book, Monsters of Pennsylvania by Patty A. Wilson. Want more weirdness? There are “Monster” books available with the strange denizens of various states on Amazon. Check them out! After all…

Who knows what creatures and beasties lurk in your neck of the woods!

17 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: Thunderbirds and the Mysterious Disappearance of Tom Eggleton by Mae Clair

  1. You do got to wonder how he ended in South Africa! And straight off the middle of a bridge. I love hearing stories like this, but my scientific mind always kicks in trying out different hypothesis on how he could have made it there in more “traditional” ways. I can’t help myself! 🙂

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    • Yep. I agree, Cd, but whatever happened to poor Tom must have been truly bizarre. From Pennsylvania to South Africa with four years missing. Yikes! I hate to think what Tom might have remembered when/if he got those four years back.

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  2. I figured you were on holiday and now I expect you’re in the pool every day – fascinating tale you’ve got today, guess we’ll never know

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    • You’re right, Sue. I’ve been living in the pool almost daily. It’s great to grab a refreshing swim, even when it’s after work. Thanks for checking out my latest bout of weirdness, LOL!

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  3. I have always been fascinated by stories of the Thunderbird! I wonder if Tom ever got his memories back? (I’m going to say he did, but he didn’t share because no one would have believed what he had to say…) Great post Mae and welcome back!

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    • Thanks, Debbie! I can’t believe I disappeared for an entire two weeks!!

      I’m with you about Tom memories. I’m sure those would have been some bizarre stories to relate. No wonder he didn’t share them!

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    • I love exploring folklore! Thunderbird myths in Native American folklore are very extensive. I didn’t realize they were prominent in other cultures though, and went back as far as they did. You’re right, L.J. – – discovering these things is fascinating!

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  4. Geez! Now I’m going to be afraid to walk outside when I hear thunder… Do you know how often that happens living in Florida? Maybe if cars had been around back then he would not have been taken. Wonder if he woke in that hospital bed with gouge marks in his shoulders from where the thunderbird’s claws must have dug in as he picked the poor unsuspecting worker up….

    Great…there goes my overactive imagination…;-)

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    • LOL! As I was reading your post I thought it was fun how you were spinning plot possibilities. Then I hit the end, and well….there you go, LOL! You’ve definitely got a writer’s imagination, Kitt!

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  5. Hope you had a great holiday! And, I’m glad to hear you didn’t get swept away by a Thunderbird! 🙂

    I love your Mythical Mondays! They always get my imagination going in new directions!

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    • Hi, Lorraine. Yep, vacation was great and I even managed avoid being snatched by a Thunderbird, LOL! I’m glad you enjoy my Mythical Mondays. I love sharing folklore and myth. Thanks so much for dropping by!

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