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!