Summer of The Chicago Bat!

So, we have a new mystery in Chicago! Throughout the Spring and Summer of 2017, we’ve had a number of sightings of a giant, flying cryptid. Sometimes it’s described as a giant bat or giant owl, other times like a humanoid, between five and nine feet tall, with bat-like wings and glowing red eyes. Often, those who see the red eyes report being overcome with a sense of doom and dread. Many of the sightings have been around the Lake, at Navy Pier or around Lincoln Park.  I’ve been having my boat tour passengers keep an eye open!

A full list of sightings is being kept at Singular Fortean, which is doing excellent work at documenting all of the reports (though, naturally, many are anonymous and hard to verify). It’s a lot of sightings, but I find myself a bit unconvinced, largely because most of the sightings seem to be describing wildly different creatures, ranging from a humanoid with membranous wings to a giant owl.

Spring-Heeled Jack, a Victorian London mystery.  This story keeps make me thinking of this 1904 image!

Spring-Heeled Jack, a Victorian London mystery. This story keeps make me thinking of this 1904 image!

The story hasn’t really caught on yet, largely because I don’t think we really agree on what to CALL the thing. You can’t very well call it Batman, because there’s already a Batman. Same goes for Man Bat, which is another DC character. Some are calling it Mothman, due to similarities with the creature sighted in West Virginia some years back and immortalized in various books and movies ever since, but I find that sort of lame. This is OUR creature! It deserves its own name.

For a while I suggested we call him Holmsie, since it’s like a new Devil in the White City, but that’s not really fair – it’s not nice to assume it’s a “devil” or has ill intentions just because it has glowing red eyes that seem to fill people with dread. I recall an old Spider-man comic where Aunt May chastised Peter for not trusting Doctor Octopus, saying “We musn’t be prejudiced against the man just because he seems to have trouble with his arms.” Same applies here! Let’s not be prejudiced against the creature just because it has scary eyes.

Hence, I’ve just been calling it The Chicago Bat until further notice, though I’m making a list of other Chicago-centric ideas, including Chance the Flapper and Bat-Rahm. 

In scanning the newspaper archives, the closest story I could find from the past was a day in 1973 when a “giant bat” was reported sailing over Belmont Harbor (the shot at the top of the page is of people watching it). That one turned out to be a kite – but even in 1973, there were photos. So far, the only one I’ve seen is a blurry one posted on youtube that could just as easily be a kite – it reminds me of a He-Man Kite I once had, in fact  (it kinda looks like Hordak) as a flying creature.

In this day and age, when nearly every one of the people who’ve seen this thing (and in many of the sightings, it’s quite a few people) would have a video camera in their pocket, it’s a bit hard for me to take these sightings TOO seriously. But, still: it’s quite a lot of sightings, enough to make me wonder if SOMETHING is really out there, whether it turns out to be a kite, a guy with a hang-glinder, or some genuinely odd creature.

It’s not the only time we’ve had strange things in the sky, or strange creatures in Chicago. Way back in the 1800s, we were one of several cities where people reported seeing a flying airship long before such vehicles had really been invented – and none of the explanations for what people were REALLY seeing are totally convincing to me. In the 1970s, we even had a week of sightings of a kangaroo that beat up a cop – I tracked down the cop and interviewed him for the Mysterious Chicago book.

Piasa-Bird-Alton-IL

The current painting

I also think of the Piasa – when Marquette was exploring the Illinois River, he came upon a weird painting on the bluffs near Alton of a scary-looking creature known as the Piasa, later said to be an enormous bird that the Native Americans feared. Later accounts by a guy in the 1800s said the creature had wings, though Marquette didn’t sketch those. John Russell, the 19th century guy who told the most stories later on said that Marquette must have seen it on a dry day, because the wings were more distinct when it was wet (he claimed to have known it well before it was removed in the 1800s, though he later admitted he’d embellished a lot – the Piasa Bird may not have even been a real Illini legend).

Marquette’s own original description of the thing doesn’t mention anything that suggests what he saw was a flying creature, but it sounds like he saw SOMETHING cool. His description:

Marquette's drawing, from the IL State Museum. No wings.

Marquette’s drawing, from the IL State Museum. No wings.

While skirting some rocks, which by Their height and length inspired awe, We saw upon one of them two painted monsters which at first made Us afraid, and upon Which the boldest savages dare not Long rest their eyes. They are as large As a calf; they have Horns on their heads Like those of a deer, a horrible look, red eyes, a beard Like a tiger’s, a face somewhat like a man’s, a body Covered with scales, and so Long A tail that it winds all around the Body, passing above the head and going back between the legs, ending in a Fish’s tail. Green, red, and black are the three Colors composing the Picture. Moreover, these 2 monsters are so well painted that we cannot believe that any savage is their author; for good painters in France would find it difficult to reach that place Conveniently to paint them. 

As a boat tour guide, I’ve been keeping my own eyes peeled. Every damn flying thing that sails into view has me doing a double take – so far I’ve jumped at the site of several seagulls, a couple of pigeons, multiple airplanes, and, on one occasion, a duck. I half expect the statue of Ceres on the Board of Trade to sprout wings!

I also talked about the Chicago Bat on WGN Radio last night – you can listen in here. Most of the show is about politics (it’s been quite a week), but starting at the 01:31:00 mark we talk the bat and take some calls.

Of course, if -I- see the thing, I’d be the last person in the world anyone should believe. I’m the Mysterious Chicago guy, after all – it’d be in my direct financial interest for this thing to be real. But I’m keeping my eyes peeled, and asking thousands of passengers a week to do the same. Keep watching the skies!

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