Flashback: Houston Bat Man

Posted by: Loren Coleman on June 18th, 2006

Fifty-three years ago on this date in 1953, a mysterious encounter occurred at 118 East Third Street, Houston, Texas. The sighting will forever be characterized as the “Houston Bat Man.” Is it more bat or man? Even thoughts of Mothman flitter about, as the thing was first compared with a moth. The story has been mixed up in the lore of “winged weirdies” and, probably inappropriately, within the David Grabias 2002 documentary, In Search of the Mothman.

* * *

According to witness testimony, at 2:30 a.m. on June 18, 1953, Mrs. Hilda Walker, Judy Meyers and Howard Phillips were sitting on the front porch of an apartment building, seeking relief from the summer heat, which was robbing them of sleep, when suddenly Mrs. Walker glanced up.

“About 25 feet away I saw a huge shadow cross the lawn,” she said. “I thought at first it was the magnified reflection of a big moth caught in the nearby street light. Then the shadow seemed to bounce upward into a pecan tree. We all looked up.

“That’s when we saw it. It was the figure of a man with wings like a bat. He was dressed in gray or black tight-fitting clothes. He stood there for about 30 seconds, swaying on the branch of the old pecan tree. Suddenly the light began to fade slowly. Little Judy screamed as the light died out and the figure disappeared.

“Immediately afterwards we heard a loud swoosh over the housetops across the street. It was like a white flash of a torpedo-shaped object.”

Phillips told the Houston Chronicle that the figure “was encased in a halo of light” and dressed in what looked like a paratrooper uniform. He stood about six-and-a-half feet tall and was framed in a dim gray light.

Source: Mysterious America (NY: Paraview Pocket – Simon and Schuster, 2006, page 261)

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

23 Responses to “Flashback: Houston Bat Man”

  1. LordofShades responds:

    I don’t recall ever hearing about this or seeing it in print. Interesting, though. I’m glad I come to this site, I can always find or learn something new. Thanks for posting it.

  2. tpeter responds:

    Dear Loren,
    The Houston Bat-Man sounds not so much, I think, like the West Virginia Mothman as rather like the English Owlman.
    The witness Howard Phillips has a Name Game resonance. His name reminded me right away of H.P. [Howard Phillips] Lovecraft (1890-1937), 20th century America’s greatest macabre supernatural horror writer in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce.
    Cheers, T. Peter

  3. chrisandclauida2 responds:

    bat man owl man moth man the man from jeepers creepers and the bird man named hawk from buck rogers[the late 70s version] all get their start in local lore or the imagination of those who see them and have to name or describe them.

    they are fun for us to look for look into and learn about and even better to see.

    we all drive down the dark road late at night and see a flash and wonder just what that was. maybe someday someone somewhere will get a firm answer.

    hell I’m still hoping for Bigfoot proof of a body. beyond that i have take a number and make priorities. i get a crap load of automated searches of Bigfoot/Sasquatch in my in box every day as it is i dont think i could handle several hundred more about the winged cryptids i have interest in.

  4. TemplarKnight21c responds:

    Sounds like some sort of government military testing. They are always testing things on the public without letting us know, and this sounds rather like a personal flight suit.

  5. jayman responds:

    The sighting probably belongs to UFOlogy more than cryptozoology. There are just some reports that are hard to understand in any conventional framework.

  6. twblack responds:

    Hmm never heard of this one thanks for putting the story here for us. Maybe a Moth-Man type thing. The military theory is an interesting thought also.

  7. Ken Gerhard responds:

    A couple of years ago I believe that I located the apartment building where the Batman sighting took place. It is on East Third Street in a very old part of Houston called the Heights. I have also heard of a possible 1990s Batman sighting through a friend of mine. In that case, two witnesses described a giant of a man who was wearing a helmet and crouching down on the roof of a building, as if trying to hide.

  8. Mnynames responds:

    Sounds more like Springheel Jack to me, especially the guy with the helmet.

    For military bat-men, look no further than here.

    Although frankly, I doubt they had anything like this in the 1950’s.

  9. Mnynames responds:

    I think I need to dig out my copy of Mysterious America again, as I don’t recall having encountered this story before either, and I thought I’d read it cover-to-cover. I jumped around a little (One measures a circle beginning anywhere), so maybe I missed that chapter…

  10. springheeledjack responds:

    The problem with these kinds of sightings is that they are both intriguing and maddening all in the same flutter of a bats wings. There seem to be so many odd-ball sightings from time to time that it is hard to 1, pin down what is fact and honest fiction, and 2, try to get any sort of idea of what is really being seen and where so as to track some unknown creature down.

    Flying things interest me almost as much as the swimming critters, so I am always on the radar for such things. Is there anymore on this or the Texas area for study?

  11. RavensRock responds:

    Do you think they had the military knowledge in ’53 to do what they just did recently:

    Elite special forces troops being dropped behind enemy lines on covert missions are to ditch their traditional parachutes in favour of strap-on stealth wings.

    The lightweight carbon fibre mono-wings will allow them to jump from high altitudes and then glide 120 miles or more before landing – making them almost impossible to spot, as their aircraft can avoid flying anywhere near the target.

    Even if experimenting then I can’t see them jumping in Pecan trees in downtown Houston..and scareing old ladies..
    Now thats a senario !

  12. The Owler responds:

    Interesting story, reminding me of the Owlman sightings in Cornwall, UK during the 1970’s. Coincidentally, I think each of those sightings were made in the presence of young girls (how old was ‘little’ Judy Phillips at the time?).
    Regarding the military, I got to agree with RavensRock. It seems a bit odd to test-drive your cutting edge espionage equipment outside an occupied front garden in a residential area. Maybe the wearer thought he was invisible too?

  13. aaha responds:

    Hysteria. This took place during the height of the Communist Red Scare amid the racial tensions that began to percolate in Southern Texas. One must understand the social and cultural implications of an era and apply them accordingly. I view this as an embellished “one-off” encounter that could be attributed to a dodgy prowler.

  14. Mnynames responds:

    I’m always suspicious of the “hysteria” label. Even the origin of the word causes me some concern- It originally refers to the supposed irregular movement of blood from the uterus to the brain, and was used by 19th century doctors to essentially describe female sexual frustration (Cure- orgasm…pretty simple, actually). Wikipedia states-

    “However, many now consider hysteria to be a ‘legacy diagnosis’ (i.e.: a catch-all junk diagnosis), particularly due to its long list of possible manifestations: one Victorian physician catalogued 75 pages of possible symptoms of hysteria and called the list incomplete.”

    Now, I know we’re talking about mass hysteria here, which is slightly different, and I won’t deny that there have been a few clear instances- The phantom slasher of Taiwan, the ongoing African penis-thefts.

    I myself was part of a small, unreported mass hysteria experience at a boy scout camp in Elmer, New Jersey in 1985. A rumour began to spread that there was a pack of wild dogs in the woods nearby, some of them possibly rabid. By nightfall, several different scout troops had banded together in one of the larger camps, huddled around large bonfires. Several of us had made spears, either of sharpened wood, or by affixing knives to the ends of poles, and guards and night watchmen were posted to keep a look out for the savage beasts. To be honest, I’m not sure where our scoutmasters were, as I can’t really recall them being present. In retrospect it was a strange sort of Lord Of The Flies situation. I know I kept my knife close to me that night, and slept little. Of course, by next morning, we were told by the camp directors that there were no wild dogs, and realized that no one we knew had actually SEEN one, only reported that someone, somewhere, had.

    Mass hysteria most often exhibits itself within small, isolated, and tight-knit communities, which certainly describes my old boy scout camp. So I understand the mentality of mass hysteria, but here’s where my skepticism comes into play- this bat man sighting has several actual witnesses, all of whom claim to have seen the same thing. Many Jersey Devil, Chupacabras, and other cryptid sightings have been dismissed as mass hysteria at one time or another as well, again even when actual eyewitnesses have come forwards.

    Cultural influence no doubt does come into play. It is worth noting that in 1938, many people in and around Grover’s Mill, New Jersey actually claimed to have seen the Martian war machines roaming the countryside. Was this mass hysteria? Well, yes, but they DID actually see something. That night, throughout much of the region, a dense fog had rolled in, which played in perfectly with Orson Welles’s description of choking gas clouds. Many people, under the influence of the radio program, interpreted the obscured, tall forms of water towers for Martian walkers.

    Saying that the Houston Bat Man was simple mass hysteria begets the question- who was going around suggesting flying people were visiting Texas, and why didn’t the eyewitnesses mention this influence? Ok, so we’ve got McCarthy and the Red Menace, but why would this take the form of winged men, rather than skulking soldiers with Kalashnikovs, or maybe men in black with Russian accents?

  15. Jeremy_Wells responds:

    oh, someone beat me to it. Definitely gotta agree it sounds much more like a spring heeled jack type entity (or the frog-legged birdman seen over Coney Island?)

  16. Mnynames responds:

    Like someone else said, that’s what makes these sightings so frustrating, in that they seem so subjective. Set this incident (Or the Coney Island Frog, for that matter) in New Jersey and it’s the Jersey Devil. In West Virginia he’d be Moth Man. Put it in India and it’s the Monkey Man. Move it again to London and voila- Springheel Jack. I’ve read recently that there have been a rash of Springheel Jack-like sightings down in South America in the last few years as well, although their name for him eludes me at the moment.

    And for those who would draw the conclusion from this that these sightings represent the same entity, how are we to make sense of the great disparities in time and place, not to mention the myriad variations in appearance and behaviour?

    To my mind, anyway, that’s the core part of why these particular reports are just so darn interesting. If anyone could actually figure out what they all mean, boy, we’d be certain to learn a lot more about the world around us and how it all works than we know now.

  17. Mnynames responds:

    Alternatively, we’d learn a lot more about ourselves…

  18. shumway10973 responds:

    sounds almost like a crossing of spring heeled jack, the final sighting, mothman and jersey devil. Although if I remember right the jersey devil isn’t easily confused with people, not even close. though the swoosh of something over head sounds like an aircraft of some sort.

  19. theo responds:

    What it reminded me of, is this item, published in Modern Mechanix, May 1935:

    Daring Bird-Man Soars At 10,000 Ft. On Homemade Wings

    For three years Clem Sohn, parachute jumper of Lansing, Michigan, dreamed of the time when man might go aloft and soar like a bird. Recently his dream became a reality.

    Clad with foot-webbing and home-made wings of airplane canvas, he bailed out of a ship at an altitude of 12,000 feet. During the first 2,000 feet of his fall, he kept his wings folded at his side while he tested his leg-webbing. Slowly, he opened his wings to check his descent, and for more than a minute he banked, looped, climbed and zoomed to right and left. At 6,000 feet he pulled the rip cord of his parachute and floated back to earth.

    While aviation authorities who witnessed the stunt failed to see any practical value in man’s new “conquest of the air,” Sohn was already at work designing bigger wings and planning future aerial maneuvers.


  20. Dark-Obsessor responds:

    Why would it be wearing clothing, unless it were civilized?

  21. Loren Coleman responds:

    Perhaps it only “looked like” clothing?

  22. Mnynames responds:

    Kinda reminds me of that famous inking of the Jabberwocky, where he kinda looks like he’s wearing a vest, but it just sort of merges into his body…

  23. Karrde responds:

    A man with wings like a bat that was dressed in gray or black tight-fitting clothes? Maybe it WAS Batman! Question is where he parked the batmobile! LOL

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