May 12, 2008

1948 “Birdmen” Cases Revisited

You have probably read about the case before. Soon after the sightings and interest in other strange things in the sky, perhaps even thunderbirds and flying men in Washington State, the Zaikowskis were quoted as saying they had seen a “flying humanoid.”

The cases have been background to other discussions, as for example, when they were discussed in “The Black Flash of Cape Cod” by Theo Paijmans, about the phantomlike creature that plagued Provincetown in the 1930s, published in Intermediate States Anomalist 13.

In 1948, reports of “flying humans” were coming out of two towns, Longview and Chehalis, Washington.

On April 11, 1948, various newspapers published articles similar to this one:

Reports Of Birdmen Have Washington Folks Up In Air

LONGVIEW (Wash.), April 10.—(INS)—Reports of three motorized birdmen soaring over Longview had the lower Columbia River area agog today.

Two laundry employes said they saw the human airplanes or animated comic strip characters fly over the city without the help of parachutes. In January a similar birdman, singular then, had been reported at Chehalis, Wash.

The Longview apparition was reported by Mrs. Viola Johnson and James Pittman. They said they saw it at the same time.

Mrs. Johnson, a 56 year old widow, said:

“As far as I can judge they were about 250 feet high, in dark, drab flying suits. I’m not very good at judging distance though.”

Pittman could not be reached.

Mrs. Johnson went on:

“They had some kind of apparatus on their sides that looked like guns but I know it couldn’t have been guns. They were going about as fast as a freight train.

“I couldn’t see any propellers or any motors tied on them but I could hear motors which sounded about like airplane motors but not so loud….”

The earlier January 1948 report was also about a “flying man.” Here is one of those articles:

Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Press, January 21st, 1948

Flying Saucer Story a Fizzle; Now It’s A Man

Chehalis, Wash. – (UP) – The state of Washington, where the first flying saucers were reported, outdid itself today.

A woman reported that she had sighted a “flying man.”

Mrs. Bernice Zaikowski, 61, Chehalis, said she saw a man with wings attached to his back fly over her barn at an altitude of 200 feet and disappear to the south.

Mrs. Zaikowski said the upright birdman made a “sizzing and whizzing” noise as he climbed and banked in flight, but that his wings neither flapped nor rotated. She said she could see no motive power such as propeller either above or in front of him.

Authorities greeted the report with an oblique “huh?”

But the Polish-born Mrs. Zaikowski insisted she had a good view of the aerialist as he skimmed her barn on Jan. 6 [1948]. She said that some school children were with her at the time and ran to her backyard “for a better view.”

Officials at McChord Field, Tacoma, said that if the army had any “birdmen” it was news to them.

Chehalis is not far from where the original “flying saucers” were reported about a year ago….

However, could a mundane explanation be behind what was seen in Chehalis?

As Chris Aubeck of the Project 1947/Magnoia lists has pointed out, the January 1948 sighting seems to have come from a misunderstanding and/or a mistranslation.

Quoting from the article “Beware the Mothman Cometh!” by Chuck Wilfong, Sports Editor, in The Daily Chronicle (Centralia, Washington), obviously timed for Halloween, on October 30, 1976, p. 25, Aubeck revisited these insights:

Such coverage, however, did not exactly delight the Zaikowski family.

“They (the newspapers) made it seem so dumb,” explained Mrs. George Zaikowski this week. “She (Bernize) was old country and when she tried to explain what she saw it sounded weird, hard to understand.”

Particularly irksome was the fact that, while both metropolitan dailies played up the event, they did not give equal space to the explanation. The Zaikowskis learned later that the apparition was a man in a “parakite,” forerunner to the presentday hang glider.

“It was about the time they were trying to find someplace to use hang gliders.” Mrs. George Zaikowski recalls. “There were those who felt this area would have been a good place for it.”

To Mrs. Bernize Zaikowski, though, born in Poland and used to old country ways, the contraption was something strange.

And it was really. Any flying man is.

These new insights about the old stories, accounts found in many Fortean books, give pause for concern about the eyewitness accounts from elsewhere in 1948. Or do they?

Local Washington State archivist and Fortean researcher Chuck Flood takes another view:

A few details in the reports argue against whatever it was being something like a modern paraglider. The witness stated that the “birdman” flew in an upright position; she describes the wings retracting and extending; she says that it hovered, banked, flew level and ascended rapidly. I’’m not a paraglider and don’’t wish to become one, but those details sound unlike the paragliding I’’ve seen.

Indeed, the 1976 newspaper article sounds like an attempt to revise history, to clean-up details, and come up with a convenient explanation that might not entirely fit all the facts so vividly described in 1948.

Flood also has collected several of the original news items, including this one:

Longview (WA) Daily News, April 9, 1948, p. 1

Flew Through The Air

3 ‘Flying Minute Men’ Seen Over Longview On Wednesday

A story of three flying men – who flew through the air with the greatest of ease – over Longview Wednesday was related today by Mrs. Viola Johnson of Rainier and James Pittman, employes of the City Cleaners.

““I wouldn’’t have believed it if I hadn’’t seen it with my own eyes,”” Mrs. Johnson said in describing the three men in grey uniforms who circled the City Cleaners at 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon. According to Mrs. Johnson, she was taking her afternoon rest period when literally out of nowhere came three men flying toward the cleaning building.

She rushed towards the nearest exit, as one is prone to do in such circumstances, telling the rest of the employes to follow her. In the general hub-bub which followed, the only one who made it to the door in time to catch a glimpse of the men with the strapped in motors enjoying an odd afternoon cruise was the janitor, James Pittman. According to him, the gents, sans wings, headed back in the direction of Seattle. The speed was estimated at “medium.”

“”The best way I can describe them,”” Mrs. Johnson said, ““is to call them minute men. They looked just like grey uniformed minute men.””

According to Mrs. Johnson, when she first saw these celestial playboys she thought they were gulls or else it was time to have her glasses changed but as they came closer there was no doubt in her mind that they were human beings flying at about 250 feet.

Besides Mrs. Johnson and Pittman the engine powered flyers were seen by a boy who also was struck with the strange sight.


In January [1948], the Longview paper had carried a story about the Chehalis birdman. For what it’s worth, here is a list of the articles I’’ve collected about these two items. I’’m sure there are plenty more out there, but I think I’’ve got the local scene covered. – Chuck Flood

“Chehalis Woman Sees ‘Birdman'”; Centralia (WA) Daily Chronicle, January 21, 1948, p. 1

“Whizzing ‘Birdman’ Is Reported By Chehalis Woman”; Longview (WA) Daily News, January 21, 1948, p. 10

“Woman Reports Having Seen ‘Sizzling’ Birdman Over City”; Chehalis (WA) Advocate, January 22, 1948, p. 1

“NOW WINGED MAN! / Woman Says No Mistake Over Miracle”; Portland (OR) Oregon Journal, January 21, 1948, p. 13(9)

“Is It a Bird? A Plane? No! It’s Birdman! Chehalis Woman Reports Strange Sight”; Portland (OR) Oregonian, January 21, 1948, p. 10(1,2,3)

“Wings Over Chehalis / Woman ‘Sees’ Birdman”; Seattle (WA) Post-Intelligencer, January 21, 1948

“Two Report Winged Men Circling Above Longview”; Portland (OR) Oregonian, April 10, 1948, p. Sec.2, 4(3,4)

Stuart, Jim, “Flew Through The Air — / 3 ‘Flying Minute Men’ Seen Over Longview On Wednesday”; Longview (WA) Daily News, April 9, 1948, p. 1

“Pittman Says He Saw Three Planes”; Longview (WA) Daily News, April 10, 1948, p. 7.

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.

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