Illinois Thunderbird

Illinois Thunderbird

New 1970’s Illinois Giant Bird Witness Steps Forward


I spoke recently with a witness to an Illinois giant bird. She witnessed her spectacle though in 1973, rather than the more sighting-clustered year of 1977.

“I am not crazy and I don’t go around seeing things!” insists Joni Grawe. The problem is that she did see something that to most people would be considered beyond the realms of believability.
Today Grawe, 49, is a group benefits specialist for a paralegal agency out of Illinois and a former realtor, Sunday school teacher and substitute teacher in the public school systems. In 1973 though, she was simply young woman who witnessed a mind-boggling sight.
At this time, Grawe was a typical sixteen-year-old farm girl from El Dara, Illinois in Pike County who enjoyed nature and would often hike the hills and woods of her family’s farmstead. One of these solo treks proved more terrifying than exhilarating though.
“I can remember it so clearly in my mind,” Grawe recalled. “I can still see it all today. It gives me shivers just thinking about it. Even now, I cannot believe what I saw.”
Grawe literally paused for a moment. I could not tell if the memories were overwhelming her or if she was having second thoughts on telling me her 33-year-old story. She assured me that she had never before told anyone outside of her family circle of her encounter.
Thankfully, she continued.
“I was walking down toward Kaiser Creek. It was a beautiful summer day. I would guess mid- to late-July…the beans were up in the fields. I had to walk up this hill and at the top of the hill was a pond—a beautiful, really secluded area. Adjacent to the hill is a ‘holler’ surrounded by trees. When I was nearing the hill, I heard this trumpet-like screech. It was so strange, unlike anything I had ever heard before.”
“And then I saw them, there were three of them, two big ones and a little one. I say ‘little’, but there was nothing little about it! They were the biggest most frightening birds I have ever seen. The big ones were literally as big as a person standing there. Not thin like a stork, but huge—thick as a person. They looked prehistoric. They were all gray colored, wrinkly-skinned and matted. Their beaks were not ridiculously long, not like a heron’s, and somewhat hooked. Their heads were feathered, not bald like a buzzard.”
“The two big ones were smart enough to roost on the ground, but the little one—the child I assume—seemed more naïve. It tried to perch on a tree. This was a thin tree, but it had to be forty feet tall. The tree buckled—completely bent—under the little bird’s weight!”
“I dropped to the ground just shaking in fear and tried to hide in the beans. I guess it worked, because they didn’t act like they saw me. The big ones started flapping their wings and the earth was literally reverberating from it—the beans were waving! The wingspan must have been at least twelve feet. I just started praying ‘Oh my God protect me!’”
Grawe remained in the beans for several more minutes until the three creatures—with mighty, wind-creating flaps of their wings—departed via flight. Grawe ran the whole half of a mile home in shock and terror from what she wad just witnessed. She had just become the area’s first observer of a “bigclaw”, a name coined by the Pantagraph newspaper out of Bloomington, Illinois (and a clear play off the term Bigfoot) some four years later.

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