While Jim Wrestles with the Thunderbird...

by Martin Kottmeyer

*It was twenty minutes before airtime and Marlin Perkins was in the Lincoln Park Zoo running through a quick rehearsal for the upcoming edition of Zooparade, his 1950s show about animals that was the forerunner to Wild Kingdom. He was planning to show how the venom of a timber rattlesnake was extracted and he was giving the cameramen an idea of where they should be to get their shot. He later realized that he didn't really need to be doing this with the actual snake, but hindsight is twenty-twenty. He began to handle the rattler but in the rush of things he failed to get a proper grip on it. The snake turned and sank a fang into his left middle finger.

One of the keepers quickly put it back in the cage and Perkins grabbed a knife from his pocket to open up the puncture and suck out the venom. More cuts and suction cups were applied, this being the standard emergency procedure of the time. He was quickly taken to the hospital and another person had to take over. The substitute did the venom extraction and mentioned the very same snake bit Perkins earlier. Perkins said it was the very worst accident that ever happened during the run of Zooparade. It took him three weeks before he was released from the hospital.

The Newlywed Game

By David Bloomberg

The story Martin relates here about people who are absolutely certain they saw something that they couldnít have seen is similar to an urban legend that has been around for quite some time, and was recently debunked in TV Guide (7/24/99).

The supposed incident happened on the Newlywed Game in the 1970s, when host Bob Eubanks supposedly asked contestants for the strangest place theyíd ever made whoopee. According to the legend, one contestant gave, as TV Guide said, "a shocking reply of uh, great anatomical accuracy."

In fact, numerous people claim they have seen this particular clip, and are absolutely sure of it. The John & Liz show on WYMG, a couple months ago, even had a listener bring this up and several others called in to say that they, too, had seen the clip. The problem is, as TV Guide notes, "This wasnít live television. This wasnít TV in the outlandish age of South Park." Even if somebody had said it, there is no way a 1970s TV show would have aired it!

Simply put, it didnít happen. It was not on the show. None of these people who absolutely believe they have seen it ever saw it. It is an urban legend, but one that has somehow caused false memories of a non-event to form in the minds of some people....

The story doesn't end there. As Perkins tells it, "An interesting after-reaction to this episode is the fact that even today I meet people who in all seriousness tell me that they sat there in front of their television receivers and watched that rattlesnake sink his fangs into my finger. At first, I used to correct them and explain I wasnít on the show that day, that the bite occurred before we were on the air. But these people are so sure in their own minds that they have seen this thing happen that I now just let it pass and donít try to correct them. Perhaps this shows the power of suggestion." (Marlin Perkins, My Wild Kingdom, E.P. Dutton, 1982, pp. 118-9)

This pleasant little anecdote I guess could be called false memory spontaneously generated. What sprang to my mind on reading this was the longstanding Thunderbird photo mystery. I first heard about it in one of Daniel Cohenís paperbacks Monsters, Giants, and Little Men from Mars (Dell, 1975, pp. 172-8.) People swear they have seen a photo of a Thunderbird killed in 1886 out around Tombstone, Arizona and tacked up on a barn. Six men with outstretched arms provide scale for the size of the monster. Researchers have sifted through back issue files of numerous magazines in hopes of finding it, but the helpful leads by all the witnesses never pan out.

The saga of the Thunderbird photo was revived in the pages of Strange magazine around 1990 and has generated recurring comment by people who try to provide the lead that will bring the photo to light again. (Issues #5, #6, #7, #11, #12, #15, #16, #19) Reading one of those articles, I spent a couple days rummaging through issue runs of Beyond, Fate, Saga, and Pursuit and found nothing. I didnít find it and admit it was probably a longshot given that my collections were far from extensive. Yet the continuing failure to find it has prompted others to thoughts that this is an odd twist on false memory syndrome, specifically David W. Dera and J. Ellsworth Weaver in Strange issue #16 (1995).

It is notoriously difficult to prove a negative and a hazard to proclaim one. State it categorically and the next day the devilish thing will pop up in somebodyís attic, you fully expect. Still, false memories evidently do happen out in the wild without the assistance of therapists. The unreality of the Thunderbird photo is thinkable.

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