Chicago is known as the “Windy City”. As any resident will tell you, the reference comes from a witticism aimed at the long-winded oratory coming from the city’s often-corrupt politicians, not from the weather. But in the year of 2017, according to some reports, a mysterious creature called the “Chicago Owlman” (or sometimes the “Chicago Mothman”—and some wags called it “Batman”) was using the city’s winds in quite a different way.
It has always been a human dream to fly. Fantasies about human flight date well before the Wright Brothers ever flew their first kite.
Many of the earliest ideas for a “flying machine” were, in what must have seemed a sensible idea at the time, based on the notion of a human using some gadget which he could flap with his arms, like a bird. After all, it works for birds. None of these ideas worked for humans, however. Several of them killed their would-be inventor.
Today, with our knowledge of biology and aeronautics, we understand fully why it is simply impossible for a human to flap his arms and fly, no matter what he may strap to them. Birds are built to fly, but humans are not. A bird’s wing is a wonderful mechanical device. Unlike an airplane wing, which is fixed and rigid, a bird wing is flexible and capable of dynamically altering its shape as it moves through the air, giving it wonderful aerodynamic efficiency. An airplane wing can produce lift, but not thrust: it requires a propeller or a jet engine for that. Birds, however, can manipulate their wings to produce both lift and thrust at the same time, allowing them to dispense with any separate mechanism for that.
But even the wonderfully dynamic bird wing has an engine, of a sort. Flying birds have massive muscles in their chest which act as biological engines to power those wings. In the best fliers, those muscles are absurdly huge, accounting for a good percentage of the bird’s total body weight, and requiring a strong deeply-keeled breastbone to anchor them.
And that presents a problem that both birds and airplanes face. The bigger its engine (or flight muscles), the more thrust it can produce and the faster it can fly. But, a bigger engine also adds more weight—which in turn requires a bigger engine to lift it. It is a vicious circle which aircraft designers and Mother Nature have to solve.
Aircraft designers deal with the issue by using ultra-lightweight materials in their airframes and engines that produce the maximum possible power per pound of weight. Birds, it turns out, use similar approaches. Feathers are the ultimate in aeronautical materials—they are lightweight and strong, and can change shape in the air to whatever degree is necessary for smooth flight. Further, a bird’s body has been honed by evolution to achieve the maximum possible weight savings. Ancestral birds used to have teeth, but they have now disappeared. And bird bones are hollow, with these empty spaces now filled by outgrowths from their lungs that carry air. This lightens the entire skeleton. It also allows for a one-way airflow through the bird’s respiratory system, permitting it to be supercharged with oxygen and operate its muscles much more efficiently than a mammal.
Humans, on the other hand, have heavy skeletal systems, inefficient lungs, and puny chest muscles that are incapable of flapping anything to produce a usable level of thrust. We’ll never get off the ground by ourselves.
So it came as quite a surprise when, in 2017, the city of Chicago was suddenly flooded with reports from people who said they had seen what was not physically possible—a human who was flapping his arms and flying through the air.
The first report passed almost without notice. On April 7, a woman who was walking her dog in Oz Park came upon what she thought was a very tall man—until he unfolded his wings and flew away.
The next report came on April 15, when it was submitted anonymously to an online website that gathers information about paranormal activities: “I arrived for work at 2AM at the Chicago International Produce Market just off Damen and as I walked across the parking lot, a bunch of guys (4-5 guys) were staring up at the sky. I looked up and saw the biggest freaking owl I have ever seen! I’m 6’2 and I’m guessing this thing was at least a foot taller than me. It was completely black except for it having bright yellowish/reddish eyes like a cat. It stood there for a minute or two staring at everyone before shooting up into the sky and disappearing. It made everyone feel very uneasy and only took off after some guys threw some rocks at it. It had wings on it like an owl, only bigger and you could hear it flap those wings when it took off. It made this sound as it took off and flew away that sounded like a truck’s brakes when they are burned out. It flew up and flew a wide circle, making that sound once more and then flew off in the direction of the Stevenson Expressway.”
And then another report arrived: “I was out on the lake with my husband and two other couples celebrating a friend’s birthday. We were about 2 miles out on the lake, just off of Montrose at about 10pm. We were enjoying ourselves when I happen to look up and saw what looked like a giant bat, and not like a Fox Bat (which I looked up and saw was the biggest bat). This bat was as tall as my husband who is 6’4 or even bigger. It was solid black with eyes that seem to reflect the moonlight. This bat was blacker than the surrounding night sky and was perfectly silhouetted against the moonlit sky. This bat circled the boat three times in complete silence before heading off towards Montrose. It quickly blended into the night sky and was gone in seconds. About five minutes after seeing this bat we saw a bright green object traveling north to south at the horizon. It was not a plane as it was brilliant green and was moving slowly across the horizon. If I had to estimate, it was about 2 miles from our position. After the object was out of sight, we sat there looking around in stunned silence.”
About two weeks later, on April 27, a father and son were fishing on the Calumet River when they had an encounter: “It was about 7:30pm and we were packing up our gear when we heard something that sounded like train brakes when the train slowing down. The problem was there was no train going by at the moment. When the train goes by, you usually feel it going by, you also hear it as it’s pretty loud. On this day, it was quiet with the occasional sound of trucks or cars going about. We heard the sound again and saw something fly from our left toward some trees on the other side of the river. We thought it looked like a giant bird, but it was solid black. Within a minute, we heard the sound again and this thing flew straight up and over the trestle bridge and headed off down the river. This thing was unlike any bird we have seen in our lives. It was solid black and had to be about the size of a full grown man. It had wings that must have been 10 feet from tip to tip. It flew up and out of sight within seconds. We couldn’t really get many details as this thing flew like a literal bat out of hell and was still on the other side of the river. We stood there and watched it fly away, I was just blown away but then my son piped up and said he had read about some giant bat sightings that have occurred in Chicago lately, maybe this was one of them. We packed up our gear and got the hell out of there as fast as we could.”
By this time the local newspapers had picked up on the story, and were running articles about the “Chicago Owlman”.
The next witness identified himself as a law enforcement officer. He was walking in Calumet Park with his young son. “As we walked toward the fieldhouse, we were overflown by what I thought was a large goose as we have seen multiple geese flying around the city and suburbs within the last couple of months. As we watched, it quickly became apparent that this was not a goose, but something much bigger. I can describe it as a large bat, but it had a distinct human figure about 6 feet in height per my estimates. It was blackish/greyish in color and had an enormous pair of wings that must have been 8 to 10 feet in width. My son was in complete shock and asked me what that thing was. My response was an equally surprised ’I don’t know.’ This bat flew up and over the fieldhouse and toward where the tennis courts would be. I heard a couple yell out in surprise as this bat flew up and over the fieldhouse and out of view. The entire encounter lasted about 30-35 seconds from the initial sighting to it flying up and over the fieldhouse and out of sight.”
On May 19 three people were at the marina when they had an encounter. “We were talking when we heard this loud screech, it sounded completely out of this world and after a couple of seconds, we heard another one, only louder and higher pitch than the first one. We looked around thinking we had heard an animal in distress and if it needed help. That’s when we saw this large bat fly into our view. It was black and came from the direction of the bridge that holds up the Lake Shore Drive. It flew low and then shot up into the air as it came over the water. We noticed one of the Coast Guard helicopters was flying over the water at about the same time, but we’re not sure if it saw this thing as it kept on flying toward the Adler Planetarium. This thing flew a large circle and cried out again and almost instantly it was joined by another large bat. These things were big and stood out against the sky. They flew figure eights around each other. It looked like they were dancing in a strange sort of way. It was actually quite beautiful, considering how freaking strange it was.”
On June 29 another law enforcement officer had submitted a sighting: “I’m going to tell you about something that happened to me on the night of June 29th 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. I am reporting this of my own volition and I am wanting to stay anonymous due to the fact that I work for the Chicago Police Department and do not want anybody else to know that I submitted this report. I have been with the Chicago Police Department for over eight and a half years… On the night of June 29th 2017 at approximately 11:15 p.m. my partner and I were on routine patrol and approaching the intersection West 81st and South Throop in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. We were flagged down by a group of a people who were pointing up to the top of an apartment building that was on the corner. We pulled over and they immediately started telling us to look up at the building. Many of the people were very frightened and were very excited about seeing what they had seen. My partner and I look and see a large creature that was approximately six to six and a half feet tall and was very thin, if it had been a human it would have been emaciated. This thing was standing on top of the building and had what looked like a pair of very large wings that extended out at least eight to ten feet from tip-to-tip. No discernible features, it just looked like a dark black shadow with wings. My partner and I both thought it was somebody trying to jump from the building and maybe wearing a costume of some kind. When we both shined our flashlights to try to get a better look at what we were dealing with, this thing took off into the air and flew away. As this creature flew away, headed in a southern direction, something sounding like a scream came from it and within the matter of about 5 seconds this creature was gone into the night.”
Before the end of summer there had been almost 40 reports of people seeing a flying humanoid over Chicago, and the last sighting seemed to have been in January 2018.
One newspaper opined, “The idea of a 6-foot man-bat or mothman is a bit terrifying, but let’s not rule out Batman quite yet. We’ll know for sure if Mayor Emanuel buys a bat signal to shine on the Willis Tower.”
Since then, nobody has known quite what to make of these sightings. Some in the Latino community whispered that it was the Lechuza—a witch who can shapeshift into the form of an owl or eagle. Some thought it was just mistaken glimpses of hang-gliders or para-sailors, or just ordinary large birds like vultures or crows viewed by overexcited people who had read about the phenomenon in the news.