By Jonathan D. Whitcomb, modern-pterosaur author
The book reviewed here is about strange sightings of nocturnal flying creatures in a small town in Iowa in the early fall of 1903.
Subtitled “A True & Mysterious Encounter with the Unknown,” this paranormal book may fascinate readers having a taste for supernatural explanations. To me, The Van Meter Visitor appeared in some areas weak, and the authors should have more seriously considered the pterosaur sighting possibility. Let’s consider whether or not a paranormal explanation is necessary for this winged creature that appeared to be immune to bullets.
From the Book’s Back Cover:
For several nights in 1903, the small town of Van Meter, IA was terrorized by a giant bat-like creature that emerged from an old abandoned mine. The nature and origin of this mysterious visitor was never discovered.
Over 100 years later three researchers set out to Van Meter to shine a light on this amazingly bizarre case. Filled with eyewitness reports, historic photos, and current accounts of paranormal events, this in-depth book looks to discover:
- Was it an unknown animal?
- Was it mass hysteria?
- Was it a hoax?
- Was it an extraterrestrial?
- Or was it something far stranger?
The Van Meter Visitor
Excerpts from the Book Review I Wrote on Amazon:
“The Van Meter Visitor” is a large paperback with 238 pages, on a subject whose main points could easily be summed up in a medium-length article, if no photos or sketches were included. This book has a generous selection of photos and other images, many of which are directly or indirectly related to the winged creature. But the main portions of the book, the text, could have greatly benefited from a more professional writing treatment. I recommend all potential writers first master the basics taught in books like “Elements of Style” (by Strunk and White) or “100 Ways to Improve Your Writing” (by Provost) before even beginning to write a book. . . .
I applaud an acknowledgement in this book: Researchers can easily get carried away in looking only at their favorite explanations for a phenomenon (I forgot what page it was on but it was well put). At least one of the authors of “The Van Meter Visitor,” however, appears to have overlooked some critical possibilities.
Gun Shots From a Good Doctor: to no Effect?
On page 41 begins the encounter of September 30, 1903, between Dr. Alcott and something so strange that the mystery still baffles people. In the middle of the night, the town doctor was awakened by a light shining into his face. He grabbed his gun and ran outside where he encountered something “half human and half animal” with “great bat-like wings.”
Then Dr. Alcott saw the source of the light that had been shining through his window: a horn on the creature’s forehead. The doctor fired five shots at the monster but with no apparent effect, so he retreated back inside the building.
Here begins the idea that a winged creature giving off a bright light in Van Meter, in 1903, could not be harmed by bullets. Let’s look more closely at this encounter, before looking at the other accounts of gun shots in that little town on that week.
I suggest that the last two shots were fired without proper aiming, for Dr. Alcott was probably beginning to run back inside after the first three shots appeared to have no effect. Regardless of what effect the last two shots had, the key is the first three. I suggest the following, remembering that this was in the dark of night, even though the creature had a light glowing from its head:
- If Dr. Alcott was aiming at the creature’s head, he could easily have missed, to the right or left or above.
- If he aimed for the body, could he be sure where the trunk of the body was, in the dark?
- If he hit the animal but only shot through a wing, could not the animal remain standing for a moment?
Am I too critical, making a fuss in doubting the good doctor’s marksmanship? Put yourself in his position. If you had just fired three shots at a strange creature at night, with the monster appearing to receive no harm, would you not fire the next two shots while running away? I stand by the plausibility that only three shots, at most, were fired while the gun was carefully aimed.
Before leaving the doctor’s encounter, consider this: What if the creature had received a major wound from one of more of those shots? Is it strange to believe that it could have quickly retreated before it died under a bush somewhere? This event can be explained without flying away on a paranormal paradigm.
More than one creature was involved in frightening residents of Van Meter on this week in the early fall of 1903. That frees us from feeling a need for a paranormal explanation, although the book fails to acknowledge that point.
Shotgun Blast Through a Closed Window
Clarence Dunn (also known as Peter) guarded the bank building from inside, on the next night of adventure in Van Meter. At about 1:00 a.m., a light shown on him through the front window. After the light scanned through the room it returned to Peter, who then did what any sensible person would do when confronted by a monster: He fired off his shotgun, right through that closed window.
Six hours later, in the light of day, townsfolk looked in vain for a dead body in front of the shattered window. I don’t suggest the creature vanished unharmed; it just got away, harmed or not. Much of the shotgun blast energy was absorbed by the window glass, shattering it into tiny pieces, enough to hurt any living thing directly outside that window but not enough to quickly kill anything.
Gun Shot Through an Open Window
Mr. White was awakened on the next night, to a strange noise. He opened the second-story window of his room and looked out into a rainy night. He saw the monster just “fifteen feet away,” as it was on a telephone pole. He took aim and fired through the open window, but the monster then fired back with his light, right on Mr. White. Actually it probably did more than that, for the man was struck by a powerful odor, something so strong that it “seemed to stupefy him.”
Mr. White probably did more damage than he thought. What smells worse than a flattened skunk on a highway? Not much. I suggest that the strange creature on the telephone pole may have had something even more potent. Probably it was hurt by the gun shot, and responded with all the noxious odor that its defensive system could produce.
Sidney Gregg heard the gun shot and opened his front door to see the creature climbing down the telephone pole. When it reached the ground, standing erect, it appeared to Gregg to be eight feet tall. It flapped its wings while taking giant “leaps,” eventually running off “on all four feet” towards the old coal mine.
Shoot-out at the Coal Mine
Later that week, the townsfolk set up a watch at the coal mine entrance, with guns ready. At about sunrise, two monsters approached the mine. Guns fired, monsters roared, stench stank. After countless bullets were fired at the beasts, they descended into the mine, with no sign of injury. The book takes the view that the men were defeated at failing to destroy the creatures; but no monster was ever seen in Van Meter since that shoot-out at the coal mine. Why not consider the possibility that those two creatures eventually died of their injuries, with nobody brave enough to search down there for the bodies?
How Many Monsters?
The last shooting event illustrates a point that’s not properly considered in the book: Why think of this as a number of encounters with one creature? The last sighting involved two of them. When two events (or things) are known to exist, a third is often a possibility. Consider the possibility there were three or four winged creatures, with at least one of them receiving mortal injuries in the first one or two shootings, but with no creature sticking around for a postmortem. That would eliminate the need for any paranormal explanation involving unearthly beings that were immune to bullets in a small town in Iowa about a century ago.
We’re not talking about the demise of one or two or fifty species of pterosaurs here; the subject is UNIVERSAL extinction of ALL species of pterosaurs. That notion is not scientific; that is dogma.