Sunday, December 22, 2013

Short Post on a Tall Tale

Hi folks. Merry three days before Christmas. To celebrate that, this is a Three Toes before Christmas post. Well, OK... just a coincidence.

The reason for my posting this weird thing is that two weeks ago I got an information request here inquiring about something Ivan Sanderson did in 1948:

Did you find any files relating to Sanderson's investigation of the 1948 incident involving mysterious three-toed footprints found on Clearwater beaches in Florida, in which he theorized it might have been from a giant penguin? I think it was his first involvement in a cryptozoological investigation.

I didn't have time nor motivation then to look this up, and let it slide. But I'm trying to be helpful when I can, so yesterday I stumbled out into the SITU archives, not expecting much. This WAS after all a VERY probable hoax, and my own motivation was/is pretty low. But it turns out that Ivan spent a huge amount of time on this thing. {Warning: I'm still not going to go very deeply into this here --- it would be a full-blown research project.}

And, if you are a bit boggled by the "illustration" above: my system is still in malfunction mode as concerns scanning anything --- so, I decided for this to use the "Photo Booth" facility on this iMAC laptop to just take a few pictures for this. {comments on my own "alien bizarreness" as thus pictured should remain unspoken out of kindness.}

What I found in the archives was an entire three-ring notebook file on the claims. WAY too much to write a review on, particularly if the core reality is probably a hoax. But... of some interest to be sure.

There is a ton of original material resident in this file. And it dates right back to the beginnings in 1948-1949. The telegram above is from November 1, 1949, and original typed transcripts of radio program exchanges go back to 1948. Materials trickle forward through the 1950s. What this shows is that Ivan sunk his teeth into this potential anomaly and tenaciously held on for a long time. In other words, he took the thing very seriously.

But did he take it seriously as a possible Giant Penguin??? Well... whether this bothers any Ivan supporters or not ... Yep.

Hmmm... so was Ivan Sanderson a complete lunatic after all? Any skeptical debunker type person would probably jump on this as proof positive that Sanderson was indeed a lunatic. But, my view is much more moderate even given this.

What Ivan was was a romantic. He was hopeful of wonder and mystery. To begin with, this case was not at all obvious to anyone down at that Florida beach area who was investigating and reporting on it [i.e. police and newsmen.] AND, there were claims of many different witnesses, some in multiples. None of them claimed "giant penguins" but they did claim a large animal of some kind.

So what's with the "Penguin" hypothesis?? Ivan was a zoologist and a good one. He investigated the material available and noticed the dominant three-toe theme. This threw out [given the size] any known living beast, and tossed his mind back into palaeontology. Once there he began judging reptilian footprints and rejected that these current prints looked like any such things.

But maybe birds. He then noted similarities with the prints of penguins, and researched extinct possibilities. There he found the "giant" form of penguin --- not, I believe, anywhere as giant as shown in the drawing above, but Ivan-the-Romantic thought that if an outsized penguin existed formerly, maybe a larger variety of it had survived, maybe even as a much more aquatic dwelling form. He corresponded with fossil scientists about this [ummm... studiers of fossils, I mean; I don't think that any of the scientists were actual fossils themselves].

Years later, when the original hoaxer was being celebrated by a smiling press, SITU DID publish the notification of the hoax. Ivan's second wife, Marion Fawcett/ Sabina Sanderson, appended a note to that publication doing the wifely thing: she, who REALLY adored Ivan, wrote that it should be said that Ivan believed that the penguin prints were hoaxes all along, but just pursued the mystery thoroughly. Well, God Bless your loyalty my lady, but it's not true.

What IS true is that Ivan thought quite a lot about the hoax theory [several variants] and in the end rejected them as unlikely. He was intellectually honest to the end about this though, and said that nothing about this mystery had become resolved [anomaly vs hoax] in his mind. He stated his reasoning processes in detail in several chapters of a surprisingly long report.

What does all this say about Ivan? We shouldn't be down on him at all. His work on this was intense and full of adventure. ... and "honest". He tells what he thinks and why. So what if what he thought here was erroneous? It's OUR job to do our own thinking.

What does this say about cryptozoology? Just what we already knew: it's a "dangerous" field to take simply on face value. Separating the hoaxers from the gold is a real trial. Just like any of our interests, it is rife with human meatballism. Maybe worse, given the hunter and fisherman "traditions" of telling whoppers, and screwing around.

My bottom-line on this is: I like Ivan even a bit more. he saw a possible amazing thing, made a BIG commitment to study it, refused to easily throw it away, and told me exactly what he was thinking. I'd invite him over for Christmas dinner and a good bottle of wine if he was still with us.

Bless him in the afterlife; hope it's still a bit of an adventure for him to enjoy. And Holiday Blessings to you.


  1. Now that you mention it , it just popped in my mind that hoaxers like these, they reminded me of the 'trickster'.. the hoaxers are like a human trickster (if you can call them that)..

    1. yeh... we're usually a lot cruder and less stealthy though.

  2. Happy Christmas from the other side of the pond, Dr Swords. Hope you have a pleasant New Year. Best Wishes, Lee.

    1. thanks and God's Blessings... 2014 looks to be a fine one to this old man. May it be as good for you.

  3. Hello Prof, although I've been spending much less time thinking about our favourite subjects, it seemed bad manners to let the year pass without wishing you a Merry Christmas. You've been a wonderfully congenial host for a long time and I've appreciated your friendly comments and advice.

    With regards to Sanderson, I think a great many us can lose that sense of honest scepticism when the subjects we deal with essentially tease at the strands of what we see as reality. It isn't as if we set out to be gullible or lack the intellect to guide our way through the mysteries. Neither is it always the case that people bend their perceptions of the Earth to populate it with a 'secret commonwealth' or turn the skies into a menagerie of space-faring oddities. Rather it's the nature of nurturing an interest in the possibilities that can lead us Out Procter with sketchy maps.

    I know there are many exceptions to this context, but we can still cite many of the major players who lost their way – some stayed out there; some returned and gladly warn others. In Sanderson's case, he charted his own course and, if he lost his way, it caused no harm beyond reputation. As long as he was happy in that pursuit, who should care?

    Believe it, or not, I lost my own way for a while there and stepped away from the subject to collect my senses and focus on more material matters. I've no immediate plans to invest a lot of time on the subject which is why I've been so quiet for the past few months. It's as if I no longer have anything to say on the subject! Nevertheless, I've enjoyed your company and will no doubt be posting comments from time to time in 2014.

    On that note, I wish you a very Merry Christmas, a wonderful New Year and hope you and the family are well.

    1. Merry Christmas and a Blessed year to you also, my friend.

      In truth, I may have little left to say myself. This is why a group of us are hoping to band together to preserve all those rare and sort-of-precious resources that have come into our lives to dutifully respect. Others in the future will still have them to say more than we.

      But I believe that I'll try to stumble on with the blog for a while, God willing. I do it because I feel that there are still many who would like to read and even feel about some of these mysteries that I've been privileged to encounter. So, for a while the Doors to Out Proctor will stay ajar if I have anything to say about that.

  4. Merry Christmas, Professor. I hope you feel your Mom with you this Christmas, and know how proud she is of the work you do. I enjoy everything you write and will be happy to read any treatise on any topic that inspires you.

    I thought perhaps you might like to know about the work of Deuem, who has developed a program (called Deuem) and a methodology for the analyis of UFO and BOL photos. Unfortunately, since he lives in China, I do not know how to contact him directly and his work is primarily posted in a members only forum, although it is open to anyone who wishes to join. Snips from the most recent post:

    Deuem Update! - George Adamski UFO Video Analysis .;topicseen#new

    Deuem says all frames from this film are "dead" meaning the craft show no hidden circles or lines appearing surrounding the craft...that normally appear when an object is emanating an energy field

    ...Ok then, for comparison let's look at some frames from a known object (saucer in action I filmed at Area 51) that DOES emit energy, with the Deuem spectral cartography illuminating unseen circles and lines of force fields and energy fields now surrounding the craft, as a contrast to the 'dead' images seen above in the previous post -

    ....At night it shows up more with a scattering of secondary waves sets. This is where I think I can pick up certain types of UFO engines depending on the interior bounce back reflections that come through the produced power rings.

  5. Hi! I'm a researcher and writer on strange mysteries for Skeptic magazine (US). I'd dearly love a higher resolution look at the unique items in the photos above. Is there any way to arrange for detailed photos of these or other items in the Florida three-toes file?

    1. Hello Sir. I'm 80 years old now and living in a retirement community and not in easy touch with the Sanderson files. Although I can appreciate a skeptical inquirer's desire to find more ways to make fun of Ivan Sanderson and other people (very few I would guess regarding Florida 3-toed "monsters",) I am no longer in close touch with the collection. Sanderson was indeed the sort of scientific witch that still needs to be hunted down despite being dead for 50 years. Best wishes in your quests. P.S. I've attended several CSICOP meetings in my day and was treated to the wholly unscientific derisive merriment that was the staple there. I was once told by Paul Kurtz that these things are obviously all ridiculous and do not require anything other than ridicule. I find many things in the area of mysteries as having no merit, but not until after a sympathetic study and never involving creating general atmospheres of broad-brush smirking rejection.

    2. Hi! Thanks for the reply; I appreciate your time. You're quite right that Paul Kurtz was dismissive of allegedly paranormal mysteries, which he viewed as a trivial footnote to his work promoting secular humanism. However, I'm happy to say "broad brush smirking rejection" is not my approach at all. I write the children's section of Skeptic magazine from a perspective of deep love for mysteries, research, and solutions (when possible!).

      My own feeling is that paranormal belief is an important and chronically understudied part of the human condition that deserves much more serious scholarly attention. In that light, my book on cryptozoology for Columbia University Press (Abominable Science) is generally considered a reputable contribution to the literature.

      In this case, I believe the three-toes story can benefit from a deeper new assessment. May I ask, are the Sanderson papers you cared for now part of the American Philosophical Society collection? Are you able to provide any leads or contacts that might help me to track down those materials? Any leads would be deeply appreciated!

      Thank you again!

      PS: my public email address is

    3. I still care-take the Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained (SITU) files at my former house. It is withing these files that the Ivan Sanderson notebooks are deposited. Within one of those is the three-toes material. People can still visit the files and research them. I just need forewarning as to timing to arrange that. I have other researchers that I believe are still interested in researching the files and this procedure has been "policy" for years (as stated several times in this blog.) The new owner of the house is extremely interested in one of the anomalies and is more than happy to allow access --- but this is someone's home.

      I still don't believe that anyone who makes a profession debunking mysteries has an open mind, by the way, but I do not block anyone from coming to the files for as much research and page copying as they want.

  6. Hello again! I’m happy to say that I’ve found a volunteer in Detroit who is generously willing to drive up to photograph those papers during the week of July 26-30. How may we arrange access? Are there specific windows of time? Please let me know how to instruct our kind volunteer. And tank you once again for your help — I appreciate it very much!

    1. Person should contact me at to arrange things.