Winged “Demon” Over the Bronx—1904
Let’s go back for a moment to a different age—the early 1900s, specifically, New York City in 1904.
The modern five boroughs had been united a few short years previously (1898.) The city’s population was just over three million (compared to 2019’s total of over 19 million.) And the city’s first subway would only open in October, bringing a new era of transportation to the growing metropolis.
On June 15th, over a thousand people were killed when the steamship “General Slocum” caught fire and burned in the East River.
The disaster and its repercussion were still fresh in people’s minds when another series of stories ran in the New York Times on June 22nd. This strange tale involved a series of weird encounters that transpired at a lonely outpost in the Bronx.
According to numerous police officers, a giant, winged creature was causing so much turmoil at the post that the location earned the nickname “the hoodoo post.”
Some thought the creature was merely a large, aggressive owl while others were convinced it was something of supernatural origin. The station’s acting captain thought animal officials could deal with the problem. Under the banner “Doings in Lorillard Lane Helmets Battered and Clothes Torn by a Bronx “What-is-it” The Times reports:
“Acting Captain Wilson of the Bronx Park Police Station last night asked the Superintendent of the Zoological Gardens to try to take into custody a big brown 'owl' for which the past three weeks has been scaring the policemen who were assigned to Post 16, which is one of the most lonely posts in the gloomy old Bronx Precinct.
For many days, it was believed that a winged demon had deigned to hover over Post 16, and the policemen who were assigned to duty there came into the old station in the Lorillard Mansion night after night with wonderful tales of what had happened on the hoodoo post.”
It’s hard now to imagine any police station in the Bronx being lonely or desolate, but in the early 1900s, New York City was still growing and people from around the world were coming to the city seeking new starts and opportunities. Of course, they also brought their customs and cultural traditions with them as well as their native folklore and superstitions.
Officers of several different backgrounds had strange experiences at the “lonely post.” Officer Patrick J. Hickey called the entity the most horrid thing he had ever encountered and was adamant that it wasn’t a known animal:
“It's not an owl, it's a devil with wings. Sure I know an owl when I see one, but no man ever seen an owl with wings six feet wide. And it "whooo's" like a ghost in a graveyard too, when it's not growling beneath its breath. Why men, he's no owl; he’s a devil; and I'm going to get transferred."
Hickey did indeed leave the cursed post in short order, but the creature hung around to plague other officers. After Hickey was transferred, a German policeman was assigned to Post 16.
The German policeman had only been at the post for an hour one night when he came running into the station house to report that he had seen the creature. Shouting at his fellow officers the German proclaimed:
"I've seen it! It had a stick in its claw, and it tried to smash my head. When I ducked, it ducked too, and I had to run behind a tree while we are fighting. I think it is supernatural, that's what I think."
The winged thing was terrifying policemen one after another. Policeman Walter Kane was the next one assigned to the infamous post, but he put in for a transfer in a hurry after reporting that a strange, winged creature knocked his helmet off while he was patrolling the lane.
Next up was Policeman Frank Campbell, sent to the Bronx station from a downtown Manhattan precinct. He was on duty at Post 16 for only two nights when he encountered something strange that flew down out of the trees and attacked him. Campbell had not even heard about the accounts from previous officers on the post. He entered the station with his face scratched and his helmet battered in and wrote out his report. It states, in part:
“Shortly before midnight, encountered a dark, flying object with four legs and two wings, the beast attacked me, if it was a beast, and I fought back. Has the resemblance of a tall, slim man at times, and at other times assumes the form of a mountain dwarf."
On the night of June 21st, Julius Wensch, a resident of the Bronx, ran into the police station and shouted for help. He told Sgt, Appel, who was at the desk, that he had been attacked by something wild that "yelled like a tiger." He said the strange thing carried away a young woman who was in his company, and he asked for police assistance. A pair of officers, by the names of Ollet and Baker, were sent to rescue the girl. They found her running through Lorillard Lane screaming. She explained that a "wildcat with wings" had attacked her and had torn the feathers from her hat. The policemen went back to the station and reported that it was undoubtedly the big, brown owl which had been frightening policemen for the past three weeks. The acting Captain notified Bronx Park officials and a squad of men were sent out to capture the thing at midnight.
Curiously, as quickly as the reports had started, they also ended. There were no other recorded attacks and no other sightings by policemen at Post 16. It doesn’t appear the attacks ended because of anything officials did, however. The Bronx Park squad logged no reports about the capture or even sighting of an owl or any other creature during their search.
The “winged demon,” whatever it really was, seems to have left town.
What exactly did the witnesses encounter in the Bronx? Was it simply a normal, large sized owl or other night bird? If so, what caused it to suddenly vacate the area, and why was it attacking people to begin with?
Researchers looking into the case have suggested a range of supernatural explanations from a manifestation of the devil himself as one officer stated, to other anomalous creatures such as gargoyles, winged demons or even a turn of the century Mothman.
Perhaps there was a rational explanation, or perhaps it was something unearthly. Unfortunately, we'll never know exactly what the creature was, so we're left with a curious historical note of some very unusual encounters.