Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Legend of the Piasa Bird

As a child, I knew when traveling on the Great River Road just the right time to look for the Piasa Bird. At that time it was about halfway up the road to my aunt's house. It was painted high up on the cliff wall - a famed, colorful, scary birdlike beast!

The Piasa Bird is now closer to Alton and resides on the cliffs above the Indian Caves, at least that's what we always called them. My father investigated those caves as a boy.

Now they are fenced off for safety.

The great bird has been repainted above the caves and a sign tells of it's legend. An explorer, Jacques Marguette, in 1673, discovered a painting of two "water monsters" on the bluffs of the Mississippi River.

Later in 1836, John Russell, a novelist, wrote about a legendary dragon-like creature the Piasa, "the bird that devours men."

Devours men? Oh, dear. Women? Children??? The original paintings were Native American. What led to the telling of this story? Was it passed down through the generations? Surely the story of the creature was greatly enhanced through time? Wasn't it??? Is there a kernal of truth? It's what makes seeing the bird depiction so interesting and why so many people stop to investigate.

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