Uncovering the Mystery of the Halen Vulture: Sweden’s Elusive Giant Bird.

Fred Andersson
6 min readMar 18, 2023

In my text “Dinosaur Disclosure: Large Lizards, Sinister Serpents, and Dangerous Dragons in the Modern World,” I briefly mention a large winged creature in Sweden. I feel that a more in-depth look into this fascinating legend is needed. Enjoy!

In northwestern Blekinge, between Ryd and Bromölla, lies the small town of Olofström. With just under 8000 inhabitants, it is not particularly remarkable, except for Holje Bok — an antiquarian bookstore that claims to have between 200–300 thousand books in stock. That alone feels remarkable, but the fact is that this small town is known for one more thing… and it’s something extremely strange.

To understand where this following story comes from, we have to go back to 1624 and a document in which a priest tells the story of how the town of Jämshög, not far from Olofström, got its name. Once upon a time, a giant gam (an old Swedish word for vulture or eagle) roamed in what was then called Broby. It scared the villagers, and when it finally settled on Hallaberget, they simply offered it an ox for food, which it quickly snatched and flew away with. Broby then became Gamhög, whose name slowly transformed into Jämshög over the years. Whether this is true or a post-construction is a good question, but humans have always tried to find logical explanations for what is absurd and unknown. Another example is Gamalstorp, which has evolved into Gammalstorp, also in reference to a large “gam,” vulture.

Folklore about the giant vulture in Jämshög. From the collections of the Folklife Archives in Lund.

The stories of the giant vulture have continued to live on, and it is said that for several hundred years there have been tales of a large flying creature over the region. Some call it a pterodactyl, while others know it better as Halengamen — the Halen Vulture. It is said to be able to live on the lake floor since it lacks feathers and has a leather-like and scaly skin, which would explain why it is not seen very often.

Stora Norrön, the island in Lake Halen where the giant vulture/pterodactyl is said to nest.

Olofström is located on the shore of Halen, Blekinge’s largest lake. On the lake, there is an island called Stora Norrön, and it’s where Halengamen is said to nest. The question is whether this is the same creature as the giant vulture in Jämshög or just similar folklore in the works? It’s not uncommon in Sweden to have legends of flying creatures; for example, we have the raven-like Nattramnen — in Swedish folklore, a bird-like ghost of suicides and dead out-of-wedlock children. Another name, although it’s basically a different kind of bird, is Leharven. According to legend, this has a skeletal body, barely covered in feathers, that becomes visible when its silhouette is seen in front of the full moon at night.

However, let’s focus our attention on Halengamen again. There’s something fishy about this whole story. A year ago, I simply contacted Olofström’s municipality and asked if they knew about the stories of Halengamen, but they shook their heads and said they had never heard of it. They referred me to the Holje Bok antiquarian bookstore, you know, the one with several hundred thousand books, and there I got to talk to its colorful owner, Johnny Karlsson. One of the first things he said was, “I’ve never heard of Halengamen!” and he went on to say that he had lived there all his life and even been a guide on Lake Halen.

For a while, I thought this was a modern myth, something that had been planted and created on the internet in recent years. But then I found an issue of UFO-Aktuellt from 1997 where it is actually mentioned in an article on cryptozoology, but not with much more detail than what I have just shared.

So what is it then? Speculations suggest it’s our friend the heron, a big bat, or even an ultralight glider that is said to fly in the area. But honestly, the coolest thing would still be a dinosaur. Blekinge, Skåne, and the surrounding areas are the site of many discoveries of dinosaur fossils, from creatures living on land, water, and in the sky. In 2022, a huge find was discovered in Billesholm where archaeologists have discovered 200-million-year-old footprints of large predatory dinosaurs, along with skeletons of other dinosaurs, animal and plant fossils. The predatory dinosaurs found in Skåne are some of the oldest found so far, and the discoveries have allowed scientists to better understand the evolution of ecosystems on land from the Triassic to the Jurassic period. Billesholm is on the same parallel as Olofström, roughly 100 kilometers away as the crow flies. Much closer, in Bromölla, 25 kilometers from the alleged territory of Halengamen, archaeologists in 2012 found something more close to home: “Fossilized pterosaur remains are very rare in Sweden. Those that have been found have usually been fragmentary because the bones were hollow and thin and thus very fragile. The bone fragments now found at Åsen have a characteristic pattern on the inside. Much indicates that it is a large Pterodactyl, short-tailed pterosaur, probably a Pteranodon,” says paleontologist Elisabeth Einarsson in an interview for the magazine Allt Om Vetenskap the same year. The Pteranodon could have a wingspan of nine meters, which fits well into the legends related to Halengamen.

Is the presence in folklore of giant winged creatures an ancient memory of what once was? Maybe another archetypal character forever imprinted in the human consciousness?

Anders Malcolmsson, the student that drew the only official image of Halengamen (Olle Ohlsson, Sydöstran, January 22, 1976)

Halengamen is a mystery in two parts: first, the terror lizard itself and its history, but also whether it is actually a modern, constructed myth by an imaginative hoaxer out there. Could there be something behind it all or is the mystery itself a mystery? The fact is that there is evidence that Halengamen has been in people’s consciousness in modern times.

In 1976, a school in Olofström was looking for a new mascot, and a suggestion that came in was for this creature. Sitting on a pile of books, naked and without feathers and with snot running down from its beak, it was rejected. Perhaps it was in connection with this that it jokingly received the Latin designation Sarcorhamphus Papa Halensis? Sarcoramphus Papa is also the name of the King Vulture, which is found in South America, and one can speculate that the Swedish suggestion partly refers to Lake Halen because of the name Halensis.

Anders Malcolmsson’s Halengamen drawing and logotype.

I’m not sure I will ever get closer to the mystery of Halengamen, but it would certainly be nice to find witnesses to a modern observation. Maybe one day I’ll take my backpack and travel to Olofström, armed with binoculars and a recorder, to try to see the alleged pterodactyl-like bird and capture some stories from the natives themselves.

Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of five books. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm. Join him on Twitter and Instagram.

Sources:
Phone conversation with Johnny Karlsson, August 19, 2021
Recollection of the giant vulture in Jämshög (Folklife Archives in Lund)
“Eleverna håller på gamen som symbol” (Olle Ohlsson, Sydöstran, January 22, 1976)
“Ingen konkurrent till skolans symbol” (Olle Ohlsson, Sydöstran, February 19, 1976)
“Vingslag ur det förgångna” (Richard Svensson, UFO-Aktuellt, issue 3, 1997)
“Soptippen som är en guldgruva för paleontologer” (Allt Om Vetenskap, October, 2012)

--

--

Fred Andersson

Author of "Northern Lights: High Strangeness in Sweden", television freelancer, mystery aficionado and cat lover.