This past weekend Abbey and I went to the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. Cryptozoology, for those who may not be hip to the field, is the study of (as yet) unknown animals. In other words, the Zoology of animals that are not yet documented by science, but some day may be. Here to the left, for instance, is the cabinet for Yeti artifacts. The museum is the brainchild of Loren Coleman, who founded it in 2003 to house some of the many objects he’s collected in decades of work in the field. In-between teaching public policy and being one of the world’s foremost experts on the copycat suicide phenomenon, he’s spent a lot of time on the trail of unknown animals, and authored over 20 books on the subject.
Coleman is widely regarded as a serious and careful researcher, which befits Cryptozoology, since, of all the paranormal disciplines, this is the one that is most like conventional science. While there certainly are cryptids (unknown creatures) that seem supernatural, and researchers that specialize in the more paranormal aspect of the field, most people who work in it would say that these are animals that live, breathe, eat and poop like any others, it’s just that science hasn’t gotten a proper hold of them yet. The museum itself keeps a good balance of appropriate seriousness and whimsy. Like the giant beaver diorama to the right featuring guest appearances by Indiana Jones and Steve Irwin. Delightfully cute and silly. And yet, there were 8 foot long beavers around in North America as recently as 10,000 years ago, so who’s to say that in some remote mountain lakes in Canada or the U.S. West, surprises may not linger?
Bigfoot, of course, as the marquee North American cryptid, gets proper treatment here. Besides posing for a picture with Abbey and I…
…there were some quite interesting displays on the footprints, hair samples and other leavings of our possible native ape. I also really enjoyed the cabinet of artifacts related to the 1967 Patterson film, which is either a thorough fake, or some of the best evidence. I’ve gone back and forth on that question myself, but I have to say that lately computer enhancements and scientific studies of the gait and body proportions of whatever’s walking in the film have me leaning towards “best evidence”.
The museum itself definitely doesn’t ignore hoaxes or issues of fakery. There are several exhibits devoted to the subject, one of the creepiest of which has to be the recreation to the left here of the Feejee Mermaid. Said “mermaid” was a fixture of P.T. Barnum’s traveling show. While the original was lost in the 1860s, the consensus is that it was probably the dried hairless remains of the upper half of a monkey sewed together with the lower half of a fish. More recent hoaxes and misidentifications are covered as well.
And speaking of recent, Maine is apparently getting its very own cryptid sightings right up to the present day. The color-coded pins in the map to the right display the locations of sightings of various cryptids. Some are more prosaic, like the ongoing sightings of big cats that indicate that the Eastern Cougar may not be quite as extinct as advertised. Then there are your star cryptids, like lake/sea monsters and Bigfoot, of which there are actually a significant number of New England sightings. Abbey and I observed a cluster of pins in Baxter State Park and have accordingly decided to vacation there. My favorite, though, is the Specter Moose. It was apparently a huge whitish-gray moose with antlers that spanned ten feet wide, and was seen a lot around the turn of the last century. I hope he (or she (or descendants)) is still out there!
So, to sum up, cryptozoology is fun, and so is the museum. On top of which, Loren Coleman is there in person most days, and how often do you get to meet a real cryptozoologist? Plus, Portland is a beautiful town, with ridiculously pretty harbor views. Go visit when you have a chance!