Bigfoot’s Museum: Loren Coleman on his new cabinet of cryptozoology curiosities

100 4336
For half a century, my friend Loren Coleman has been obsessed with unusual animals, many of which may not exist at all. Loren is a cryptozoologist. He studies hidden and unknown animals, and the mythology, urban legends, folklore, and culture surrounding them. Sure, Bigfoot, Yeti, and Nessie are the big names, but there are countless others — the Jersey Devil, the Thunderbird, the Mothman, to name just a few. Loren has written more than a dozen books on the subject and posts daily at the Cryptomundo blog, all from a firmly Fortean perspective. Does he actually “believe” in Sasquatch or sea monsters? No, because belief, he has said, “belongs in the providence of religion.” He just tries to keep an open mind in order to accept or deny evidence based on examination and investigation.

Over the years, Loren has amassed an astounding collection of cryptozoology curiosities, artifacts, and oddities, from toys, beer cans, and t-shirts emblazoned with one cryptid or another to scientific specimens, plaster casts, and movie props. His collection, called the International Cryptozoology Museum, has been housed in part of his Portland, Maine home and viewable only by appointment only. (Two years ago, he gave BBtv a tour.) But all the while, Loren has dreamt of opening up his wunderkammer to the public. Last month, he finally made that happen. The International Cryptozoology Museum opened in a permanent space in downtown Portland, Maine, sharing space with a fantastically-fringe bookstore Green Hand Books. It has regular hours and admission is just $5. Loren answered my questions in between giving the steady stream of visitors personal tours of the collection.

More photos and interview after the jump!


100 4312

Congratulations, buddy! You’ve been working
towards the opening of a public museum for decades. Why is it
so important to you?

March 2010 marks
my 50th year anniversary of actively pursuing cryptozoological
subjects, through doing fieldwork, going on expeditions,
working on archival/library research, writing books, blogs, and
articles, and appearing in documentaries, on television
programs, and on radio shows. It also signals five decades of
collecting original cryptozoology items, copies of cryptid
casts, expedition artifacts, various forms of other evidence,
popular cultural items, tourist souvenirs, cryptid sculptures,
original cz art, plus written material, books, and photographs
on this subject.

I learned in this field, early on,
that people come and go, and other people specialized, usually
in Bigfoot only, at the exclusive of other cryptids.
Nevertheless, I remained focussed on preserving the history of
the general field, holistically, comprehensively, and globally.
The human element has been as important, sometimes as the
cryptids, to me. The hunters, seekers, and searchers, as well
as the artists, writers, and “experts,” have their own history
to add to the story. Therefore, I tried to buy, gather,
collect, and receive items, papers, and books out of respect to
the work that people who have pursued these unknowns, these as
yet to be discovered species, deserved.

With limited
resources, passion, and forward movement, with the stories of
research archives destroyed, lost, and stolen being difficult
to hear, I collected and collected.

Several years
ago, I decided that the next major phase of my cryptozoological
life would be creating a museum for these materials. I first
decided to do this as an elaborate cabinet-of-curiosities
museum in my home, six years ago. Researchers, television
producers, filmmakers, and some members of the general public
found it. But having anything in your home, especially with my
rising popularity, causes some tension with the personal and
private parts of your life. The eventual goal, to go public
outside my home, was always there. But I had to start
somewhere.

Why is it so important? I feel
cryptozoology, as a science, is significant to the history of
zoology, and I wanted to attempt to be a focal point where
people would know that items of historical value could be
preserved. While a few Bigfoot museums exist on the West Coast,
no one had provided a scientific, educational, and preservation
resource just for cryptozoology. Since I had the advantage of
gathering so much for so many years, it seemed a natural
outgrowth of my appreciation for this field and its
researchers.

I needed to go public to extend that
educational mission, and assist in the reduction of the fiscal
burden of having a static collection of such volume.

What’s your vision for the
Museum?

In the International
Cryptozoology Museum brochure, I have placed the official
mission statement. Here it is:

Mission
Statement

Cryptozoology is the study of hidden or
unknown animals. These are usually larger zoological species
that, to-date, remain unverified by science, such as Yetis,
Bigfoot, Lake Monsters, and Sea Serpents, as well as hundreds
of other yet-to-be-found animals (cryptids) worldwide, but
which compelling ethnoknown evidence has been collected for
their possible existence. It also encompasses the study of
animals of recent discovery, such as the coelacanth, okapi,
megamouth shark, giant panda, and mountain gorilla.

The International Cryptozoology Museum™ has as its primary
mission to educate, inform, and share cryptozoological
evidence, artifacs, replicas, and popular cultural items with
the general public, media, students, scholars, and
cryptozoologists from around the world.

This museum
is the result of five decades of field research, travel, and
dedication to gathering representative materials, native art,
footcasts, hair samples, models, and other cryptozoological
samples. Its director, Loren Coleman has moved his
cabinet-of-curiosities collection featured on various cable
programs on History, Travel, Animal Planet, SciFi, CNN, Fox,
Discovery, ABC, NBC, CBS, BBC, CBC, and Boing Boing TV channels
to downtown Portland, Maine. He and a dedicated battery of
volunteers have opened the museum to the public on November 1,
2009, the world’s first cryptozoology museum.

Realizing that cryptozoology is a “gateway science” for many
young people’s future interest in biology, zoology, wildlife
studies, paleoanthropology, paleontology, anthropology,
ecology, marine sciences, and conservation, the museum will
fill a needed educational, scientific, and natural history
niche in learning.

Intlczmusuem62 You built
it and the crowds have been coming. What’s the big attraction?

The attraction appears to be on many
levels. Cryptozoology, in general, is very popular.

I
am extremely visible in various media, via my books, my
Cryptomundo blog postings, and my appearances on currently
running and reruns of television programs (“MonsterQuest,”
“Lost Tapes,” “In Search Of,” “Weird Travels,” and individual
documentary television special interviews).

The
International Cryptozoology Museum is the first and only museum
of its kind in the world.

The museum’s unique
collection has writers talking about their own personal
favorites, such as the Crookston Bigfoot, the P.T. Barnum
FeeJee Mermaid, the Furbearing Trout, the Civil War
Thunderbird, and other specific items, thus making the articles
“personal.” As opposed to the media treatments just being about
Bigfoot, the diversity, fun, artistic variety of cryptozoology,
the authentic and the fakes, the factual and the awful, are
part of it, without judgement, as learning tools. For the
media, it’s a positive story, with a happy ending, about a
topic you do not see covered everyday.

Portland,
Maine’s thriving art community within its rebounding Arts
District is a center of some attention and great support in
Maine and among artists. The museum sits at the edge of the
Arts District, two blocks from the Portland Museum of Art and
Children’s Museum, next to Longfellow Square, which supports
bookstores, cafes, and performing arts centers. It is a
thriving, Bohemian, creative location that is exploding with
new energy.

The museum opened in conjunction with
Strange Maine Gazette newsletter editor and Strange Maine
blogger Michelle Souliere’s dream of having her own new
business, a bookstore. This happened at the front of this
location, and she invited me into the space, to share her rent.
It was the right opportunity at the right time, and the media
has loved this part of the story too. Michelle named it the
Green Hand Bookshop, and she specializes in supernatural
fiction, mysteries, Fortean books, pulp fiction from the
1930s-1950s, colorful paperbacks for the 1950s-1970s, and
related material.

 Mediawiki Images Thumb 7 79 Lorencoleman.Jpg
180Px-Lorencoleman So far, what is the
most popular piece on display?

The
Crookston Bigfoot, created by Wisconsin taxidermist-artist
Curtis Christensen in 1990, is by far the most popular piece
that is part of the museum. It is located right inside the
front door to the bookstore, serves as the first attraction in
the museum, and everyone comes in to look at it, take their
photos with it behind them, or just stare at it. The left front
store window is the museum’s, has a display in it, and the
Bigfoot is sitting right behind that.

At the back of
the Green Hand Bookshop is the ICM, so people have to walk
through the bookstore, pay their five dollars, and then enter
the back hallway and room that is the jam-packed museum.

The Bigfoot pulls many people into the bookstore who
never even come into the museum, but, well, I guess that’s my
gift to the world. The Bigfoot gets everyone smiling and
thinking. I like that. Some people take it seriously, some
folks laugh and don’t. That’s okay. It gets a reaction that
provokes thought, no matter what.

The Bigfoot itself
is enormous, being 8 feet tall (8.5 tall with the stand) and
about 400 pounds. It is a beautiful piece of taxidermy
sculpture.

Were there any pieces that
you just couldn’t bear to let leave your house?

This museum is a beginning. I would
like more room someday, but I had to start out smaller than
desired to see if I can make the rent and expenses. I have kept
the admission price at the lowest possible amount, five dollars
for all ages, no discounts. One-year, five-year, and lifetime
memberships are available. These first few year’s prices are
low so no one would feel mislead by the collection’s size,
which actually has multiple layers of exhibitions in 500 square
feet, with two display cases in the middle of the room, shelves
all around, items up front and in the hall, and more. For
example, there are 15 ft ceilings in the space and the 11 ft
long Fox-TV “Freakly Links Thunderbird” is displayed from on
high. On another wall is the almost six foot long lifesize
coelacanth.

 Wp-Content Uploads Unknown-13 Also,
although I have some wonderful docents, headed by Jeff Meuse,
my coordinator, and his wife Jessica, I am the only one who
knows the collection, thoroughly, so I am conducting all the
tours. I’m hoping to bring some of the volunteers up to speed
in 2010, for I have talks to give and more documentary
appearances to make. For example, I’m giving a keynote on
“Bigfoot in Film” late in January 2010, and delivering a talk
at a Mystery Cats Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in March,
then going on to Loch Ness.

Did I leave any pieces in
my home that need to be in a future museum? Well, in a
roundabout way, yes: My 40,000 volume cryptozoology library,
which I would like to make part of a larger museum someday.

I would configure the museum differently, also, if I
had more space for more display cases that would allow me to
exhibit smaller, more valuable figurines I do not have now
displayed due to the possible loss of them.

But, in
general, I’m very happy with what I have been able to share
with the general public in this initial offering. Also, I plan
to rotate new exhibitions in, all the time, and actually change
around an entire shelf subsection once every three months or
so, to keep displays alive, so to speak.

What’s your favorite piece in the
collection?

My favorite piece, other
than the sentiment value I attach to specific items that were
gifted to me by my sons, is the original flag from the 1960
World Book expedition headed by Sir Edmund Hillary and Marlin
Perkins, who were allegedly in search of the Abominable
Snowman. (They were also spying on Tibet, but that’s another
story, altogether.) This flag, one of the first items I ever
collected, parallels my entry into the field in 1960, and that
the first cryptids that aroused my questions, curiosity, and
interest were the Yetis.

Is there a
particular artifact out there that you’ve always wanted to
display but haven’t been able to acquire?

I feel that within the present
cultural milieu of what is recognized as significant in the
history of cryptozoology and what I know is still out there
someplace, I would like to obtain the Minnesota
Iceman
for the museum. Even though I understand it is
a fake or copied model, I would be delighted with it. It has
gone on and off the market for over $10,000 in the past, and I
have always wanted to acquire it for my collection.

Bates College Museum of Art attempted to merely rent it for the
2006 Cryptozoology traveling exhibition curated by Mark Bessire
and Rachael Smith, but I understood there were issues with
transportation and insurance costs being much too high. I
certainly know it would be a great centerpiece for the future
expanded ICM, and that would be my reachable dream.

Bigfoot in a museum would be the great, but probably
unattainable, Holy Grail.