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It Starts With Animals

Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 22nd, 2008

Sure, the keynote speaker studies Mothman.
“To me, I start with animals. That’s the way I usually view it,” noted cryptozoologist Loren Coleman said.
Coleman, famous for his investigations of creatures that go bump in the night such as the Mothman and the Abominable Snowman, is really just looking for new species of animals.
At the second day of a two-day conference at the Hibernian Hall, Coleman discussed cryptozoology — the study, he said, of hidden animals called cryptids by people working in the field — using his most famous case, that of Mothman, as an example. The conference also spanned ghosts, beasts and aliens.
Mothman, brought to the silver screen in the widely panned 2002 film “The Mothman Prophecies,” is believed to have terrorized Point Pleasant, West Va., in 1966 and 1967. The creature was the darling of the evening, as Coleman used his time in front of packed audience to discuss the debate surrounding the creature’s true nature.
Cryptozoology is the study of secret animals, he said, not the study of animals that do not exist. He said the purpose of his Web site, cryptomundo.com, was to discuss new animals “which are discovered all the time,” Coleman said. “Whether it’s a new species of manta ray which was discovered this year in the Pacific, to new monkeys or other animals that are out there but not seen by Western scientists, that the locals may know.”
Like the ivory-billed woodpecker or the giant panda before they were discovered, Coleman said, the science is all about finding animals that haven’t been found yet. “You have to let people know you view this as a science,” Coleman said in an interview after his keynote speech. “Most of the reports I get, I have to throw 80 percent out.”
As a scientist, Coleman said, he does not take the existence of these animals as an article of faith. “One thing it is not is evangelical,” Coleman said. “We don’t care if you believe or don’t believe.”
“I am very nuts and bolts, blood and flesh, about cryptozoological creatures,” Coleman told his audience. “I was just interested in animals.”

If one animal inspired Coleman, it was the Abominable Snowman. When he was growing up, he saw “Half Human,” by the king of Japan’s monster movies, Ishiro Honda, who also directed the first “Godzilla” movie.
After teachers told the young Coleman not to waste his time on the snowman, Coleman said, he read everything he could on the creature.
He was hooked.
People at the conference were just as caught on cryptids as Coleman. One attendee, Lance Nealy, made the trip to the Hibernian Hall all the way from Hoboken, N.J., to see him. Nealy said he liked the way Coleman approached cryptozoology. “He writes what he finds, and doesn’t seem to color it,” Nealy said.
“I like that he ties it to the giant panda,” Nealy added. The panda was rarely seen by Western scientists until Ruth Harkness brought a live panda to Chicago in 1936. Coleman referred to Harkness as a cryptozoologist in his lecture.
Attendees did not just come for Coleman. Paul Rosenfeld, a Waltham resident, is an investigator for the Massachusetts chapter of the Mutual UFO Network. He said he did not make it to the UFO conference the previous night, as he was with his family celebrating his mother’s 80th birthday, but came to the Cryptozoology discussion because “I’m interested in what they have to say.”
Rosenfeld said he wished people would be more accepting of UFOlogists and cryptozoologists. “People need to be more open-minded,” he said. “There is something going on as far as the UFO thing goes. I don’t believe in all aspects of it, but any mysteries, I’m interested in.”
Event organizer John Horrigan, a Watertown resident, who has worked as radio announcer for several Boston sports teams, has been interested in the paranormal for 20 years. “Being in New England, we have the greatest ghost researchers in the world,” Horrigan said.
The tone of the event was light, almost self-deprecating. A young man in a Darth Vader outfit operated one of the cameras videotaping the event, and during the intermission, the theme from the “Addams Family” played over loudspeakers. They celebrated the anniversary of the first Loch Ness Monster sighting with a cake. “If you take yourself so seriously, you’re going to get laughed at. But if you laugh at yourself, you’re going to get taken seriously. To me, it’s infotainment,” Horrigan said.
Jeff Belanger, author of “Weird Massachusetts,” a tourist’s guide to haunted hotspots across the hub and surrounding suburbs, said he got into the study out of his interest in history. Belanger’s enthusiasm was contagious, and his blue eyes widened, as he discussed cryptozoology: “If I’m in a party or something, they ask me what I do, and they’ll laugh. The same people who laugh, they have this ‘one time.’”
Belanger said the “one time” is what keeps him going. “The sharing of it is especially sacred.”
One person’s “one time” was discussed directly at the conference. Belanger, in a whirlwind tour of cryptozoological or otherwise weird sites all over Massachusetts, mentioned the Dover Demon, a small, lithe orange creature seen more than 30 years ago in Dover.
The demon was spotted by four people, Belanger said, as they drove down Farm Street in Dover. The creature was described as small with long fingers and toes, climbing along a stone wall in town. According to Belanger, the interesting thing was witnesses Bill Bartlett and John Baxter independently reported a demon sighting: “there were no copycat reports.”
Baxter’s account was given just a few hours after Belanger’s report, Belanger said. Now, the demon is the Dover Historical Society’s mascot. “The town has really come to identify with this creature,” Baxter said.
Horrigan gestured at the packed room, with Coleman fans, Bigfoot seekers, Nessie witnesses and Mothman aficionados and said the event was all about bringing people together. “All these people here, they’re networking, they’re making friends, they have the same interests. It’s a mash, it’s a social mash,” Horrigan said.

Glossary of terms
Bigfoot: Probably the most famous of the cryptids, Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, is believed to live in the North American woods.
The Dover Demon: The Dover Demon was seen on Farm Street in Dover in 1977 by Dover resident Bill Bartlett. According to newspaper accounts of the incidents, Bartlett saw the creature, described as small, with orange skin textured like shark skin, for six seconds. There is no recorded evidence the creature is actually from Hell.
Cryptid: An animal that is the object of a cryptozoological examination. EX: Bigfoot, Mothman, the Loch Ness Monster, aliens.
Cryptozoology: literally, the study of hidden animals, from the Greek kryptos, meaning hidden, z’ion, meaning animal, and logiā, meaning word. Loren Coleman, founder of cryptomundo.com, said skeptics believe the word to mean the study of animals that don’t exist.
Mothman: A being believed to be between 6 and 10 feet in height, identified by glowing red eyes and wings that look like they grow out of its head. Terrorized a West Virginia town 40 years ago, and is still seen in the woods around the town today.

Source: “Cryptozoologists and ghost hunters gather in Watertown,” by Steve Bagley, staff writer, Watertown (MA) Daily Tribune, Oct 20, 2008.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


5 Responses to “It Starts With Animals”

  1. MattBille responds:

    Not bad. The reference to the ivory-bill should have been to “rediscovery,” but not bad.

    Loren made a good point here – it DOES start with animals. For me as a kid it started with a library visit and Louis S. B. Leakey’s book “Animals of East Africa,” which does include a couple of oddities like off-color zebras. That book was so influential with me that I hunted down a used copy for myself 20 years later. I still read it every couple of years.

    (That could be a separate thread, I guess. So many of us got started in this business by reading one book or seeing one movie – it would be interesting to see what “the inspiration” was for everyone.)

  2. archer1945 responds:

    It is hard to think of many animals, especially those in the deep jungles and high mountains of Africa that did not start out as cryptids, and even some not so well hidden. I believe the rhinocerous was thought to be an imaginary animal for many years and they are a bit hard to hide.

    Part of the problem is so many people believe virtually all the land surfaces on this planet have been explored. The United States is a good example, sure airplanes have flown over every square inch of the country and there are probably aerial photos of almost all of it. However there are still a good many places no white man has set foot and plenty of forest area so dense there is no way to have any idea what is beneath the trees.

  3. Lightning Orb responds:

    Nice article.. People are still seeing Mothman?

  4. DWA responds:

    Matt Bille: “Animals of East Africa” was an important book to me too. Our family got it when I was about 12, and I still have the copy.

    I particularly loved the paintings of extinct species by Jay Matternes, the Picasso of Paleontology. And while we’re on him: the Life Nature Library – probably the seminal zoological texts of my childhood – had a really good volume, “Early Man,” with some fine paintings by Jay – among numerous he produced for that series – of Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus.

    It actually sounds (“It Starts With Animals”) like this could be the “inspiration” thread. Because Bigfoot has always been an animal to me, nothing more, and more than intriguing enough, just as that. (We do seem to have an odd species tendency to inflate critters into monsters.) My first exposure to the Big Guy wasn’t “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” but a surprisingly even-handed article, in a conservative (small-c) wildlife mouthpiece, National Wildlife (the publication of the namesake Federation), which came out the spring after Patterson’s film did.

    On the book rack of the old Hudson Bay Outfitters in Kensington, MD, in the early ‘80s, I saw a trail guide by John Hart, “Hiking the Bigfoot Country,” which focused as one might surmise on Omah’s Northern California haunts. Intrigued, I told my new girlfriend that sure we’d go to California this summer (1986). But not to surf down south, like she wanted, but to backpack, for a week, up north, Hart’s book as our guide. (“But I have never seen a mountain lion either, nor a wolverine – species known to live in these same woods.”

    Few roads; fewer trails; few people who even knew where the place was we were going (we asked directions, at one point, in a self-designated “nuclear-free zone” that just happened to be just over the line, in Oregon). But there were, on the second day, tracks. A line of them, in an old road bed. Deeply indented, in ground we didn’t dent with our heavy packs on. Couldn’t make out features, like distinct toe prints. But I mean, they looked like tracks to me; and I’ve never seen anything that looked so much like tracks that, well, wasn’t tracks.

    And if they were tracks: a biped with human-like feet, considerably bigger than us, made them.

    Wish I’d taken pictures. But the forest was so dark that I couldn’t take a handheld shot, on a sunny day at noon. I had a monopod but not a tripod.

    And who would look at them anyway…?

    (Oh. We’re still married. I actually have to tone her down a bit when those tracks come up. She’s convinced.)

  5. kittenz responds:

    “Animals of East Africa” – I have that one too. Read it as a child, many times – but my passion for animals (especially cats) began long before I could read. My mother says that as soon as she brought me home at birth, and I saw my first cat, when I was about 5 weeks old, my eyes locked on it and it was love (or obsession) at first sight.

    I think that my interest in cryptozoology began with my grade-school library. I always wished that dinosaurs and sabertoothed cats still lived. I used to pretend to be a Smilodon and my younger brothers were the “prey” to be attacked :) . And then one day I stumbled across a book called “Investigating the Unexplained” by Ivan T. Sanderson. Reading that book was a mind-expanding experience. I checked it out over and over again and drew pictures all the time, of the animals it described. It was the beginning of my seeing cryptid animals as possibly really existing, and not just wishful thinking.



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