The Dark Final Days of SITU

Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 11th, 2007


Did you know that the vast files and library of a great cryptozoological and Fortean organization were raped clean in their final days?

If you read closely through the long list of cryptozoology books being offered for sale by Robert Girard, you will note that some are marked with “S. I. T. U.” in them. A few have “ex S.I.T.U. library, their stamp on title page,” reports Girard.

Of course, these books he lists, no doubt, came legally into the hands of some collectors who have emptied their stock with Girard, but it merely reminded me of the sad ending that did occurr at S.I.T.U.

For those who don’t know, “S. I. T. U” stands for Ivan T. Sanderson’s organization that he founded in the wake of his short-lived Ivan T. Sanderson Foundation.

The mainstream information on this longer-lasting Sanderson group can be found at such sites as, under their “The Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained” entry:

An organization founded by naturalist Ivan T. Sanderson in 1965, “… for the acquisition, investigation and dissemination of information on reports of all tangible items in the fields of chemistry, astronomy, geology, biology and anthropology, that are not readily explained.” For a generation it was the leading organization pursuing research on anomalous phenomena of the kind usually associated with Charles Fort. It encouraged fieldwork and on-the-spot investigation by offering advice, helping to raise funds, and arranging contacts for members who planned field trips and expeditions. Fieldwork and research were reviewed by a panel of 20 scientists.

The society disseminated information on findings through a quarterly journal, Pursuit, and through papers and reports. Investigations by society members included such areas as claims of ancient Egyptian television, ringing rocks, entombed toads, and poltergeist manifestations. The society maintained information files of original material, a map collection, and a specialized library. It was disbanded in the 1980s.“The Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained,”

What this posting leaves out is the deep interest Sanderson had, first and foremost, in cryptozoology, and wished to pursue through SITU. Sanderson coined the word “cryptozoology,” was trained as a zoologist, was an animal collector as a teen in the jungles of the world, and definitely saw himself as a cryptozoologist. For such a site to concentrate the examples in the paranormal, unfortunately, merely reinforces the folklore that Sanderson was a crackpot, when the true was entirely different.

One fault of Sanderson’s, however, may have been his trusting of others. As he was getting sicker and sicker with cancer, after Mark A. Hall’s year of being a director of SITU, the end times of SITU in Blairstown, New Jersey, were not happy ones. More and more people, unscreened, would end up coming to visit the Sandersons. Many would “look” at the files, and walk away with materials. By the end, the rumors making the rounds were that people “in station wagons were backing up to the concrete bunker” and loading books and files into their vehicles. The “borrowed” files and books never were returned.

Ivan Sanderson’s concrete building that he had built on his land specifically for his decades of materials was legendary. It was filled to overflowing with files and his priceless library. By the time of his death, the collection of SITU was, more or less, gone.

Now the good news….

After Ivan’s death, his wife would gather what was left of his personal papers that had been kept in safer locations, and donated them to the American Philosophical Society Library in Philadephia.

Here’s what they list that is now held within their collection:

Sanderson, Ivan Terence (1911-1973)
Papers, ca. 1920-1973. ca. 17,000 items. (27 lin. ft.).

This collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, drawings, diaries, notebooks (restricted), and photographs. Sanderson began his travels in the jungles of Asia and Africa before starting his formal schooling at Eton and Cambridge in the late 1920s and early 1930s. His papers reflect his interest in animals, jungles, and natural history in general. Late in his life his interest turned to UFO’s and he was the director of the Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained. Table of contents (3 pp.).
Gift and purchases, through Mrs. Sanderson, 1977, 1983 (B Sa3)American Philosophical Society Library,”Ivan Terence Sanderson”

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. 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. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

7 Responses to “The Dark Final Days of SITU”

  1. Bob Michaels responds:

    I was very much aware of S.I.T.U.

    I believe after Ivan’s death, a fellow from Neptune NJ was in charge of the program?

    I had rec’d an application to join around 1980 but never did.

    Sanderson was a zoologist and a great naturalist, a man that I very much admired for his pursuit of unknown animals.

    It’s a shame that most of his lifelong files had to be stolen.

  2. mystery_man responds:

    I agree that he was a great naturalist and zoologist. I find it unfortunate that his involvement in paranormal activities and UFOs may cause people to overlook his sincere devotion to real science and cryptozoology as well as his contributions to the field. I find it shocking how his vast library of materials was looted the way it was.

  3. UKCryptid responds:

    I for one don’t think the ‘paranormal’ link does him any damage, the word paranormal seems very much down to personal taste with regards to how you choose to understand it. Investigations into ufo’s etc are just as real and noteworthy as any bigfoot expedition. They’re there to find answers to questions, for a start nobody can deny that ufo’s do exist, it’s not possible to say they don’t, what is under debate is whether they’re man-made or alien or something else and i’m sorry but that is just as good a science as any other in respect to finding out what they are. What is unfortunate is that people investigating ufo’s seem to be charged with being mad and talking to little green men, ridiculous. We can’t judge one science (or ‘folklore’) to be one thing when our own IS just as far fetched in the eyes of many.

  4. mfs responds:

    Truly a sad and pathetic commentary especially with the theft of the invaluable files and library of this pioneer of cryptozoology. It will never diminish his memorable and outstanding contributions to this unique field of study. I’m glad I had the opportunity to have read some of his great work.

  5. mystery_man responds:

    UKCryptid- I think you seem to misunderstand and feel that I personally am against the whole notion of studying UFOs and the paranormal. This couldn’t be farther from the truth and I did not say such a thing, as a matter of fact, as long as research is done in a scientific fashion, I am quite interested in what such studies turn up. What I said is that there MAY be people in this field who will see it as taking away from his credibility. That may sound ridiculous to you, but it is the reality and I don’t think that it can be denied or is in dispute. It has nothing to do with what I feel personally, merely I was saying that unfortunately people’s perceptions can be influenced by what they see as “psuedo science”, even from people within fields such as cryptozoology, which mainstream science sees as a fringe science in its own right.

  6. mystery_man responds:

    I think that Ivan T. Sanderson contributed greatly not only to cryptozoology, but also to zoology and a scientific approach to paranormal phenomena. I just think it’s a shame that the latter part may make certain people question his integrity when it shouldn’t.

  7. hammerhead responds:

    Ivan T. Sanderson walked a hero’s walk in this business, he walked it, breathed it, and lived it, devoting his life to searching out answers to the questions we only ponder from our couches and armchairs, if this world held more men like this, there would be no more secrets. Men like Sanderson and Tesla, and I’m sure other less distinct people, the closer they come to finding out these answers, the more dangerous they become to the “powers” that be. It seems the predestined end that their files become raped and disappear. God forbid that we would be forced to rewrite the sacred scrolls of science and history, after all, we’re only a bunch of crackpots chasing after the bogey-man, or so it’s said.

Sorry. Comments have been closed.

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