July 11, 2012

On The Trail of Bigfoot

FLASHBACK: Six years ago, when the Bigfoot was still located in my museum-in-the-neighborhood, the Boston Globe visited. Here’s a relook to this article, to assist in celebrating a milestone I reach tomorrow.

Boston Globe Magazine, Sunday, February 26, 2006 PROFILE

On Bigfoot’s Trail

Loren Coleman chases legendary beasts, from the Loch Ness Monster to the Abominable Snowman to Bigfoot, that science has never been able to verify but that make even skeptics wonder: What if?

Loren Coleman Bigfoot

Most reports that Loren Coleman gets turn out to be fakes or mundane animals. “But it’s that 20 percent,” he says, “that keep me going.” (Globe Photo / Tanit Sakakini)

By Stacey Chase | February 26, 2006

To believers, doubters, even skeptics, Bigfoot makes a big impression. The replica 8 1/2 – foot hairy hominoid — crafted from the fur of musk oxen and buffalo, a hulking presence on the porch of a brown-and-yellow home in Portland, Maine — scares the bejesus out of the UPS man. Still, it’s right at home here on the doorstep of a man who has spent a lifetime investigating mysterious animal sightings. “I don’t particularly feel like a strange person,” Loren Coleman says. “It’s the subject I study that’s strange.”

He is a leading figure in the world of cryptozoology, a field whose legitimacy is disputed. Coleman has trekked to 49 states, as well as Canada, Mexico, and Scotland, gathering physical evidence and eyewitness accounts of Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, the Loch Ness Monster, Mothman, thunderbirds, and other legendary beasts not verified by conventional science but storied enough to make us wonder: What if?

“Eighty percent of all the accounts that come to me are misidentifications, are mundane animals – a few fakes, a few hoaxes,” Coleman acknowledges. “But it’s that 20 percent of the core unknowns that keep me going.” And he’s not chasing after unicorns. Coleman cites a pantheon of animals once deemed hypothetical but since authenticated: mountain gorillas, giant pandas, okapis, coelacanths, ivory-billed woodpeckers.

The rumored animals — so-called cryptids — may be totally unknown or rediscovered species thought to have been extinct. Initial accounts of such animals “are always fantastic,” he says. “The early reports of mountain gorillas said that they all stood upright, that they squeezed to death native women and attacked hunters.”

Coleman made the news late last year when he, along with a subsidiary of the toy giant Hasbro, announced plans for a $1 million bounty for evidence that would lead to the live, safe capture of Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, or the Loch Ness Monster. (The bounty was quickly rescinded amid concerns it would spark a frenzy and cause injury to the hunters and the hunted.)

A twice-divorced single dad, Coleman shares his four-bedroom home that doubles as the International Cryptozoology Museum [outdated info: now in downtown Portland, see here] with two sons, 16 and 20, and two chirpy parakeets. His day job is dissecting human behavior — specifically, youth suicide [i.e. prevention, but since retired from that work]. Coleman, who has a master’s degree in social work, is a consultant to the Maine Youth Suicide [Prevention] Program. “Suicide is the ultimate mystery,” he says. “And I’m very interested in mysteries.”

The oldest of four children of a firefighter and a homemaker, Coleman grew up in Decatur, Illinois. He recalls being mesmerized at age 12 by the Japanese flick Half Human, about a huge, hairy, manlike mammal reputed to live in the Himalayas. If the allure of the Abominable Snowman, or Yeti, captured Coleman as a boy, it has yet to let him go. “So I’m 58,” he says. “I feel, sometimes, like I’m 8 or 18.”

“It’s really about passion and patience,” Coleman says of cryptozoology. Says Sue O’Halloran, a colleague at the youth suicide [prevention] program: “We kind of joke when we’re driving north that he should keep his eyes peeled in case something should run across the road.”

Along the way from 8 to 58, Coleman became a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, a vegetarian, and a baseball nut. Today, one can almost see a little of the Yeti in his pale-blue eyes, framed by white hair and beard. But he is dead serious about his pursuit of phantom creatures and holds that cryptozoology is another branch of natural history, akin to anthropology or biology, even though there are those who consider it fringe science. “Among monster hunters, Loren’s one of the more reputable,” says Benjamin Radford, managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. “But I’m not convinced that what cryptozoologists seek is actually out there.”

Coleman, however, estimates he has taken 8,300 credible eyewitness reports of encounters with hypothetical animals. He keeps a smattering of evidence at his house-cum-museum — for example, fur and fecal material found in the vicinity of Bigfoot and Yeti sightings. “I’m really interested in measurable, tangible, scientific evidence,” Coleman says. “We need DNA.”

His edge-of-reality museum sits on an ordinary street and displays his quirky humor as much as his life’s work. Taxidermy lines the walls, and bookshelves and bins are crammed with oddities, including 150 or so Bigfoot or Sasquatch plaster footprint casts, a variety of real and reproduction skulls like Gigantopithecus, monster action figures, and souvenir kitsch.

Although none of his work is making him rich, Coleman has written or co-written 26 books, including the popular Mysterious America and Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America. He also [writes for] a blog at cryptomundo.com. He has consulted on TV shows, among them NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries, and the Hollywood movie The Mothman Prophecies.

Though he has yet to find Bigfoot, delusional fans have had no problem hunting Coleman down. “They thought I was a crackpot and as potentially unbalanced as they were,” he says, only half-jokingly.

Has Coleman himself ever seen something in the wild he couldn’t explain? “Not that I’m comfortable saying was definitely a cryptid,” he replies, then reluctantly admits he saw a black pantherlike creature while driving in Anna, Illinois, one night in 1969 [along with other cotherapists from the state mental hospital, who refused to go investigate further].

As for Bigfoot and Yeti, Coleman [considers] they are likely to be confirmed as real, while the evidence for Nessie is more elusive. Once an animal is demystified, it becomes the province of traditional science, but until then, Coleman will continue his hunt. “By pursuing something like Yeti,” he says, “we begin to understand the Abominable Snowman in all of us.”

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.

Filed under Abominable Snowman, Artifacts, Bigfoot, Books, Breaking News, CryptoZoo News, Cryptozoology, Evidence, Expedition Reports, Eyewitness Accounts, Folklore, Forensic Science, Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, Lake Monsters, Loch Ness Monster, Media Appearances, Mothman, Movie Monsters, Museums, Mystery Cats, Pop Culture, Public Forum, Reviews, Sasquatch, Sea Serpents, Skunk Apes