The Cryptozoologist > articles
Portland, Maine | July 4, 1998
Researcher's subjects prove
At left: Loren Coleman, a cryptozoologist,
holds a foot cast of Yeti, the elusive Himalayan abominable snowman, at his home
in Portland. Coleman will publish two new books next spring on cryptozoology, the
stuy of hidden, undiscovered and unknown animals.
Staff photo by Herb Swanson
By Will Bartlett
Guy Gannett Communications
Loren Coleman dreams that in his
lifetime, someone will make the discovery that legitimizes his life's calling.
Maybe it will be a black panther.
Maybe it will be an Indian devil - an upright, ape-like creature with red eyes. Or
maybe it will be ''Cassie,'' the legendary sea serpent of Casco Bay.
Coleman, 51, a Portland writer,
consultant and college professor, is at heart a cryptozoologist - a student of hidden,
undiscovered and unknown animals.
He has been captivated by the
subject since he was a boy, and has written more than 150 articles on it. He published
his first article, ''Mystery Animals in Illinois,'' when he was still a teen-ager.
He wrote his first book on the subject when he was 22.
Coleman has tracked sightings
of mysterious animals across 45 states and all over Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
He has interviewed witnesses and gathered and catalogued information about Bigfoots,
sea serpents and other beasts outside the current zoological spectrum.
Coleman's place as a national
authority on cryptozoology will be furthered next spring when his two newest books
are published: ''Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology,'' by Simon and Schuster, and ''Field
Guide to Bigfoots, Yetis and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide,'' by Avon Books.
Coleman, whose educational background
is in anthropology and social work, calls his pursuit an ''intellectual curiosity.''
''I'm not interested in ghosts
or UFOs,'' he said. ''I'm interested in tangible biological species. These are not
wisps of smoke that I'm pursuing.''
Although many scientists don't
accept cryptozoology, there is a growing community of researchers trying to change
that. The 20-year-old International Society of Cryptozoology keeps high scientific
standards and has an established peer review system for filtering out faulty research
and inaccurate information.
''What we're trying to do is produce
better evidence . . . publish, analyze, discuss,'' said Richard Greenwell of Tucson,
Ariz., secretary of the orginization.
He concedes that the field attracts
more crackpots than, say, astronomy. But he says that makes the society's job all
the more important.
Coleman said, ''Some of the best
skeptics around are cryptozoologists. . . . We have to be very critical in our thinking,
and not take everything that comes along.''
Coleman, an Illinois native, moved
to Maine in 1983. He had been researching Maine's animal legends since 1975.
He's studied black panthers, which
have been reported all over Maine in the past 60 years; Indian devils, spotted in
the western mountains and around Mount Katahdin; and sea serpents sighted in the
Gulf of Maine.
The legend of Cassie the sea serpent
goes at least as far back as 1779, when Ensign Edward Preble, the Portland naval
hero, shot at it with a cannon. Many sightings were reported during the 19th century,
particularly between 1817 and 1830, sometimes even by groups of sailors or ship passengers.
The last report came in 1958 from
two Norwegian fishermen. In an interview with Coleman 27 years later, one of the
fishermen, Ole Mikkelsen, gave this account:
''We were five miles off Cape
Elizabeth. We saw an object coming toward us out of the haze. We took it to be a
submarine, but as it came nearer it became clear it was some live thing, light brown
like a cusk, with a tail like a mackerel's. It looked well over 100 feet long. Its
head stuck out of the water and was broader than the neck it was on.
''I was not sure of its ears or
eyes, but it could hear. Every time the foghorn on the lightship Portland sounded,
she turned her head in that direction.''
Mikkelsen said the animal could
be seen for 45 minutes.
Does Coleman believe in the existence
of the animals he studies? ''Belief is a thing for religion,'' he said. ''Among zoologists,
naturalists and cryptozoologists, there is an acceptance of the evidence, or a nonacceptance.
I accept that in 20 percent of the reports, there seems to be some actual evidence
for an undiscovered animal. In the majority, it's misidentifications, hoaxes, mistakes.''
He said he accepts that only a
few of the mysterious animals exist. ''I accept Bigfoot, Yeti in the Himalayas, and
at least two or three different varieties of sea serpent. Hundreds of years of reports
of sightings aren't wrong.''
He said Bigfoot has been captured
on film, and there are suspected hair samples, droppings and plaster casts of footprints.
But ''until we have a body, people
- straight zoologists - will not accept this,'' Coleman said. ''So I have to keep
doing my work, asking people what they've seen, how close they got, and what kind
of traces they found.''
Mainstream scientists won't accept
the existence of any of the mysterious creatures until there is solid physical proof,
such as a skeleton.
''Where is the evidence? Where
is the specimen?'' said Professor James Taylor, chairman of the zoology department
at the University of New Hampshire. ''Every species that is described to science
has what is known as a specimen in a museum somewhere. We have physical evidence
for . . . things going back millions of years. A bigfoot would have a skeleton.''
Physical evidence, Taylor said,
is what science is based on. ''It doesn't say they don't exist at all. We just can't
draw a scientific conclusion.''
The lack of a conclusion is exactly
what keeps Coleman going. ''It's the pursuit of the unknown,'' he said.
If his newest books are a success,
he hopes to make cryptozoology a full-time job.
''All of the animals in the world
have not been classified yet,'' he said, with a glimmer of hope in his voice.