Cryptozoology is the study of (some might say quest to discover) hidden animals. This can include everything from the more iconic “cryptids” such as Bigfoot to encounters with cougars, which are officially extirpated in Maine, despite reports of occasional sightings.
I have a lifelong interest in all things odd – including conspiracy theories, UFO’s, alternative religions, etc. I attribute this to a deep suspicion that despite our dogmatic certainties we’re missing a lot more than we’re seeing. So how could I not love Coleman’s International Museum of Cryptozoology. In fact I have become a docent, working a couple of times per month, usually accompanied by my son.
Among the cryptids
Besides Coleman, who is often found tending the museum, ICM’s most notable dweller is an 8-foot tall Bigfoot made of musk ox hair. Photos are encouraged so you can prove you’ve actually seen the big guy. Other exhibits include the Jersey Devil, various lake monsters, the Mothman, and the results of one of Coleman’s own investigations, the Dover Demon, which he named and investigated in Massachusetts in the 70s.
Also lurking among the exhibits is a display for Coleman’s original crypto-inspiration, the Yeti, AKA the Abominable Snowman. (Coleman will inform you that Yetis are actually a rusty color, white yetis being a media creation.) Back in 1960, after seeing the Japanese monster movie Half-Human, which depicts a Himalayan expedition’s encounter with a yeti, Coleman asked his school teachers about the creature. They recommended that he move on to other topics – advice he rejected as evidenced by his subsequent, 50-plus years collecting the artifacts displayed at ICM.
The line between real and hoax
Though kids love this place, there is an intellectual undercurrent running throughout the museum that should interest to any truth seeker. To the left of the entrance you’ll find the cabinet of discoveries, which houses former cryptids such as the panda and komodo dragon, animals that have only relatively recently been recognized as “real.”
This exhibit also contains models of the ICM’s mascot, the coelacanth, a “living fossil” that was rediscovered in 1938 after having been thought to be extinct for 65 million years. The cabinet of cultural artifacts (loaded with cryptid toys and novelties) provides insight into our relationship with the mysterious. Notable hoaxes such as the Jackalope and the FeeJee Mermaid are also on display. If you’re going to know the real thing when you see it, it helps to be acquainted with the fakes.
Coleman is often asked if he actually believes in Bigfoot. He’ll reply that belief belongs in the realm of religion. He prefers to follow the evidence and draw conclusions based on where it leads.
So how far down the rabbit hole does the evidence lead? Do you want to believe? Draw your own conclusions after a visit.
For the record, I think the next scientific revolution will involve something we previously considered paranormal i.e. something outside the normal.
The International Cryptozoology Museum is located at 11 Avon Street in downtown Portland Maine (between Joe’s Smoke Shop and the Green Hand Bookstore). It is open every day except Tuesdays. Admission: $7 for adults and $5 for children.