Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Transmissions from the International Cryptozoology Museum

We crossed the border into Maine at 1:00 AM while “Five to One” screamed from the speakers.  Jim Morrison howled “no one here gets out alive.”  Not the thing you want to hear when you’re driving into an unknown state on very little sleep.  A few miles in, I saw a sign that read, “Caution: Watch For Moose in Roadway.”  So my demise had been preordained.  Well played, Lizard King.  Well played, indeed.

The next sign warned of butterfly screams
We found a Motel 6 and slept the sleep of the dead.  The bed was small and a little hard for my liking, but, after being on the road for roughly 19 hours, any bed looked good.

My wife and I would be in Portland, Maine for a week.  Before we left, I had made a list of things I wanted to do while I was there.  On the top of that list was the International Cryptozoology Museum; the world’s only such museum.

Cryptozoology is the study of animals whose existence has not yet been proven (translated literally to “study of hidden animals”).  The animals themselves are classified as cryptids.  Some of the more famous cryptids include Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, Chupacabra and The Jersey Devil. 

The museum was started by noted Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman.  The majority of the artifacts on display are from his personal collection.

On my first full day there, I loaded the address in my phone and headed out.  I parked and walked a couple blocks to the museum.  I walked past comic book stores and record stores and book stores, and made a note to visit each of them before I left town.

Before too long, I found myself standing at the mouth of an alley marked Avon Street.  I looked to the end and saw a woman walking a dog.  Both appeared to be staring directly at me.  I heard a distant howl and turned my head to look.  When I looked back to the alley, the woman and her dog had been replaced with a cloud of mist.  I saw the sign for the museum about halfway down the alley. The mist was starting to creep towards me.  I bolted towards the sign and slipped in the door just as two wispy tendrils reached for my legs.  I slammed the door and breathed a sigh of relief.  "You're going to have to be quicker than that," I whispered.

I took a step inside and looked around.  The whole of the museum was two large rooms.  The curator - a sweet woman in a polka dot dress - was sitting at a small table to my immediate right.  She took my money ($7), gave me a map and a brief overview of the museum.  I thanked her and began to walk around.  There were only a couple other people in the museum, and all of them seemed very interested in the artifacts on display.  (I later discovered that the lovely curator was none other than Jenny Coleman, Loren's wife.)

The first case I came across was a collection of figurines of animals once considered cryptids, but now accepted as animals.  “This section really gives credence to cryptozoology as a science,” the curator told me.  I looked at the case and nodded my head.  Inside the case were such animals as the komodo dragon, platypus, giant panda, mountain gorilla, coelacanth and okapi. 

I was going to look at the case for a little while longer – perhaps write down all the names of the animals it contained – but I couldn’t.  I looked to my right and saw Bigfoot, standing against the wall.  I jumped up and down and giggled a little.  “BigfootBigfootBigfootBigfooooooooot,” I squealed.  I glanced around and saw an elderly gentleman looking at me and herding his grandchild to the other room.  I refuse to apologize for my actions.  The day I see a ten foot tall Bigfoot and don’t react with glee is the day I don’t want to live in this world anymore.

I wanted to get my picture taken with him, but the curator was busy at the time.  "I'll just snap one of those selfies the kids like so much," I said to myself.  As I was getting ready to take it, I swear I saw Bigfoot's arm move towards me a little.  I snapped the picture in a panic and whirled around to look.  No movement, but his arm did seem to be in a slightly different position.  I looked at the curator. 

"I think his arm just moved."
She laughed nervously.  "His arm?  No.  That's crazy.  You're crazy.  His arm.  That's funny."
"I'm pretty sure I saw..."
"So you think this large Bigfoot is alive and moves around the museum at night, making himself sandwiches in the kitchen and sitting in the chair watching the Patterson-Gimlin footage in between his random Netflix binges?"
"I...uh...I never said any of that."
She laughed nervously again.  "Oh yeah.  Me neither."  She picked up a non-ringing phone.  "What's that?  It's urgent?"  She put her hand over the receiver.  "Sorry, I need to take this." 
I shrugged my shoulders and moved on to the rest of the museum, occasionally glancing at Bigfoot.  I'm sure there are worse ways to die than being mauled by Bigfoot, but I wasn't ready to die just yet.  Because I am so...very...pretty.

If you're in a hurry, you could get through the entire museum in 30 minutes or less.  But if you take your time - as I did - you can easily spend a couple hours.  I spent my time meandering around the museum, looking at exhibits and reading plaques.  It was extremely informative and a lot of fun.  Here's a list of some of my favorite things:

Baby Bigfoot, named Esau after the Biblical figure.  What an adorable/terrifying little creature. Remembering that you're not supposed to stand between a Bigfoot and its progeny, I quickly backed away.

Uses pine cones as pacifiers, because he's hardcore
 An exhibit dedicated to Bigfoot, featuring the Patterson-Gimlin footage running on a loop.

The head of a Loch Ness Roe Deer.  Roe deer are often seen swimming in the Loch Ness area.  From a distance, these swimming figures can easily be mistaken for ol' Nessie.

An exhibit for The Dover Demon, which was seen in Delaware in 1977.

A Jackalope.  Who doesn't love jackalopes?

The picture behind him is a self-portrait. Jackalopes are notoriously artistic.
A Fur-Bearing Trout.  I loved this one.  The story behind the Fur-Bearing Trout is one of my favorites.  One theory is that these fish grew fur to deal with extremely cold temperatures.  Another theory (for those reported to have been seen in Arkansas) is that someone accidentally spilled some jugs of hair tonic into the water, thus giving the trout fur.  It's basically the "Simpson and Delilah" episode of The Simpsons, sans Karl.  Someone tell those fish that baldness is hereditary.

My mother told me never to kiss a fool
The legendary Fee Jee (or Fiji) Mermaid.  I stood in front of the case for a solid five minutes, screaming, "Keep singing!"  Nothing happened.  The conch shell I brought must not have been magical enough.  Mermaids be picky.

Look at my cage. Isn't it neat?
An exhibit for The Montauk Monster.  It was Loren Coleman who determined that the beast was just a raccoon.

An exhibit for The Jersey Devil, including a plaque that was attached to the Jersey Devil House, where he is said to have been born to Mother Leeds in 1735 in Pine Barrens, NJ.  No word as to whether The Jersey Devil had anything to do with the mysterious disappearance of Valery.

Packets of ketchup and relish were nowhere to be found.
A replica of the Minnesota Iceman, sleeping peacefully in his glass case.  The fake ice around the glass was a really nice touch.

A miniature recreation of the scene where the Patterson-Gimlin footage was shot.  I spent a ton of time looking at this and pretending I was inside.  Inside the case, I mocked the way Bigfoot walked and was promptly torn limb-from-limb while Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin laughed.  My head is a place not fit for man or beast.

In my version, all the sand is blood.
Pamola, a thunder god with the head of a moose, the body of a man and the wings and feet of an eagle.  Legend has it that he inhabits Mt. Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine (roughly four hours north of Portland).

A statue of Bandit, thought to be the first victim of The Mothman.  "Good dog, good dog," I said between sobs as I patted his head.  It wasn't Bandit's fault he didn't have easy access to Chap Stick.

There's a section dedicated to cryptids in popular culture.  Stripe from Gremlins stared down at me from above.  The Bumble from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer smiled dimly from his perch on the shelf.  "Must have been before Hermey got his pliers in there," I laughed.  A low growl came from his direction.  I let out a scream and moved on.

A map of Maine with pins marking cryptid sightings in Maine.  This was right next to a board with detailed descriptions of Bigfoot sightings in Maine.  I spent a lot of time reading every entry on that board.

There is a lot more on display than I have listed here.  And, although I try to keep up with these discoveries, there were a lot of things that I had never heard of before. 

On my way out, I stopped by the t-shirt rack.  There were some terrific shirts, but, sadly, none in my size were in stock.  Bigfoot gave me a knowing wink. 

Before leaving, I looked at a stack of books for sale and picked up a copy of Coleman's latest, "Monsters of Massachusetts".  I talked to the curator for a bit and told her how much I loved it.  Eventually, I got my picture with Bigfoot.  I now knew what he knew, and he saw me as a friend.  "The next time you watch Netflix, make sure you catch Luther," I told him.  He gave me a small nod.

I walked out into the street to find the mist had dissipated.  I didn't think it would be waiting for me, but I had no way of knowing that for sure.  I took one last look at the sign and headed out towards Congress Street.  There I would run into a machete-wielding Jason Voorhees and a disembodied head from They Live at Coast City Comics, but that's a tale for another time.

You can find the International Cryptozoology Museum at 11 Avon Street, Portland, ME 04101.  I can't recommend visiting them highly enough.  I loved my time there.  Big up to Jenny Coleman for being so awesome. 

You can visit their website and find them on Facebook.  You can also follow Loren Coleman on Twitter.

Here is the map I picked up while I was there.

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