Interview: Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, part 1
One of the most prominent names in cryptozoology – the scientific investigation into unknown and elusive animal species – of the past 40 years is Loren Coleman. He has written extensively about numerous elements of cryptozoology, and his written investigations of the sasquatch/bigfoot phenomenon belong to the library of titles comprised, in part, by other luminaries such as John Green and Dr. John Bindernagel.
Unknown animals have been Coleman’s passion, however, not his vocation, as he has taught at a number of universities in New England, leading courses in social work, anthropology, and documentary-film-making. He also worked as a senior researcher at the Muskie School of Public Service, at the University of Southern Maine, focusing on public policy. Having written a number of manuals on preventing teen suicide, Coleman has served as a consultant to the
State of Maine on that matter and on school shootings. He holds a BA in Anthropology, with a minor in Zoology, from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and an MSW from Simmons College, with a specialty in psychiatric social work. (More biographical info here.)
Six years ago, Coleman, who has retired from academia, started the International Cryptozoological Museum, in his own home in Portland, Maine. Hassles with the IRS about the tax-related exigencies of running the museum in his house led him to move it to a public space, in Portland, seven months ago, and the museum has had 2,000 visitors since November taking an appreciative gander at its life-size sasquatch figure (seen above).
“Considering how awful the economy is, and how tough January in Maine can be,” Coleman says, “this has been a good move, very successful.”
Coleman, who is 62, was born in Norfolk, VA but considers Decatur, IL, his hometown. He blogs for Cryptomundo.com, almost daily. But he took the time, earlier this week, for a Q&A here at Beaufinn.
[Note: The text of Coleman’s answers conforms to the International Society of Cryptozoology manual style that capitalizes names of as-yet-unconfirmed cryptids. This interview was conducted via telephone and e-mail.]
SB: Thirty years ago this week, recovery efforts began after the explosion of Mt. St. Helens, in Washington’s Cascade Range. That area was prime bigfoot habitat, correct?
LC: Mt. Hood, Mt. Shasta, and Mt. St. Helens are lightning rods for people to want to go to investigate Bigfoot. Those mountains have a mystical tinge to them. Modern reports of Bigfoot from Mt. St. Helens go back to the 1920s.
In one of the earliest reports from the area, American Indian painter Paul Kane (1810-1879) made a journal entry for March 26, 1847, that the local natives told of “Skookums” (Bigfoot) on Mt. St. Helens had eaten a man.
Mt. St. Helens was a location where for 60 years before the 1924 Fred Beck story [of Bigfoot that attacked a miners' cabin] Skookums/Bigfoot were called “spirits,” “mountain devils,” and other “fabled” names giving them a decidedly “fringe” (supernatural) feeling.
So if you look at the place of Mt. St. Helens in the Bigfoot lore, it has always been a “fringe” Bigfoot habitat – that is, how humans have interpreted the area in terms of a “high strangeness” fringe area.
Fred Beck’s story [of attacking Bigfoot] is filled with spiritualism, and he felt the area was overflowing with Bigfoot, UFOs, and spirit-world realities.
It is not a coincidence that Mt. St. Helens had a “Spirit Lake” on it.
SB: Can you speak to the rumors that during U.S. Fish & Wildlife recovery efforts involving the carcasses of various mammals on Mt. St. Helens, carcasses of sasquatch were supposedly found, recovered, and examined? This is total rural legend?
LC: It’s the worst kind of rural folklore, because no one has ever been found who was the primary source of that story.
You heard this rumor almost immediately after the eruption. People [around the periphery of the blast zone] supposedly were watching with binoculars, and seeing helicopters carrying gurneys with bodies of Bigfoot on them. The helicopters were supposedly flying the bodies to a secret location. Of course, no video or film of this appeared, and no one could tie down a source of the story.
There were some wild, wild rumors right after eruption. I heard those rumors at the time, and I tried to track them down, and hit dead end after dead end. I couldn’t even find a name [attached to any rumor].
Close to the epicenter of the Mt. St. Helens eruption, you’re not going to even find pieces of an elk, or human being, or bear, or Bigfoot. With the USFWS taking out the remains of an elk, or bear, if anybody saw such a body on a truck or a trailer with all the massive damage the animal would have suffered, just massive damage to any kind of carcass, it might have looked like anything.
Animals have a sixth sense, and they would be departing the area after so many earthquakes [such as on Mt. St. Helens before the eruption]. Bear, rabbit — everything departing. Humans, we go towards disasters.
SB: Given the amount of remote, undeveloped land owned by the U.S. Military, and sighting reports that surface from base guards and also soldiers on maneuvers, what are the chances that the DoD has bigfoot footage?
LC: Do you think the U.S. military, with all its intelligence and spy equipment looking for al Queda, would find a Bigfoot coming over the border? I’ve talked to many military people, and they routinely tell me that they have thousands of hours of digital footage, but they’re not looking for large animals, they’re looking for small human signatures. These military guys could be seeing moose, Bigfoot, other megafauna, and they could care less – those aren’t human signatures [visual or heat] so they just delete them from the record.
Really, the military could care less. They’re not looking for Bigfoot — they’re looking for spies, terrorists, even illegal immigrants. It’s not that the government and military services are stupid – it’s that they have only so much brain power and memory, both technically and legally.
That is closer to the truth. It’s not an overt cover-up.
Military reservations are basically large greenbelts, however. Most Bigfoot reports from military locations that I’ve heard come from remote parts of these military bases. If there are Bigfoot or other cryptids, such as alien big cats, they might show up on those lands, although I have never heard of these things being seen close enough to any buildings to get picked up on security cameras. Military bases in California, especially, are places where soldiers have thought they’ve heard and seen Bigfoot.
Indian reservations are another place, especially those in Sioux country. A number of Sioux reservation cops have approached me about these situations in which they have thermal-imaging dashcam equipment, and possibly a Bigfoot appears in the thermal imaging. But the tribal police didn’t also have any equipment attached to the thermal-imaging camera to record the episode because the Drug Enforcement Agency didn’t supply money for the digital recording component.
That, however, is what happens in bureaucracies and government. It’s not a cover up — there are simply disconnects.
SB: You’ve been involved in the History Channel’s MonsterQuest show, and clearly you support the programming. But don’t you think that the producers go a bit too far trying to make bigfoot seem dangerous when there’s never been a confirmed injurous or fatal encounter, aside from the supposedly fatal encounter that Teddy Roosevelt recorded in The Wilderness Hunter?
LC: With MonsterQuest, I’ve served as a consultant on several shows. Additionally, besides my advice, they interview for sound bites. The producers come and interview you for three hours, and then they use 90 seconds [of the interview]. They use what snippet they want. Sex and violence sells on TV, and I would totally agree, MonsterQuest, and also Animal Planet’s Lost Tapes, tries to make monsters violent because that’s why they’re exciting.
[On these shows] the beasts are not a cryptid – that’s a scientific entity. They’re portrayed as monsters so that producers can sell to the network. The SyFy show Destination Truth is also about sex, and tilitlation, whereas with MonsterQuest and Lost Tapes the shows are definitely about monsters and if they can they hurt people.
This trend has spread to Animal Planet and other History Channel shows, although it’s not as blantant in the early days as with FOX’s When Animals Attack. TV producers have decided that “cryptozoology” is just code for “monsters are violent.” They always leave out the part that humans are violent.
The story retold by Teddy Roosevelt is often-repeated by Bigfoot chroniclers, including myself, as a possible part of the Bigfoot lore. But I have also been cautious of it. The tale is a second-handed rendering of a probable hunters’ campfire tale, and details are often foggy and confusing in it.
One of the reasons that I speculate the Roosevelt story might have been a report of a killer bear is because Roosevelt repeats the minute point that the footprints [found around the site of the attack] had “claw marks” in them. That’s a sign they might have been bear tracks, not Bigfoot prints. Needless to say, I would not want to make any kind of reasonable claim on knowing what kind of species of bear it was with what data we have on this one.
[End Part 1]