PORTLAND, Maine — Looking for Bigfoot? The Loch Ness Monster? The elusive Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia?
You could spend thousands of dollars and travel a larger number of miles around the world in the search for these and other elusive creatures, or you could do the smart thing and visit the International Cryptozoology Museum, where they’re all waiting for you.
“Cryptozoology” is a term coined to describe the study of, and search for, creatures reputed to exist in lore and legend but which haven’t been verified by sober science. Think Sasquatch. Think the Lake Champlain Monster. Think Glastonbury’s own Glowakus, if you’re so inclined.
Before anyone scoffs, keep in mind that plenty of animals, ranging from the mountain gorilla to the giant squid, were dismissed as creatures of fantasy for decades until specimens were found by keen-eyed searchers. So who’s to say Bigfoot isn’t out there, waiting for his close-up?
You’ll learn about the history of cryptozoology and more at this museum, which in itself has a back story that illustrates the way an individual’s passion and dedication can grow to undreamed-of success.
The museum began as humbly as possible, as a small display in the Portland home of Loren Coleman, the founder, director, and guiding spirit of the institution. Coleman, a prolific author and researcher, has been quoted in just about every major newspaper, magazine, and television news show you’d care to name, sought for his expertise on everything from thunderbird sightings to mysterious things that wash up on the shore of Long Island Sound.
But you can’t keep a lid on a collection that includes an 8-foot Bigfoot statue and a 6-foot model of a coelacanth (a “living fossil” thought to be extinct since the days of the dinosaurs until one was caught off the coast of Africa in 1938), and Coleman found himself with growing crowds of curious visitors.
“The space in my home was being overgrown by the museum,” he writes on the museum’s website. “It was time to move.”
The first move came in 2009, when the museum found a home behind the Green Hand bookstore in Portland’s art district. But once word got out, the collection quickly outgrew that space, and before long they moved around the corner to a 3,000-square-foot space. Plenty of room for even the biggest of Bigfeet, right?
Wrong. In 2016, the increasingly unwieldy collection moved slightly outside Portland’s crowded center to Thompson’s Point, formerly a railroad and shipping hub that’s been redeveloped as a home for shops, restaurants, galleries, and the Abominable Snowman.
When you arrive at this latest location, you’re treated to a vast spectacle of unadulterated strangeness spread over two full floors. The 8-foot-tall Bigfoot is here, of course, but so are less famous faces like the Jersey Devil, the Flatwoods Monster, and the Skunk Ape (to say nothing of the Orang
Pendek, the Yowie, the Feejee Mermaid, and the Tatzelwurm). Displays that include everything from (alleged) yeti fur and Sasquatch footprints jostle
for space with Hollywood movie props, folk art, and even a letter from the actor Jimmy Stewart.
You’ll see skulls, plaster casts, and maps illustrating reported Mothman sightings that look like something out of the first season of “True Detective.” You’ll see real dinosaur fossils and taxidermy animals next to cunningly made fakes and “humbugs,” since the museum also documents the numerous instances of hoaxes involving so-called “cryptids.”
Coleman is a showman, but he also has a serious interest not only in the possibility that fabulous beasts really exist in the world, but in the ways we imagine those creatures. As a result, the museum is full of advertising, consumer products, and entertainment industry ephemera documenting society’s lasting fascination with sightings of unexplained beasts.
The ever-expanding museum is proof of that fascination, and it’s been a draw not only for
Portland locals and summer tourists, but for celebrities and artists passing through Vacationland’s largest city.
Celebrity visitors to the museum, whose photos can be found on display alongside blurry images of shaggy humanoids, include “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn, comedian and former Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac, musicians David Byrne and Sean Lennon (John’s son), and basically every heavy metal that comes within 30 miles of Portland.
But the best possible close encounter to have in the museum is with Coleman himself. A busy man, he’s nonetheless constantly dropping by the place whenever he’s in Portland and not traveling around the world in search of the inexplicable. That’s not an exaggeration; Coleman is constantly in demand for his expertise, as with a New York Times story this summer about revelations that the FBI once did forensic testing on supposed Bigfoot fur in a bid to find the elusive forest dweller.
A thoughtful, intense conversationalist, Coleman has a vast wealth of stories from his travels and research, and is happy to share them with curious visitors. And he’s probably much happier now that he doesn’t have to share his home with an 8-foot tall Sasquatch.
The International Museum of Cryptozoology is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the last admission at 5:30 p.m. Admission for adults is $10, with seniors and kids 12 and younger paying less. The museum is in a brick building at the Thompson’s Point development next to a brew pub. GPS directions can be confusing, so visit the website (www.cryptozoologymuseum.com) for specifics. Once you get to Thompson’s Point, though, it’s not hard to find; it’s the only business with a 9-foot sculpture of Bigfoot out front.