Five decades and dozens of books later, "It's all just kind of happened," says Coleman. "I'm seen as the leading popularizer of cryptozoology alive." His Web site, cryptomundo.com, has racked up as many as two million page views in a month, and when he's not writing or lecturing or appearing on innumerable radio and TV shows, he spends his days responding to sighting reports from amateur cryptozoologists around the globe.
Hair samples from Sir Edmund Hillary's 1960 Yeti expedition may be the least remarkable artifact in Coleman's modest but stuffed-to-the-rafters Portland home. Far more eye-catching is the eight-foot-tall Bigfoot, shaggy with taxidermized yak fur, standing sentry at the front door. Or the grotesque half-monkey/half-fish "Feejee Mermaid" encased in glass behind his couch. Or the enormous pterodactyl-like "Civil War Thunderbird" suspended from the ceiling in his living room. Or the display case of a dozen or so hominid-skull replicas. Or the hefty blue fiberglass coelacanth fish hanging on the wall.
This coelacanth is the mascot for Coleman's International Cryptozoology Museum, which currently exists in his home, but will hopefully soon — donations to the cause welcome! — occupy its own space in downtown Portland. It is also emblematic of cryptozoology's successes. Once upon a time, after all, the coelacanth was a cryptid too — no one had ever seen one. It was thought to have been extinct for 65 million years. Then, in 1938, one was caught off the coast of South Africa. (Its discovery was the inspiration for the Creature from the Black Lagoon.)
Can it be very long, then, before Nessie or Champ finally takes its rightful place in the Kingdom Animalia?
THE BEATMASTER: Since getting hooked on the paranormal by a B-movie as a kid, Maine’s Loren Coleman has become one of the world’s leading authorities on cryptozoology.
Coleman has always approached his field work — he's chased cryptids in every state except Alaska, an omission he insists has nothing to do with Sarah Palin — with the seriousness and inclusive spirit of inquiry of a scientist. He studied anthropology and zoology at Southern Illinois University, but from a young age, he says, the plan was to "grow up and be a naturalist. Not a zoologist, not a mammologist, not a herpetologist — I was already thinking really broadly about being a naturalist."
Even as he boned up on the hard science, he fed his head with the weird writings of Dutch-American parodist, provocateur, and "anomalous phenomena" researcher Charles Fort; the Belgian "father of cryptozoology" Bernard Heuvelmans; and the cryptid-credulous Scottish naturalist Ivan Sanderson. And, eventually, he took up their mantle.
A major milestone in that journey occurred on the nights of April 21 and 22, 1977, in Dover, Massachusetts, when, on three separate occasions, townsfolk claimed to have spotted a peach-colored homunculus with a huge, ovoid cranium — featureless but for two large orange-glowing eyes — crawling over a low stone wall and gripping trees with slender fingers.
Coleman, who was at Simmons College earning a master's in social work at the time, used his skills in that area to interview the teenage eyewitnesses, their families, and members of the community, ensuring that he spoke to each before they returned to school from April vacation, before they could compare notes and "contaminate" each other's evidence. The stories, more or less, were consistent.