Where the wild things are

By MIKE MILIARD  |  January 12, 2009

Christopher Balzano runs the Web site Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads (masscrossroads.com). On YouTube, there's an entertaining video of his team's supposed encounter with a Pukwudgie, a woodland troll of Wampanoag legend. But he nonetheless considers himself "a documentarian of things that people might otherwise ignore — I'm not out there trying to prove to anyone that anything exists."

Still, he says, sometimes "the insanity, the passion with which [true believers] approach these things" gets a bit much. Many cryptid hunters, he says, are "kind of like addicts who are looking for that one perfect high." Their quest "has a lot to do with physically owning something — the physicality of going out in the woods, and looking for something that no one else has seen."

Meanwhile, Balzano makes a point to mention that investigators of the unknown, while they may enjoy escaping civilization and tromping through the untouched mystery of the Hockomock Swamp, aren't immune from venality and factionalism that marks all mankind. "Make sure you mention that none of us get along," he says. "Cryptozoologists think that paranormal investigators are crazy, and we all hate ufologists."

BAFFLE HOUSE: Coleman currently runs the International Cryptozoology Museum out of his home, but hopes to move the collection to its own space in downtown Portland, Maine.

A reason to believe
While there may be infighting among the various "professionals" in the field, fans of the cryptid seem united in their passion for celebrating such extraordinary creatures as the Montauk Monster (whose furless, waterlogged flesh and beaky snout led some to surmise it was the remains of a griffin) and the black, hulking body of the Maine Mutant. The massive attention they receive on sites like Digg and BuzzFeed points to a populace that would rather read about the mysterious than the mundane.

And some cryptids are actually much less mysterious than we previously thought. At the Museum of Science's "Mythic Creatures" exhibit, a few displays explain how some of history's cryptids are simply misidentified actual animals that no longer exist. The legend of the Roc could be based on the fossils of the Aepyornis bird. Woolly mammoth bones were once mistaken for the femurs of giants. The Yeti could trace his ancestry back to the massive extinct primate gigantopithecus blacki.

Whether humans ever encountered that ape is up for debate, but it's known that one Aepyornis egg could feed an entire family, and it's suspected that, as with so many other species, humans led directly to its extinction. As Hodgman reminds us in his new book: "What's the most dangerous animal in the zoo? . . . The answer: man."

We live in a world that is ever more covered over with "civilization" — strip malls and interstates and foreclosed exurbs. Where pockets of wilderness and intrigue are harder and harder to come by. Doesn't it stand to reason that the possibility of a phylum of creatures beyond our ken would merit more than passing interest?

"We all love a mystery," says Belanger. "Everything is catalogued and chronicled so much today that people sit back and say, 'There must be mysteries left to solve. There must be creatures we still haven't found.' "

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