Where the wild things are

By MIKE MILIARD  |  January 12, 2009

"I did all those separate interviews and really was convinced that this was an amazing case," he recalls. "I really believe they saw something real. What it was, I really don't know. [But] it was one of the cases where I felt very comfortable saying, 'I don't know.' "

For a more fully fleshed-out account of the sightings and their aftermath, see the chapter on this topic in his excellent book Mysterious America (Pocket Books). But it's safe to say that the Dover Demon was the first New England cryptid to gain prominence worldwide, and it still attracts interest today. (The Massachusetts demon is especially popular in Japan, and Coleman has two tiny action figures to prove it.)

As Coleman writes in the introduction to Beasts 2, the '70s were "a time of 'high strangeness.' Was the world going crazy, or were humans only screening sightings of new cryptids through the lenses of a culture unbalanced by UFO contactees and planetary poltergeists? New animals were being discovered, of course, but weird and unlikely ones were reported, too. The world seemed open to anything."

In fact, it's not hard to notice a pattern of sorts. In dreary Depression-era days, people sought diversion in the black-and-white beasts flickering in the dark of matinees. The stultifying Eisenhower era found kids ogling lurid EC Comics titles like Weird Science and Tales From the Crypt. In the '70s, marked both by wooly weirdness and Carterian malaise, folks went looking once more for things beyond their front doors. Now things are once again bad all over, and once again we detect a strong longing to believe.

The passion of the cryptid
The popular desire to collectively will mythological creatures into existence can sometimes leaves us vulnerable to those who just make up stuff. Frauds and hoaxes perpetrated by overzealous cryptid hunters have always bedeviled the field, says Coleman, undermining whatever claims to legitimacy other sightings might have. Then again, of course, to the doubting Thomases among us they're the rule, rather than the exception.

But be you skeptic, agnostic, or true believer, it's those fakers that get all the attention. "And you saw that," says Coleman, "with Georgia this summer."

Ah, yes. You may remember the two dudes down South this past July, who posted a YouTube video on which they claimed to have found a Sasquatch body in the woods. The media coverage was all-pervasive in the lead-up to an unveiling and press-conference, where, Coleman says, there were "100 reporters and 38 cameras and CNN live streaming." Cryptomundo.com's servers crashed as it was barraged by 23 million hits in 24 hours.

When the cryptid corpse was finally thawed in the glare of a thousand flash bulbs? The fur was synthetic and the feet were made of rubber.

Such hoaxes, alas, come with the territory, says Coleman. "I think 'frustrating' is too heavy-duty a word, but I think it's a distraction. Certainly, for those people who may want to fund [cryptozoological studies], or do serious journal articles, it becomes a sidetrack that we don't need."

(Interestingly, Coleman says, many of the hoaxes are "repeat fakers," who've had one actual cryptid encounter and end up staging more and more dubious claims to prove it. "It becomes very sad . . . a psychological need to prove to everyone that they weren't crazy in the beginning.")

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