Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 22nd, 2008
Sure, the keynote speaker studies Mothman.
“To me, I start with animals. That’s the way I usually view it,” noted cryptozoologist Loren Coleman said.
Coleman, famous for his investigations of creatures that go bump in the night such as the Mothman and the Abominable Snowman, is really just looking for new species of animals.
At the second day of a two-day conference at the Hibernian Hall, Coleman discussed cryptozoology — the study, he said, of hidden animals called cryptids by people working in the field — using his most famous case, that of Mothman, as an example. The conference also spanned ghosts, beasts and aliens.
Mothman, brought to the silver screen in the widely panned 2002 film “The Mothman Prophecies,” is believed to have terrorized Point Pleasant, West Va., in 1966 and 1967. The creature was the darling of the evening, as Coleman used his time in front of packed audience to discuss the debate surrounding the creature’s true nature.
Cryptozoology is the study of secret animals, he said, not the study of animals that do not exist. He said the purpose of his Web site, www.cryptomundo.com, was to discuss new animals “which are discovered all the time,” Coleman said. “Whether it’s a new species of manta ray which was discovered this year in the Pacific, to new monkeys or other animals that are out there but not seen by Western scientists, that the locals may know.”
Like the ivory-billed woodpecker or the giant panda before they were discovered, Coleman said, the science is all about finding animals that haven’t been found yet. “You have to let people know you view this as a science,” Coleman said in an interview after his keynote speech. “Most of the reports I get, I have to throw 80 percent out.”
As a scientist, Coleman said, he does not take the existence of these animals as an article of faith. “One thing it is not is evangelical,” Coleman said. “We don’t care if you believe or don’t believe.”
“I am very nuts and bolts, blood and flesh, about cryptozoological creatures,” Coleman told his audience. “I was just interested in animals.”
If one animal inspired Coleman, it was the Abominable Snowman. When he was growing up, he saw “Half Human,” by the king of Japan’s monster movies, Ishiro Honda, who also directed the first “Godzilla” movie.
After teachers told the young Coleman not to waste his time on the snowman, Coleman said, he read everything he could on the creature.
He was hooked.
People at the conference were just as caught on cryptids as Coleman. One attendee, Lance Nealy, made the trip to the Hibernian Hall all the way from Hoboken, N.J., to see him. Nealy said he liked the way Coleman approached cryptozoology. “He writes what he finds, and doesn’t seem to color it,” Nealy said.
“I like that he ties it to the giant panda,” Nealy added. The panda was rarely seen by Western scientists until Ruth Harkness brought a live panda to Chicago in 1936. Coleman referred to Harkness as a cryptozoologist in his lecture.
Attendees did not just come for Coleman. Paul Rosenfeld, a Waltham resident, is an investigator for the Massachusetts chapter of the Mutual UFO Network. He said he did not make it to the UFO conference the previous night, as he was with his family celebrating his mother’s 80th birthday, but came to the Cryptozoology discussion because “I’m interested in what they have to say.”
Rosenfeld said he wished people would be more accepting of UFOlogists and cryptozoologists. “People need to be more open-minded,” he said. “There is something going on as far as the UFO thing goes. I don’t believe in all aspects of it, but any mysteries, I’m interested in.”
Event organizer John Horrigan, a Watertown resident, who has worked as radio announcer for several Boston sports teams, has been interested in the paranormal for 20 years. “Being in New England, we have the greatest ghost researchers in the world,” Horrigan said.
The tone of the event was light, almost self-deprecating. A young man in a Darth Vader outfit operated one of the cameras videotaping the event, and during the intermission, the theme from the “Addams Family” played over loudspeakers. They celebrated the anniversary of the first Loch Ness Monster sighting with a cake. “If you take yourself so seriously, you’re going to get laughed at. But if you laugh at yourself, you’re going to get taken seriously. To me, it’s infotainment,” Horrigan said.
Jeff Belanger, author of “Weird Massachusetts,” a tourist’s guide to haunted hotspots across the hub and surrounding suburbs, said he got into the study out of his interest in history. Belanger’s enthusiasm was contagious, and his blue eyes widened, as he discussed cryptozoology: “If I’m in a party or something, they ask me what I do, and they’ll laugh. The same people who laugh, they have this ‘one time.’”
Belanger said the “one time” is what keeps him going. “The sharing of it is especially sacred.”
One person’s “one time” was discussed directly at the conference. Belanger, in a whirlwind tour of cryptozoological or otherwise weird sites all over Massachusetts, mentioned the Dover Demon, a small, lithe orange creature seen more than 30 years ago in Dover.
The demon was spotted by four people, Belanger said, as they drove down Farm Street in Dover. The creature was described as small with long fingers and toes, climbing along a stone wall in town. According to Belanger, the interesting thing was witnesses Bill Bartlett and John Baxter independently reported a demon sighting: “there were no copycat reports.”
Baxter’s account was given just a few hours after Belanger’s report, Belanger said. Now, the demon is the Dover Historical Society’s mascot. “The town has really come to identify with this creature,” Baxter said.
Horrigan gestured at the packed room, with Coleman fans, Bigfoot seekers, Nessie witnesses and Mothman aficionados and said the event was all about bringing people together. “All these people here, they’re networking, they’re making friends, they have the same interests. It’s a mash, it’s a social mash,” Horrigan said.
Glossary of terms
Bigfoot: Probably the most famous of the cryptids, Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, is believed to live in the North American woods.
The Dover Demon: The Dover Demon was seen on Farm Street in Dover in 1977 by Dover resident Bill Bartlett. According to newspaper accounts of the incidents, Bartlett saw the creature, described as small, with orange skin textured like shark skin, for six seconds. There is no recorded evidence the creature is actually from Hell.
Cryptid: An animal that is the object of a cryptozoological examination. EX: Bigfoot, Mothman, the Loch Ness Monster, aliens.
Cryptozoology: literally, the study of hidden animals, from the Greek kryptos, meaning hidden, z’ion, meaning animal, and logiā, meaning word. Loren Coleman, founder of www.cryptomundo.com, said skeptics believe the word to mean the study of animals that don’t exist.
Mothman: A being believed to be between 6 and 10 feet in height, identified by glowing red eyes and wings that look like they grow out of its head. Terrorized a West Virginia town 40 years ago, and is still seen in the woods around the town today.
Source: “Cryptozoologists and ghost hunters gather in Watertown,” by Steve Bagley, staff writer, Watertown (MA) Daily Tribune, Oct 20, 2008.