Mysterious creature and Loren Coleman, founder of the International Cryptozoology Museum.
Mysterious creature and Loren Coleman, founder of the International Cryptozoology Museum. Loren is the one on the right.

International Cryptozoology Museum

Field review by the editors.

Portland, Maine

There are many monsters in this world, but only one attraction that embraces them all. The International Cryptozoology Museum began as the personal collection of Loren Coleman, opened as a museum in 2003, and is already in its fourth location -- because the collection, like all good monsters, keeps growing in size and popularity.

Cavalcade of cryptids.
Cavalcade of cryptids: Orang Pendek, Dover Demon, Tatzelwurm. Colossus Squid in the background.

"I thought it would be a little museum," Loren said. "People from Portland and maybe Maine would drop by." Instead, the museum has attracted visitors from across the globe, which Loren attributes to its focus on animals and mysteries, areas of curiosity that humans can't seem to completely satisfy.

Cryptozoology is the study of unknown or "hidden" creatures, from celebrity beasts like Bigfoot and Nessie, to less-familiar horrors such as the Jersey Devil and Skunk Ape, and even some animals that don't seem especially weird, like pygmy grizzly bears and oversized cats that pop up where they shouldn't. Loren, a well-known authority on the subject, has been collecting cryptid evidence since he was a teenager in the early 1960s. He said he was motivated to open the museum when a fellow researcher unexpectedly died, and his family promptly threw away all of his artifacts and specimens. "I was aghast," Loren said. "It was like, 'Okay, I'm not competing with other museums. I'm competing with the dump.'"

Crookston Bigfoot is 8.5 feet tall, formerly stood outside a taco restaurant in Minnesota.
Crookston Bigfoot is 8.5 feet tall, formerly stood outside a roast beef restaurant in Minnesota.

Mongolian Death Worm incubates in camels, can reach up to five feet long, spits poison.
Mongolian Death Worm incubates in camels, can grow up to five feet long, spits poison.

Much has been saved since then, and all of it seems to be packed into Loren's museum, which now includes over 10,000 exhibits.

There are curio cabinets filled with hundreds of footprint casts, hair samples from mysterious hominids, monster toys -- Loren calls them today's "native art" -- and a framed letter from actor Jimmy Stewart, recalling how he once hid a mummified Yeti hand in his underwear and smuggled it from Nepal to London. There are lifelike models of bizarre creatures such as the Dover Demon, the Mongolian Death Worm, and a sea monster found inside a sperm whale in 1937. There's also a poignant tribute to Bandit, a German Shepherd who chased after Mothman on November 15, 1966, and was never seen again.

"Coleman's Corner," an area of the museum designed by its staff, features Loren's many honorary awards -- which increase in frequency, he said, the closer you get to dying -- and the museum's reference display of animal scat or, as the staff affectionately calls it, "more of Loren's crap." Its most memorable artifact is a ponderous pile of Bigfoot poop 19 inches across, which Loren said is especially popular with children.

International Cryptozoology Museum.
Life-size FeeJee Mermaid was made for a P.T. Barnum biopic.

Many of the exhibits have stories nearly as exotic as the creatures they represent. The Crookston Bigfoot, for example, is an 8.5-foot-tall, 500 pound Sasquatch made of musk oxen fur by Wisconsin taxidermist Curtis Christensen, who was inspired by the Bigfoot film Harry and the Hendersons. He kept it in his barn for years, then sold it to Crookston, Minnesota, which called itself, "Bigfoot Capital of the World." Unfortunately, a planned Bigfoot Museum never opened, and Bigfoot ended up as a hairy greeter for a local roast beef restaurant. Loren eventually adopted the orphan monster, and it's now the museum's favorite photo-op.

There's so much on display at ICM that you have to remind yourself that most of these creatures haven't been found yet. Loren calls himself "an open-minded skeptic" when it comes to individual cryptids, and admitted that even true believers grow frustrated when something as big as Bigfoot remains elusive -- but he noted that large creatures such as the mountain gorilla and giant panda were dismissed as mere legends until fairly recently, and that water monsters have plenty of places to hide.

Footprints and hair samples from Orang Pendek, the mini-Bigfoot of Southeast Asia.
Footprints and hair samples from Orang Pendek, the mini-Bigfoot of Southeast Asia.

Loren, who tries to be at the museum as often as he can when he isn't traveling, said that the two questions he's most frequently asked are, "Have you seen one of these things?" and "Do you believe in Bigfoot?" (His answers are Yes and Maybe.) Very few people are dismissive, said Loren, and one of them paid him a backhanded compliment when he left, saying, "You're not a nut."

"What amazes me every day," Loren said of his visits, "is how nice people are."

Loren feels that the popularity of his museum, and of destination "monster towns" such as Point Pleasant and Flatwoods, reveal a shift in the attitude of the public, who now seem willing to welcome their monsters rather than run screaming from them. "Cryptotourism is the wave of the future," Loren said. "People are beginning to wake up."

Also see: Guide to Roadside Creatures

International Cryptozoology Museum

Address:
4 Thompson's Point Rd, Portland, ME
Directions:
West edge of the city. I-295 exit 5A onto Thompson's Point Rd, or exit 5 onto Fore River Pkwy, then left onto Thompson's Point Rd. Follow Thompson's Point Rd across the train tracks, to the end. Parking lot on the left. Look for the Bigfoot statue out front.
Hours:
Su,M,W 11-3:30, Th-Sa 11-5:30
Admission:
Adults $10, children $5, babies free.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
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