March 4, 2010

Believe it or not, Bigfoot and a FeeJee Mermaid on display

SHANNON BRYAN

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Staff Writer

Giant squid were once monsters of legend, imaginary tentacled beasts of the deep sea. Mythical, that is, until 40-foot-long squid carcasses started washing up on the shores of Newfoundland. The creatures quickly found themselves propelled into the ranks of legitimacy.

Thus far, unicorns have proven more elusive. And our aquatic friend stationed in Scotland's Loch Ness seems to be painfully camera-shy. But that doesn't stop visitors from scanning the water's surface hoping for a glimpse of what many scientists say they'll never see.

That's the lure of a cryptid.

Modern-day cynicism has us believing that Himalayan yeti sightings are quite simply altitude-induced hallucinations. And mermaids are the consequence of 18 months at sea with nothing but a fish dinner, a jug of rum and a desperate imagination to keep you company at night.

But rationalizations like that don't deter a steadfast cryptozoologist. They're dedicated to studying those ''hidden animals'' that mainstream science rolls its eyes at.

Portlander and cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has been well-known around town for his in-home collection of cryptid paraphernalia -- most notably the 8-foot-tall, 400-pound Crookston Bigfoot.

His growing collection is now readily accessible on Congress Street at the International Cryptozoology Museum, which is open to the public.

The museum resides in a back room of Strange Maine blogger Michelle Souliere's new Green Hand Books, which opened on the same day.

The small, one-room museum is packed with specimens, from a FeeJee Mermaid encased in glass to a visual timeline of Bigfoot (who appears to have gotten progressively more friendly over the years).

Artistic renderings and sculptures fill shelves alongside plastic dinosaurs, plaster casts and a bottle of Loch Ness Scotch Whisky. Popular culture, folklore and science find each other good company here.

And visitors are free to regress into childish imagination, where leprechauns dawdle in distant fields and swamp monsters drag unsuspecting townspeople deep into the marsh.

So let your skepticism take an afternoon off when you peruse Coleman's cryptid collection. Besides, it might be nice to live in a world where scientists didn't scoff at the idea of furred fish and minotaurs -- and where an upstanding Sasquatch can come into town for a cup of coffee without being hassled, photographed or tranquilized.

The gargantuan spider that's tall enough to turn doorknobs, however, can remain a happy figment, to be glimpsed only in sci-fi movies and the occasional camping nightmare.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 822-4056 or at:

sbryan@mainetoday.com

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