April 26, 2012

Off Beat: Oddly intriguing

Maine marks Obscura Day with a lecture on the so-called 'Dover Demon' at the Cryptozoology Museum in Portland.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Saturday is Obscura Day, a time to celebrate weird places around the world.

A sketch of the so-called “Dover Demon.”

OBSCURA DAY

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: International Cryptozoology Museum, 11 Avon St., Portland

HOW MUCH: $7 ($5 ages 12 and under) from 11 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.; $13 for lecture and special events from 4 to 7 p.m.

INFO: obscuraday.com; cryptozoologymuseum.com

So Atlas Obscura, an online guide to weird places, set out to pick the weirdest places they could find to highlight on that day.

In Maine, they picked only one -- the International Cryptozoology Museum on Avon Street in Portland. To mark the occasion, museum founder Loren Coleman will be giving a lecture on his investigations into the so-called "Dover Demon" in Dover, Mass., 35 years ago.

There will be drawings of the "demon" made from eyewitness accounts. It looks like a small cartoon space alien with either orange or green eyes, depending on which eyewitness you believe.

Coleman will talk about how he was working in Massachusetts when reports of this strange creature being seen around town first came out. So he went.

That's what he does -- he investigates creatures that have yet to be discovered, or might be extinct, or just aren't easy to identify. That's what cryptozoology is, in a nutshell.

"The first thing I do when people come in to the museum is ask them if they know what cryptozoology is," said Coleman. "Often, they say it's the study of animals that don't exist. But I explain it's the study of hidden or unknown animals. They might be unknown to Western science, but they might be known to locals."

That's why Coleman's museum deals a lot with Bigfoot-type creatures and mermaids or the legend of Champ, the supposed sea-monster of Lake Champlain. Because they were reported, sighted and may be something real.

Of course, they might not be real too.

But Coleman points out in his talks at his museum that there have been lots of creatures sighted that turned out to be real species. So while the poster children for cryptozoology are monsters and demons, Coleman can point you to lots of more tangible examples of cryptozoology.

For instance, he says, a new species of sparrow was recently discovered in New York, and a 4-foot-tall snub-nosed monkey was recently identified in Burma (Myanmar).

"In the past 10 years, there have been 400 new animals (discovered) bigger than a cat," said Coleman, 65.

But Coleman knows that the mysteries of cryptozoology are a huge reason why people are drawn to cryptozoology. The search for Bigfoot, or a hyena-like creature supposedly spotted in central Maine stalking small animals a few years ago, fuels interest.

From 11 a.m. to about 3:45 p.m. Saturday, Coleman will have volunteer docents on hand to talk to visitors and explain the art, artifacts and information about cryptozoology mysteries, as well as some scientific discoveries based on the work of cryptozoologists.

From 4 to 7 p.m., there will be a series of special events (for a separate admission price of $13) focusing on the Dover Demon. These include a lecture by Coleman on his investigation of the creature as well as an appearance by comic artist Todd Dezago, who has used the Dover Demon as a character in his series "The Perhapanauts."

"I think cryptozoology interests people because it combines two very fundamental interests -- animals and mysteries," said Coleman.

And it certainly helps pique people's interest if those mysteries and animals are weird.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

Twitter: RayRouthier

 

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