Mainer Loren Coleman loves sharing his wealth -- the treasures collected during a 50-year career in the field of cryptozoology, which is the study of mysterious creatures (think Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the chupacabra). In 2003, the historian, author, and naturalist created a by-appointment-only cryptozoological museum in his Portland home.
Phoenician Mike Miliard wrote about Coleman's collection in "Where The Wild Things Are," an exhaustive piece about cryptozoology published in January of this year.
"Hair samples from Sir Edmund Hillary's 1960 Yeti expedition may be the least remarkable artifact in Coleman's modest but stuffed-to-the-rafters Portland home," Miliard wrote, after a home visit. "Far more eye-catching is the eight-foot-tall Bigfoot, shaggy with taxidermized yak fur, standing sentry at the front door. Or the grotesque half-monkey/half-fish 'Feejee Mermaid' encased in glass behind his couch. Or the enormous pterodactyl-like 'Civil War Thunderbird' suspended from the ceiling in his living room. Or the display case of a dozen or so hominid-skull replicas. Or the hefty blue fiberglass coelacanth fish hanging on the wall."
All these artifacts, and many more, will be on display to the general public when Coleman opens the International Cryptozoology Museum on November 1 at 661 Congress Street (just across Avon Street from Joe's Smoke Shop). The museum will sit in the rear of the building; up front, Strange Maine blogger Michelle Souliere is opening Green Hand Books, a used bookstore where she hopes to "cultivate a rich selection of supernatural fiction, horror fiction, and other weird fiction in general" (the store's name references the disembodied green hands that appeared on many a pulp-fiction book cover in the 1950s and '60s).
"The world needs a cryptozoology museum," Coleman says, pointing to the success of the modest UFO museum in Roswell, New Mexico -- not to mention the myriad readers of his Cryptomundo.com blog, which gets anywhere from 40,000 to more than 1 million hits per day -- as predictors of the establishment's success. "I'm not into UFOs and ghosts," he says. "But they get 1.2 million visitors to their little museum per year."
Visitors who pay the small $5 entry fee will get to view most of Coleman's collection; he hopes to station the Bigfoot in the front window, facing onto the street, and the anthropology department at the University of Maine-Orono has kindly donated several display cases, where Coleman will house the "cultural history of Bigfoot representations." He'll also showcase relics from movie shoots, like Laura Linney's shoot from The Mothman Prophecies, a movie for which he served as a consultant; water from Loch Ness; and that big fiberglass coelacanth -- the only model of its type in the United States, and the "darling of cryptozoology," according to Coleman.
In time, Coleman believes Portland "could be a mecca for cryptids." And that's no urban legend.
Green Hand Books and the International Cryptozoology Museum will celebrate their grand openings during the November 6 First Friday Artwalk.