(We originally published this profile of Loren Coleman in March 2006, in our magazine at the time, Sub Rosa.)
If you’re looking for Bigfoot, then Loren Coleman is your man. No, he’s not Bigfoot (sure, he’s got a bit of facial hair . . . but that’s where the comparison ends). But he has been in pursuit of the legendary ape-man – as well as numerous other ‘cryptids’ (unidentified animals) such as the Loch Ness monster, the African ‘dinosaur’ Mokele-mbembe, and ‘Mothman’ – for more than four decades, and has conducted his almost life-long search as a genuine scientific enquiry. He is arguably the most well-known and respected cryptozoologist in the world today. Even skeptics recognize his position: “Among monster hunters, Loren’s one of the more reputable,” says prominent skeptical media commentator Benjamin Radford.
Born in 1947, Coleman found his lifelong vocation at an early age:
At 12, in 1960, I was reading the books of Charles Fort, which gave me an “open-mind” and “question authority” attitude when I saw a Japanese movie about the Yeti, entitled “Half Human.” I went to school and asked my teachers what they knew about the Abominable Snowmen. The answers I got were very unsatisfactory, so I began reading and researching all I could on Yeti, Bigfoot, Sasquatch, lake monsters, and more. It has become a lifelong pursuit, passion, and part of my life.
Coleman’s interest in cryptozoology led him to study anthropology and zoology at Southern Illinois University – specifically aimed at furthering his ability in his chosen field – before moving on to post-masters work in anthropology at Brandeis University. His first cryptozoological article, “Mystery Animals in Illinois”, was published in 1969. In 1975 he co-authored his first book, The Unidentified, with Jerome Clark. Creatures of the Outer Edge, again with Clark, followed this in 1978 (both were republished in 2006 as a double-edition book with a new introduction, by Anomalist Books.)
Coleman has since authored more than 25 books and over 500 articles, with his 1983 classic Mysterious America being one of the most popular books ever on the subject of cryptozoology and Fortean topics.
What makes Loren Coleman stand out from the field – longevity withstanding – is his rigorous application of scientific principles to the hunt for cryptids. When asked in an interview whether he had a firm belief in the existence of any particular cryptid, Coleman replied:
”Belief,” per se, is the realm of religion and other faith-based systems. As a cryptozoologist, I accept or deny evidence based on an examination and investigation of the data. If a pattern of credible, good evidence exists, I begin to accept the possible reality of a cryptid. If it does not, I reject it, and move on…I have always worked with the formula that 80% of what I study is misidentifications, mistakes, hoaxes, pranks, jokes, and the mundane. The hardcore 20% is the “unknowns” which get my most attention.
Great interest has accompanied Coleman’s research right from the beginning. In his teens, he was shocked to find that television stations were extremely interested in his fieldwork and often requested interviews. His close ties to the media have persisted throughout his career: he has served as a consultant for various television features including “Unsolved Mysteries,” “Ancient Mysteries”, Animal Planet’s “Twisted Tales,” and Discovery Channel’s “In the Unknown.” Coleman was asked by Sony to assist in the publicity for their 2002 movie The Mothman Prophecies (directed by Mark Pellington, and based on the book by John Keel), which ended up involving numerous press conferences, and over three hundred radio interviews discussing the factual background to the 1966-1967 events in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The studio also had Coleman and author John Keel appear in their documentary, Search for the Mothman. He has also written columns for various publications such as The Anomalist and Fortean Times, and is the “go-to” man for the press whenever there is news about anomalous animal sightings or discoveries.
However, Coleman is quick to dispel any talk of him being the focal point for cryptozoology. Instead he sees himself purely as the investigator; the collator of evidence: “The world of Bigfoot studies does not revolve around me; it is about the people out there and what they are finding,” he says. “As an investigative journalist, as a field cryptozoologist, and as a scientist interested in cryptozoology, it is more significant to me to have interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of eyewitnesses who have shown me tracks they found, casts they have poured, and photos they have taken.”
Beyond his interest in cryptozoology, Coleman also has an interest in sociology and the impact of the media upon public psychology. As well as his anthropological studies he also studied sociology at the University of New Hampshire and received a graduate degree in psychiatric social work from Simmons College in Boston in 1978. In his 2004 book The Copycat Effect, Coleman explored how the media’s hyped coverage of murders, suicides, and tragedies (“If it bleeds, it leads”, is how Coleman describes news coverage of such events) has a negative impact on our society. The book’s title takes its name from a real-world phenomenon – in researching ‘the copycat effect’, Coleman found startling similarities between numerous violent events, and in his book showed how widespread coverage of this violence spawns more violence of the same type. Coleman considers this a tragic flaw of the information age – and that the media must address this problem in order to stop the perpetuation of more violent acts.
His experience in sociology also crosses over into his cryptozoology fieldwork – when conducting an investigation Coleman doesn’t just interview a witness. He talks to their spouse, their co-workers and friends, to get a read on the person’s state of mind. “When I interview witnesses, I have to evaluate their credibility,” Coleman has said. “You have to put yourself in these people’s shoes . . . how they’re feeling.”
Coleman’s interest ‘outside the box’ of zoology plainly tags him as a person who thinks scientists should broaden their horizons a little. When asked why we haven’t found evidence for a Bigfoot-like creature yet, he pointed out that there is a certain psychological barrier to be broken through by the general public and scientists alike:
Humans are very narcissistic, so the single species theory has really gotten in the way of Homo sapiens believing that there could be another intelligent hominid here. For instance, if you go with anthropologists and archeologists looking for bones or fossil remains, they only dig down to a certain level because they already have a preconceived notion, for instance in North America they only go down to the layers where they know there were Native Americans.
In order to promote more knowledge in the community about cryptozoological research, in August 2003 Coleman opened his International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. A lifelong dream, the museum is built to share many of the items Coleman has collected during the last half a century. These include an 8-foot tall Bigfoot representation, a full-scale model of the coelacanth, alleged foot-casts of Yetis, Yowies and Bigfoot, and also cryptid-related props from Hollywood productions such as The Mothman Prophecies and Magnolia. Special art and sculpture creations by some of the leading cryptozoological artists in the world are also featured in the museum.
Loren Coleman’s high profile has meant that most people assume he has made a lot of money from his chosen ‘hobby’. Quick to dissuade such talk, he instead insists that he is actually “poverty-stricken”. In an interview with Henry May, he pointed out that financial gain was not a motivating factor for him. “Material things are unimportant if you can have fun and be on an adventure everyday, and that’s what my sons and my cryptozoology have given me,” he said. “In that way, at least, cryptozoology has made me one of the “richest” humans on earth.”
When asked for the highlights of his long career in cryptozoology, Coleman points to his examination of the ‘Dover Demon’ case of 1977, and a 1999 search of Loch Ness with his sons Malcolm and Caleb. Beyond those, he also says finding apelike tracks, and hearing the screeching sounds of an unknown animal during the 1960s were “formative searches.” There’s no doubt though that the pinnacle of his career would be to find incontrovertible evidence for an 8 feet tall ape-like creature, with very large feet, which is said to roam the forests of the United States.