I spent this morning exploring The Museum of Unnatural History in Washington D.C. Fueled by the likes of Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman and Paul Simon, the museum is the storefront for 826DC, which holds workshops and tutors local kids in creative writing and reading. A venue combining my fascination with cryptozoology, contemporary literature, and teaching kids to write? Sounds positively mythical.
But I’ve been fascinated by cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals, since middle school; I devoured Paul Zindel’s Loch and Reef of Death. In college, I read that essayist and poet Wendell Berry’s daughter, Mary, said, “I hope there is an animal somewhere that nobody has ever seen. And I hope nobody ever sees it.” A week ago, Dan Harmon, creator of “Community” proposed to his fiancé at Loch Ness. And today I admired stencils of chupacabras and jars of unicorn burps. Cryptozoology reveals all the best and worst parts of human nature, and it makes for great storytelling.
1. “The Private Lives of the Cryptozoologists.” (Martin Connelly, The Morning News, March 2013)
Step into the cabinet of curiosities: The International Cryptozoology Museum is in Portland, Maine. It’s stuffed with artifacts ranging from a taxidermy Bigfoot to children’s drawings to blurry photos. It’s staffed by sweater vest-clad Loren Coleman, a foremost authority on cryptozoology and a wonderful tour guide.
2. “Bigfoot.” (Robert Sullivan, Open Spaces Magazine, 2012)
Sullivan interviews several of the men most invested in finding Sasquatch; these profiles read like entries from a delightful almanac. Though their methods range from field work to anthropological study, these men share a rivalry with each other and anger toward the scientific community’s contempt for them.
3. “Dr. Orbell’s Unlikely Quest.” (Eric Karlan, All About Birds, Winter 2004)
Cryptozoology isn’t only Bigfoot and Nessie. These scientists are also interested in animals thought to be extinct. Here, Eric Karlan delves into Dr. Geoffrey Orbell’s triumphant search for the Takahe—a bright, flightless, stocky bird native to New Zealand, supposedly gone forever–which took over 40 years of scrupulous research in the face of naysayers.
4. “Loch Ness Memoir.” (Tom Bissell, Virginia Quarterly Review, August 2006)
With weird, wonderful humor, skeptic Tom Bissell explores Loch Ness with two writer friends and his childhood love of Nessiteras rhombopteryx.
Photo: JD Hancock