Thursday, September 24, 2009


I've just learned that THE International Cryptozoology Museum will be opening a permanent exhibit space just two blocks away from my apartment in downtown Portland, Maine.

(logo courtesy of Loren Coleman,

Local cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has an impressive collection that includes life-sized Bigfoot replicas, lake monster models, and a Coelacanth, among many other curiosities. These objects had been crowding his living room (BoingBoing wrote about a visit to his home two years ago), where he'd offered private tours of the collection by appointment. The new museum space on Congress Street, in the middle of the city, will give his exhibits a more prominent, public display.

Coleman, the museum's founder, also blogs about cryptozoology at the website A blog post announcing the new museum was published two weeks ago:
The mission of the museum is to share the many items I have collected during the last half a century, with tourists, teachers, researchers, scholars, colleagues, students, documentary filmmakers, news people and the general public...

[the collection includes] hundreds of cryptids toys and souvenirs from around the world, one-of-a-kind artifacts, a life-size 8 feet tall Bigfoot representation, a full-scale six-foot-long coelacanth model, over a hundred Bigfoot-Yeti-Yowie footcasts, jackalopes, furred trout, along with such Hollywood cryptid-related props as The Mothman Prophecies’ Point Pleasant “police” outfit, the movie P. T. Barnum’s authentic 3.5 feet tall Feejee Mermaid, the TV series Freakylinks‘ 11 ft long “Mystery Civil War Pterodactyl,” and some of the movie Magnolia’s falling frogs.
The museum is also looking for donors: "For any patron who wishes to send in a donation of $1000 (one thousand dollars) or more, I shall be sending to you ~ anywhere in the world ~ a first generation copy of an Orang Pendek footcast," writes Coleman. If you're interested, follow this link.

Coleman at his home, which he had been sharing with the museum's collections. Photo by Amber Waterman of the Lewiston Sun-Journal.

Coleman seems aware that his field is substantially influenced by pop-culture silliness, and to his credit he seems OK with that.

But cryptozoology is really interested in making new zoological discoveries, and there's still plenty we don't know about the world's biological diversity. A recent post on Coleman's blog heralds the official scientific description of a new deepwater species of ghostshark, and the museum's logo (above) features a Coelacanth, a species known only from prehistoric fossils, and believed to be extinct, until fishermen caught a live specimen off the South African coast.

If modern science can discover a living fossil, who's to say it won't someday discover the real Abominable Snowman?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Recession Armada and Air Force

A fascinating article in Britain's Daily Mail describes the enormous armada of cargo ships that have been idled off the coast of Signapore for the summer (thanks for the tip, Jim).

Above: idle cargo ships off the coast of Signapore.

"Their numbers are equivalent to the entire British and American navies combined; their tonnage is far greater," writes reporter Simon Parry. "Container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers - all should be steaming fully laden between China, Britain, Europe and the US, stocking camera shops, PC Worlds and Argos depots ahead of the retail pandemonium of 2009."

Of course, the pandemonium of 2009 turned out not to be the sort where frenzied shoppers mobbed shopping malls. Asia won't underwrite our credit card debt and lousy mortgages anymore, which means we can't afford to by container-loads of their manufactured goods.

The Daily Mail article also notes that these ships are being manned by skeleton crews, doing basic maintenance and guarding against piracy. What an incredibly lonely job that must be - it must be kind of like working as a salesperson at Sears (right: inside the Schuylkill Mall, courtesy of

The cargo armada off of Signapore isn't the only idled fleet of the recession, though. Seeing all those ships reminded me of Don Delilo's Underworld, a novel in which there's a character who re-paints and arranges abandoned airliners as huge landscape art pieces in the Mojave desert. Such aircraft boneyards really do exist in the desert southwest, and sure enough, they're filling with new arrivals during this recession. Via an April CBS News report:
The number of planes in storage has jumped 29 percent in the past year to 2,302, according to aerospace data firm Ascend Worldwide. That includes 930 parked by U.S. operators alone....

That makes for busy times at facilities like Evergreen Maintenance Center near Marana. Its super-sized hangar fits a 747, and there are plenty of active planes on hand, including one 747 used to test Pratt & Whitney engines and another converted to fight forest fires.

But outside there's a ghost fleet of 204 parked planes. Some of Northwest's retired 747s are here. Planes from defunct ATA Airlines, 767s from Air Sahara and MaxJet, and a hodgepodge of other airlines from around the world are here, too.
Here's a glimpse through the fence from Flickr user DannyMcL:

And here's another particularly good photo of the Mojave airliner storage lot. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cities, Buried by Signs

"Your gaze scans the streets as if they were written pages: the city says everything you must think, makes you repeat her discourse, and while you believe you're visiting Tamara you are only recording the names with which she defines herself and all her parts. However the city may really be, beneath this thick coating of signs, whatever it may contain or conceal, you leave Tamara without having discovered it. Outside, the land stretches, empty, to the horizon; the sky opens, with speeding clouds."
-Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
They say that if you take someone who has never been to New York City, but has watched plenty of American movies - a Korean shopowner, for instance, or a Greek hotel clerk- and dropped them in the middle of midtown Manhattan, they would not feel completely lost, because American movies have created a global, subconscious familiarity with the city and its landmarks.

It's possible to wander through Harlem and navigate by landmarks like the university from Ghostbusters and the diner from Seinfeld, for instance, or to navigate through Central Park by recognizing the places where Harry Met Sally or where Macaulay Culkin feeds the pigeons in Home Alone 2.

In most movies, though, the city is only a backdrop. In my experience, books can have a bigger impact on how a city feels, especially with authors who create a strong sense of place in their writing - as though the city itself becomes a character.

Via the Strange Maps blog, I've come across two "literary maps" of cities with strong presences in literature. Here's one of San Francisco, originally published in the Chronicle earlier this summer:

The quotes in this map roughly match the neighborhoods they reflect: Joan Didion's passage about Janis Joplin singing in the Panhandle spans the southern edge of Golden Gate Park near Haight-Ashbury, and a Kerouac quote spans the Russian Hill neighborhood where the beat poets lived.

Today, of course, both Haight-Ashbury and Russian Hill are the opposite of bohemian, full of franchise stores and yuppies with expensive cars. And yet the song lyrics and sentences we've read about these places still somehow imbue them with a bohemian aura, contrary to all reality: aging hippies still come to Haight-Ashbury, wander among the high-end restaurants and boutiques, and manage to keep a few holdout head shops in business.

So where is the real Haight-Ashbury - the neighborhood that exists independently of the writers and musicians who wrote about it? Are the hippies and head shops merely the ghosts of the neighborhood that Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson wrote about? Or are the fancy boutiques the impostors, there only because the Haight has become a cultural icon and hence a desirable neighborhood?

Thinking about it, I've concluded that both of these are true: Haight-Ashbury has become a product of our cultural expectations of it. The "real" neighborhood isn't so much concealed by the "thick coating of signs" by which we know it, as defined by it. It's no wonder that these kinds of places in our cities - Times Square, The Alamo, the Las Vegas Strip, and all the other places we think we know from books, movies, or songs about them - can simultaneously feel very familiar and very strange when we finally experience them in person.

Here's another literary map of Saint Petersburg, a city with a much richer literary tradition than San Francisco's. Unfortunately, I've never been there - my understanding of St. Petersburg is completely defined by what I've read by Pushkin, Gogol, and Dostoyevsky. I studied Russian in college, but a part of me is actually afraid to visit the real St. Petersburg, lest I ruin the glorious nineteenth-century city of my imagination.

The St. Petersburg map is a limited-edition print, and if you really love this blog and want to give the author a great surprise, feel free to send a copy to 64 Winter Street, Portland, ME 04102.