Barnum and Bates

Mark Baard’s article, "America Goes Cryptozoology Crazy," in Wired News certainly was reflected in the Bates Conference and during the month of October. Cryptomundo’s launch, the Texas Bigfoot Conference, Duel Masters’ Bounty Offer and present photo prizes, Weird Travels’ Nessie and Champ program, the Dover Demon Boston television programming, and the Bates Cryptozoology Symposium all occurred in a concentration that fed into each other and the media’s growing national fascination with cryptozoology.

One of the positive benefits of the Bates College intellectual gathering was some open sharing between artists outside the mainstream and outside cryptozoology. Their energy, thoughts, and insights were helpful in gaining a dramatic new view of cryptozoology.

Take for instance, a recent incident. Inside the field of Bigfoot searching, it can be a rather harsh place to live. On October 20, 2005, on the anniversary of the Patterson-Gimlin footage, after a spate of recent news items quoting me about the Bigfoot bounty forthcoming and then Duel Masters withdrawing it for a safer, secure photo contest, a Midwestern person wrote to a Bigfoot email list, taking me to task for getting involved in such a misadventure, and saying, with disgust: "It has been my gut feeling that Loren has the PT Barnum approach to the field of BF."

This was said with the usual back-biting that happens inside the private talk that occurs within "Bigfoot studies" circles, and although I am used to it, that’s not to say I’m not listening. With sensitivity on my sleeve, my initial defensive feelings were that I do much to calmly and straightforwardly promote Bigfoot and other cryptids. It seems some people get it, some don’t. Of course, when I read this critique, I was both mildly amused and hurt. That’s just me. I try to take feedback in from all corners, to a fault.

At the Bates conference, many of the speakers discussed Phineas Taylor Barnum with a new understanding, new insights, and new respect. P. T. Barnum was the first, in a purely American tradition, who re-invented the "museum" for North Americans, with insights into what we wanted, not what was merely a carbon copy of the European style of exhibitions. The weekend’s talks given by cryptonaturalist and artist Mark Dion, painter Sean Foley, museum curator Mark Bessire, and mentions by others, assisted in re-framing Barnum for me. I have to say I’m now rather proud to be called a "Barnum." If that’s what it takes to popularize cryptozoology and allows it to grow on one path that opens doors and gets everything from interested students inside to more funding becoming available for future pursuits, good. If Bates’ and Kansas City, Missouri’s forthcoming Cryptozoology exhibition preserves the field’s history and its overlap with art, and my museum collects the artifacts of the quest, even in a Barnum-style, so those tangible pieces of the search someday may be shared for people to see, so much the better.