Regarding the ongoing Mysterious America, which goes out of print Friday, here’s a review of it from Bob Rickard, editor of Fortean Times:
Paraview Press, New York; 2001.
334pp, index, illus, appendix.
A fortean’s view of forteana. Essential reading.
This book was first published in 1983; at that time is was the most important and detailed snapshot of forteana in modern America. In this revised edition, veteran fortean investigator and FT columnist Loren Coleman brings the picture up to date. Included here are classic reports on the Dover Demon, the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, Phantom Clowns, the Iceman carcase, Alligators in the Sewers, Mystery Kangaroos, Phantom Panthers, various Bigfoots, and the Jersey Devil – all mandatory reading for forteans – along with a comprehensive bibliography and some notable strange places listed by state.
A lot has happened in the last 15 years – lots of investigations, panics, scares, new topics, reinvestigation of old cases, etc – but on the big issues there is surprisingly little advance. It’s clear from many of the chapters that the core topic – be it, UFOs, Bigfoot, lake monsters, or encounters with strange entities – is still as mysterious and elusive as it was when Coleman first began to pursue his fortean interests in 1960. But what we are presented with here is almost as important as a breakthrough, and that is a window on the development and changes in the thinking of the investigators themselves.
“When Jerry Clark and I wrote our first two books* in the mid-1970s, we suggested UFOs and monsters were psychic projections of a collective unconscious, literal thought forms which took on a solid state existence…” write Coleman. In the often heated debates of the 1980s and 1990s, the scope for explanation was widened to include associations with poltergeist activity, time and dimensional intrusions, the resurgence of ancient ‘spirits of place’ and the ‘psychosocial’ aspect that, generally, divides American research opinion from its European counterpart.
None of these, of course, are conducive to the scientific method or part of any ‘explanation’ that would be acceptable to an orthodox scientist, but to be accused of being ‘unscientific’ is the cross forteans have to bear. Our energies form a different type of discipline – one that operates on the border of intellectual chaos – that is more conducive to the consideration of all possibilities without prejudging the phenomena. It is pre-scientific (something that Thomas Kuhn understood) and not anti-scientific (which its unthinking critics deem it to be). In this field, Coleman is a smooth operator; as you travel with him across America – speaking to witnesses, gathering data, delving into history, archaeology, anthropology, indeed, anything that might shed some light on the meaning of the events – you can’t help but gain a respect for someone working so closely at the coalface of weirdness for so long … and who still appears sane and considerate.
Coleman obviously cares about strange phenomena but also about people to whom it has happened; people whose lives, for reasons that are often beyond their conscious understanding, have been turned upside-down. In academic life, he has been a family counsellor , and that has clearly helped. He says his passion for fortean mysteries has not dimmed in four decades and closes with words that go against the media-cultured expectation for instant understanding: “There is nothing wrong with not having all of the answers at this stage of the game.” That’s a pretty good approximation to fortean wisdom that will guide you through the next 20 years.
Of course, I began a cryptozoologist in 1960 and remain one today. But, needless to say, I am aware of how different parts of the journey have enhanced me and limited me and surprised me. In Mysterious America, I give a peek into that trek, just as I have here, on this blog for the last several months. The travel along any path is, bottomline, very personal. I appreciate that and hope my sharing assists others to find enjoyment in theirs too.
*Footnote: These two books have just been reprinted, with a new introduction, as The Unidentified & Creatures of the Outer Edge: The Early Works of Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman, NY: Anomalist Books, 2006.
If you are interested in obtaining any of the last hardbound copies of Mysterious America that I have, please see the posting here.