Sometimes all the tumblers in the universe seem to fall into place around one issue. On September 24, 2017, for me, it appeared to in relationship to Gerald Russell and Snowmen skullcaps, the ritual objects made to look like the head of the Yeti.
I was waiting for a Strange Maine visitor to the International Cryptozoology Museum in the afternoon, following closely the visits of volunteers Jess and Jeff late last week, Lewiston Sun Journal media folks over the weekend, and Salt Institute for Documentary Studies students Monday morning.
I decided to use a break in the visitors to deal with a pile of rare paper items, and began framing some Pangboche skullcap flats from the 1950s-1960s (e.g. an old Edmund Hillary article, a Slick Airways sticker, an archival photo, an old postcard, and the original Tom Slick envelopes that had contained skullcap hair samples from that era).
Moments later, when Michelle Souilere from Strange Maine walked in, she had in her hand, as a gift for the museum, an article from a vintage 1959 magazine…with photos from a Japanese expedition of a Pangboche “Snowman scalp.” Unbelievable. I couldn’t have scripted that to happen, especially because of what had also occurred even earlier.
The day had started out with me receiving an email from a Gerald Russell relative, who worked with the reporter who had visited on Sunday. He was seeking information about the man and the Yeti expeditions. Russell, of course, was a leader on the Daily Mail Yeti 1954 expedition, the group that made the first Western discovery of the Abominable Snowman skullcaps. Russell returned during the 1958 Slick-Johnson expedition, to Pangboche and other sites, to investigate them further.
I’ve always been interested in the specific details of Russell’s elusive adventurer biography. I wrote an entry about him in Cryptozoology A to Z and passages on Russell in Tom Slick: True Life Encounters in Cryptozoology. Russell was an old schoolmate of Ivan Sanderson’s, and thus became a friend of Tom Slick’s. Sanderson was a friend of mine, and I’d become the biographer of Tom Slick. Now a relative of Gerald Russell shows up at my email door. (The cryptoworld seemed very small, indeed, yesterday.)
Russell went on several cryptozoological expeditions of note, in 1932 (Cameroons – after various cryptids – with Sanderson), 1933-1934 (Tibet – giant panda), 1936-1937 (Tibet – giant panda – with Ruth Harkness), 1950s (Asia, Europe – making films on capturing animals), 1954 (Nepal – Yeti), and 1958 (Nepal – Yeti).
Norman G. Dyhrenfurth
Later on Monday, when I was looking for something else on the internet – totally unrelated to Yeti – what would I stumble across? None other than a trailer from a film I’d never seen before – the lost movie taken of the 1958 Slick-Johnson Snowman expedition, filmed by German mountain climber and filmmaker Norman G. Dyhrenfurth, well-hidden on a German site.
Who was pictured among the familiar faces? Gerald Russell. I’d seen motion pictures of the others, but never of Gerald Russell.
Gerald Russell understood animal collection was about being friendly with the locals, getting dirty in your fieldwork, and keeping a low-profile. Ivan T. Sanderson, in 1960, soon after Hillary’s debunking World Book expedition returned, critiqued Hillary’s publicity stunt for being too short, looking in the wrong places (in the snowfields versus the valleys), and having 300 people trek where only a handful of humans should go looking for Yeti.
What were they really looking for in two months, on the higher passes, with 20 times the number of people needed? It doesn’t seem to have been Snowmen.
By contrast, Gerald Russell did it the right way, in 1954 and 1958, often traveling with only one guide. In 1958, Russell was rewarded with seeing a frog-eating teh-lma, along a creek in a montane valley in Nepal.