Mar 212015

Previously on this website I’ve recounted how Ivan Sanderson investigated large anomalous tracks in Florida claiming they were made by a 15 foot tall penguin. Sanderson was also known as a proponent of the biological reality of the sideshow exhibit known as the “Minnesota Iceman.” My impression from these two incidents was that Sanderson was excessively credulous.

Recently on Facebook I encountered a number of comments about Sanderson from Ron Pine. With his permission I’ve reprinted those comments, which suggest a deeper problem with Sanderson than simple credulity. I asked Dr. Pine to introduce himself.

My background is as follows: I am a mammalogist whose primary interest is taxonomy. I have also had a lifelong interest in cryptozoology and various other “fringe areas” (as an out-and-out skeptic). My BA is from the University of Kansas, my MS from the University of Michigan, and my Ph.D from Texas A&M. I have conducted field work in 20 countries, sometimes as an expedition leader, for various natural history museums, and named a number of new species of mammals. I went on my first, official, scientific expedition, which was to Mexico, when I was 19. At 22, with only my bachelor’s degree, I led an expedition to Kenya, for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. My youth and lack of degrees must have set a still-standing record for one given such a role. At the time that I was being made aware of what was going on with John Napier, Ivan T. Sanderson, and J. Edgar Hoover, I was a curator of mammals in the Smithsonian Institution.

Here’s a story that I don’t think has ever found its way into the annals of Bigfoot lore, although I’d like to see it picked up somewhere. I have previously written a bit about this in a Facebook thread of Jay BizarreZoo Cooney’s. Back when John Napier and I were at the Smithsonian, the “Minnesota Iceman” was getting a lot of play in the media. The “Iceman” had been manufactured in such a way that it appeared to have suffered one or more bullet wounds. Amazing as it may seem, J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI, which was then located just across the street from the Smithsonian’s natural history museum, where we worked, thought that an actual human homicide might have played a part in the “Iceman” exhibit, and asked us what we thought. Napier, as the museum’s primatologist, got the job of replying. Because Ivan T. Sanderson and Bernard Heuvelmans had examined that “Iceman,” but only through the ice, of course (hmmm, I wonder why the exhibitor didn’t take it out of the ice so that people could see it better), Sanderson was asked to supply what information he could about the thing. Heuvelmans had named it as a new species, Homo pongoides. Sanderson wrote a letter to Napier and Hoover, saying that the “Iceman” was a fake and that, among other things, some partially decomposed dog tissue had been involved in its construction, to give it the realistic odor of an actual dead thing. (For the mammalian taxonomist, this would make Homo pongoides a nomenclatural “junior synonym” of Canis familiaris.) Sanderson never admitted any of this in any of his published writings, which is one reason that I regard him as a charlatan. I know about all of this because Napier shared with me all the correspondence between him and Hoover and Sanderson. The account of all this, as given in Napier’s book “Bigfoot” is totally different from what you have just read. I assume that this is because it would have been a very bad idea to portray the very, very powerful Hoover as being credulous and because Napier didn’t want to write anything critical of Sanderson, who he seemed to regard as a friend and for whom he had more respect than Sanderson deserved. Also, the correspondence was all supposed to be confidential. Wikipedia also gives a somewhat different account

In Sanderson’s autobiographical book “Animal Treasure,” which took place in West Africa, he reported seeing an eagle-sized, black, batlike animal flying with its mouth open and revealing a semicircular row of teeth. The local, tribal people were represented as being terrified and fled when he mentioned having seen this apparition. No such animal exists. In the same book, he reported a skink (that is to say, a kind of lizard), that produced an unearthly, eerie whistle, “I have never met a louder sound caused by an animal” he wrote, and he likened this sound to “a really powerful fog-horn.” The lizard exists, but it is mute. In one chapter, he reports an extended period he supposedly spent one evening, watching a steady parade of myriad kinds of forest rats and mice, gamboling, and playing with one another in the most delightful fashion. As one who has spent his career in large part devoted to studies on tropical rats and mice, including such work in West Africa, and who knows that one will seldom be so lucky as to see even the streak of a running mouse, it’s quite clear that this was a fabricated story. There are also some things I could mention in his later books on the times he spent in the field, but he had apparently caught on by that time that you shouldn’t lay it on too thick, so they are less egregious.

It made me sad when I got to be old enough and had had enough field experience myself to catch Sanderson at his prevarications, because, as a young kid, I regarded him as the person I’d most like to emulate in my own career, as a result of reading his books about his animal collecting in the tropics, “Animal Treasure,” “Living Treasure,” and “Caribbean Treasure.”

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