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Transcript for
The Iceman Goeth

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Blake Smith: In 1968, a strange sight turned up on the carnival and fair circuit. A man named Frank Hansen toured with a special trailer containing a block of ice, within which appeared to be a six foot tall hairy humanoid.

This exhibit might have disappeared into the dustbin of history had it not been for the work of cryptozoologists Ivan Sanderson and Bernard Heuvelmans, who both wrote scholarly articles reporting the creature to be a real animal or perhaps humanoid.

With this endorsement, the question of whether this exhibit, now known as the Minnesota Iceman, was a real creature or just a carnival hoax, became a part of cryptozoological debates for decades.

[Intro]

[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]

Blake: Today on MonsterTalk, we’ll speak with former sideshow performer and Bigfoot researcher, Matt Crowley. You may recall us mentioning Matt’s research in our previous episode about Jimmy Chilcutt and his work on dermal ridges.

This interview runs a little longer than most, so we’ll get into it very quickly. But first, a little.

[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]

Blake: Today we’re going to talk with Matt Crowley. I always want to call him Matt the Tube, because he used to work with the Jim Rose Circus. And I guess he can talk to us about that. But he specialized in making something really disgusting called Bile Beer.

Karen Stollznow: Bile Beer.

Blake: Yeah. I’m sure he’ll…

Benjamin Radford: We should also just sort of, I think, we should make sure that we mention his work on the dramatoglyphics, as well.

Blake: That’s right. We’ve actually talked about his work before in our episode where we talked about dramatoglyphics. And specifically, where we interviewed Jimmy Chilcutt.

Karen: And we learned how to pronounce the word.

Blake: That’s right. And we also learned that Matt had done a very thorough job of explaining how artifacts of the casting process can produce something that looks very much like dermal ridges. I think he did a very good job.

And that’s all on his website, which is called Orgone Research. We’ll put the link in the show notes.

Scooby-Doo, in their first season, did an episode where the gang tries to investigate a case where there’s an Iceman and he’s basically a caveman in a block of ice.

Ben: Was it the original series?

Blake: Yeah, the original series, which was, really, pretty much contemporaneous with the Iceman case. It would have been just a little bit after. Yeah, so…

Karen: What did they conclude?

Blake: Well, it turned out that it was a guy in a costume.

Ben: What did those meddling kids find?

Blake: Yeah. It was a good episode. Because at one point, I believe Scooby’s wearing the costume of the caveman.

Ben: Oh, that wacky canine.

Blake: Yeah. The original skeptic cartoon. They always dug in, you know.

Karen: Are there others?

Blake: Spongebob Squarepants is fairly…

Karen: Maybe some South Park.

Blake: I guess South Park is actually pretty skeptical.

Karen: And Lisa from the Simpsons.

Blake: Oh, Lisa from the Simpsons. Absolutely. But yeah, I was going to say, the South Park episode on cold reading…

Ben: John Edward.

Blake: …John Edward was very good.

So, I will, until Scrappy-Doo showed up, everything was fine. So.

Ben: Did you say Scrappy-Douche?

Blake: I should have.

Ben: I believe you did.

Blake: Yeah, he, yeah, don’t get me started.

[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]

Blake: So, today we’re going to talk to you about the Minnesota Iceman.

Ben: I can dig it.

Blake: Before we do, do you want to give us…

Karen: No one else would.

Blake: …do you want to give us a little background on the Minnesota Iceman? And how you found out about it and got interested in it?

Matt Crowley: When I was a kid, my mother was very interested in anomalies and curiosities, fringe science, if you will. Back in the late ’60s, there were magazines like Fate, of course, and also, men’s magazines like Saga and Argosy.

And she actually had a stack of Argosy and Saga magazines that I would look through as a kid. I was too young to sort of go for the cheesecake. But I would see these articles on things like Bigfoot or UFOs or a lot of adventure type stuff. But that’s why she had these magazines.

And so, I remembered encountering the Minnesota Iceman story as a child, and I would have been about, maybe, nine or ten. And I also became interested in Bigfoot when I was about nine or ten. I saw a movie with my mother and my brother about Bigfoot. And then, I was given John Green’s “On the Track of the Sasquatch” when I was nine. So, I was very interested in Bigfoot as a child.

And watched these TV shows on the subject in the early ’70s. I was very interested. And there was, you couldn’t really get any other information on the subject besides the occasional TV show or these, I had all three of John Green’s early books.

And then, by the time I got to high school in ’76, I get kind of angry that Bigfoot hadn’t been discovered. And I really put the subject aside until about the year 2000. And I saw a story on the Internet regarding the Skookum calves. I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty interesting.’ It finally dawned on me that there was all this information about big foot in general on the Internet.

In about 2003, I saw a presentation that Loren Coleman gave here in Seattle put on by Seattle Museum of the Mysteries. I was listening to his presentation and he started talking about things like the history of the yeti and the Shipton tracks. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s pretty interesting. I kind of remember that.’ Then he talked about the tracks found in Northern California in ’58. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right. I kind of remember that.’ Of course he talked about the Patterson Film. Then he started talking about the Minnesota Iceman. I thought, ‘Oh my god.’

My reaction to that was based on the fact that I’d been a sideshow performer from 1991, until 1994. In the meantime, even though I’d totally forgotten about the Minnesota Iceman, I’d had this sideshow background. That totally colored my perception of what the Minnesota Iceman was all about.

Blake: Because it seemed more real and authentic now? [laughs]

Matt: Oh no, oh no. Yes, I’m sorry. What I’m assuming to do, because I’m on the hot seat, is to illustrate why someone with a sideshow background would be so intrinsically skeptical of an exhibit like the Minnesota Iceman.

Blake: Let me just throw this out there. The spoiler alert. The same sort of thing happens with pro wrestling. If you don’t want to know the truth, don’t listen. Go ahead Matt.

Ben: Plug your ears now.

Blake: All right Matt. Let us have it. [laughs]

Matt: First of all I should explain, for those who don’t know, what I did as a sideshow performer. The history of sideshow was such that by the time I started in 1991, it was in severe decline. It was superseded by television and movies. As far as traveling carnivals and circuses went it had been displaced by things like rides quite a bit. Sideshow as an American art form had really declined. It was basically almost gone by ’91.

I just happened to meet up with a bunch of guys in Seattle who were doing these things on their own. Kind of by word of mouth we learned about each other. We linked up with this gentleman, Jim Rose, who had been busking down in Venice Beach. He’d been doing a lying on a bed of nails and whatnot as a busker. Jim Rose’s great talent was promotion. I would really put him up there with a guy like P. T. Barnum. I say that in all seriousness. As far as promotion goes he really had just absolute genius as far as being able to promote these kinds of things.

Jim Rose and the four original performers, myself included, started playing locally here in Seattle. Then Perry Farrell of Lollapalooza fame heard about us and invited us to come on Lollapalooza. We toured Canada right before the summer of ’92. Then we went on Lollapalooza in ’92. Then we were on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show. We toured all around the United States, Canada, Western Europe and Australia during that short period of time. I had a very intense exposure to sideshow during that time.

As far as sideshow went what our troupe was, we were what was called working acts. Which were individual performers, performing stunts. We didn’t have any so called freaks. Which would be people that had birth defects. For a time we worked with a gal who was short. We went on one Canadian tour with her, Dolly the Doll Lady. We didn’t employ anything like gaffs or pickled punks, or any of that nature. We were specifically a working act.

So it wasn’t until after I got off the sideshow that I began to learn the history of sideshow. And I began to realize, afterwards, what place we had in the history of this enterprise.

Blake: For our listeners who don’t know pickled punks and gaffs. Pickled punks are, and correct me if I’m wrong, those are actual real babies that are born with birth defects and then preserved.

Matt: Some of them are, and it’s good that you mentioned the word gaff because gaff is a very important word. Gaffe means a fake, and it can be used, I think the proper word is adjective. If something is gaffed it means it’s been tampered with so it doesn’t function as it originally did. Like a pair of handcuffs can be gaffed so that they can be immediately opened.

In terms of a noun, a gaff is a fake exhibit. In general, as far as a sideshow term of gaff, it means a solid, three-dimensional artifact that’s on display, that is a fake of some kind. It is a fabricated illusion of some kind. Now when you mention pickled punks, there was a time in history when people—showmen — were able to obtain the recently deceased bodies of neonates that didn’t survive.

Often these were deformed, severely deformed, neonates. They were ancephalic or severe bone disorders or whatnot and they were stillborn. So they were very small and they would be preserved, I presume in formaldehyde, and sometimes they would be purchased by these showmen and they would be exhibited by these showmen.

Of course as time went on, and laws became enacted, and some of these showmen decided while it was too legally risky to display genuine human specimens, they resorted to creating gaffs which were fabricated illusions. Those have a special name, and those were called pickled punks or founcers.

Ben: Matt, I was just going to join there that one of the things that makes the sideshow and the carnival so interesting, certainly in regard to things like the Iceman, is that there’s this blending of the real and the gaffed. Sometimes you’ll see something doesn’t seem like it could be real, but in fact it is real.

It may be a cow with an extra leg or something. Then you have things that could be real, and in fact they’re not real. I think that that tends to add an authenticity to it.

Matt: Yes, you’re absolutely right. In fact, if you look at the history of sideshow, you’ll often see things just like that. For instance, even here in Seattle, I saw a small circus a couple of years ago that had a snake exhibit, or a reptile exhibit. And those were very common years ago because out in the boonies you would never see an exotic, tropical snake.

Of course before television became common you’d never see such a thing in your life. That was a display of a wild animal from some exotic place, that was a mainstay of the sideshows before, I don’t know, the 1950s or 40s. You’re absolutely right. They would often mix real specimens with fake specimens.

There’s a local tie-in down in the Pacific Northwest which I’m very proud of as a resident of the Pacific Northwest. Down in Long Beach, Washington there’s a place called Marsha’s Free Museum. It’s absolutely chock full, literally to the ceiling, with swag. It has a great deal of artifacts like that. Skulls and mummified animals.

Indeed there’s a mixture of real animals and then gaffs, like say a two headed calf. It’s kind of sad because they have a two headed calf that’s beginning to split in half. You can see where it was joined together now that it’s dried and falling apart.

The real pièce de résistance of Marsha’s Free Museum is a gaff called Jake the Alligator Man. They built a special glass case. It’s a half man, half alligator. It’s quite the pride of the Pacific Northwest.

Ben: [laughs] . I just wanted to know which half was alligator, sorry, the front or back?

Matt: The rear half is alligator.

Ben: OK.

Matt: Although the tail is somewhat disproportionate as far as an alligator tail goes. You can actually become a connoisseur of these things. There are such a small number of artists making these gaffs today that each of these artists who creates them has a certain sort of a style. You can begin to see patterns in their styling.

Karen: Matt, what’s the status of sideshows today then?

Matt: Today it’s almost all working acts. That is to say that it’s just performers doing things like swallowing swords, or eating fire, or walking up a ladder of swords, or having concrete blocks smashed on their chest, or the human pincushion act. Those are all stunts.

In general I try to follow these people on Facebook. There are a whole lot of them out there, but I don’t get the impression that many of them are traveling. Some of these older guys like Ward Hall, I’m not even sure of the status of some of these older acts. There’re still on the road or there’re traveling.

A lot of it today is younger people, but who don’t seem to travel too much. I caught one of my fellow performers Tim Cridland, who was with a group called the Hellz-a-Poppin’ sideshow. They successfully traveled across the United States. I caught their act in Seattle here. It was quite good. It has significantly declined since its heyday of about maybe the 1930s.

Woman 2: Does this mean that gaffs and sideshows, things like that, are just not popular today? Or people don’t believe in them anymore?

Matt: I’m not sure. Well, first of all there are not many artists out there making the gaffs. The weird thing is that since the explosive growth of the Internet a lot of the artists who are making sideshow gaffs are doing things like selling them on eBay to private collectors and so they don’t really get exhibited on sideshows, or on the road, they’re not taken on the road. But it should be noted that for many, many years gaffs were a staple of sideshow exhibits, and there are a couple of reasons for that.

One, unlike a human being, you don’t have to pay them. Two, unlike a human being, they won’t get drunk and blow up firecrackers in their hotel room or something, or become obnoxious. So, it was a cheap way to flesh out your show, if you had a non-living entity.

Karen: And when they, sorry one more question, when they sold on eBay, they sold as gaffs or as real things?

Matt: Oh almost always as gaffs. Almost always as gaffs. With all due respect, some of the artists that are out there you may not even be familiar with. There’s only a few, there’s Mark Frierson, one of the more respected names in the business. There’s Doug Higley. Ben might be familiar with Doug Higley, because Doug Higley created several chupacabra gaffes.

Ben: I’ve got one in my office right here in fact.

Matt: Oh, very good. Yeah, well, was it by Doug Higley?

Ben: Yeah, it was by Doug. Yeah.

Matt: Ah, yes. There’s a guy out of Portland, who’s probably my favorite artist. A guy named William Bivens. He has created some replicas of the Jake the Alligator Man and a couple of other gaffs and his work is really quite spectacular. I think he’s an up-and-coming artist in the world, the rarefied world, of gaff-making.

He produced a lamp created out of, I believe, a human vertebral column and he used a lampshade that looks like human skin. It wasn’t real human skin, I think it was latex. But it was a superbly produced exhibit and it appeared in Bizarre Magazine. That was sold privately, but he works mostly in latex. Some of these guys work with genuine animal tissues and some of them work only with synthetics. I think Higley only works with synthetics.

Ben: Yeah, the one that I’ve got, it’s fascinating. It’s created with wire, and then he sort of builds around it. It’s got resins and stuff and he paints it, it’s pretty cool. I am seeing how the gaffs obviously are an integral part of a lot of the sideshows because, as you said, you don’t have to feed them, they don’t cause trouble, they don’t demand raises.

Matt: Right.

Ben: But, if you would, put the Minnesota Iceman in context of the sideshow tradition.

Matt: Oh, that’s a wonderful thing. To me, it’s one of the greatest of all time. In my opinion, it’s up there with the Cardiff Giant, if not even superior to the Cardiff Giant, for a couple of reasons. The first thing that should be noted is that the Minnesota Iceman actually appeared on the scene before Patterson’s film.

As far as I’ve been able to determine, Frank Hansen, who is the showman exhibiting the Minnesota Iceman, first had it appear in public in May, or the Spring of 1967 and, if you recall, Roger Patterson’s film of an alleged Sasquatch wasn’t until October of ’67. By the late sixties, there was still a great deal of interest in the Abominable Snowman and Bigfoot.

In my opinion, Hansen was capitalizing on the interest of the Abominable Snowman and got extraordinarily lucky because Patterson came along just after his exhibit went on the road. So there is this natural tie-in between the interest in Bigfoot generated by Patterson and the interest in the Minnesota Iceman.

Hansen also got extremely lucky because his exhibit was discovered by a guy named Terry Cullen. Terry Cullen advised two genuine scientists, believe they were both zoologists, Ivan Sanderson and Bernard Heuvelmans, who were also considered cryptozoologists. He advised these guys, “Oh wow, there’s this exhibit”, and see Cullen took it seriously that while this isn’t a sideshow exhibit, this is a real animal.

The plot thickens in 1968 because Sanderson and Heuvelmans travel to Frank Hansen’s residence which was Rolling Stone, Minnesota in December of, I believe, ’68 and physically examine the exhibit. Now Hansen would not let the exhibit be thawed out.

The exhibit was of a 6-foot long approximate hominoidal or hairy ape-man type exhibit, in a huge block of ice inside of a specially constructed refrigerator that was lying flat and was covered by a thick pane of glass. You could look down into it. Not only was there glass covering it, but the specimen was covered by several inches of ice.

Sanderson and Heuvelmans spend a whole bunch of time examining this thing, basically looking at it and photographing it and making anatomical drawings as best as they could looking through inches of ice. Amazingly enough, they both come out and say, “Oh, this thing is real, this is a real animal.”

Furthermore, both of them, Sanderson and Heuvelmans, each published essays in which they declared publicly and with their own scientific backing on the line, that these are real animals. In fact, Heuvelmans even gave it Linnean nomenclature. He called it Homo Pongoides.

Ben: What were they thinking? I mean, were they really incapable of recognizing the gaff? I mean, from your understanding, what the hell were they thinking?

Matt: That’s one of the 64 dollar questions. If you want a slightly deeper answer, in my opinion, what you have is a clash of cultures. In my opinion, what’s really going on is that, by the late 1960s, sideshow had been in decline, so that it was becoming more and more esoteric.

When you get two individuals like Sanderson and Heuvelmans, who are unfamiliar with the history and tradition of sideshow, they don’t take this exhibit in it’s context. Here is the great tip-off for me. Everybody talks about the quote, “The Minnesota Iceman.” Well, the fact is that when Hansen first started exhibiting this exhibit, he called it the Cyberscoy Creature.

That is your great tip-off right there. There is no place called Cyberscoy. It’s kind of like if I had started telling you a joke saying, “A man and a horse walk into a bar”, that’s a tip-off that I’m telling you a joke, right? So when Frank Hansen dubs this exhibit The Cyberscoy Creature, and there is no place called Cyberscoy…

Ben: Isn’t it next to Narnia and where Gulliver traveled, where was that?

Blake: He went to a lot of places.

Matt: Brobdingnag…

Ben: There you go.

Matt: Lilliput…

Ben: It’s between those two.

Matt: Yeah. Yeah.

[laughter]

Blake: Actually, let me just hop in and say you’ve hit on one of my questions. It seems like this, I think was a clue to me too, the origin of the creature seemed to change. Not only was he starting off in an imaginary place, but the story behind where it came from kept being a different tale, depending on who Hansen was talking to. Can you talk about that?

Matt: That’s correct. That’s correct, yeah. It originally started off as a block of ice floating off of the coast of Asia, he never was particularly clear about that. Then it changed to coming from the wilds of Minnesota. At one point, Hansen said he shot the creature in the wilds of Minnesota himself.

Another time, a story was floated out that the creature was shot by a woman who was about to be raped by this wild ape-man. This is classic b.s. by a showman.

[Laughter]

See, when I was on the sideshow, I was a performer and my whole take on the sideshow was my goal was to try to come up with new stunts. Because when I entered a sideshow, I really did not have an understanding of the history of the sideshow. So I started out from square zero and started coming up with stunts on my own.

Whereas Jim Rose was coming from this from a totally different aspect, as a promoter. Even though it was only about three years, it was practically like spending 24 hours a day with a guy and watching his every move, and seeing how a promoter like Jim Rose operates. And you get these guys who generate a steady stream of stories and it’s like once they get on a roll, they can’t stop.

When I saw these stories that Frank Hansen was putting out, of course I immediately think of Jim Rose, and it’s like well of course, that’s how sideshow showman function. It’s almost impossible for a guy like me to do that. I’m not a natural liar, I’m not a natural b.s.-er, I’m not a natural storyteller, but there are people who are, and Hansen was clearly one of those.

In my opinion, Hansen is giving out all these just obvious clues to anybody who is hip to sideshow. He’s calling it the Cyberscoy Creature, he’s changing his story, and yet all this time, you’ve got Sanderson and Heuvelmans are simply ignoring these clues.

It’s my belief that Sanderson and Heuvelmans came from this academic background and the culture that they were raised with is totally different from the culture that a Frank Hansen comes from, the sideshow culture. There’s a meeting of different worlds there. Sorry to be blunt, but in my opinion Sanderson and Heuvelmans were just clueless as to what was really going on.

Karen: And were all of the stories coming from Hansen or were they originating elsewhere? Or from other people?

Matt: Yeah, it was all from Hansen, and that’s the problem. Soon enough, after the late ’60s, some of the Bigfoot proponents were beginning to suggest, “Well this is Bigfoot”, right, even though Heuvelmans said it was Homo Pongoides, some of these Bigfoot proponents said, “Well, it’s probably a subspecies of Bigfoot,” and for many years, Loren Coleman was the most widely known advocate that this was some kind of genuine hominoid or Bigfoot-type creature. For years, he promoted that.

Blake: Does he still believe that? Do you know what the latest is on that?

Matt: No, and there’s a story that goes with that. This is the story with that: In 2008, we had two guys, Dyer and Whitton from Georgia, who started saying, “I’ve got a Bigfoot in a freezer.” They were putting out these YouTube videos, and one of the guys actually was a police officer. He was saying, “Oh yeah, I’ve got Bigfoot. I’ve got Bigfoot.”

This went on for several weeks, and even when they were releasing these videos, the story was beginning to fall apart, because in one of these videos, he introduces a fellow and said, “Here’s this PhD scientist,” and the PhD scientist said, “Yeah, we’re going to take a look and see if this is the missing link.” Well, no PhD scientist says a ridiculous term like “the missing link.” It’s a clear tip-off that it’s a fake.

Everybody following the story, even from the beginning, knew that this guy was a fake. Then another gentleman on the Internet did some background checking, and realized that this PhD was actually a relative of Whitton and Dyer’s, and of course, eventually, Tom Biscardi becomes involved, and it leads to a giant, nationally broadcast press conference. Well, guess who was watching this press conference? None other than Verne Langdon.

Verne Langdon was a man who had worked at Don Post Studios for a number of years. In fact, he had worked with the production of “The Planet of the Apes” films, and a very well respected creature costume designer. Verne Langdon posting on Bigfoot forums and saying, “This is hilarious, because this is a redo of the Minnesota Iceman.”

People started realizing, “Well, this is the real deal. This is the real Verne Langdon,” and they started realizing, “Wow, this is pretty amazing.” So, to their credit, the two guys running Bigfoot forums invited Verne Langdon onto their Internet podcast. By August of 2008, Verne Langdon did an hour and a half interview with Brown and Vella regarding the backstory of the Minnesota Iceman.

At that point, in my opinion, Langdon just killed the legend dead, because what he did was he explained the timeline that Frank Hansen had approached Don Post Studios as early as, I think, 1966, and said, “Well, I want this gaff. I’m going to start exhibiting a gaff for my touring exhibit, and I want you guys to build it.”

According to Langdon, Langdon really didn’t want to have anything to do with Hansen, because Langdon was on a professional level that was far above the sleazy level that Hansen was on. They said, “Well, we’re not going to do it. We’re going to refer you to another man named Howard Ball.” That appears to be the solution to the mystery of the Iceman, that it was fabricated by a gentleman named Howard Ball.

There appears to be a little bit of a discrepancy in the accounts that I’ve gotten. Langdon says it was created out of “hot melt,” which is a vinyl, and others, relatives of Ball, said it was created out of rubber. According to Langdon, latex rubber is unstable in water.

I don’t know enough about the polymers and whatnot to give you an answer of what it ultimately was, but it was a rubbery polymer that was fabricated by Howard Ball and then “ventilated,” which, the hairs were added by a different artist. The story becomes, essentially, untenable as a real animal, because it pushes the timeline back so far before ’67.

Then there was a blog entry on Cryptomundo in September, by Loren Coleman, in which he saw the light and said, “I can no longer support the Minnesota Iceman.” Coleman gives no mention to Verne Langdon’s interview, but skeptics for many years were poking holes at the notion that the Minnesota Iceman was a real deal.

I’d like to draw your attention to an essay that was written. Before the Internet, of course, there were fanzines, and there was a fanzine written by a gentleman named Chris Fellner. His fanzine was called Freaks. It ran from 1996 to 1998.

In February of ’97, Fellner wrote a long article entitled “The Mysterious Creature in Ice,” which I have taken the liberty of uploading to my own website, in which he just really takes Sanderson and Heuvelmans to task for buying into this gaff as a real animal. I’ll just read directly from what Fellner is saying. Fellner’s tone is a little bit vicious, but it really does encapsulate the tone from a sideshow perspective.

Fellner writes, “It doesn’t take a genius to poke holes in Sanderson’s argument for Bozo’s authenticity.” They called him Bozo. First he says, “You cannot just make a corpse like this, either out of bits and pieces of the bodies of other animals or of wax, with some half a million hairs inserted into it.” Why not? Didn’t he ever hear of the Fiji Mermaid, half fish and half monkey?

“As for inserting hairs into wax, maybe Sanderson should’ve visited the ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not!’ museums, where he would have found two life-sized wooden statues of the Japanese artist Hananuma Masakichi. Masakichi-san created the perfect likeness of himself when he thought he was going to die of tuberculosis.”

“He plucked every hair out of his body, including pubic hair, and painstakingly inserted them into tiny holes drilled into the statues’ solid wood. Compared with that feat, putting hairs into wax would be a piece of cake.”

Blake: We’ll put a link to that article in the show notes on your website.

Matt: It’s an excellent article from a sideshow perspective.

Blake: Frank Hansen, he had some history of working with hoaxes, carnival sideshows, that sort of thing?

Matt: Yes. In fact, prior to the Cyberscoy Creature, his primary exhibit was a John Deere Tractor.

Ben: Real or a gaff?

Matt: It was real…

Blake: Where do you find one of those?

Matt: It was indeed a rare tractor. The premier historian of sideshow is a guy named A.W. Stencell, and he’s got two books out, excellent books on sideshow history. One of them is entitled “Seeing is Believing,” and the other is a recent one entitled “Circus and Carnival Ballyhoo.” Stencell found a photograph of Hansen’s tractor, so the answer is yes, [laughs] but obviously a tractor is a markedly different exhibit than an ape man.

Karen: The Iceman is the true missing link, isn’t he?

Matt: Well, they were bandying that term around. Both Sanderson and Heuvelmans did indeed write these long, technical write ups, throwing in as much polysyllabic, anatomical terminology as they could, to clearly demonstrate to their scientific acumen. This has been the fundamental cornerstone of all of the advocates over the years.

Because there were no somatic samples ever taken of this exhibit, not a one, Hansen never allowed it to be thawed out and physically examined or tissue samples taken, so the Bigfoot advocates who say that this was a real creature, they all fall back on the argument from authority by saying, “Hansen and Heuvelmans were zoological experts, and they knew what they were talking about. They could tell the difference between a fabricated illusion and the real thing.”

Of course, on the surface that sounds like a great argument, but you may or may not know that Ivan Sanderson, as time went on, began to advocate more and more outrageous and untenable things. Speaking of things, he wrote two books. One was called “Things,” and another was called “More Things.”

The book More Things published in 1969, he gives a long account of an event that occurred in 1948, in which a series of very large, three-toed tracks were found in Clearwater, Florida. Sanderson investigated these to a great extent, and this sounds like I’m making this up. This sounds like I’m kidding, but I’m not, that Sanderson eventually concluded that these were made by a 15 foot penguin.

On page 55 of the book “More Things,” he writes, “A thick-billed penguin 15 feet long on the coast of Florida is admittedly pretty horrid, but I don’t think we can legitimately, any longer, laugh it out of court.” Years later, they found the man who actually engaged in the hoax, a guy named Tony Signorini. Signorini had fabricated a set of large three-toed prosthetics out of cast iron. There’s also a link on my website to that, the 15 foot penguin episode.

For a long time, Sanderson was a somewhat credulous individual. I think the most stunning example of the credulity of Ivan Sanderson is found on pages 74 and 75 of his book, “More Things.” Because he’s commenting on the nature of illusion with regards to the Patterson film, and he alludes to the movie “The Lost World…”

Well, this guy who did the special effects for “The Lost World” was a guy named Willis O’Brien, who later on did the special effects for “King Kong.” If you remember the movie, the original “King Kong”, King Kong is made to move in kind of a herky-jerky way, and that’s called stop motion. That’s how he did the special effects on “The Lost World” as well.

They would take a model, they would move it a little bit, take a photograph or two, move the model a little bit, take a photograph or two, on and on and on, very painstaking, tedious work. That’s why you get that kind of herky-jerky effect. But to Ivan Sanderson, Ivan Sanderson had a different take on how those special effects were accomplished.

I quote from you from “More Things,” pages 74 and 75, Sanderson writes, “Even in the late 1920s, the dinosaurs in the film of Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’ were utterly realistic close-ups of their heads showing drooling saliva, nictitating membranes, and flashing eyes. Incidentally, these dinosaurs were wearing skillfully constructed suits by a man who had a degree in paleontology, and were fitted over live chickens.”

Sanderson believed that live chickens with little dinosaur suits were what the special effects were made of from “The Lost World,” so Sanderson was, shall we say, a credulous individual.

Karen: Was he known to be a cryptozoologist before the Iceman appeared?

Matt: Oh yes. Oh yes. He had, I think, appeared on The Tonight Show in a very traditional role, but as time went on he gravitated to the more and more unusual. Even today, Ivan Sanderson has held up to be this founding crypto zoologist, and his advocacy of 15 foot penguins and chickens in dinosaur suits is conveniently written out of the history of this eminent cryptozoologist.

Blake: Let me ask you that now, presumably, the Minnesota Iceman was not the first alleged either Bigfoot-like creature or humanoid creature encased in ice, right, or was it the first that you know of?

Matt: Yes, it was. There was a frozen exhibit, and Verne Langdon went into this extensively in his podcast interview. There was a whale called Little Irvy, which was a real whale, and it really was encased in a block of ice. It had been exhibited prior to Hansen, so there are some who speculate that Hansen the success of Little Irvy and decided to emulate it. I will say this: There’s an important follow-up that should be noted.

There are a lot of these advocates who still believe in the reality of the Minnesota Iceman, who say, “I saw this thing, and it’s real,” and then they’ll give various descriptions of it. I have suspected this for a long time, and I finally got proof in Stencell’s books that, of course as you often see in the entertainment business, as soon something is successful, imitators come along, and that’s what happened with the Minnesota Iceman.

As soon as Hansen came out with the Cyberscoy Creature, the Minnesota Iceman, other showmen began to copy his exhibit. I believe that Hansen’s Iceman was the first of its kind, but there were certainly imitators that came after it. You have to take anybody who says, “Oh, I saw the Minnesota Iceman, and yadda yadda yadda,” “Well, did you see Frank Hansen’s, or did you see one of the imitators?”

Blake: Which one did you see?

Matt: Right.

Blake: In fact, just a quick follow-up, I actually saw an updated version of the Minnesota Iceman two or three years ago at a state fair. It was very similar to the descriptions and the drawings that you see, and it was presumably this humanoid form, and the banners outside of the exhibit told this story of this arctic explorer who brought back this mysterious being encased in ice. For a mere buck fifty, or whatever it was, you could go in and see it.

They’re still touring it in some versions.

Matt: Oh yeah. Well, to get into a deeper philosophical or artistic level about the Minnesota Iceman, it’s been my experience, if you look at gaffs as art, if you look at them as fantasy sculpture, a lot of these artists have an almost irresistible impulse to incorporate some sort of grotesque, or exaggerated, or augmented feature. There is a fascinating book, it’s a very unusual book, by a guy named Peter Dance entitled “Animal Fakes and Frauds.”

It details how far back in history gaffs go, and one of the earliest were mermaids, and in Dance’s book, he alludes to mermaid exhibits that go back to 1775. Reading here from Dance, it says, “The reality as concocted by the mermaid manufacturer fell far short of the ideal of beauty,” because people would claim to see mermaids and they were beautiful, and the ideal of beauty he’s referring to.

“It is as if they knew that they could not produce anything even remotely as satisfying as the legendary mermaid and abandoned the attempt in favor of a grotesque parody of it. To achieve the parody, they had to resort to pastiche, as we shall now see.” You see that, even from the very earliest days, the gaffs produced by these artists often ran to the grotesque, or at least they would incorporate a grotesque element.

For instance, this artist that I’m quite fond of, William Bivens, often will have these mouths open to reveal a mouth full of frightening teeth, or in Higley’s case, the shocking color of the skin. Higley’s gaffs often run to the yellow and orange as far as skin color. These artists often incorporate these particular augmentations, and in the Minnesota Iceman, you see this in the feet and the hands.

The British primatologist, John Napier, wrote a book entitled “Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality,” and he has an excellent account of the whole Minnesota Iceman. If you want an impartial account, that’s an excellent version. He alludes to this, and I love this word he uses, he uses the word “spatulate,” “The hands were spatulate.”

If you look at the photographs and the anatomical drawings, Ball, obviously, that was his signature. He made the hands and the feet almost cartoonishly big. It’s like Beavis and Butthead. They have cartoonishly big heads. According to Verne Langdon, when Hansen approached Langdon, Hansen had a drawing with him. He said, “I want you to produce this,” so the idea probably originated with Hansen.

I would say, from an artistic perspective, it’s almost an irresistible urge on the part of these artists to augment something, to make it cartoonishly ridiculous, if you will. If you look, the hands alone should tell you that this is a… [laughs] It’s a ridiculous, non-human, non-biological entity.

Blake: OK, so there’s a really — I mean, OK, it’s strange enough that there’s supposedly a frozen prehistoric man. But there’s another aspect to this case that’s always puzzled me.

And that’s, at some point, Hansen, for some reason, whether he was feeling too much pressure or heat because of the publicity or what, I don’t know. He kind of disappears for a while. And then comes back with what he calls a new Iceman.

Matt: Right.

Blake: And this new Iceman, according to, or if I’m reading it right, Sanderson dismisses as an obvious hoax. But John Napier, who’s another anthropologist who looked at both of them, says it’s the same creature, just repositioned and refrozen.

Did you get to see any photos of both to compare? Or what was your take on that? Is it the same critter?

Matt: That’s an excellent question. Yes, well, the fact is that years ago, I was debating online on Bigfoot Forums this very issue.

There was another gentleman who didn’t have the sideshow background that I did, but still had enough of a knowledge of anatomy and primatology and history of evolution. The guy would post on Bigfoot Forums under the handle of Wolftracks, a Bigfoot associate of mine, very intelligent guy.

And he dug around to try to find these photographs, because Lauren Coleman, and an associate of Coleman’s named Hall had taken some photographs. But none of them, really, had surfaced on the Internet or whatnot.

So, this gentleman, Wolftracks, had done some comparisons, at least of the head of the, quote, “original” and the, quote, “fake.” I mean, in my belief, there was, of course, only one artifact and that was this fabricated illusion.

And I do believe that Napier’s take is correct. It’s my belief that there’s no way that you could have kept this thing refrigerated constantly. The energy requirements, the fuel required for a generator to keep this thing refrigerated constantly, literally, for years, would have been impossible.

And in fact, Joe Nichol wrote a book entitled, “Secrets of the Sideshows.” And Nichol saw this exhibit, I believe, in Canada. And it had melted out somewhat. And Nichol provides a first person account of touching it.

It says, “It was lying in a freezer-like tank, but some of the ice had melted away, exposing part of the body. I reached in and felt it. Not surprisingly, it was rubbery.” Right.

And so, yes, I believe that it definitely had melted out at some point. It got moved.

And as far as the photographs, the only photographs that I’ve ever seen are of the head. And in my opinion, there are no differences between the head of the supposed original and the head of the supposed duplicate.

And the real concession I found online, when Lauren Coleman wrote his blog entry on Cryptomundo, on September 10, 2008, where he says, “Oh, I give up. It’s, I don’t believe in it anymore.”

He was asked specifically by a Bigfoot advocate, “Lauren, could you please tell us the list of the 15 differences,” which were a list that Sanderson and Heuvelmans created, a list of the alleged differences between the alleged original and the alleged fake. “I’ve read there were differences, but not what they were.”

Lauren Coleman responds, “The list of 15 differences was formulated by Sanderson and Heuvelmans and never shared publicly or with Mark Hall and me.”

This was done so Sanderson and Heuvelmans could privately tell if the real body was ever shown again by Hansen. Without Hansen or the secret owner knowing what these discovered differences were.

The list may be hidden in the archive of Heuvelmans’ files held in the Zoology Museum in Switzerland.

[Laughter]

Blake: Wow.

Matt: Which is of course ridiculous but it’s something dead serious here from [sp] . It’s kind of like you submitted a paper to nature and you said, “Well, I’ve made measurements of 15 parameters to a statistically significant difference of P less than 0.05%”. And then the editor of nature says, “What are these parameters you’ve measured?.” And you say, “Well they’re secret.” [laughter] Well, you would be treated like one of the angled trisectors submitting a proof of angled trisection to a mathematics journal. The level of pseudoscience with keeping your secret criteria is absurd. It’s pure unadulterated pseudoscience.

Blake: Or the second ice man was on double secret probation.

[Laughter]

Matt: Maybe on probation. Yeah. Well, I will straight up tell you, I don’t know exactly how it works, but I’ll tell you that it works — to promote stuff, like side show stuff, you kind of need to keep up a continuous stream of b.s. to keep the customer interested or else the story just peters out and loses interest. I saw Jim Rose did this. Jim Rose was on a roll 24 hours a day, hyping the show and telling different stories with little twists here, there and everywhere. In my opinion it was a perfect story for Frank Hanson to just simply keep the publicity machine alive and deepen the mystery and keep people curious, you know, pure hype. And Sanderson and for a while Lauren Coleman believed this hype.

Blake: So, let me ask you. Is that why the Ice Man became so famous and why it’s still talked about today is because of Sanderson and others or was it just great showmanship by Hanson or a combination? To what do you treat to that fact that we’re still talking about this?

Matt: Well, I think we’re seeing the twilight. In 2008 was the real watershed because Lauren Coleman really was the last of the major advocates as far as within the Bigfoot world. I know that outside of the Bigfoot world, there’s this other gentleman named Lloyd Pye and if you go to Lloyd Pye’s website, Lloyd Pye is more known for an anomalous skull that he possesses called a Starchild skull and which he claims was a product of human/alien hybridization.

But Pye also claims to be a hominoid or hominid researcher and, this is very interesting because I’ve looked on his website and he produces an illustration of the Minnesota Iceman and it reads “The second best proof of hominoid reality is this creature shot through the mid-back — note: Exit hole in the chest — finished off through the left eye socket, rear of the head is blown away.

Its corpse was frozen in a block of ice and displayed from 1968 to 1980 at fairs and malls in the United States and Canada. It made its owner rich at the expense of what could have been learned from careful scientific analysis of it. I saw it as a young man and have no doubt on a personal level that it was absolutely real and not faked in any way.” And this is a very interesting claim by Lloyd Pye because no one, besides Lloyd Pye, has ever noted the presence of a quote “gunshot” wound, especially an exit gunshot wound in the chest of this creature.

And there are only a couple of possibilities. Either Pye saw a different exhibit than Hansen exhibited or Lloyd Pye is grossly mistaken or Lloyd Pye is able to with Superman vision see something that nobody else saw. So, I’m going to go with Occam’s Razor here and say that Lloyd Pye is simply mistaken, that there was never any gaping exit wound hole in Frank Hansen’s exhibit.

But, I will say that Lloyd Pye is in the minority. He was never really incorporated into the subculture of Bigfootery. If you look at Jeff Meldrum’s book or Chris Murphy has got a new book out on Bigfoot, you will not see the Minnesota Iceman listed in the index and it is my belief that, believe it or not, this is one of those subjects that have gone by the wayside as far as Bigfooters claiming, “Well, this is the Bigfoot that got away.”

Blake: It makes you raise an issue I had, which is, maybe he’s doing the same thing with this creature in a block of ice, which is hard to see, becomes kind of like a Rorschach test in the same way Patty is, that you kind of see the details you want to see if you try to squeeze them out of there.

Matt: Yeah, I think that’s a very good point. I think that’s a very good point and, in fact, I think that’s part of the genius of Frank Hansen in that it was up to him to determine how much ice and of what lucidity to place over the exhibit: how much you want to expose of it, how dirty do you want to make the window people have to look through to see this exhibit. That was some real genius on Hansen’s part. It’s a tease. You show just enough…

Karen: I’ve heard that Hansen was making thirty or twenty-five cents per view of the Iceman. Do you have any idea of how much he made on this exhibit?

Matt: I think he made thousands and thousands of dollars. According to Verne Langdon, he estimated that the fabrication by Ball of the exhibit would have cost about five thousand dollars and then he had to go to, I believe it was Union Ice to get the refrigerator custom made so that would have been thousands of dollars as well. He probably did make his profits back over time. I don’t have any idea what the numbers were - just by the sheer numbers of people going through were on a daily basis. It was quite a successful exhibit.

Blake: Ironically, this Iceman is closely tied, at least from a timeline, to Bigfoot and the Patterson Gimlin film. And I noticed, when I was doing some research for the show, that at least, Patterson’s brother-in-law, Al DeAtley, blames the Iceman for their loss of about $100,000 in investment.

Matt: They’re the competition, yes.

Blake: Yeah, I guess, something happened, like, in the Rochester Post Bulletin. Hansen somewhat, I guess, kind of sideways admitted to a hoax. And according to DeAtley that that really killed the market for Bigfoot, after they had already prepaid for thousands and thousands of dollars for theater rental and advertising and other things.

But there’s so many weird stories involved with the Patterson Gimlin. When you have people hawking a, possibly hoaxed Bigfoot film, competing with possibly hoaxed Iceman, it is, the truth is the last thing you’ll see, I imagine, so.

Matt: Yeah, that’s a very good point. That’s a very good point.

One thing that my former sideshow associate, Tim Cridlin, who goes by the stage name Zemora, who’s probably the world’s greatest human pincushion act today, and an excellent historian on sideshow.

One thing that he suggested to me, and this is an excellent point, is that you’ve got to realize that, and indeed, you are correct, that Hansen, at one point, said, “Well, what this is, this is a fabricated illusion.” This is a fabricated illusion. Right.

And Tim Cridlin has suggested to me, that, well, you’ve got a problem, especially when you cross a border. And there was an incident where Hansen is trying to transport his exhibit across national boundaries into Canada.

Well, what if you are traveling with an exhibit and a genuine scientist like Heuvelmans calls it Homo, the same genus as man? Well, suppose you have some overzealous customs official or local sheriff or police officer or something that decides that, well, maybe we’ve got a, just a hippie on our hands, you know?

Some, this is a human, this just a hairy human, because there are hairy humans. There are people who suffer from hypertrychosis and whatnot. So, what if, for whatever reason, someone at customs decides to seize the exhibit?

Well, Hansen, therefore, creates for himself an out. If he publicly says, “Well, this is a fabricated illusion,” then he can use that argument at a border or with some sort of official who might want to confiscate the thing.

Ben: I think the thing that I find most interesting about the Minnesota Iceman story is just that it is, at least for a while, it was taken very, very seriously among cryptozoologists.

Matt: Absolutely.

Ben: And here it is, to our modern, admittedly skeptical eye, it’s a fairly self evident hoax, especially if you know anything about the carnival and sideshows and everything else.

But you know, as with the 15 foot tall penguins, I think it’s a very instructive case in cryptozoology and in fact, in paranormal in general, of where an actual legitimate hoax fooled the experts. And there you go.

Blake: Yes, yes it is. It’s taken a long, long time.

Something that Michael Dennett told me, which I didn’t believe at first, but I’ve come to see what he told me is the truth. And I don’t think this idea was unique to Dennett, I think it’s been known long before Dennett came around. But Mike Dennett said that evidence never goes away, but there’s always somebody out there, no matter how well something is debunked, it’s always going to stick around.

And if you look over the UFO field, you still have guys promoting, the, well, a UFO crashed in Roswell. or you still have guys promoting the MJ-12 documents. I mean, you can find examples of this everywhere.

I mean, the whole notion of creationism, there are creationists out there who will not deny, well, this Earth is 6,000 years old. I mean, these are just ridiculous concepts, and yet there are people who ardently believe them. So, I think guys like Lloyd Pye will forever hang on to this notion, even though it’s ridiculous.

Karen: And Matt, we always ask our guests to name their favorite monster. So, what’s your favorite monster?

Matt: Oh, Sasquatch, of course.

Blake: That one. Now, which one is that?

Karen: The one we always talk about.

Matt: Big hairy. Goes by many names. He goes by many names. Northern California, he’s known as Bigfoot. To the Hoopa Indians, he’s known as Oma or Wendigo, Boss of the Woods.

But in terms of fiction, of course, in terms of known fiction, it would, of course, be the Gorn from the episode “Arena” from…

Blake: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s a classic, yeah.

Matt: Yeah. Absolutely.

Blake: Did you see the Mythbusters where they tried to reproduce the cannon?

Matt: I did, I did. I had mixed feelings about it, like I have mixed feelings about Mythbusters, but they did an ad…

I confess that I indeed made gunpowder myself when I was 10 years old, back in the day in the early ’70s, you could actually buy potassium nitrate from pharmacies. And you could actually buy sulfur from pharmacies. And of course, you’d get your charcoal briquettes. So, oh yeah, I made gunpowder like Captain Kirk did back when I was 10 years old.

Karen: We’ll edit this out.

Blake: No, no, no.

Matt: But I never contained it, unlike Captain Kirk, I never contained it. I just lit it, and I thank, you know, I’ve got two eyes and 10 fingers and 10 toes.

Blake: Yeah, you and I have that in common. We’ve messed with things that probably should never have done. I’m still surprised that I’m not a big piece of scar tissue.

Matt: Yeah. Well, I will publicly confess that I have made my last IED when I was 18.

Blake: There you go. Right.

Matt: Yeah. And that is the truth.

Ben: Good of you to clarify, man.

Blake: OK. Thank you so much for spending some time with us talking about the Minnesota Iceman, Matt.

Karen: Thank you, Matt.

Blake: We’ll put a link to your website in our show notes.

[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]

Blake: You’ve just listened to an interview with Matt Crowley about the strange story of the Minnesota Iceman. One correction, the Scooby-Doo episode featuring the Iceman is in season 2, titled, “Scooby’s Night with a Frozen Fright.”

MonsterTalk is hosted by myself, Blake Smith, Dr. Karen Stollznow, and Benjamin Radford. MonsterTalk is produced with the help of Skeptic Magazine.

If you like skepticism and investigating mysteries, you should be reading Skeptic Magazine, and Skeptical Enquirer. Seriously.

MonsterTalk theme songs by Peach Stealing Monkeys. Intro music was by Robjn. Both used by permission.

The opinions expressed on MonsterTalk are not necessarily those of Skeptic Magazine or the Skeptic Society, but we’re glad they help us put on the show.

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