THE BASEMENT’S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES: The Minnesota Iceman!

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Cryptozoology is the study of hidden animals. These are either animals that were thought to have gone extinct in the past and yet are still being seen today or they are animals that no one has ever caught or officially recorded. Most accounts are based on eyewitness testimony or out of focus photos and though many reports seem bizarre or too good to be true, once in a while a new (or old) animal is discovered (or rediscovered) proving the eyewitnesses correct.

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The coelacanth, thought to be extinct for millions of years, was rediscovered in 1937.

The story of the Minnesota Iceman has intrigued me for years because it tells a pretty convincing narrative that there may be something to the bigfoot legend. In the late 60’s, zoology major Terry Cullen came across a travelling exhibit in Milwaukee displaying what appeared to be a dead bigfoot carcass frozen in a block of ice. Because of the appearance of the specimen, he contacted Ivan T. Sanderson, a zoologist known for his nature writing and interest in cryptozoology.

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Frank Hansen with the Iceman… or, one version of it, anyway.

The owner of the exhibit was a man named Frank Hansen. Hansen stated that the Minnesota Iceman was discovered in the region of Siberia and that he was acting as its caretaker for an absentee owner he described as an “eccentric California millionaire”. Touring carnivals and fairs with the exhibit, Hansen was once reportedly detained by Canada Customs officials, who were concerned he was transporting an actual cadaver. He eventually gave permission to Sanderson, as well as a man named Bernard Heuvelmans, to study the Iceman closer. What this meant was that they could observe it through the ice for as long as they wanted but were not allowed to actually touch the body in any way. Through the ice the specimen was very convincing and the body featured a fracture to the left arm as well as a dangling right eyeball, where this creature had supposedly been shot through the back of the head. They concluded that it was a genuine creature, saying they found “putrefaction where some of the flesh had been exposed from the melted ice.”

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Sanderson, then science editor for “Argosy” magazine, authored an article about the Iceman in the April 1969 issue that featured the headline, “Is this the missing link between man and the apes?” Sanderson also spoke about the Iceman in television appearances, and contacted primatologist John Napier, asking him to investigate it under the official auspices of the Smithsonian Institution. Hansen then suddenly withdrew the Minnesota Iceman from public inspection, saying the withdrawal was on orders from its California-based owner. Hansen later provided a new “Iceman” for exhibit, described by observers as a latex model that was clearly different from the original.

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Napier, in conjunction with the Smithsonian, made preliminary investigations of Hansen’s affairs and said he found that Hansen had commissioned the creation of the Iceman from a West Coast company in 1967, leading Napier to quickly conclude there was only ever one Iceman latex model that he theorized was repositioned and re-frozen between appearances. Napier stated that “The Smithsonian Institution…is satisfied that the creature is simply a carnival exhibit made of latex rubber and hair…the ‘original’ model and the present so-called ‘substitute’ are one and the same.

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The interesting part though is the amount of detail in the “original” Iceman. If this was a fake, why would the creator go to the length of adding such details as a fracture and dangling eyeball? The long dark hair could also clearly be seen coming out of the skin, as opposed to glued on like many special effects artists do. The cost of a model of this size and detail would’ve been quite high at the time. Many feel that when word got out that the Iceman was real, Hansen panicked and pulled it from exhibition, avoiding possible arrest for transporting a corpse from town to town. By replacing it with a latex model, he covers himself if local police or the FBI decides to investigate more.

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So, was the original body real later to be replaced with a fake? If so, what happened to the real body? If the “real” body was also fake, who was the artist that created such a realistic prop? Why has no one come forward to take credit? The artist certainly deserves credit for a job well done!

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Steve Busti, current owner of the Minnesota Iceman.

In 2013 the Minnesota Iceman showed up again, after being out of the public eye for many years, went for sale on eBay, claiming to be the original prop used by Hansen in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It sold to a man named Steve Busti, owner of the Museum of the Weird in Austin, Texas.

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I was thrilled to learn that the Iceman was going to be on loan to the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. Looking for an excuse for a road trip, my nephew and I decided to take the 3 hour drive (4-1/2 hours after hitting Boston traffic and torrential rain storms) on August 21, 2015. I had no idea what to expect.

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This is very similar to how the Iceman was displayed at the International Cryptozoology Museum.

I knew it was the “fake” Iceman but didn’t know how it would be displayed. On the one hand it would be cool if it was in ice but on the other hand, I really wanted to be able to see it clearly to appreciate the time and effort that went into making it. There was only one rule: no photography! I understood why as owner Loren Coleman wanted as many people as possible to come and see the Iceman in person during its limited run from August, 2015 until February, 2016. If people post pictures all over the internet, why visit? In fact all pictures of the Iceman used in this blog are from Google.

As soon as you entered the museum, the display case was in the first room, right near the admissions’ desk. The wooden case was glass-topped with a large piece of cloth covering what was inside. You had to move the cloth to see the body. Let me say that I was very impressed with this creation! It is very well made and if this is the actual one used in the early 70’s, then the creator should be commended. The detail is beautiful and even not enshrouded in ice is very realistic. For me, the 4-1/2 hour trip was worth it just to see this piece of history and the International Cryptozoology Museum should be commended for obtaining it for that limited run.

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More recently, in 2017 and 2018, I made my way to Austin, Texas and got to see the Iceman on display at his permanent home. My girlfriend had been to the Museum of the Weird on a previous visit to Austin and was very excited to share it with me, knowing how much I love this kind of thing.

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Upon entering I was totally overwhelmed by their gift shop, one of the best I have ever seen, with so many great things to look at and be tempted to buy.  For an additional fee you could then enter the back room featuring so many great tributes to the world of the sideshow. From there, a tour guide brings you to yet another location, featuring the Iceman on ice in a freezer that looks like a giant coffin. Here the guide answers your questions about the Iceman and then proceeds to do a show for the audience that is a combination of magic and sideshow trickery. This show was very entertaining though at times not for the squeamish. For example, after hammering a nail up into his nasal cavity, my girlfriend proceeded to remove it with a rusty pair of pliers. Great stuff!

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A screen shot of the original eBay ad.

Seeing the Iceman was like stepping back in time to an era where people were entertained by leaving their houses with their friends and family for a few hours, to enjoy a carnival or to take a chance to see what was behind the curtain. Though it was great to see him out of the ice in Maine, seeing him encased in ice is how he should be displayed. Even though I knew it was fake, the ice added such an air of mystery to the display and I can see how, when it was originally on display, people would believe it was real (of course, perhaps at one time it actually was). The only thing missing was the hint of rotting flesh smell.

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To think that back in the 60’s and 70’s this display created such a stir, with people not only validating its authenticity as an honest to goodness missing link but to also have police and the FBI concerned enough that an actual corpse was being used for this display. This is unheard of these days. This display is such an important part of American history, regardless of whether there once was a real body of a bigfoot of missing link or just a big hoax. Whatever it was, the Minnesota Iceman will remain in the history books as a what-if moment. What if the original body on display truly was the missing link? How would that change everything we thought about the evolution of man? All I know is that it is a helluva story; one that should be shared and kept alive for future generations.

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~David Albaugh

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