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| Cryptozoo Conversation with John A. Keel _| Interviewed by Mark Chorvinsky Jas published numerous articles on related subjects and is the author of Strange Creatures of Time and Space, The Mothman Propheciee, Jadoo, and other works that have been very influential in the field, particularly among those in- terested in going beyond the zoological approach to these sub- jects. Keel personally investigated many “monster” cases and often teamed up with noted fortean and eryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson. Keel is the bad boy of the bizarre, a heretic among heretics, and has set the trends in the investigation of forteana for over three decades. Never afraid to deal with the more puz- zling aspects of the phenomena, he has always been willing to consider unusual theories when the conventional paradigms fall short. OF e Warning: The surgeon general has determined that all rationalist eryptozolo {ate with pacemalers of true believers with eucal tendancex should probably Ship this terviow and jump ahead to page 48 Early Cryptozoo Contacts ‘Mark Chorvinsky: Many people may not automatically asso- ciate you with cryptozoology, due to your unfortunate type- casting as a UFO expert. John A. Keel: Cryptozoology was my main interest in this field for a long time. I was more interested in monsters and mystery animals than in ufology. (C: What first attracted you to monsters and mystery animals and s0 forth? Do you remember your first contact with such things? K; And how! When I was ten years old there was one in my neighborhood! And all the farmers were going out with guns looking for it. They were talking about a giant ape. ‘C: What year was that? K: That was about 1940. T lived on a farm. This thing ap- peared on a back road. And it was seen more than once. All the farmers thought that there was some kind of an ape on the loose. About fen local farmers all turned out with their guns and went looking for it. They were going to catch this thing. ‘They are all trigger happy anyway. There was never a line in any of the newspapers about it. No newspaper reporter ever heard about this. Only a fraction of these things get in the pa- pers, We lived on a farm near Perry in upstate New York. I lived between two towns — the nearest town was five mil away. It was on a backroad near where we lived. As near as I can recall, they never caught anything — they never saw any- thing again. That was my introduction to the whole subject, al- though at the time I didn’t think that much about it. More than cone person had seen what they thought was a big ape or some- thing at different times. There was a debate whether it was a bear or an ape. We never saw any bears up there — never saw any apes for that matter either. C: Was there any local monster-lore there? K: No. Nothing. C: When did you actually become involved in the field? Did this local monster spark your interest? K: It was one of the things that sparked my interest. I re- member reading Charles Fort when I was still quite young. By the time I was 12 or 14 years old, I had been reading whatever there was to read about forteana. And there was a radio pro- gram where the guy — “Nelson Olmsted” was his name — was always talking about Charles Fort. It was called The Passing Parade. He used to tell Fort-type stories and I used to listen to it every Sunday on the radio. He had one of these sugary voie- es that they had on radio in those days. He was talking about all of these things — everything that was in Charles Fort’s books. That had to be the early forties, maybe 1942 or therea- bouts. C: Did you ever think then you might be investigating these things some day? K:No, it just piqued my intellectual curiosity, that’s all. Ivan T. Sanderson €:Doyou remember when you first met Ivan T. Sanderson? K: T first met Ivan in the fifties. We probably got together when he was writing his Abominable Snowman book, because used to go on all the tall shows and talk about the Abomina- ble Snowman a lot. I don’t remember when we started having regular friendship. We were pretty close for a long. time. C!'You actually investigated a nomber of on-ate cases to: gether, didn’t you? K: We went out on a lot of cases together, yes. There were a lot of animal mutilations in the ’60s and we went together on a number of those. We also talked about a lot of cases. He was very interested in the kangaroos, you know. €: The so-called “phantom kangaroos?” K: Yeah, He called them “mysterious marsupials.” He had several favorite phrases and that was one of them: “Mysterious ‘marsupials are out there, Keel!” He had been eollecting those stories since the 1940s. If you read Loren Coleman, you think that this is a relatively new thing — it’s not. Kangaroos have been around in the United States for many many years. We can never quite understand it because I don’t think kangaroos can survive in the northern climate for so long. : Did Ivan ever tell you how he got interested in this field? K: Apparently he was interested from his youth on. He read Fort’s books at an early age. He swore that when he was 17 or 18 years old — and this never made any sense tome — that he went to the first of the Tiffany Thayer luncheons or dinners for forteans. But I never quite believed that. I think he was proba- bly in England at that time. That was one of Ivan’s claims that Took askance at because it didn’t seem reasonable that at 17 ‘or 18 years old he would be in the U.S. attending one of these dinners. I think the first fortean dinner was in 1932. Ivan had a multitude of interests. His main interest was animals and he wrote definitive books on animals. Animal Treasure made Ivan famous. That was his best-seller and he was very young when that was published. I think it came out around 1988. It struck a nerve and it sold very well and that’s what made him decide to become an author. He had a tough time up to his death be- cause authors do not make much money and he had to keep his nose to the grindstone. C: T imagine that between his media appearances, books, ‘magazine articles and SITU (his organization) he must have been in a superb position to learn of new cases and to accumu- late data. 35 K: Oh yes. Over a period of many years he had made con- tacts. Ifanything out of the ordinary happened anywhere, Ivan would often be the first to hear about it. No matter what it was, whether it was poltergeists or monsters or whatever. Ivan was channelled into all this stuff from all over the country — the police departments and everything. He used to get tons of fasci- nating stuff every month. Now that Ivan is gone that source is diminished. Everybody who came East always passed through Ivan’s place. Some of them would fresload on him for months. ‘They/d chock in and Ivan did all the cooking. It was quite a bur- den on him when he had half-a-dozen visitors there. He had al- most a dormitory upstairs where people used to stay. I used to chide him about getting rid of these freeloaders. People would supposedly come for the weekend and they'd stay for three weeks. And they wouldn't contribute a damned thing. They'd drink all his booze and eat all his food and they wouldn't re- place anything. These were scientists and authors and others. : It scoms to me that Sanderson was always defining fortes na in terms of tangibles. ‘ou can't fit so many of these fortean things into our reali ty, so you have to go into intangibles. ‘C: When we talk about things like the possibility for the exis tence of invisible entities — is this the kind of thing that San. derson could have dealt with? K: No, he really wouldn't get into that. The Man With Two Brains? K: You know, Ivan claimed to have two brains. I mentioned this in the obituary that I wrote for Flying Saucer Review. ‘When he had medical problems late in his life, he claimed that they discovered that he had duplicates of certain organs. One of the things that he had two of was brains. Ivan said that he should have been born twins, and that he was born with parts Young Keel with the first Sherpa to scale Everest. Hl WIP rit of his twin in his body. He had two something else like double kidneys or something like that. ‘wonder if both brains worked. K: Usually they work as one brain if that's the case. At the time he went into some detail — I can’t remember the details now. }o you think it was true? K: With Ivan, anything was possible! fas he serious about having two brains? K: Sure. “like to have seen those X-rays. ‘ou know, Ivan died in 1973 and he was setive right up to the last day. The day before he died, he gave a radio interview by telephone. He loved to talk on the radi Some writers have stated that before Sanderson died he did things chat were not in character and cht hs personality changed. Did you see that happening? K: No, because in the last year of his life he wouldn't see anybody. He was so ill and he flatly refused to see me. I didn’t ‘care what shape he was in — I wanted to see him. So I didn't see him for that last year, The last real conversation I had with him was on his 60th birthday, which was three years ear- lier. We had dinner together and all he talked about was death. I kept trying to kid him out of it. He knew then that his, wife was dying. I don’t think his cancer appeared until a year or two afterwards. His wife died of cancer a year before he did. The Yeti C: In your first book, Jadoo, you said that you might have seen a Yeti. ‘The natives kept telling me that what I saw was a Yeti. What I saw was a big brown thing at a great distance. I was arguing with them, “Oh, it must be a bear.” They said, ‘No, no bear — it’s the Yeti.” They were trying to convince me that they were right. As I recall it was across the lake or something. : Were you there looking for it? K: Yeah, because I thought if I ean get a photograph of an Abominable Snowman, I could really make some money with it — that was my goal. thought if I can get a picture I could sell it to Life magazine or something and get maybe fifty dollars. ‘There were a lot of Snowman stories around at that time, in the mid-1950s. Then the British, The Daily Mail, sent an expe- dition in ’55 or 56 just to look for the snowman. Ralph Izzard wrote a book on it. They saw absolutely nothing. C: Do you have a personal theory regarding the Yeti's exis- tence or nonexistence? K: [have a feeling it’s a demon. I don’t think it’s a real ani- mal. I think that after all these years we should have had more — you know the Himalayas are swarming with tourists and people now, and nobody is coming across anything. There are a lot of legends around the creature, that are demonologi- cal-type legends. You will have bad luck if you see a snowman, and s0 on and so forth. People like Loren Coleman try to over- look all of the folklore, but you can’t overlook it because there is too much of it. C: Did the World Book Eneyelopedia-sponsored Hillary expe- dition throw much cold water on the field? K: That was in 1960. It was a debunking thing but it didn't really bother anybody. The snowman thing really gripped the imagination of a lot of people in the sixties and seventies and then one by one they gave up on it. Wild People K: In medieval times there were lots of stories of wild men in the woods of Europe and all. There probably were wild men. : Thave numerous cases of wild kids and wild adults who were hairy and were living out in the woods and were captured or sighted. K: I suppose that if you lived out of doors for a long time, you are going to naturally develop hair, aren't you? Wouldn't that be a natural course of events for a body to protect itself by growing hair? C: If that were true, one might expect that Eskimos would have more hair, but they actually have little hair. K: That's interesting in itself. P've often thought about that. Eskimos seem to have an oriental background and orientals of course are not very hairy. I always thought that Eskimos should be covered with hair, but they aren’t. All the Eskimos Tve ever known were hairless. : You know about the two wild people in South America, liv- ing like Tarzan. Those stories came out like 20 years ago — in the 1960s probably — one was a woman and another one was a man. But they were living on fruits and things. They were in yery bad health when they were found. But they had been liv- ing literally like Tarzan, in trees, because the jungles are pret- ty flere there. The smart thing to do is to stay in the tres as much as you ean. Bigfoot K: You decided that there is no such thing as a Bigfoot, right? C: That's right. K; Well, it’s about time. C: What did you think when Bigfoot first made its appear- ‘ance in California in 1958? K: It wasn’t until Ivan put it all together that. we knew the scope of it. We knew that there were random sightings of Big- foot in the United States, but we didn’t know the full extent of it. It seemed to start in California. ‘Then Ivan discovered that they were all over the damn country. : At that point did Ivan think they were real creatures? guess $0. He started writing that book around 1960 and looking into the accounts of North American hairy monsters. ‘And the more he looked into it the more interesting it became. He found things all over the country. : John Green’s Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us listed eases, all over the country as well. K: Is John Green still active? I met, John Green at Ivan’s once. He was staying with Ivan for awhile. C: Yes, he is. But the field is dwindling and the newsletters are closing down. K: [had lost track of most of these people. It was very lively and active in the late "60s. Peter Byrne was getting a lot of pub- licity: whatever happened to him? Is he still living up in the ‘woods somewhere? Who is financing him these days? C: He has been retired from big game hunting and Bigfoot hunting for over a decade. He lives in Parkdale, Oregon. He shut down the Bigfoot Information Center and I have been told that he is a kayak and rafting river guide. K: Well, the field at that time was a very large active ficld, especially'in the ’60s with respect to Bigfoot and Sasquatch and all that. There were a lot of people out on the West Coast who were spending most of their time — their spare time, anyway — hunting these things. It was a much larger field than it is now. It’s not like today where there's only a few people doing anything important. George Haas had a publication going and there was a very good newsletter called Manimal. There was somebody who set up a Bigfoot museum in California. In the 1970s these people started dying off or just giving up until fi- nally there was nobody left but John Green and Peter Byrne. I sort of skipped over the hairy creatures when I wrote Strange Creatures From Time and Space because there was so much stuff coming out at that time. I didn’t want to deal with it at all —I did one chapter on it I think. There was a lot of interest and alot of activity and then it just faded away. imagine what is going on now is sort of a residue, just like the UFO stuff. C:T think there was a second wave of people interested in this — after the movies The Legend of Bogay Creek and Myster- ious Monsters came out in 1972 and 1973. That affected a lot of teenagers. K: Then there was a flurry of books and the books seemed to kill it off. That often happens, you know. That means that the interest has peaked: the books come out and nobody buys the books. C: I know that your opinions about the existence of Bigfoot have changed over the last thirty years. K: That's right. In the 1950s, we were convinced they were real, We felt that there was a good chance that, someone was going to come up with something, that there would be an an- swer for some of the mysteries. In the 1960s, we began to change our mind. A couple of years before his death, Ivan San- derson said that he felt that maybe these creatures weren't real. I recall having a long conversation where Ivan said that the negative evidence was mounting up and maybe these things weren't happening after all. It was just toward the end that he began to realize that probably Bigfoot was not a real animal, Did people know that Sanderson ultimately came to feel that things like Bigfoot were not real creatures? K: He didn't write anything about it. He wasn't doing much writing near the end. But he talked about it on the radio or to people who came by to see him, or he might mention it in his correspondence. Investigating Strange Creatures C: Was Sanderson's change of opinion about the reality of Bigfoot a result of investigations he had done? K: Oh yeah. He travelled all over. Even in his last years he travelled constantly. He went to British Columbia and those places a number of times. C: That makes him one of the few people who have done both research and field investigation. K;: It’s not few people, there are almost none in the United States doing this. There's almost. nobody really investigating anything now. There are only two or three people investigating Bigfoot. But in the ’60s and ’70s there were quite a few people doing that. There was more money around then, too, you have to realize. Now the dollar isn’t worth anything but in those days you could still travel rather cheaply. I remember motel rooms were $5 a night, so today the same motel room would coat you $50 or more a night. ‘©: You must have done a lot of traveling. it was easier to get around. Air fares were cheap and I used to rent a car for three dollars a day. You can't do that anymore, There is no way that I eould do today what T did then. : So one ofthe biggest changes n investigation has been an economic change. K: Yeah. A trip in 1968 would have cost you maybe $500, to- day that same trip might cost you $5000. You know that, ‘you've been caught up init. C: I've been trying to investigate as many cases as Tan, and Lam doing this full-time, you know. Ihave to pick and choose my cases very carefully. lm sure that once upon a time, if something happened that sounded interesting, you would zoom offand check it out. K: That's what I did in the ’60s. I'd just get on the plane and fly wherever it was and rent a car. It was expensive for me at that time but today it would be impossible. There are certain things that are absolutely impossible and people keep trying — like reopening old cases. [tis very difficult. C:Thave to disagree with you there. I like reopening old cas- es, and Mark Opsasnick and Ihave had a 100% success rate on the historical cases that we have researched and investigated, ‘The Dwayyo, the Snallygaster, The Selbyville Swamp Monster, the Ocean City Sea Serpent, the “1912” Mystery Photograph... 'K: The material almost has to fall into your lap, otherwise it’s total frustration. I tried to do that with a lot of the UFO cases of the °50s and it was very frustrating. : It sounds like the 1960s and early 1970s were the best times to be investigating strange phenomena. 37