Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Mysterious America by Loren Coleman

If The Beasts That Hide From Man was the scholar's approach to cryptozoology, then Mysterious America is the fan's approach. However, this isn't a lurid and sensationalistic presentation of American mysteries. You won't find any chapters ending with "and hanging in the door handle WAS A HOOK!" This is a fortean fan's dream come true: chapters and chapters of anecdotal stories of the weirdest eye witness accounts you have ever read. All while still holding an element of plausibility. Well, somewhat plausible. The reader may chuckle at tales of mysterious swamp lights and think of ancient tales of will-o-whisps, but such dips into the supernatural are short and serve only to prove how some geological areas have collected strange tales over the years.

The meat of this book is in the presentation of evidences for such oddities as Kangaroos in America, devil monkeys, black phantom panthers, striped American lions, napes, and giant catfish, as well as investigations into old favorites such as the Jersey Devil, Kelly's Little Men, the Minnesota Iceman, and Phantom Clowns. The stories cited cover several centuries of various newspaper reportings and journal entries the author, Loren Coleman, has collected.

Sometimes the reading can be dry, especially when Coleman tries to establish a case for the existance of one creature or the other by long strings of eyewitness accounts. However, the reader can forgive Coleman these lapses in narration because of the nature of the book. These are tales of cryptozoological beasts. There is no evidence for their existence aside from eye witness accounts.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on phantom panthers and maned mystery cats. There is more going on there than the proverbial circus train/zoo escapee explanation can account for. America is a large enough place, and sometimes we need wonders and the unexplained in a jaded world where everything new is old hat by the end of the weekend. Even if one day the truth about cryptids is more mundane than fortean fans would enjoy, a book like Mysterious America makes the waiting and anticipation wondrous. If the book had any faults, it would be the mentioning of popular fortean subjects like men in black and phantom airships without explanation. Another fault would be a dearth of illustrations and photos.

Still, I learned some things from this book I didn't know before about the world of cryptozoology. I never realized that Western Massachusetts was a hotbed for fortean activity. And I never realized that there were so many tales about teleporting animals in modern America. I may not believe all of it, but the book was a fascinating read. I recommend it.

Available in a Hardback Edition and an Electronic Edition

Updated Wednesday, January 3, 2007 11:19:11 PM: I've been in contact with Loren Coleman concerning this review and he pointed out a typo that I've now corrected. Well, it wasn't so much of a typo as it was a blarf. I also fixed some wording here and there. Loren also shared with me the good news that Simon & Schuster will be reprinting a new edition of this book in April of this year. The new edition will be called Mysterious America: The Ultimate Guide to the Nation's Weirdest Wonders, Strangest Spots, and Creepiest Creatures and it will be available in paperback. I will write a new review of that edition when it comes out. In the meantime, you may want to check out his fascinating blog Cryptomundo for the absolute latest in the world of cryptozoology.

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