Thursday, November 6, 2003

Time for the Big Muddy Monster to come home

By Jeff Smyth
Southern Illinoisan

Mongo phone home. Better yet, come home. Southern Illinois needs you.

Mongo, a.k.a. the Big Muddy Monster or Murphysboro Mud Monster, hasn’t been seen in these parts since the 1970s when sightings of the 7- to 10-foot ape-man that smelled like muck were rampant.

Those who fear for the beast’s demise need not, though. He’s still with us, although he’s relocated farther south.

Last week I referenced the Big Muddy Monster in the context of how Southern Illinois should create its own mythical creature as a tourist draw la the Loch Ness Monster. As a result, Loren Coleman contacted me.

Coleman is an author, filmmaker and professor at the University of Southern Maine. He is also a cryptozoologist. In short, it means he studies creatures whose existence is unproved.

Coleman knows all about the Big Muddy Monster and other strange denizens of this region. He was drawn to Southern Illinois from his hometown of Decatur in the 1960s because he heard about strange beasts prowling our swamps and woodlands.

Coleman earned a degree in anthropology with a minor in zoology from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Those “accepted” sciences aside, Coleman was more interested in chasing the unknown.

He carved his niche as a cryptozoologist and is now considered the world’s leading expert in the field. When “Mothman,” a movie about a flying beast terrorizing West Virginia, was made, Coleman was a senior consultant. He wore the same hat for the producers of the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries.”

He also has written nine books on the subject, the most recent published this year titled “BIGFOOT! The True Story of Apes in America.” In it, Jackson County and Murphysboro are listed 10th among his top 20 places to see Bigfoot.

Coleman was unruffled by my skepticism about his life’s calling.

“Cryptozoology is not evangelical. Belief is the providence of religion. I’m not here to convince you these things exist,” he said. “You’ll have to come to that conclusion yourself. I think it is important, though, to keep an open mind.”

So convince me that the Big Muddy Monster and the estimated 500 other reported sightings of ape-men should be taken seriously.

“Eighty percent of the reports need to be thrown out. A few are hoaxes but most are a mistake in identity,” he said. “That leaves 20 percent to investigate.”

Coleman is certain there are creatures in this world, even in our own backyards, that have yet to be discovered – some as grand as a Big Muddy Monster. He points to the mountain gorilla that was finally discovered in eastern Africa in 1902 after decades of searching. More recent was the discovery of the megamouth shark in 1976. It was captured accidently by researchers working off the Hawaiian Islands.

Discoveries such as these fuel Coleman’s desire to find more. Proving the Big Muddy Monster, Bigfoot, Sasquatch or whatever they are called by local residents exists is akin to finding the Holy Grail, he said.

What we call monsters, Coleman calls North American apes. He is certain they exist living in small bands. He believes their intelligence is little higher than a chimpanzee’s, they don’t use simple tools and they live amidst a primate social structure. They are nocturnal and emit a screeching, yet guttural, sound. He estimates the population to be between 2,000-4,000 on this continent.

That the body of one has yet to be displayed leaves him unfazed, “Have you ever seen a dead bear or mountain lion in the woods?’ he asks.

Coleman accepts the skepticism, even ridicule, bestowed on him by many regarding his belief in ape-men, but he is troubled that others in academia shun cryptozoology as a pseudo-science.

“There should be graduate studies with researchers in the field six months at a time, not two or three days when a sighting is reported,” he said.

That many refer to these creatures as monsters doesn’t trouble Coleman even though he doesn’t believe they are. It is a psychological response to the unknown, he said.

As for the Big Muddy Monster, it, or at least one of its kinfolk, has been seen in both Tennessee and northwest Arkansas as recently as last week.

“(Bigfoot) are fascinating species,” Jacqlin Castillo, a Bigfoot tracker, told the Siloam Springs (Ark.) Herald-Leader. “They are absolutely out there, but they’re so elusive… I think people need to be educated about them.”

So, my invitation stands. Big Muddy Monster, Mongo, Murphysboro Mud Monster, whatever you want to be called, come home to Southern Illinois. I’ll meet you at Mungo Jerry’s Fat Cat Cafe and you can tell me what it’s like to be so misunderstood, what you thought of the movie “Planet of the Apes” and if you think King Kong is a prima donna.

Before we get together, though, would it be too much to ask that you bathe?