Tombstone is famous for more than its stories of the Wild West, at least in Fortean circles. Set your DeLorean for 1890, and you might just glimpse a giant winged beast in the ink-blue skies above Arizona. Nicknamed the 'Thunderbird', the Tombstone Epigraph reported that two cowboys shot the creature dead and dragged its carcass into town.


The only proof of the Thunderbird's existence was a photograph taken at the time of capture, lost until it reappeared between the pages of a second-hand book. Except that photo showed Civil War soldiers, not cowboys, stood over the body of a giant prehistoric pterodactyl. 

Unsurprisingly, and perhaps a little disappointingly, the photo was a fake, planted by a production company to promote a new television series. The pterodactyl is absolutely real, however. I know because I've looked it square in the face. Or rather, the beak. 

The prop and the photograph are attractions in the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. Its location is as offbeat as its theme, hidden away in the back room of the Green Hand Bookshop on Congress Street. Those expecting to idly thumb through the pages of a second-hand biography will no doubt have their curiosity piqued by the eight-foot tall sasquatch menacing the front door.

The museum is curated by Loren Coleman, an international authority on creatures at the fringe of science. Sourced from around the world, his exhibits celebrate the great myths and hoaxes that have enchanted and entertained the public. Perhaps the finest example on display is the mummified corpse of the Feejee Mermaid, a creature often found in 19th century sideshows operated by the likes of showman PT Barnum.

Cryptozoology is a serious business, however, and there's a genuine scientific bent to the museum. On one wall, a framed flag from Sir Edmund Hillary's 1960 expedition to the Himalayas to collect evidence of the Yeti. On another, a map of Maine littered with coloured pins, each representing a public sighting of an unexplained creature; blue pins for lake monsters; yellow for mystery cats; green for Bigfoot. There are casts of sasquatch footprints, too, in case you had any doubts.

Though small, the museum is one of the highlights of Portland, a compact city on the edge of the Atlantic renowned for lobster rolls, its historic port and a fiercely independent arts and cultural scene. The traditional, the diverse and the flamboyant come together in Portland - the International Cryptozoology Museum is right at home amongst them.


"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
Paul's next book, "Tales from the Edge of America" will be published in Spring 2012. You can subscribe to the book's mailing list to find out more.