Weird, Wicked Weird: Bigfoot, ghosts, a lake monster — 2014 had plenty of weird

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On the strange scale, Maine rarely disappoints.

As 2014 winds down, we revisit Weird, Wicked Weirds for the latest developments, including a new hunt for a popular medium who may have been buried alive here in 1882.

A possible government-sponsored quest for a lake monster in Iceland.

And more searching for things that go bump in the night and in the woods.

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2015 looks promising already.

Of ghosts, Bigfoots and ‘nitwits’

Ten months ago, Kat McKechnie of Bowdoinham and Michael Merchant of Hampden finished second on Spike TV’s “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty.”

The reality show sent contestants up and down Mount Adams in Washington state to scare up the best evidence of Bigfoot.

They’re still a little sore.

“What you saw on the finale didn’t represent everything Mike and I did during that 36-hour hunt,” McKechnie said in an interview with Merchant last month. “We killed it during those 36 hours. The other team, they forgot their water. They had a really bad time out there.”

An audio file and interesting thermal footage should have put them over the edge, she said. They got dinged instead for not working together well.

“Did we Bigfoot better than the other team?” she said. “The answer is we absolutely Bigfooted better than the other team.”

“You’ve gotta remember, though, it’s TV, Kat,” Merchant said.

Since then, she’s been out looking for ghosts and fundraising for historic sites in Augusta. And he’s resumed the search for Bigfoot and shrugged off requests from the throngs that now want to traipse out in the Maine woods with him.

McKechnie and her husband head Maine Ghost Hunters and its TV show, “ZeroLux Paranormal” on Maine channel WPME.

This fall, they led ghost hunts and raised money for restoration projects at Old Fort Western, the Colonial Theater and Lithgow Public Library in Augusta.

“At Fort Western, during one of our hunts, we heard a horse-drawn carriage, the horse clomping outside the door,” she said. At the decrepit Colonial Theater, “there’s a report of a little child running around in the balcony area. We asked, ‘Can you holler out your name as loud as you can?’ A little voice screamed something out. It was crazy.”

Look for more of those fundraising tours once it warms up next year.

Merchant, a biologist, kept up his Bigfoot research and tried to go it alone.

After “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty” aired, “a whole bunch of people pestered me to go into the woods,” he said. 

He toyed with the idea of releasing a GPS location for people to meet him, “to weed out the nitwits,” but he didn’t want to cause problems for game wardens if those people got lost.

“The majority of people who want to go someplace in the woods to see if there’s something going on, for starters, they’re terrified of the forest,” Merchant said. “That’s OK; I can deal with that. But the second problem they usually have once they get in there, they want to turn it into a hot-dog-grilling, beer-drinking fest.

“You would not believe some of the people who show up, and they want to carry their Coleman hammock,” he said. “I’m like, ‘You’re not going to be able to lug that for 2 miles, you’d be crippled.'”

Merchant’s big question for the other Bigfoot and monster-hunting shows flooding cable this year: Why aren’t there more deer, raccoons and other wildlife in all their night-vision footage?

“If they’re going to go after something super-duper rare, that should be child’s play to sneak up on the known critters,” Merchant said. “I look at these shows and they have no animals whatsoever. It’s a bunch of clowns coming out of a tiny car.”

That said, there’s a chance we’ll see him on TV again. He’ll say no more.

Buried alive? 

Mary Howe was a Damariscotta medium with a reputation for slipping into a trance and snapping back awake with a message from the other side. Until one day, 132 years ago, when she didn’t.

She just lay there. And lay there. And lay there. For 12 days.

That, Sally Lobkowicz said, is when things got really interesting.

Lobkowicz runs Red Cloak Haunted History Tours, walking tours she leads in seven towns while carrying a lantern, wearing a red cape and weaving tall tales with true ones. She helped her husband, Greg Latimer, research his new book, “Haunted Damariscotta, Ghosts of the Twin Villages and Beyond.” The work got them interested in the longstanding local legend of Mary Howe and wondering if they could help her — two centuries later.

“A lot of people traveled from different parts of New England to go to her seances,” Lobkowicz said. “Sometimes her trances were a couple days. Her brothers took care of her. They often would warm stones in the fireplace to put in bed with her to keep her body temperature up.”

Back in December 1882, by the sixth day of her latest trance, there was gossip around town.

By day 10, alarm.

Her brothers insisted Howe was fine. Nonetheless, the town doctor paid a visit. 

“There was no rigor mortis. There was no lividity, where the blood puddles down to the bottom of your limbs,” Lobkowicz said. “But at the same time, he couldn’t really find a pulse or determine if she was breathing or not.”

On day 12, against her brothers’ protests, the doctor declared Howe dead.

“The local cemetery would not have her because they believed she was alive,” Lobkowicz said. “Local gravediggers refused to dig her grave for the same reason.”

So the doctor and Lincoln County sheriff did the deed themselves, burying Howe in an unmarked grave outside town and telling no one where she lay. They didn’t want townspeople digging her back up.

“We thought, ‘This poor lady,'” Lobkowicz said. “Whether she was alive or dead, she never had a stone; nobody knows where she is.” 

She and Latimer plan a different sort of digging this winter, through historic records, to figure it out.

They’ll fund-raise for a gravestone once they find her.

“We’re hoping by spring to have an answer, but of course, we don’t know if we will,” Lobkowicz said.

Wide world of monsters

It might be tough for Loren Coleman to pick a highlight of 2014.

Time Magazine named his International Cryptozoology Museum one of the 10 weirdest museums in the world. The museum won a grant that set in motion plans for a cryptid conference and peer-reviewed, scientific International Cryptozoology Journal — and Iceland came knocking.

Coleman secured federal nonprofit status for the Portland museum in June, which opened the door to a $10,000 grant from the Efroymson Family Fund

“It just made for a little more stability for the museum,” Coleman said.

He expanded the gift shop and added more display cases and plans to expand the museum’s reach with a journal debuting this spring and a conference tentatively set for 2016 in Florida.

“It’s going to be a real, formal, academic, peer-reviewed journal,” Coleman said. “It’ll really be set up to take scientists’ and researchers’ papers on cryptozoological topics with an orientation toward collections, museums (and) discoveries that have been made in museums. Maybe we’ll highlight the bone of a lake monster that’s up in Sweden, for instance. A French researcher wants to do an article about the giant octopus.”

Next spring, Coleman may also be reaching for his passport.

“Apparently, the government of Iceland is very interested in investigating reports of a lake monster up there,” Coleman said. “A production company has approached me and they want to fly me to Iceland for a week and go out with them as they reinvestigate the reports and try to get to the bottom of it.”

It would be for a government-funded documentary. After seeing footage of the alleged creature, he’s a skeptic. Coleman believes it looks more like garbage bags adrift in the water than anything else — but he is, of course, open-minded — so bring on the search for the Lagarfljotsormurinn monster.

“I have to figure out if there’s an English nickname before I go over there,” he said.

Weird, Wicked Weird is a monthly feature on the strange, unexplained and intriguing in Maine. Send ideas, photos and any sunny-weather expeditions to kskelton@sunjournal.com.

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