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The Strange "Minnesota Iceman" Story

The Minnesota Iceman

In 1968, the year after Roger Patterson captured the world's imagination with his notorious Bigfoot film, Minnesota carnival huckster Frank Hansen began traveling the American sideshow circuit to exhibit a startling attraction: 'The Famous Missing Link Iceman.' This was the alleged corpse of a six-foot, hairy man-monster, which lay frozen solid in a coffin of ice. Hansen did a brisk business at thirty-five cents a peek.

Hansen told varying tales of where the Iceman came from, but the gist of his story was that a crew of either Russian or Japanese fishermen had discovered the body off the coast of Siberia, frozen in a giant block of ice. From there, the creature made its way to an emporium in Hong Kong, where it was purchased by an anonymous American oil millionaire. For whatever reason, this eccentric tycoon then rented his extravagant purchase to Hansen, so that it might be displayed before the carnival-going masses. A far-fetched tale, to be sure, but hang on - it gets even worse.

In a Fortean Times interview in 1995, Hansen indicated that he was terrified of going on the road with the Iceman because it was so extraordinarily valuable. The liability he would face in the event of an accident was too much for Hansen to risk. And so, he says, he took the frozen corpse to "some friends in the movie industry" in California, and asked them to create a replica of the creature. A few months later, these friends had produced a satisfactory duplicate, and Hansen says it is this replica - and never the original - that he put on public display.

Hansen's first tour with the Iceman was a sensational success. The only snag that came up was when U.S. customs detained him after a one-day excursion into Canada. Customs was concerned that Hansen might be illegally transporting a cadaver, or that the body might pose a health hazard. Indignant, Hansen called up his senator, Walter Mondale, and the future Vice President was kind enough to pull the right strings to let the Iceman come back home.

News of the Iceman grabbed the attention of two prominent cryptozoologists, Ivan T. Sanderson and Bernard Heuvelmans. Sanderson called Hansen and asked for permission to visit his home in Minnesota and view the creature. Hansen says that he turned down Sanderson's request, but a few days later, Sanderson turned up at Hansen's doorstep, along with his Belgian colleague Heuvelmans. Hansen recalls that he initially refused to show the men the creature, but after the three of them shared a quart of gin, he relented.

It is unclear whether the Iceman that Sanderson and Heuvelmans saw was the 'original' corpse or Hansen's "fabricated illusion," but in either case, the two experts were stunned. They agreed that this was an actual animal, a specimen of an unknown primate species. They took photographs and made elaborate sketches (as in the drawings by Sanderson shown on this page), although the opacity of the ice keep them from observing as much detail as they would have liked. Hansen flatly refused their request to open the lid, but Heuvelmans later shattered the glass cover accidentally by dropping a light bulb on it. A horrible stench escaped from within, alarming Sanderson because the smell of putrefication meant that the body must be rapidly decomposing, and needed to be thoroughly examined by scientists before any further deterioration.

Following Sanderson and Heuvelmans's visit, the Smithsonian Institution contacted Hansen and asked to examine the Iceman. At this point he announced that the original specimen had been returned to its millionaire owner, and he was now touring with a replica. Beginning to smell a rat, the Smithsonian soon dropped its interest in the case, but Hansen next attracted the attention of the FBI. Heuvelmans had noted an apparent bullet wound in one eye of the Iceman, and he suspected for some reason that it might have been killed in Vietnam. The FBI briefly considered the possibility of foul play, but declined to pursue the matter officially. Nonetheless, Hansen capitalized on a half-truth by promoting his star attraction as "investigated by the FBI."

Embarrassed by their compulsive gullibility, Sanderson and Heuvelmans backed away from their initial endorsement of the Iceman. Sanderson investigated Hansen's claims of having the creature duplicated by movie prop artists, and discovered that three California companies had manufactured latex Icemen for Hansen as early as 1967.

The most logical scenario is that there was no millionaire owner and no real monster, and Hansen changed the story about his fake creation whenever reality began to pry too deeply. First he introduced the story of the "replica switcheroo" after Sanderson and Heuvelmans brought scientists breathing down his neck, and then he retroactively stretched the substitution tale back to before the Iceman's first tour, once word was out that he'd had Hollywood build props for him since the beginning.

Such duplicity should hardly be surprising from a sideshow con-man. Just to top all his other lies, Hansen began saying in his later years that the bullet wound in the creature's eye was where he had shot it while hunting in Minnesota, throwing his whole elaborate Iceman mythology out the window.
 






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