Tuesday, May 07, 2024

In review: International Cryptozoology Conference 2024

Portland, ME -- April 26th and 27th, 2024

Much anticipated since the previous one, held here in 2019, the 5th International Cryptozoology Conference finally happened!


Events kicked off on Friday night with an informal VIP pizza dinner.  Christopher Packard was presented with the award of Cryptozoologist of the Year!  Following this we were treated to a talk by author J.W. Ocker, the keynote speaker.  


Ocker’s most recent book, The United States of Cryptids, chronicles his epic quest across America to find a cryptid for each state of the Union, in a travelquest that will sound appealing to any of us who have pondered embarking on a journey in search of weird roadside destinations.  Ocker makes no bones about the fact that he is not a field investigator – he is more accurately someone who has adventures based on the search for local cryptid-related beers and museums.  My horror readers will also recognize his name from such chillers as Twelve Nights in Rotter House.


In his travels, he found 40 cryptid statues, 18 cryptid museums, and 24 cryptid festivals.  We were treated to an abbreviated tour of his favorites, the good and the bad, and tantalizing photos of some of the places he went. 


His first conclusion:  “Bigfoot is BIG!”  The prevalence of the Big Guy across the United States first perplexed and eventually annoyed Ocker, who probably had been hoping for more of a variety of idiosyncratic local oddities, but instead found a scattered handful of them, among a preponderance of the Bigfoot variations that dominate the landscape.  Why is this, beyond the obvious presence in pretty much every state, and popular appeal in general?  As Loren Coleman posited to him, maybe – just maybe – it’s because we are a narcissistic species, fascinated by our own reflection in this wildman of the woods.

J.W. Ocker - United States of Cryptids author

Some of the cryptids he found were truly strange (like the flying clam of Battle Mountain, NV, which I now need to know much, much more about), and anomalous local creatures such as the giant, kitchen-table-sized turtle of Churubusco, Indiana, whose legend lives on today in the town’s Turtle Days festival.  Both of these sound like great fodder for local authors to write a book about!


While many of these cases were based on events and legends local to the area, others were more arbitrary, such as the Norfolk VA alliance with mermaids, which was based on their popular appeal and not much else.  In other regions, like Wisconsin (the Hodag, the Rhinelapus, Mt. Horeb trolls, and the Beast of Bray Road!), he found a plethora of unique attractions that put other states to shame.  Wisconsin’s critter lineup also presented a mix of origins – some were unabashedly human-generated, while others originated in genuine cryptid sightings.


At any rate, Ocker’s talk reminded me of the delights of roadside attractions, and the joy of going on roadtrips just for the sake of seeing something weird and different.  It’s a lot easier to do that now, with books like Ocker’s doing some of the legwork for you, and taking their place alongside the original “Weird” series by Mark Moran and crew (Weird US, Weird New England, et al), and websites like Atlas Obscura and the OG, Roadside America.  With these resources ready to hand, you could take fun roadtrips for the rest of your life and never run out of places to visit!


Ocker’s talk was followed by a screening of the film Big Fur, ably introduced by director Dan Wayne.  I don’t think any of us were prepared for what that led to, and I’m glad he mentioned that it was okay to laugh, because almost right off the bat we realized that this was a uniquely quirky film about a weirdly fascinating pocket of North American (indeed international) craftsmanship and the niche society that has grown up around that pursuit – taxidermy.


"Big Fur" Director, Dan Wayne

Not only did the film introduce us to the amazing artistry of award-winning taxidermist Ken Walker, but also it demonstrated the wide range of work within that field, both technical and creative.  Those of you who, like myself, are sensitive to the treatment of animals will not have any trouble here.  Dan Wayne took pains to make this film as accessible as possible, and I think even the most squeamish of viewers will find that barriers have been removed to your enjoyment of this fascinating glimpse of artists treating their subjects with care and respect.


Above all, it is a film that emphasizes the humanness of Ken Walker’s chosen life, and the overriding determination to appreciate and revere the wilderness, and how important it is to fight alongside the conservationists against the tide of greedy corporate desolation that is flattening our continent’s native assets and destroying our large forests forever.  I think that’s something we can all get behind.


On Saturday, I was very happy to start the day off with my talk “Back into the Woods,” updating folks on my Bigfoot in Maine research, with a focus on a cluster of sightings in Western Maine, which will be part of volume 2.  It’s going to be another couple of years before it’s all wrapped up and on its way to you all, but it will be worth the wait!


Biologist and cryptid hunter Pat Spain (yay!) was up next, and once again he entertained us with some fun adventures from his work during his talk, “Cryptozoology Adventures.”  I first met Pat when we shared an Uber on our way to the very 1st International Cryptozoology Conference, held down in St. Augustine, Florida – way back in 2016!  He is a descendant of Charles Fort, which only serves to give him additional Fortean creds.


Spain, in addition to his dayjob in the biology field, is best known for his TV shows Beast Hunter and Legend Hunter, and more recently his travelogue books based on those experiences (all of which I carry at the Green Hand Bookshop!), which are just as entertaining and informative as his shows were.


He spoke about his experiences in the lab and in the field, and how important and even necessary legends are to us.  Legends, beyond leaving clues about little-seen animals, help cultures explain the unexplainable, and also create some interesting leeway and workarounds within cultures.  Ask your local anthropologist about the Boto, and its role in local villages, or how local society treats men who are afraid of crocodiles vs. those who respect the hunting grounds of Mokele-mbembe.

Spain talked about the presence of barracudas in Maine (which I now have to look up, seriously), and participating in the first ever CAT scan of an oarfish, and discussed his opinions on the cadborosaurus, which he posits to have a likelihood to simply be an undiscovered species.  Similarly, he speculates that the legendary Mapinguari is most likely a giant ground sloth.


He related to us all sorts of intriguing facts, including that according to residents of Sumatra, the tigers there are very polite, and that when he spoke with Mike Morwood, who spearheaded efforts that led to the discovery of Homo floresiensis in 2003, Morwood told him that he thought Homo floresiensis survived into as late as the 1920s.  Spain also lauded camera trap operators for their role in documenting elusive species in the wild.


But he hasn’t just hunted legendary creatures – in his show Legend Hunter he also sought out human strangeness, which led him down odd and unexpected paths.  I mean, who knew that he would wind up having a psionic vampire drinking his energy, only to be told he tasted like charcoal and lavender?

Past & current Cryptozoologists of the Year: Packard, Ocker, presenter Coleman, and Spain.

Next up was Jean Tewksbury, former International Cryptozoology Museum docent, and admin of the Facebook group “Eastern Ghost Cat Research,” where she continues her search to establish the presence of cougars here in Maine.  Jean was an avid Bigfoot field researcher when I first met her years ago, but after she had a roadside encounter with cougar cubs here in Maine, she switched her focus to these beautiful big cats.

Jean Tewksbury on mystery cats

Her talk, “Mystery Cats,” was very informative, and included interesting nuggets such as a demonstration of how the most common misidentification for supposed cougars are often actually deer, foreshortened in game camera shots as they feed bent down.  She reminded us that there have been no illegal cat seizures by Maine authorities, despite claims that sightings are those of vanity pet owners’ exotic animals getting loose. 

She also advised that if you have a cougar sighting yourself, you should contact your regional Maine biologist rather than the game wardens, as wardens deal only in hunting laws (there is no hunting season for cougar in Maine, therefore any hunting of them is illegal) – the biologists are the ones who would record and investigate sightings.

If any of you have cougar reports for Jean, I’m happy to put you in touch with her via email.

Dan Wayne escorts the mammoth figure of Patty to her new home in the ICM!

Next up was Chris Packard, continuing in a felid vein with a talk on Mountain Lions: “Big Cats Are Scary: A case study of cryptozoology and folklore.”  While Jean had focused on the real-world ramifications of cougars in Maine, Chris delved into the history that forms the shadowy foundations of those rumors and sightings.  Chris is also the new Vice President of the International Cryptozoology Museum.

Chris Packard on Mythical Creatures

Maine is host to more than one big cat, even counting out the cougar, but the lynx and the bobcat are both nocturnal, making them even more unlikely to be seen than their big cousin, the Eastern Cougar, which is crepuscular (feeding in the half-light of dawn and dusk).

Chris talked about the protean nature of oral history, in which stories change over time to adapt to the changes in the world around us, and gave examples of some of his favorite big cats from folklore, such as the Ding-Ball, the Dungavenhooter (or Dungarvon Whooper in New Brunswick), and the Monkey-Bear-Pig (aka porcupines!).


Many of these are covered in Chris’s excellent book, Mythical Creatures of Maine.

Wen Eldridge - Cryptozoology Facts

Next we heard from Wen Eldridge, founder of the Facebook group “Cryptozoology Facts,” who did a bang up job reminding us of the diversity of cryptozoology with her presentation about “My Favorite 25 Cryptozoology Facts.”  The talk covered everything from the Boston Lemur to I-don’t-know-what, and it is easy to see why Wen has such a following.  She is very straight-forward in her approach, and is enthusiastic and fun to boot!

David Goudsward, a longtime researcher of historic lore, regaled us with “Cryptozoology, Cthulhu, and Lovecraft,” taking us down unspeakable roads.  His past research has focused on New England oddities, and sea monsters (he spoke at the 2016 conference on this topic, if I recall correctly).

First he addressed the challenges of working between multiple frameworks.  Context is everything!  Is it Fortean? Cryptozoological? Lovecraftian?  That out of the way, he dove right into the deep end.  Did H.P. Lovecraft appreciate Charles Fort’s work?  Short answer: he saw him as the source of some good story prompts, but didn’t have much regard for his writing ability. 

This source for material seems to have been taken up by many of Lovecraft’s crowd as well, and between these authors many a report on zoological curiosities and bizarre newspaper clippings about anomalous occurrences were exchanged. 


Goudsward’s take on the Lovecraftian Mythos is that it is cryptid-adjacent, feeding on early exposure to such “monsters” as Komodo dragons in the Bronx Zoo, talk of Gloucester’s sea monster, Nessie, the Cherbourg carcass, Byrd’s polar explorations, lost races in the work of pulp predecessors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, and lots and lots of local folklore heard about in newspapers or from local gossip.   


Lovecraft acted as a conduit for this material, also encouraging his peers to take the time to listen to local stories, and freely divulging the sources for his inspiration, such as his letter to Fritz Leiber discussing the Mi-Go (the name of an alien race from Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness,” but originally drawn from early newspaper accounts of Yeti tracks found in the Himalayas).


The weekend was concluded with by Loren Coleman’s presentation on “Digging into Skinwalker Ranch’s Cryptozoology” and closing remarks.  At least as early as 1974, the strange phenomena at Skinwalker Ranch has included reports of weird animals, starting with Bigfoot-like creature sightings alongside UFOs and other phenomena, and blurring into and out of the taboo skinwalker culture in the region.   


Overall, the area seems to continue to “collect strangeness.”  The current ownership, and the subsequent popularization of the ongoing experiments there via reality TV, have continued to produce interest in this inexplicable place.

Loren continued to stir the pot by reminding us that: the Mormon influence in the region is pervasive, many people have theories that portals on the ranch create opportunities for anomalous creatures to travel into and out of the property, and cause phenomena such as cattle mutilations.  Among the wild and wooly cast of characters are reptilians, a dinobeaver, weird owls, Bigfoot-type creatures, innocent livestock being used as bio-indicators, and dire wolves and other lupine manifestations.  Many strange things have been seen, but no good photographs of creatures have been captured yet.


And on that strange note, the conference wrapped up.  Loren proposes that Bangor, Maine, will be the site of the next conference, as renovations on the new ICM building there proceed apace.


See you all there!!!

Photographic evidence of rare elusive cryptid seen in lecture hall!


Sunday, April 07, 2024

Happy 50th Anniversary to Stephen King's Carrie!


The original hardcover jacket art for Carrie. 
[image courtesy of @from__my__bookshelf]

When a Boston Globe reporter contacted me in early March 2024, and asked if I could chat with him about the upcoming 50th Anniversary of Stephen King’s Carrie, I was thrilled.  I was also amazed – 50 years!  How wild (and how significant) that this seminal King book is at the half-century mark – it’s kind of unbelievable.

At any rate, after talking to Mark Shanahan of the Boston Globe, and thinking more about the book, I wanted to sit down with my notes and write out some of my responses to Carrie to mark the occasion of her anniversary. {NOTE: I’m posting this on both the Strange Maine blog and the Green Hand blog.}


In preparation, I tore through the book in two sittings overnight.  By a strange coincidence, a friend had just randomly given me their spare copy the week before, so I had one handy (thanks Amanda!!). I also had this silly image from back in Sept. 2012 when I posted about how September 21st is Mr. King's birthday -- and it is also Carrie White's birthday! (Talk about a fire hazard!!!)

I found Carrie far more stunning during this re-read than when I first read it.  This is for a couple of reasons.  1)  I didn’t first read it when I was a kid.  That didn’t happen until I was around 30 years old.  (No judgement, please!  I was terrified of horror books as a kid, because I had a way-too-active imagination.)  I can’t even imagine how primal and disturbingly real I would have found it as a teenager – I certainly saw and experienced elements of it in too-close real life.  2)  When I did finally read it, it was as an audiobook, which loses a huge amount in translation.  I’ll talk more about this below. 


What makes Carrie so special?  Above all, it is Stephen King’s first published novel, infamously saved from the trash bin by his wife, Tabitha.  It is very clearly a harbinger of major things to come.  Even if it had been his only book (imagine that for a minute!), it would still have been a stunning debut. 


Mixed into the vast pile of “paperbacks from Hell” that was strewn across checkout lanes and bookshops beginning in the 1970s, its contents differed particularly from most of its peers in one significant way: its main character was a powerful young female.  If you have read a sampling of other horror novels from this time period, you will have noticed that very few female characters are employed by authors that move beyond the basics.  Most are simple placeholders, reflective characters, stereotypes (notably the slut or bitch). 


An early printing in paperback.
But one of the first things I noticed when re-reading Carrie was that within the 1st fifth of the book alone, we are introduced to at least a dozen women, and at least half of those have noticeably complex personalities.  They are not cookie cutter characters.  Especially in comparison to his peers, this is a phenomenal achievement.


The other reason these multi-layered characters are possible is because King writes Carrie in a way that is already cinematic.  Narration cuts between characters seamlessly, with no confusion about the fact we are hearing from a new character.  The story is told from a multitude of different viewpoints, each cleanly building on the last, rather than muddying the chain of events.  Each of these threads also paints a picture of the small town world that Carrie is a part of, however isolated from it she might be by her mother’s obstructive tendencies. 


Not only does the telling shift between the people in the story, but also it shifts between their internal dialogue and what they are saying verbally, in the real world.  Layers upon layers build up quickly.  To fully experience the graceful formatting of text that allows this to unfold, I recommend reading the real paper-and-ink version, rather than listening to the audiobook.


King drops in segments of other works – articles from clinical publications, medical reports, excerpts from autobiographies, even snippets of graffiti documented from various small landmarks left behind during Carrie’s painful academic and social path.  His incorporation of these snippets informs us early on that the journey we are embarking on has both deep roots in the social past, and also has vast implications in the near future.  It is all done very neatly.  Nothing feels extraneous. 


It gives the novel an epistolary feel, but each interjection is brief enough that it feels more like the beginning of insight rather than interrupting the flow.  It also makes one want to find and read these other works – to go down the rabbithole of The Shadow Exploded: Documented Facts and Specific Conclusions Derived from the Case of Carietta White, Black Prom: The White Commission Report, My Name Is Susan Snell (1986), Carrie: the Black Dawn of Telekinesis, Ogilvie’s Dictionary of Psychic Phenomena  - to hunt down articles like “We Survived the Black Prom” and “Telekinesis: Analysis and Aftermath”.  [NOTE: The efficacy of these inclusions are something that gets lost when the book is read via audiobook.]


The book is painful, and a terrifically fast read.  But somehow the little details are laid in sharp focus, and like the best slow horror, these tiny ghosts come back to you later in the quiet hours when you find yourself alone, thinking about Carrie.  For myself and many others, this means thinking back to when we were in school.  How others treated us.  How we treated others.  If you were an outsider, like I and many of my friends were, there are noticeable parallels, both experienced personally and observed as others nearby were attacked around us over the years. 


There is also, oddly and importantly, an appreciation of how perhaps not every popular girl is as perfect or as set on conformity as her peers.  It goes both ways.  This book is a good reminder of that.


It also excels at noting the often deadly power of silence.  Of not speaking up.  The silence that represses, until a multitude of small sad or horrible things explode under pressure, launching sideways out into the world, publicly and without chance of avoidance.  It’s too late.  Yet it happens over and over again. 


We don’t act on these warnings, we simply continue on, and forget.  As Susan Snell says ominously, a mere 7 years after the events in Carrie: “They’ve forgotten her, you know.”  It doesn’t take long before the cycle starts all over again.  We humans are pretty terrible at learning from our mistakes.  Even in the interleaved snippets in Carrie, this missing-the-whole-point occurs, as pundits and analysts focus on tracking down the genetic markers of the next Carrie, rather than on reminders that maybe we humans should treat each other with more compassion, and thereby divert ourselves from causing volatile eruptions.


As horrifying as Carrie is, it somehow doesn’t feel exploitative.  There are moments when King could have really put the screws to us and he chose not to.  Unbearable moments that are glimpsed in merciful fragments.  And tiny details tie back to earlier omens, right down to the beating of water on the shower room tiles, and are transformed, rooting and blooming into something horrible and new.


At the end of the book, forced by this sequence of small-but-terrible events, Carrie has truly come into her own, and everyone – everyone in town knows her at last, though they never wanted to.


One of the questions the journalist asked was what influence I saw in modern culture from Carrie.  I really struggled with answering that.  In looking back over those 50 years, few came in King’s footsteps who dared unleash on their readers that very real element of female power and the hazard of its incandescent rage.  It is possible that it is truly too terrifying for most people to handle.  Too real. 


Only in the last 10 years am I seeing horror which regularly features this complex female element, and many of these books are coming out of the current “new horror” wave, emerging as publishers such as Tor Nightfire hit their stride and push out some extraordinarily fierce female-driven horror.  In discussing it with my husband, it’s also so obvious I don’t even need to mention that the “final girl” trope, which has finally come into its own in both film and fiction, harbors more than strong echoes of Carrie.


Reading Carrie again made me wonder a few things.  King wrote ahead of his time.  The book, released in 1974, chronicles events that were set in 1979, witnessing also their ripple effects in the years directly afterward.  Was he trying to point out how human stresses in our schools among our children might play out, if something wasn’t done to alter our trajectory?  Or was he just eerily prescient of a trend in school violence to come, killing hundreds of children between 2000 and 2021? 


At any rate, intentional or not, Carrie’s story reminds us that the ability to hurt each other and to ignore the pain of our fellow humans is still something we haven’t learned to improve yet.  And King doesn’t create this larger story.  We continue to do that, all by ourselves.


On a more curious note, I also wondered about King’s appraisal of telekinesis, and whether he hoped that someday we would find proof that it and other psychic abilities are amongst our hardwired heritage as human beings.  A terrifying and exhilarating prospect, and one which I have pondered myself, ever since I was a little girl – long before I read Carrie (that would have been when I was reading The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts!).  And access to that ability is something that scares as much as it empowers, even from the point of view of whoever wields it.


I hope that those of you who haven’t read Carrie in many years will consider picking up the book again for a quick re-read, and those of you who haven’t met Carrie White might take this opportunity to get to know her.  After all, she’s just the girl down the block that you’ve never paid any attention to before.  What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Ghost Houses?

Of course (like you?) I am always interested in ghost stories.  There are so many types of hauntings!

A recent find made me think that perhaps when I eventually begin to write my book about true Maine ghost stories (yes, it's in the pipeline, behind a couple other ones!), one chapter should be about Maine ghost houses, as it appears there is more than one.  

What do I think of as a ghost house, as opposed to a haunted house?  A ghost house is one that reappears in its prior form, as the ghost of what it once was, where only a ruin of itself remains now.  This occurrence is uncommon, but occasionally some unwitting person is there to witness it happening, and that is how the rest of us find out about such otherworldly things.

A good example of this is Chapter 10 in Carol Olivieri Schulte's Ghosts on the Coast of Maine, titled "The Invisible Estate," set in Northport. 

If you know of any local Maine stories about a house that isn't there... until sometimes it is! ... please do drop me a line.  I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

2023 in review - a personal note

Hi everyone!

Wow, I started out 2023 with a resolution to revitalize my blog, but man -- I did not foresee what the year was going to bring.  Health problems decimated the bulk of the year, overlapped by business struggles, and worst of all, my mother's illness and death.  I will not miss 2023 -- so long!  I'm glad to try starting out fresh again in January 2024.

Because I had so much bad news last year, I didn't share a huge amount on here, but that doesn't mean I wasn't working away on Strange Maine things in the background.

Bigfoot in Maine -- I continued recording eyewitness accounts for Volume 2, and even managed a few field trips here and there (but never enough!) with some very good friends.  These accounts are all over the state, some tying in with eyewitness accounts from Bigfoot in Maine (v1), and some filling in blank spaces on the map where I hadn't been yet.  Most of the field trips were in York County - I hope to get into Western Maine and up north a bit sometime in 2024.

To start off 2024 on a high note, in Episode #244 (1/8/2024) of Bigfoot and Beyond with Cliff and Bobo, Cliff interviewed Aleks Petakov of Small Town Monsters, and he gave my book a terrific shoutout!  Aleks is an ace in the New England Bigfoot field investigation pantheon.  If you have a New Hampshire eyewitness report you'd like to file, he's your guy.

You can listen to that episode and others here:


Or find Aleksander's email and other info on his website here: https://petakovmedia.com/

More research and site visits are planned for 2024, not to mention a talk at the upcoming International Cryptozoology Conference where you'll get the first preview of some of these cases.

Tickets/details here: https://www.simpletix.com/e/international-cryptozoology-conference-202-tickets-156134

A nice pairing - Nov 2023
Strange Maine - I collaborated with Kristen Seavey, who runs the excellent Murder She Told true crime podcast (which I highly recommend if you haven't checked it out yet!).  In addition to suggesting her Tot Harriman episode, in late 2022 I handed over my archive of articles and research about the unsolved Dennis Down homicide (Falmouth, 1958) to Kristen, and in October 2023 she aired the episode after adding her own substantial research efforts and fleshing out the story for her listeners.  

I still hope someday this one can be solved, I find it quite haunting, especially because it disappeared - I discovered it wasn't even listed on the register of Maine's unsolved cases when I was digging around after it.

You can listen to it here or on the podcast app of your choice:


I also continued to set aside some Maine stories of hauntings, which will eventually become a book in its own right.

In December I had an opportunity to meet some Maine legends, author Carolyn Chute and her husband Michael Chute (and their dog Jake!).  Amazing!  I look forward to many future conversations with them. 

Other projects:  I am continuing to work on a biography of a Mainer who is unknown to most nowadays.  When I finish writing and finally get to launch that book, I hope it will remind people of all the unwritten, forgotten, fascinating folks and events that make up Maine's history -- for instance his story is how I found out about the Dennis Down murder case.  There are so many, this is just one - but one that crisscrossed so many iconic elements of Maine history that you will be swept up in his story. 

Here's to a good start to 2024 -- Happy New Year, everyone!

Keep your eyes and ears open, and look around you.  There are worlds within worlds to discover everywhere you go in Maine!

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Will Work While Not in School

Many moons ago, I received a nice pile of old Eastern Argus copies.

This Portland, Maine newspaper was published for over 100 years, starting in the very early 1800s. The Portland Public Library has microfilm versions of it from 1803 to 1921, but there is no way to compare with holding a copy of it in your hands! 

The paper is soft and cottony, and it was printed using movable metal type, producing texture and a much more enjoyable reading experience than the inky flat newsprint of today. In the Friday issue of December 9, 1836, among the advertisers is:

A YOUNG MAN, From the country, being anxious to attend School, either day or evening, -- will work in a family, at a very reasonable rate, whilst not at school. Inquiries at this office.
I do love creative problem solving.

Monday, November 07, 2022

True crime: A Maine treasure long missing

 I don't talk a whole lot about my own history and life on this blog, but this story draws on it in a number of ways.  I left home when I was 16 years old.  I went to high school, worked a job, and had an apartment of my own (having lied about my age on the lease).  Relationships with my parents were frayed, to say the least.  At one point my dad decided to try to find a way to spend time with me, and also share a useful and enjoyable experience with me, and enrolled us together in a cooking course through Portland Adult Education.  He had taken a course with the teacher before, and thought she was great.  Her name was Tot Harriman.

Photo by David A. Rogers in the Portland Press Herald 4/30/95 issue
Tot, born in Vietnam and now long-married to a U.S. veteran, wanted to share her cooking skills and her enjoyment of food with her other American neighbors here in the Portland area.  And my dad was right -- she was terrific.  Her personality was indomitable, sparkling, and very like a fireball at peak moments.  She was a great teacher, pragmatic, nonjudgmental, and straightforward.  We all learned a lot of useful and memorable techniques, mostly for stir-fry cooking, but towards the end of class she threw in some other more challenging menu items that gave us an idea of what else could be possible.

I still use her simple technique for cooking perfect rice today, and her teaching informed my stir-fry techniques that I use on a regular basis as well.  The course was back in the late 1980s, and Tot's instructions echo in my head whenever I do any of these things.  I see her strong hands at work cutting, her finger measuring the depth of water over rice in the pot, and showing us the best way to use different ingredients at each point in the cooking process, and how to serve a plate so it looks appealing. 

It was with great sorrow and shock that I saw an article in the newspaper back in 2001 reporting that Tot was missing.  She had vanished during a househunting roadtrip in Texas, where she moved after raising her children in Maine.  To think of that tiny powerhouse of a woman, perpetually giving to everyone around her, being subject to whatever tragedy had happened so many miles away, broke my heart.  Every so often I would check up on the case, but despite her family continuing to post online seeking leads, all that remained was a big question mark.

In the last couple of years (her first episode dropped in Dec 2020), Kristen Seavey has been working hard on her true crime podcast, Murder She Told, which focuses on mostly Maine and New England cases.  Her journalism is clear, compassionate, and seeks the truth, especially in cases where families are left still asking questions.  I thought maybe if I suggested Tot's case to her, she might someday do an episode about this woman who left such a mark on my life.

To my endless gratitude, that really did happen this autumn.  You can listen to the two part coverage of Tot's case here, and see lots of photos from her amazing life, too:

Part 1 - https://www.murdershetold.com/episodes/tot-harriman

Part 2 - https://www.murdershetold.com/episodes/tot-harriman-2

I had always known Tot had lived an astonishing life.  Anyone who made it alive out of the Vietnam War to come to America had; I knew this in part because I went to elementary school with some kids who had made it out too.  My father had also hinted that her life story was remarkable, but beyond a few brief mentions, Tot's history was never the focus of her class talks.  Here is where Kristen steps in.  

Through Kristen's research and through interviews with Chien Si, Tot's son, she illuminates Tot's life, first in Vietnam, and then through her risky escape to the United States, her adopted home.  Tot lives again in these moments as we listen, and we hear how much she did, how many people's lives she touched, and how her family loved her.  How her disappearance has left a hole in their lives.

As you listen to these episodes, Tot will live again, and be remembered.  And maybe, someday, if the right person comes forward, her family will finally find out what happened to her.

If you have any information about the disappearance of Tot Harriman, please contact the League City PD (TX) at (281)332-2566.

Thank you Tot, for teaching me.  And thank you Kristen!!!

Saturday, September 03, 2022

EVENT: Spooky Zoom talk! October 13 w/Portsmouth Public Library

 Hi everyone! I'm giving a fun spooky Zoom talk with Portsmouth Public Library in October!! If you (or someone you know) would like to attend, here's the link!

This event requires registration. To register visit: portsmouthpl.librarycalendar.com/event/strange
WHAT: "There's Something in the Woods" Zoom talk
WHERE: Online via Zoom, hosted by Portsmouth Public Library!
WHEN: Thursday, October 13, 2022 @ 7 PM – 8:30 PM
COST: Free!  Open to the public via pre-registration here:
Join Portsmouth Public Library as they host Maine author Michelle Souliere for an evening of creepy local stories from Maine and New Hampshire! Michelle is the author of the books Strange Maine and Bigfoot in Maine, and is the owner of The Green Hand Bookshop in Portland, ME.

Cozy up on your couch or in your favorite reading chair and tune in via zoom for accounts of the "York County Poltergeist," "Bigfoot in Maine and New Hampshire," and more! At the end of the night, you will be absolutely convinced ... there's something in the woods.

This event requires registration. To register visit: portsmouthpl.librarycalendar.com/event/strange