Freaky Friday – What Was It?

I chose this mystery because as a kid I viewed it in the Johnson City Mall. It was the mysterious Minnesota Iceman. The story of it and just what it was is so convoluted and twisted in the end I’m not sure what I saw. But dang I’m so glad I convinced my folks to spend the 25 cents for me to view it. Whatever it was I saw left a memory.

I was a weird kid. I saw an ad on TV for a possible caveman or Bigfoot in ice.  I wanted to see it.  We happened to go to the mall while it was there and with enough begging the quarter was paid and I got to see.  I’m guessing I was 4 to 6 at the time.  What I remember of the sight was the ice was fuzzy white in places over the face and body like the center of ice cubes made in those metal ice trays.  I remember one eye being gone and over it were little cyclones of blood which went up.  I thought it was odd blood went up until a parent explained he must have been frozen face down then turned for us to see thus the blood looked like it was going up.  I remember the other eye was out on a stem.  I found this fascinating.  The arm was up and broken.  I had broken my arm I sympathized with the iceman.  It had hair like a cartoon cave man.  The brow was large protruding over the sockets.  The teeth were exposed in a painful grimace.  I don’t remember much else about the body or hands or anything like that.  It was in a trailer covered in readings about the iceman.  I was just mastering reading and wasn’t tall enough.  Though after viewing the iceman I thought of him and often read our Time/Life book on evolution convinced I’d seen one of the images in real life.

What I saw is known as the Minnesota Iceman a side show exhibit that was owned and operated by retired airman Frank Hansen.  He toured malls, fairs, carnivals with the iceman from May 3, 1967 to 1969.  It was as I remembered but ft tall with over sized hands and feet.  The hair that I remember being on the face covered the body and was 3-4 inches long.   Frank’s story for the first two years was it had been found in the Bering straits frozen in ice by Japanese fishermen brought to Hong Kong where a rich California person bought it and hired him to show it.  Later the story changed to it was a Bigfoot shot in Minnesota by a woman, Ms. Helen Westring, who it attempted to rape, then frozen and sold to the rich Californian.  We’ll leave it there because his next story is after Terry Cullen saw it in Dec 1968 in Chicago.

Terry Cullen was an anthropology student at Madison Wisconsin.  He paid his quarter expecting laughs but instead was astounded by what he saw.  There were lice and the skin shed by lice caught in the hair of the creature.  There was plant matter in its teeth.  The anatomy was right and the tendons visible in the broken arm were so detailed.  He was sure it was something… something humanoid.  He tried to get professors interested but to no avail. Finally he called Ivan T. Sanderson a man who had written a book about the abominable snowman lore.

Sanderson held two MAs with honors from Cambridge one in botany and one in ethological anthropology (specialty of comparing groups of peoples’s physiological traits).  It just so happened when Sanderson took Cullen’s call Dr. Bernard Heuvelman from Belgium was visiting.  Bernard held a doctorate in zoology from the Free University of Brussels.  Both men were intrigued and agreed to go see the body.  I mean what did they have to lose a day in Chicago and a quarter each to see what got Terry so excited.

After seeing the exhibit both men were stunned. Terry might be on to something in saying this was more than just a fake.  The two men got permission from Hansen to examine the body at his storage facility after the show season.  They examined the body for three days without thawing it.  They found it to be a body of an adult man with large hands and feet.  The skin was covered in dark brown hair that was 3-4 inches long.  The creature had been shot through one eye with exit wound in the back of the head.  There was a gaping wound and compound fracture to the upward lifted left arm.  Putrefaction could be smelled through cracks in the ice. When he returned home with his measurements, sketches, and photographs Bernard wrote a scholarly article on the find. He proposed it was a ‘missing-link’ in the evolutionary chain and dubbed the iceman “Homo Pongoides.”  The article was open for peer review.

Sanderson could not publish in a peer review magazine with his findings so he settled for his article to be published in Argosy in May 1969.  He stated this was no phony but some living creature possibly humanoid or human.  Then when he was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson he mentioned the find and his interest in it.

Hansen now was contacted by various scientists wanting to see it get hair samples, blood samples.  The press wondered if it was a human being and if being shot it was murder.  FBI asked to see the iceman as did the Smithsonian.  Hansen was stopped from crossing the Canadian border with the US questioning if he was transporting a corpse for display.  More concerns were raised as the articles documented a gunshot injury.  Was Hansen trying to cover a murder?  It was then he pulled the exhibit and produced papers and images of how a dummy was made and frozen.  Sanderson and Bernard were called in to look they swore this was NOT what they studied for three days straight.  The lice was missing, the green matter in the teeth was gone,  the ice was clearer.  They pointed to 15 technical differences between what Hansen was now presenting and what they had studied. However, it was a ‘he said they said’  case.  No other iceman was found.  Hansen exhibited this one for a few years then retired it all in 1970. He gave his final interview before refusing to comment ever again.

What he told in his final interview in 1970 for Saga Magazine was the third origin story. It was a long tale from how he got the body, how he commissioned a body double for the corpse, and how both wound up going on tour.

It all started in 1960 when Hansen was a Captain in the Air Force and assigned to the 343rd Fighter Group in Duluth Minnesota.  He went deer hunting with 3 others in the Whiteface Reservoir.  Each set up their own area.  Hansen shot a doe but she ran so like a good hunter he followed the blood trail to find the animal.  After following for a long time he heard a gurgling noise as he parted the shrubs he encountered two humanoids eating the deer while a large one hunkered near them.  The larger one stood screeched at him then charged.  Panicked Hansen shot hitting the large one in the eye and sending it to the ground face down. Seeing it was large muscular covered in hair Hansen was terrified and ran the opposite direction the two eating went.

He came to his senses and realized he was now thoroughly turned around and lost.  He fired three shots in the air (apparently he said this was a signal of a hunter in distress). He was found by another group of hunters who helped him get back with his group.  He never said what had happened and took the teasing about getting lost. He went home and began to have night terrors.  He was stressed and worried that he had shot a man, a human.  He went back with tools.  He finally found the corpse frozen to the ground and removed it.  He didn’t think it was human but feared others would see it and call police then it would lead back to him and cause trouble.  So he loaded it up, put it in his truck, covered it with tarps, and took it home.  Once home to his Air Force housing in Duluth. He showed his wife, Irene.  She was terrified and agreed it was best to hide it.  So when the children went to bed the deep freeze was emptied and the body put in there covered with a blanket.

Hansen had planned to bury the corpse in the spring.  But the thing started  smelling and decaying.  He and Irene decided it had to be frozen in a block of ice.  They poured 20 gallons of water in the freezer daily until it was frozen into a solid block of ice stopping the smell. When spring came Hansen couldn’t come up with an idea of how to get a body out of the house non-conspicuously to bury it.  So it went for the next five years until he retired.

Hansen now had a farm near Rollingstone, Minnesota for his retirement but realized he couldn’t have professional movers move his secret in the freezer.  So he moved himself enlisting the help of friends to move his ‘meat’ filled freezer.  Once in his new home Hansen fretted even more about discovery putting the freezer in a special building with a generator if the power failed.

In retirement Hansen attempted to discover just what he had in his hidden freezer – was it ape, man, or wild animal?  He began reading and researching any creature that matched his secret finding abominable snowmen.  The more he read about them more he thought that’s what he had.  He also researched the statute of limitations on murder to find there was no limit.  He was sure the creature wasn’t a normal human but didn’t know if an abominable snowman was close enough to human for him to be charged with murder and destroy his life and take away his retirement from Irene. So he left it in the freezer and settled into retirement.

He became bored in retirement.  A friend had a classic tractor that had just come back from being on loan to the Smithsonian.  The friend suggested Hansen take it out on tour of county and state fairs.  It wouldn’t make money but it’d be something to do and cover costs.  Well that got Hansen thinking about sideshow exhibits… He wound up asking a man familiar with booking traveling exhibits if the body of a hairy creature that looked like a prehistoric man would make a viable exhibit.  The man assured him it would.

Next Hansen contacted a lawyer.  I’m trying to imagine him telling the guy the whole story and what he wanted to do.  The lawyer wondering just what happened and then seeing what’s in the freezer.  Finally, they hatched the most convoluted plan.  Hansen would have a model made and document the process completely.  He’d freeze it in ice and should there be questions he could present the model and the documentation while hiding the body.

Hansen went to the best in Hollywood paying $20,000 in 1967 for the model to be made.  Of those involved were Bud Westmore, head of make effect for Universal Studios, Howard Ball the creator of the life sized animal exhibits at the La Brea Tar Pits, John Chambers makeup master at Fox Studios, and Pete and Betty Corral who implanted each individual hair with a needle into the model by hand.  Having used all his money, he and a buddy did the blood and eye on a stem.  Then he froze it in a block of ice.

Thus Hansen thought he’d go one twist better than his lawyer’s proposal so on May 3, 1967 he hit the fair, mall, carnival exhibit circuit with his frozen model.  Int made a sensational attraction but had too many flaws to fool anyone with a knowledge of anatomy.  So the first year established him as a cool fake.  Then he switched it out for the real thing.  The years the real body was shown it drew a different crowd.  Surgeons went. One nine times while it was in his town trying to figure out if it was a real human body.  In Kansas State Fair a county pathologist and his associates tried to figure it out.  Even with the puzzlement all went well until that goofy kid Terry Cullen got involved.  (Just like in a Scooby episode).  Then by Hansen’s own admission he made the mistake of letting Sanderson and Bernard take a thorough look.

The interest stirred up by Sanderson and Bernard left Hansen scared of criminal charges.  Finally he laid out the conditions under which he’d turn over the real body for research.  He had to be given complete amnesty for any possible violation of federal, state, or local laws relating to murder (if it was deemed human enough), killing the animal (if deemed not human enough), transporting and displaying a corpse.  After that the exhibit was shown a year or two more.  If the terms were agreed to,  no one knows for sure but the real body disappeared and gradually so did the fake one.  Then silence.

Until after Hansen’s death in 2013 the Minnesota Iceman showed up on E-bay of all places. It was purchased by Steven Busti owner of the Austin, Texas Museum of the Weird.  One of them is now there on display. From what I can tell it’s the Hollywood one.

So concludes the story – but what was it?  Was there really two?  What did Hansen and Bernard, two well educated men, see that spawned scholarly interest and papers?  Were they fooled by a frozen dummy?  Did Hansen kill someone then hide it as the iceman? Did Hansen kill the answer to the Bigfoot mystery?  Was he really concerned about murder charges?  If it was a Bigfoot would that constitute murder?  How closely related to Homo Sapiens would it have to be to be murder? What did I see in 1970 – real one or fake one or the only one?

At times I think Hansen was a showman like Barnum.  Other times I think he was a murderer who displayed his victim under a guise.  In the end I don’t know but I do remember.  So what do you think?

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