For the uninitiated, the Minnesota Iceman was sideshow exhibit featuring a hairy, manlike creature encased in a block of ice owned by a mister Frank Hansen. Hansen originally claimed to have bought the iceman in Hong Kong, which had been brought there by sailors who fished it out of cold Russian waters. Other tellings gave the location as Japan and Mr. Hansen later claimed to have shot it himself while deer hunting, adding that he could obtain another such specimen for the price of a stun gun. The final origin story was the most outlandish: the iceman was owned by a millionaire creationist who wanted to see how the public would react to it without alerting any scientists who might use it as further evidence of evolution. Naturally, he sought out Hansen, loaned him the iceman, and had him take it on tour.
In 1968 (two years after the iceman debuted), one Terry Cullen contacted a scientist with an interest in Bigfoot and other rumored beasts, Dr. Ivan Sanderson. Cullen has actually seen the exhibit in 1967 and was intrigued enough by it to contact numerous scientists in the hopes that they’d examine it. Sanderson contacted a like-minded scientist, Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans (the “father of cryptozoology“) and they contacted Hansen to have a look at it. They were not allowed to thaw it out and could only look at it through the thick ice encasing it in a dark trailer. Both men left thinking that the iceman was the real deal. Not only that, but they felt that its popped-out, bloody eye and the shattered arm raised near the head indicated that the iceman had been gunned down recently and was not merely the frozen prehistoric being that was advertised! Could it really be the remains of some unknown hominid or could it have been real human corpse that had been altered for dramatic effect? After all, at least one real human corpse had traveled the sideshow circuit before, so the idea isn’t technically unrealistic.
Convinced that what they had seen was real, Sanderson and Heuvelmans got to work on articles about the iceman. They also contacted Dr. John Napier in the hopes that he could get the Smithsonian Institute would look into the matter. Due to the “recently shot” theory, the FBI was even contacted about the matter (although they never looked into it)! Frank Hansen was less than pleased by this when word got back to him (presumably from seeing Sanderson talk about the iceman on The Tonight Show). The iceman was temporarily removed from view while Hansen debuted his “creationist millionaire owner” story in an announcement to the public in 1969 and explained the owner had taken it back and he was now only able to show a replica. Sanderson and Heuvelmans soon reported that the alleged replica was not what they had originally examined.
To make matters worse, the Smithsonian had found a special effects company that claimed to have made the iceman in 1967! Perhaps this is why Sanderson included an overly complex method of making an iceman-like figure in his article about the Minnesota Iceman, which contradicted the paper’s earlier claims that it would be impossible to make a fake corpse, hinting at a last-minute insertion. In any case, both of the men who examined it continued to insist that no model could have fooled them and they had seen a real creature (although this contradicts Hansen’s later story that he shot the iceman while hunting, stored it in a home freezer, and only displayed the model based on it).
Why would Hansen claim to exhibiting a model of a real creature after the people behind the Iceman model were found? Simple, it because would’ve killed his business in the long run for him to display something that was commonly known as a fake. But if it was advertised as a “recreation” of something, then there would still be some interest.
Now, despite the owner’s constantly changing origin stories for the creature (a classic sign of a liar) and the fact that it was displayed in carnivals, a surprising amount of people cling to the idea of the iceman being a real Bigfoot! Why? When asked, said people often say that the iceman was found to be real by two trained biologists and that the creature bore a striking resemblance to the description of a Vietnamese “wildman.” However, that actually doesn’t mean a whole lot…
These two links do an excellent job of pointing out the various flaws in the “Minnesota Iceman was real” argument. Especially when you factor in that one of the people who declared it to be real, Dr. Ivan Sanderson, had a rather poor understanding of special effects (among other issues), as shown at the bottom of this page. Also, Sanderson suffered from poor vision, including near-blindness in one eye. It was such a problem that he had to draw animals by holding dead specimens in his hands and drawing based on what he felt!
After reading this post that made a passing reference to Hollywood special effects artists creating a fake Neanderthal corpse for a sideshow, I decided to investigate if the concept of sideshow exhibits about frozen cavemen remains predated the Iceman exhibit. First, I found the source of the information given in the above post. Here’s a choice quote:
“John Chambers was interested in the direction I was going with the Studios, and became involved in a couple of our projects, specifically creating or advising “prehistoric men” for showmen Jerry Malone (John created this “dead” Neanderthal) and Frank Hansen (we referred Frank to La Brea Tar Pit/Natural History Museum sculptor Howard Ball who cast this figure in hot melt; John joined us in consultation of the project). It has been unfounded speculation for years that Johnny also made a “bigfoot” costume for a fellow named Patterson. Don’t you believe it. John’s level of quality was way above that sort of thing; he was a perfectionist and very proud of his craft, and couldn’t make anything like that if he had tried!”
I can confirm that John Chambers worked on creating at least one sideshow attraction. Here you can see pictures of him working on the “Burbank Bigfoot.” Intrigued, I tried to find more information on Jerry Malone. This led to me an interview with someone who claims to have bought a “Big Foot Creature Exhibit” from Jerry Malone. He notes that his exhibit used glass treated with a chemical to give the appearance of ice (Judging from the picture, it wasn’t anything like Christmas “spray on snow” or the old “epsom salt and warm water” trick), that he and a friend built another fake creature like it, and that John Chambers had created it. In my opinion, the Burbank Bigfoot looks a lot better than the creature that West bought. I don’t know if his means that Mr. West was mistaken, lying, or if it means that Jerry Malone had originally bought an “economy model.” According to someone who claims to have seen the exhibit, the display shown on that website is not the one made by Chambers.
The idea of prehistoric creatures being preserved in ice was nothing new in the 60’s. In fact, the idea was used in a 1942 Superman cartoon called The Arctic Giant and in sci-fi/horror movies like 1944’s Return of the Ape Man and 1953’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. The idea seems to have been spawned by the discovery of preserved mammoth carcasses in Siberia during the 1900’s. However, those remains were not encased in blocks of ice; that seems to have sprung from a misunderstanding of how the preserved remains were found. Perhaps this is why the iceman was originally billed as the “Siberskoye Creature?” According to this, “Siberskoye is an artificial word, roughly translated “Siberskoye man” meaning man from Siberia.” I suspect the frozen alien depicted in 1951’s The Thing from Another World is what inspired Hansen to create his exhibit, seeing as how the sidebar titled “Chambers and the ‘Burbank Bigfoot'” on this page makes a reference to Frank Hansen approaching some people at Universal Studios to build him a fake crashed flying saucer (complete with dead aliens)!
The Sideshow World interview also notes that Rick West had met Frank Hansen at the exhibit’s first appearance, that it was the best of the frozen Bigfoot exhibits (which is no surprise, seeing as how he used actual ice for his display), and that he had an opportunity to buy the exhibit from him before Hansen’s death. True believers of the iceman would probably say that he was going to get sold the supposed “fake iceman.” However, it’s always important to take what carnival showmen say with a grain of salt (although this would explain Hansen’s claim that the “real owner” was possibly going to let the iceman get shown again in the future.
The interview’s mention of Jerry Malone having a frozen whale exhibit inspired me to look up more on the subject. This makes it sound like several such exhibits were shown at carnivals and the like back in the day. This says he got the original idea for the whale exhibit in 1963 (four years before the Iceman first turned up).
Thanks to this site, I found a link to a 1995 news article on Mr. Malone’s frozen whale. Said article notes that:
“In spite of placards identifying the location of Irvy’s blowhole, mouth, glass eye and other points of anatomical interest, the creature is not even immediately recognizable as a whale. His skin severely peeling (freezer burn set in less than six months after Malone entombed him in the refrigerated case), the aquatic mammal looks less like a whale than it does a gigantic semideflated tire that’s lost its tread.”
Skin peeling from freezer burn after six months? No matter what version of the “Hansen had a real frozen creature” story you pick, there’s no way he could have kept it as long as he said he did without it freezerburning into an unrecognizable mess like Irvy the whale did.
As if that wasn’t enough to convince you that the whole thing was a hoax, former Don Post Studios co-owner Verne Langdon appeared at the Bigfoot Forums (and in a Bigfoot podcast) in 2008 to both repeat and go into further detail on what he had revealed before in the past (including an interview in an 80’s issue of Cult Movies): that the Minnesota Iceman was a hoax that he was involved in the creation of. The creation timeline alone rules out any claim that there was a “real” iceman at any point.
What of the claim that the original iceman was replaced with a replica? A person going by the handle “wolftrax” at the Bigfoot Forums did a series of .gifs comparing the two supposedly different Icemen. I personally feel that this .gif animation best shows how the original Iceman and the “replacement” are actually one and the same.
As for the Vietnamese wildman issue, let’s look at the concept art for the Frankenstein monster that Willis O’ Brien did for his never-made King Kong vs. Frankenstein” project (elements of the project turned up in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla and 1965’s Frankenstein Conquers the World). Just add some hair and scale down the height a bit and you have a dead-ringer for many Bigfoot descriptions. In short, coincidences can (and will) happen.