by Michael Lauck
Ivan T. Sanderson is probably best remembered today as a cryptozoologist. In fact, he is credited with coining the term cryptozoology. However, in addition to his work as a zoologist and monster hunter he also investigated unidentified flying object encounters. He wrote several books on flying saucers and was one of the first investigators to focus on unidentified submersed objects, or USOs. Sanderson was also commissioned by a magazine to investigate the so-called Braxton County Monster and spoke of the incident in radio interviews.
The Celebrity Naturalist
Born in Scotland, Sanderson would earn a degree in zoology, which he followed with Master’s degrees in botany and ethnology (all from Cambridge University). Inheriting a love for travel and adventure from his father, he traveled extensively during his student years and began leading expeditions after he finished university. In the late 1930s he began to write books, often illustrated with his won drawings, about the animals observed during his expeditions, which were often to collect wild specimens. During World War II Sanderson worked for British intelligence. Early on his position was in the Caribbean, but towards the end of the war he was stationed in New York City as a press agent. After the war he elected to stay in the United States and eventually became a naturalized citizen.
While in New York, Sanderson began to make appearances as a naturalist on radio and television shows. He eventually started a business that rented exotic animals to television, motion pictures and even zoos. Although he continued to work in the mainstream world of naturalism, he also was beginning to gain notoriety for his openness to the idea that there were animals unknown, or at least unacknowledged, to science but spoken of in legends. He reportedly created a phrase, cryptozoology, to describe a new branch of science that would work to determine if reports of these animals, often seen as monsters, had basis in fact.
The First Cryptozoologist
By the 1940s Ivan T. Sanderson was an established naturalist and nature writer. His works often appeared in popular magazines, though, instead of scientific journals. Throughout his travels he had heard of mysterious creatures and had even had an encounter with the Kongamato, a legendary creature reported in the Congo. Although many describe the creature as some type of flying dinosaur, his description falls more in line with reports of a large bat. By the mid-1940s some of Sanderson’s popular magazine articles stray from mere adventure stories or reports on exotic, but known, animals and begin to instead explore strange creatures such as sea monsters. He tended to believe that if such stories were true, the monsters described would be simply be previously undiscovered (or believed to be extinct) flesh and blood animals. He called the search for such animals cryptozoology.
After Sanderson began to write on cryptozoology he began to become more connected with the hunt for mysterious creatures than “mainstream” zoology. Eventually his popular articles on cryptozoology (and other strange topics) would be collected into the books “Things,” “More Things” (now available as a single edition) and “Investigating the Unexplained.” He also wrote “Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come To Life.” As a noted and well known zoologist and naturalist, it is not surprising that he is best remembered for his work in the field of cryptozoology. However, he also wrote on unidentified flying objects.
A Naturalist Takes of UFOs
Among his works was Invisible Residents: The Reality of Underwater UFOs, one of the first books to take a serious look at USOs. It is a methodical book that set out to explain to readers, most of whom would have been unfamiliar with the idea of UFOs in our seas, why the subject was so important. He also wrote Uninvited Visitors: A Biologist Looks At Flying Saucers which set forth many UFO cases, including stories and evidence that would now fall into the realm of the “ancient alien” theory. Three of the essays in his collection “Things” also focus on unidentified flying objects.
One of the most overlooked incidents in Sanderson’s career was his investigation of the Flatwoods Monster in Braxton County, West Virginia. After the initial reports came out True Magazine and the North America Newspaper Alliance asked Sanderson to travel to the area and investigate the case. He arrived in the area just a few days after the sightings and was there at the same time as famous UFOlogist Gray Barker. He spoke to legendary radio host Long John Nebel about the encounter in 1953 and, speaking from memory, recounted the investigation. Among the things he mentions is the fact that there were multiple UFOs spotted in the time before the Flatwoods Monster incident, as later pointed out by researcher Frank Freschino.
Originally founded in 1965 as the Ivan T. Sanderson Foundation, the Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained (SITU) was a non-profit group started by Sanderson. It was dedicated to examining a wide range of topics outside the realms of mainstream science. While the group was in existence it published a newsletter called “Pursuit” that followed everything from living dinosaurs to UFOs. Ivan T. Sanderson passed away in 1973. Unfortunately, SITU eventually disbanded and their journal has noot been collected or republished. Despite his contributions to the field of cryptozoology, Ivan T. Sanderson’s contributions to the field of unidentified flying object research deserve to be remembered, even celebrated.
For More Information:
The Flatwoods Monster Audio Interview (www.theufostore.com)
Long John Nebel Show, August 18, 1958 (www.theufostore.com)
Ivan T. Sanderson, “Things and More Things” (collected edition published by Adventures Unlimited Press)
Ivan T. Sanderson, “Uninvited Visitors: A Biologist Looks At Flying Saucers”
Ivan T. Sanderson, “Invisible Residents: The Reality of Underwater UFOs”