Several world-famous hoaxes such as the Giant Grasshoppers of Butts Orchard and the Cardiff Giant have been born in Wisconsin, but one of the strangest cases is the controversial and erroneously-named Minnesota Iceman that was marketed as an ancient, early human but may have just been a contemporary Wisconsin Bigfoot.
Frank Hansen and the Minnesota Iceman
The large, hairy humanoid known as the Minnesota Iceman toured malls and fairgrounds in the 1960s and 70s, displayed encased in ice in a refrigerated coffin with a glass top. The Iceman’s caretaker, Minnesota resident Frank Hansen, claimed it was unearthed in the frozen wastes of Siberia and that it was the Missing Link between Neandertals and modern humans.
Hansen was detained once by Canadian customs officials who believed he was transporting a cadaver, and the FBI was tipped off that he may have been exhibiting a murder victim. But Hansen was never arrested or stood trial because authorities believed the Iceman was little more than a latex dummy created by the Westmore family in Hollywood.
But what was it really?
International Cryptozoology Museum founder Loren Coleman gave an extensive presentation at the 2016 Milwaukee Paranormal Conference which included guest speaker Terry Cullen, who had an early encounter with the Minnesota Iceman.
In 1968, Cullen was a young zoology student from Milwaukee attending the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago. Hansen was there with the Iceman, and Cullen couldn’t resist taking a peek.
Cullen said he always paid to get into those kinds of exhibits so he could learn what fakes looked like.
The Iceman was not what he was expecting.
Cover of Argosy magazine, May 1969
That day, he had the opportunity to closely examine what he believes was the decomposing body of a hairy hominid. To this day, he remains convinced it was authentic.
And Cullen is not alone.
After examining the body, cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans believed the Iceman was a previously unknown species of hominid. He dubbed it Homo pongoides.
“Ivan Sanderson was equally taken with the specimen,” David J. Daegling wrote in his book Bigfoot Exposed. “He would remark that through cracks in the ice he could smell the decomposition of the corpse.”
Sanderson urged a friend at the Smithsonian to investigate. When that news reached Hansen, he removed the Iceman from display. When the exhibit eventually returned, the thing in the ice had been replaced by a fake.
“Hansen, who apparently took a much-needed vacation about the time the original went underground, verified that a switch had taken place but tap-danced around the question of his own involvement in the decision to remove the true Iceman from circulation,” Daegling says. “The two cryptozoologists insisted that they would have detected the switch even if Hansen had not been forthcoming: the latex dummy was simply not the thing they had originally examined.”
Hansen himself eventually admitted that the story of the Minnesota Iceman was a hoax – It wasn’t the missing link in human evolution, and it wasn’t discovered in the seas of Siberia. It wasn’t even from Minnesota.
Hansen said he had actually encountered the creature alive in the woods of Wisconsin while he was hunting. He promptly shot it dead and invented the whole story.
So there never was a Minnesota Iceman. It was always just a run-of-the-mill Wisconsin Bigfoot.
Still, it had a good run and remains one of the more unusual hoaxes ever encountered inside a dark tent for 25 cents.
In 1967, the Minnesota Iceman appeared at the Wisconsin State Fair alongside other notable sideshow acts such as Big Willie – the largest alligator living in captivity – and the flickering lights of “Psychedelia” that offered to take visitors on the “trip hippies take.”
Today, the Minnesota Iceman can be seen on display at the Museum of the Weird in Austin, Texas. This is presumed to be the fake. What became of the real creature Hansen encountered and killed in the Wisconsin woods remains a mystery.