Abominable Snowmen, by Ivan T. Sanderson, , at sacred-texts.com
Sir Edmund Hillary's Scalp—
A News Story from Nepal
This is, as of the time of writing, the most recent and the most outstanding story in ABSMery. Also, it has received a great play in the world press, resulting in all manner of strange and curious asides. It has also turned out to be quite a saga on several counts, with both overtones of foolishness and undertones of a rather ominous nature. The whole thing became a farce if not an outright hoax.
Sir Edmund Hillary, "Conqueror of Everest," left in 1960 for Nepal, and the Chinese border, on a grandiose expedition with novel equipment and, eventually, a retinue of no less than 600. The expressed objects of this expedition were twofold: first, to study human physiology under conditions of altitude and, secondly, to gather information on what Sir Edmund euphemistically called "The Yeti." This expedition was sponsored and paid for by the World Book Encyclopedia Company of the Field Enterprises Corporation of Chicago. Among its personnel were Mr. Marlin Perkins, Director of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, widely known to Americans for his long-lasting television series entitled "Zoo Parade" over NBC network for 10 years, and a certain Mr. Lawrence Swan of San Francisco State College, described as a "Himalayan fauna expert."
In December, 1960, the press announced that Sir Edmund and these two gentlemen, together with the British reporter, Desmond Doig who speaks the Sherpa dialect, and the headman of a village named Khumh-Dzhungh (called Khumjung earlier) and himself named Kunyo Chumbi, were arriving
in the United States by air. This they did, landing in Chicago in the early part of that month. It was announced that they were bringing with them a scalp (see Chapter 15), alleged by its owners the Khumh-Dzhungh-ers, to be that of a yeti. Further, the daily newspapers said that this was going to be put on exhibit in Chicago for examination by a panel of scientists on the 16th of that month. The names of some of these scientists were given.
At this point, Sir Edmund, acting as mouthpiece for the sponsors, announced that he felt he had definite evidence as to what this scalp had been made from, and that hairs pulled from the scalp would be given to all those in the invited group who wished them and who had proper laboratory facilities for examining them and comparing them with hairs of other animals. Unfortunately there was a heavy snowstorm over most of the United States at that date which made it impossible for any of the invited to attend the showing, but Dr. Philip Herskovitz of the Chicago Natural History Museum made the promised hairs available—along with other hairs marked "Animal X"—to various people. Sir Edmund appeared on television along with a scalp on a revolving table and the most excellent Kunyo Chumbi who did a little dance.
Asked on one of these shows [Dave Garroway's morning news show, "Today"] taped on the 13th at which I was present in the studio in New York, whether he thought ABSMs existed, Sir Edmund replied that he thought that they had once done so, but that they had for some time been extinct. Asked how, then, he could explain having himself several times reported finding fresh tracks of some large, bipedal, creature, in the upper snows of the Himalayas, with a strange foot that looked more humanoid than anything else, he replied that he did not know! A further showing of the scalp had been announced for the morning of December 16, and the same scientists were invited, now that the snow was over. However, on the morning of the 14th, the party suddenly decided to fly on to England with the scalp, and no American savants therefore obtained sight of it. However, no less than 8 square inches of the skin of the scalp were cut off here
and sent to various laboratories for them to make serological [blood] comparisons. Strangely, all these samples were too small for any such analysis to be made.
The group then turned up in Paris where a full-dress showing was arranged at the Musée d'Histoire Naturelle, under Prof. Millot of Coelacanth fish fame. Sundry experts and "experts" there examined it, but Sir Edmund was gracious enough to consent to appear on a television program with Bernard Heuvelmans, and at that time gave him some hairs and small pieces of skin that he cut from the scalp with a penknife. In the meantime, the writer had received some samples marked as coming from this "Khumjung scalp" [though not of the "Animal X"]. Both of us got out our microscopes and then went to museums and begged a few hairs from sundry animals indigenous to the Himalaya and Tibet (see list in Appendix D). Both of us almost immediately came to the conclusion that the hairs were from a Caprine (i.e. a goatlike animal). It was Bernard who tracked down the exact kind. This turned out to be an animal named the Himalayan Serow (Capricornis sumatrensis thar) . Checking back, I was constrained to agree with him. Life Magazine came out with an article a week later, in which it was stated that this was the animal from which the scalp had been made according to Hillary. [Even more strangely, it had been rumored that this intelligence was not going to have been released until February 17.)
During these machinations, something else came to light. This was that Sir Edmund was carrying with him a second scalp. This he had had made for him earlier in 1960 by a Sherpa, from a circle of skin taken from the rump of a Serow that he had shot. It had been molded on a wooden block, like that used by milliners, just as we had made a similar conical cap from the scrotum of a Hereford bull in New Jersey 2 years previously. No previous mention of the existence of this second [new] scalp had up until then been made. When it was, all sorts of doubts naturally arose.
If Sir Edmund was carrying such an object, that he knew definitely had been made from the pelt of a Serow, how did
anybody know but that all the hairs handed out by him had been taken from that scalp. Next, everybody wanted to know —but could not ascertain—whether the other, older-looking scalp was also made from the same animal, and if so (1) whether it was the one for long owned and displayed by the village of Khumh-Dzhungh for several years, and from which hairs had been taken and examined microscopically by Prof. Teizo Ogawa of Tokyo University Japan, or (2) whether it had been also freshly made and then smoked to look old. It was alleged to be that of a yeti.
Investigation into these matters brought to light the rather astonishing fact that the scalp [genuine or not] that that village had owned (1) was a fake in any case, having been made in imitation of one owned by their rivals—the villagers of Dhyangh-Bodzhei [Thyanboche, as it is commonly written], (2) that both were said by their owners not to be scalps "of yetis" but to have been made "in imitation of yetis," and (3) that they were not held in much regard, were not "religious relics," or even considered particularly valuable. Nevertheless, it appears that the sponsors of Sir Edmund's expedition had had to leave a sizable deposit in Nepal against the temporary removal of this object, and there was a time limit put on its return. [Sir Edmund failed to make this deadline.] Further, this relic was said to be considered so valuable that it was not allowed out of the country without the estimable Kunyo Chumbi, who had to travel with it and keep a constant eye on it. Yet, and this is the really odd part, priceless as it was "cracked up" to be, no less than 8 inches of it were calmly chopped off in the United States alone to send to laboratories; while hairs seem to have been pulled out by everybody; more pieces were shaved off in Paris by Sir Edmund himself and more, apparently, in London.
The whole thing was avowedly, and from the outset, a pure publicity stunt—the scalp and the nice Sherpa being no more than props—but it also had a vicious connotation. This expedition had gone off with great fanfare and in a blaze of publicity which included an article by [or at least under the name of] Sir Edmund Hillary in the New York Sunday Times,
stating that he believed in the existence of what he still persists in calling "the yeti." In this article he indicated that, although it was a secondary objective of his work, he was going to get the answer … or else.
He did not, and for several obvious reasons. First, he had hardly gone before he was back; second, he went right through the natural habitat of all ABSMs to his own icy peaks; third, he had a small army with him, which might well scare even complacent humans into moving to the next valley; fourth, he had no anthropologists or trained zoologists along, let alone a professional collector or anybody else who knew anything practical about the vegetated parts of the country. The result was that he failed, and his sponsors were faced with only two alternatives—admit it, or "prove" that ABSMs don't [and never did] exist. Some irresponsible public relations person appears to have chosen the latter course and solemnly thought that he could get away with it.
The hairs and bits of skin handed out by the Hillary outfit have been compared with the hairs of Serows and some other animals, and the blood with a number of others. This work has been prosecuted in a dozen laboratories. The hairs have also been compared with microphotographs of those taken from the real Khumh-Dzhungh scalp obtained firsthand by Prof. Teizo Ogawa. The results are not satisfactory in that those obtained by Prof. Ogawa at Kumhjung do not match those from other villages in Nepal.
The old-looking scalp that Hillary displayed was definitely made from the skin of a Serow but (1) was it the "real" Khumh-Dzhungh scalp and (2) is that "real" in any case? Rather naturally, any hairs handed out by him would be those of Serow, since he had a Serow skin cap in his suitcase. The whole thing was devised to debunk the "yeti," and thus all ABSMs. However, it not only fell fiat; it brought forth some astonishing statements.
The first was that Hillary thinks the fresh footprints [that he had himself several times reported] were all made by a "string" of foxes all jumping, with all four feet, into the same hole in the snow made by their leader, which holes subsequently
all melted, evenly and exactly for miles. This of course is quite ridiculous in any case but is utterly negated with regard to tracks left in mud which, of course cannot melt. Secondly, Sir Edmund, when pressed, admitted that despite all this he still could not explain the noises said to have been heard by many people and attributed to ABSMs.
Thus, the whole affair achieved nothing; not even, we suspect, the objectives desired by the public relations council of the sponsors. At the same time, it left an opening for a most "interesting" comment. This was issued by Tass, the official Soviet news agency, and goes as follows:
The hirsute scalp, originally alleged to belong to the Snow Man (Yeti) and brought with great pomp from Nepal to the United States and Europe, has started on its return trip to the Himalayas after being studied by experts in Chicago, Paris and London.
When placed in the experts' hands by its custodian, an elder in the village of Khumdjo Chumbi, and Edmund Hillary, the head of the Himalayan Scientific Expedition, the scalp was found to be not the main argument in proof of the existence of the Snow Man, but rather the Coffin of that myth.
Before sending the scalp back, Hillary announced that the experts' report on the subject would be published this month in Chicago. Hillary said that in general he felt that a reasonable and logical answer had at last been found to the problem of the Snow Man.
What is the answer? It was expounded to representatives of the Western press by the well-known biologist Lawrence Stone * who participated in Hillary's Himalayan Expedition. Stone said that the investigation had established that the scalp brought from the Khungdjung Monastery was a fox or goat's scalp and had never belonged to any "abominable Snow Man." Stone also spoke of the results of the study made of the Snow Man's footprints. He said that he himself had been confident that they were really the marks of the Snow Man until he was presented with clear proof that they had been formed by four foxes’ footprints which had merged in the melting snow. Stone concluded by saying that the legend of the Snow Man had made an amusing story and that he regretted to have to kill it.
The story might end at this point—were it not for the despatch from Katmandu sent in by the Special Correspondent of the Floerentine * newspaper Nazione, Corrado Piccinelli and published in that paper the other day. In it he says that while Hillary was supposed to be looking for the Snow Man, he was actually spying on China. The Italian journalist makes fun of those who believe or pretend to believe that the famous New Zealand mountain climber headed that large expedition because he was concerned to find proof of the existence of the Snow Man. The Italian journalist writes:
"It isn't that at all. What is really the case is that his scientific expedition of 600 men [!] is there chiefly to draw up exact maps of that inaccessible region, due to the absence of such maps until now … and finally to establish the truth of the rumour that communist China has fired rockets, missiles and sputniks."
It would appear, then, that the footprints on the untrampled snows of the Himalayan peaks belongs to creatures even craftier than the fox. (Izvestia. In full.)
488:* Lawrence Swan.
489:* i.e. Florentine.