Storytime with KBC: The Pangboche Hand
Hey, everybody! Professor Blue Clay here, back to school you folks on the weirdly true world history that I promise your teachers didn’t tell you about. And boy, do I have one hell of a story for you guys today. It’s got a little bit of everything: Millionaires! Celebrities! Sherpas! Whiskey! Ladies and gents, this is the story of the Pangboche Hand.
Tom Slick was a Texas oilman. Now, if this weren’t a true story, that would be some lazy-ass writing, but I swear, that was his real name. Slick was way into cryptozoology—the pseudoscience of searching for animals that might not actually exist. More than anything, he wanted to find a Yeti, and he was just about rich enough to make it happen.
Everybody’s heard of the Yeti—the legendary ape-man of the Himalayas. Or maybe you prefer the term “Abominable Snowman.” Or “Bumble,” if you happen to be an animated prospector. Regardless, you’ve heard of ‘em. The Yeti’s part of the Holy Trinity of cryptozoology, on par with Bigfoot and Nessie. Sure, any cryptid-seeker would be thrilled to spot the Mothman or a Jersey Devil, but Disney never put one of those guys at the top of a roller coaster.
So it’s 1957, and Tom Slick goes charging off into the Himalayas to catch himself a Yeti, but he busts up his leg and has to head back home. He hires this guy Peter Byrne to continue the expedition without him. Byrne was a bit of a Yeti fan in his own right, and happily hikes off into the frozen wilderness to search for the creature.
After a few months of wandering around Nepal listening to Sherpa stories and snapping photos of mystery footprints, Byrne hits the jackpot. In the tiny mountain village of Pangboche he meets a monk who gets real talky when he’s drunk. This guy tells him about a pair of sacred relics they keep in their temple: the hand and scalp of an honest-to-Buddha Yeti.
The monk takes Byrne back to the temple, and damned if it isn’t true. The scalp and the hand are set up on a little shrine, lit by flickering oil lamps. The hand is clearly very old, and mostly bone at this point, with bits of blackened flesh stuck to it in places. Ever the optimist, Byrne asks the lamas if he can just take the hand home with him. He gets shot down pretty hard, but they let him take a bunch of pictures of it. Photos in hand, he heads to London to meet up with Slick.
Now Slick is happier than a super-villain with a space laser. This is the proof he’s spent years searching for. Actual, physical evidence of the Yeti’s existence! After a brief celebration in the traditional Texas manner (a hopping, bowlegged, Yosemite Sam dance while firing twin pistols into the air) Slick invites Byrne to lunch at the Regent’s Park Zoo, where they’re joined by Professor William Osman Hill, a primatologist. Slick tells Byrne he’s sending him back to Nepal. He wants that hand. The testimony of a bunch of monks isn’t really proof—the hand needs to be studied by scientists to prove that it’s not just some random, dead guy’s hand. Then Osman Hill dumps some random, dead guy’s hand on the table.
They’re proposing a simple swap. The human hand for the Yeti hand—nobody’ll even notice! Byrne begs to differ. He tells them there’s no friggin’ way he can get the whole hand, but he might be able to switch out a finger…
So Byrne heads back to Pangboche and tracks down his monk friend. This time he’s come prepared, and watches the monk down a whole bottle of scotch. It’s not long before the drunk-as-a-skunk monk is out cold, and Byrne’s alone with the hand. He pops off a finger, wires on the replacement, and gets the hell outta town.
Now he’s got the finger, but how the hell is he supposed get it back to Slick and his scientist buddy in London? Nepal’s got some new laws about harming Yetis (no joke!), and customs agents tend to give the frostbitten adventurer types a pretty thorough patdown. He wires Slick, asking if he’s got any ideas, and Slick wires back that he’s got a buddy vacationing nearby in Calcutta who can help him out. His name’s Jimmy Stewart.
Yes, THAT Jimmy Stewart. Good ol’ George Bailey himself! Stewart is all too happy to help a friend smuggle body parts of unknown origin into the UK. In fact, he’s got the perfect place to hide the thing: inside his wife’s lingerie case.
And that’s exactly what they do! Byrne hoofs it down to India on foot and hands the finger off to Stewart, who tucks that dessicated cryptid digit in with Mrs. Stewart’s unmentionables and hops the plane to London to meet up with Osman Hill. There’s a brief scare when the lingerie case doesn’t make it to London, but a customs officer delivers it three days later with a sincere apology and the assurance that a British customs official would never paw through a lady’s undergarments. True to their word, the finger’s still there.
Osman Hill takes the appendage in for analysis, and determines that it’s not human, but it’s definitely some manner of hominid. And then…well…nothing. The story sort of dies off there. Maybe it’s the problematic provenance of the purloined pointer, or that he knows nobody’d ever believe this crazy-ass story, but Osman Hill just files the bones away to collect dust. It might have been lost for good if he hadn’t donated his specimen collection to the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons when he died.
In 2008, some poor intern was stuck sorting through the backlog of museum donations and came across the finger. Technology had advanced a bit since the late fifties, and DNA analysis of the finger showed—drumroll please—it actually was human! Oh. Oops!
Kind of anticlimactic, right? Well, that was the Brotherhood’s plan. See, Osman Hill was wrong about the finger, but right about the Yeti. They’re a relict population of early hominids that are barely managing to cling to existence in the frozen hellscape of the Himalayas. They’ve got it bad enough without the whole damn world knowing they exist! Imagine the bragging rights a big game hunter would get for bagging the Abominable Snowman. The poor things would be hunted to extinction in no time!
Fortunately, Byrne and Slick weren’t as sneaky as they thought they were, and the Brotherhood’s got no qualms about sifting through a celebrity’s underwear. After intercepting the telegram exchange, the Brotherhood put an agent in place to snag the Stewarts’ luggage. They grabbed the finger, dummied up a replacement, and sent it on to London with a slight delay, and no one the wiser. The original hand was left in place at the temple until the late eighties, when Unsolved Mysteries aired an episode about the Pangboche hand. At that point, the story was too big to risk leaving it laying out in the open, and a stealth team was dispatched to retrieve the relics, leaving the blame to fall on greedy tourists.
Alright kids, that’s all you get for this month. Come on back next time for something that’s practically guaranteed to be less interesting than this. Crap, I really should have paced myself. Spread the good ones out a bit more. Only two in, and I’m already down to the dregs. Right, well I’m off to make history more interesting before I have to write about it again!