The 13th Floor

Jimmy Stewart And The Pangboche Hand

Have you ever seen HARVEY? It’s one of my favorite movies, has been since I was a kid. The movie is about this guy, Elwood P. Dowd, as played by the great Jimmy Stewart. Elwood is a nice enough guy – he’s in his late 30s, and overall kinda lonely. He spends his days at Charlie’s, the local bar, where he buys drinks for the drinkers as long as they’ll spend some time with him. Sometimes, he’ll even invite a drunk home for dinner.

Elwood’s only real friend is Harvey, a six foot three and a half inch tall rabbit that only he can see. Harvey is, as Elwood explains, a pooka – a mythical creature from Celtic lore, and Harvey is pretty cool.  It’s a great movie with a fantastic lesson we all need to learn.

Maybe it was HARVEY, and Jimmy Stewart’s past experience with large mythical creatures that led to Tom Slick asking Stewart to help him sneak a Yeti finger out of Nepal.

Tom Slick, who sounds like the name of a dime store private detective, was in all reality an oil man who struck it big in Oklahoma. Once he had the loot, Slick turned his attention to his real loves – inventing things and going on adventures. At one point, Slick decided he was going to find himself a Yeti, and he headed to the Himalayas to track the elusive creature down. During one expedition in 1957, Slick got word of a Yeti hand being kept in a  Buddhist monastery in Pangboche. Slick and his crew, which included his buddy Peter Byrne, headed to the monastery and the monks showed them the hand.

The hand was really just bone at this point, held together with wire. Next to it was what the monks claimed to be a Yeti scalp. Slick and Byrne were psyched. Super psyched. They had finally found what could be evidence of the elusive Yeti. As the story that the monks tell goes, many years before, a monk ducked into a random cave for some meditation. The monk came to find that a Yeti was taking a little nap in the cave, so the monk made a hasty retreat – exit stage right. A few years later, the monk went back to the cave to find that the Yeti was still there, only now it was dead. The monk snagged himself the hand and the scalp and brought it back to the monastery.

Slick asked the monks if he could take the hand back to America for testing. The monks, having protected the hand for ages, refused. Slick and his gang did a sad Charlie Brown walk and left the monastery.

A year later, Slick, who was injured during the previous expedition, sent Byrne and the crew back to the monastery to check out the hand again. This time, Slick gave Byrne permission to see if he could cut a deal with the monks. After some back and forth negotiations, Byrne gave the monks $160 and a human finger that he brought with him from London in return for one Yeti finger. I’ll be honest, the creepiest part of this story, to me, is Byrne traveling the globe with a spare finger in his pack.

Yeti finger in hand, Byrne and the crew made way for London. Byrne got the finger out of Nepal and into India, but he knew there was no way he would get it to London without help – British customs went through every piece of luggage that came through, and they would certainly find the finger in Byrne’s belonging. Turns out, the Brits aren’t big fans of people bringing random cut off fingers into their country. Byrne contacted Slick, who had an answer.

Rich man Slick had a good friend who happened to be visiting Calcutta at the time – Jimmy Stewart. Slick hit up Stewart to see if he could lend a hand, and Stewart, ever a nice guy, agreed. A few days later, Byrne brought the finger to Stewart’s hotel. Stewart and Gloria, his wife promised Byrne they would get the finger into London to be examined.

A week later, Jimmy and Gloria Stewart arrived in London with the finger. How did they do it? The answer lies in the next paragraph!

They hid the finger in Gloria’s lingerie case. As anal retentive as British customs officers were, they had a strict rule against touching women’s underwear, so the Stewarts stashed the finger in Gloria’s bras and went right through with no problems.

The hand, and the bit of flesh on it, were analyzed by Osman Hill, a friend of Tom Slick and a member of the Zoological Society of London. Hill came back with the call that the finger was indeed from a hominid, possibly from a Neanderthal.

A year later, New Zealand explorer Edmund Hillary headed to the Pangboche monastery to check out the Yeti hand himself. When he arrived, he immediately dismissed it as being the hand of a human. He then headed to London and shit on the Yeti finger the Stewarts smuggled through customs. I mean figuratively, not literally. Hill didn’t pull down his pants and poo on the finger, he just called it out as bunk.

Two years later, in 1962, Tom Slick would die when his plane crashed in Montana. According to reports, the plane disintegrated mid-flight. For some reason, no one seems to find that as terrifying as I do. How the hell does a plane disintegrated in the middle of the sky?!

Around the same time, the Yeti finger in London would go missing.

It would be Loren Coleman, the famed cryptozoologist, who would bring the story of the Yeti finger to the people – he discovered the story, and Jimmy Stewart’s connection to it, while doing research for a book about Slick. Thanks to Coleman’s work, a member of Slick’s team, George Agogino was tracked down. Agogino had samples of the Yeti hand, which he gave over to everyone’s favorite show, UNSOLVED MYSTERIES.

UNSOLVED MYSTERIES ran a DNA test on the remaining skin of the Yeti finger and, in a very UNSOLVED MYSTERIES manner, the tests came back inconclusive. The story of the Yeti finger did catch on, though, leading to someone heading to the Pangboche monastery and stealing the Yeti hand. The monks were really bummed out – the hand had become a real tourist attraction and the monastery was bringing in some good cash.

In the decades since the Yeti hand went missing, the monastery at Pangboche started having some financial issues. In an attempt to help out, Weta Workshop, the team behind some of the greatest special effects this century, including the LORD OF THE RINGS series and KRAMPUS, made a recreation of the hand and brought it to the monks. Those Weta peeps are good people.

Was the Yeti hand real? No. A new DNA test was done in 2011 using the remaining Agogino samples. The test showed that the skin was human. Still, there’s a line from HARVEY that I think fits pretty well for moments like these – moments when science tells us that the fantastic does not exist…

You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space, but any objections.