The Bigfoot Phenomenon
Of all the mysterious animals in North America, Bigfoot is perhaps the most recognized and most celebrated legend of our time. No other creature has captured our imagination and inspired as much wonder, speculation and controversy as the Bigfoot phenomenon has. Diehard believers and skeptics alike have maintained their positions over the years, claiming that their particular viewpoint is the only logical one based on all the evidence available, or lack thereof. Meanwhile, sightings of the creature continue to this day. Researchers estimate there are about 4,000 credible sightings per year in North America. Reports come in from almost every state in the country, leaving many to wonder – Is there any truth behind this legend? What are so many people seeing out there? Is there really an unidentified ape-like creature stalking the woods of North America?
In this article I will examine the history, evidence and controversy surrounding Bigfoot, and will try to provide some answers to this often misunderstood topic. I will present evidence from both sides of the issue – from believers and skeptics alike - and allow you, the reader to decide for yourself. As you will soon find out, there are no easy answers to this fascinating and often puzzling enigma.
The first appearances of Bigfoot in America seem to have originated from Native American legends. Stories of a “Wildman”, “Tall Man” or “Big Hairy Man” abound throughout Native American folklore and tales of these creatures have been passed on from generation to generation. Many Native Americans saw Bigfoot as a type of elder brother figure to humans, often a spirit being with special powers, whose appearance is meant to convey some sort of message to us. He stands on the border of both the physical and spiritual realms, and can elude humans who seek him out or try to hunt him. In this regard, it would seem that the Native Americans were right.
The first recorded sightings of Bigfoot by the white man started to appear around the early 1800s and 1900s. Stories of encounters with “wild men” and “hairy man-like creatures” were common among the early hunters, trappers and prospectors of the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, and the Canadian province of British Columbia. One of the more famous and well-documented cases occurred in 1924 and is listed here:
The name “Sasquatch” was coined in the 1920s by J.W. Burns of British Columbia, Canada. Burns is thought to have invented it based on one or more similar Native words, although the details are not really clear. A teacher who worked on the Chehalis Indian Reservation, Burns began to hear rumors from the Native Americans about hairy giants. He started researching the stories and interviewing Indians who claimed to have seen the creature. It was through J. W. Burns writings and articles about the creature that the term “Sasquatch” became known world-wide.
The Bluff Creek Incident of 1958
In 1958, another significant event took place which would usher in a whole new era of Bigfoot and forever solidify the creature’s image in America. In August 1958, construction worker Jerry Crew who was working on an access road in the Bluff Creek area of California, reported seeing large human-like footprints in the dirt surrounding the construction site. For about a month, large 16-inch prints would appear overnight around the construction area. After seeing this, Crew decided to take a plaster cast of one of the prints, and after doing so, went to the office of the Humboldt Times in Eureka, Ca. to report his story and have his picture taken with the cast. Crew’s picture was printed with the term “Bigfoot” in the tag line, and the story was circulated by the Associated Press throughout all of North America. From that point on, the term “Bigfoot” would become a household word.
In 2002 Ray Wallace, the contractor on the Bluff Creek road construction site where the tracks were found in 1958, died, and the media widely reported the event as the death of Bigfoot. Wallace was known as a practical joker and was long thought to be the person behind the Bluff Creek footprints. After his death, family members of Wallace claimed that he was the person behind the Bigfoot legend and that they had in their possession the fake wooden feet he used to create the hoax. The family maintained that he not only faked the tracks at the Bluff Creek construction site, but that he also planted tracks throughout many areas of the Pacific Northwest over a span of twenty to thirty years. It would seem that the Bigfoot mystery had finally been solved. Or was it?
According to two well-known Bigfoot researchers – Dr. Jeff Meldrum, Ph. D., an associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University, and John Green, a long-time Bigfoot investigator, journalist and author, the Wallaces’ story just doesn’t add up. In his book, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science Meldrum who researched the Bluff Creek incident had this to say:
As the only surviving person to have studied the original
Sasquatch tracks reported in Bluff Creek, California in the summer of 1958,
John Green agrees. The tracks that he investigated were found on steep
hillsides, and traversed through thick brush along the road bank. A hoaxer
would have an extremely difficult time walking through these areas wearing
fake snowshoes in the middle of the night, when the tracks were reported
to have appeared. While recounting one of these investigations, Green states
“We counted six hundred tracks at Bluff Creek one day in 1967. They showed great variation. The idea that they could all have been made by one carved foot is just nonsense.”
Green was so convinced of this that he offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who could positively demonstrate how the Bluff Creek tracks were faked with the Wallaces’ carved feet or by any other method available at the time. So far no one has come forward to claim the reward.
If Bigfoot really does exist, then where is all the evidence? Scientists point out that there have been no dead bodies, skeletal remains or other physical artifacts found over the years that would support the existence of such a creature. In truth, the evidence that has been provided thus far has been of such poor quality that it cannot be deemed reliable. Eyewitness accounts, footprints, biological samples, sound and video recordings are all intriguing, but when objectively studied, all turn out to be inconclusive at best. In this section, I will examine some of the evidence that has surfaced over the years and try to determine what bearing at all it has had on the Bigfoot phenomenon.
Are all Bigfoot prints the results of misidentifications or hoaxes, or do some of them actually point to the existence of a large bipedal creature that is unknown to science?
The late Dr. Grover Krantz, former professor of physical anthropology at Washington State University, was one of the first scientists to have actually studied the possible existence of Bigfoot. After interviews and study of physical material, particularly a pair of footprint impressions found in North America, Dr. Krantz published papers on the anatomy of the Sasquatch foot in which he concludes that the impressions were made by a non-human foot, are consistent with a large-massed bipedal animal, and would be difficult, if not impossible to fake. Krantz wrote that the push-off mound, in the middle of some of the alleged Sasquatch prints was one of the most impressive pieces of evidence to him. The push-off mound is a small mound of soil created by a horizontal push of the forefoot just before it leaves the ground. Krantz said after many attempts at trying to recreate this feature using wooden or rubber feet, he could not do it.
Another piece of evidence that suggests that the footprints are not due to hoaxers is from Dr. W. H. Farenbach. He studied a database of 550 track cast measurements from a span of 38 years and found that the tracks follow a normal (referred to as Gaussian) distribution. This Gaussian distribution curve is very similar to the curve given by living populations of known animals without much sexual dimorphism (difference) in footprint length. Researcher Henry Franzoni says of the Farenbach report:
Still, many skeptics will argue that hoaxes and misidentifications of footprints cannot be ruled out, and that a footprint alone is not conclusive evidence for the existence of an unknown creature. So what about the other evidence?
Unfortunately, most of the physical evidence that has been gathered over the years to support the existence of Bigfoot has been inconclusive at best. Without a body, bones or some other type of physical artifact to examine, it is very difficult to conduct DNA analysis. Some of the alleged Bigfoot samples when subjected to DNA testing, were determined to have come from ordinary animals. One such case occurred in 2005 in the town of Teslin in Yukon, Canada where a group of residents claimed they saw and heard a large human-like creature run past a house. It left large footprints behind and hair tufts which were given to wildlife officials. The hair was given to a geneticist at the University of Alberta for DNA testing, and it was identified as coming from a bison.
Surprisingly, the most promising DNA evidence regarding Bigfoot came in November 2007 on the History Channel program MonsterQuest. In the episode titled “Sasquatch Attack”, scientists Kurt Nelson and Jeff Meldrum spent five days with a video and audio crew at a remote cabin in Snelgrove Lake, Ontario to investigate reports of a supposed Bigfoot in the area. The scientists took hair, blood and tissue samples from a nail trap which had been placed at the entrance to the cabin. The samples were sent to labs for analysis. The hair was said to be remarkably similar to human hair, except it was missing a medulla (spongy core). It was also stated that the hair did not come from a bear or any other known animal.
The blood and tissue was also tested by a scientist at NYU lab but he stated that DNA could not be extracted from the sample, therefore the results were inconclusive. Dr. Kurt Nelson later determined that a substance on the nail prevented the DNA from being extracted. He was able to neutralize the substance and perform his own DNA analysis. The results showed something very interesting. Chimpanzees have 35 variations in their DNA that are different from human DNA, The DNA collected from the nails had only 1 variation. The scientist concluded that the DNA either came from an, as of yet, unknown primate, or a mutated human.
Unfortunately, the information obtained on the MonsterQuest program is not the definitive evidence needed to prove the existence of Bigfoot. Since the NYU scientist determined that the original samples were inconclusive, many people will question Dr. Nelson’s results. Until a less contaminated sample can be obtained for DNA testing, the results will undoubtedly be disputed. Nevertheless, the findings are very intriguing, and could point to a potential breakthrough in the not so distant future.
Audio and Video Evidence
Recordings of supposed Bigfoot vocalizations have been taken and analyzed, leading bioacoustics expert Dr. Robert Benson of Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi to report that some recordings "left him puzzled", and helped alter his perspective somewhat, "from being a raving skeptic to being curiously receptive."
Several alleged photographs, motion pictures and videotapes of Bigfoot have circulated over the years, the majority of which have been determined to be hoaxes or misidentifications. Critics note that most of the video evidence that is obtained is of such poor quality that it cannot be deemed conclusive. One of the best known films in the history of Bigfoot was taken by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin on October 20, 1967. The film has generated so much discussion and controversy, even up to the present day, that it stands out above all the others. If it is genuine, it would be one of the most important zoological films of the 20th century. If not, then it would stand out as one of the most successful and elaborate hoaxes ever conceived. So what is the true story of the Patterson film?
The Patterson Film
It’s the film everyone has seen and the one that comes to mind immediately when the word Bigfoot is mentioned. A short 16mm film clip taken by Roger Patterson in 1967 in the Bluff Creek area of California allegedly capturing an unknown animal on film. The film has been the subject of much debate, with critics claiming it to be nothing more than a man in a monkey suit, while proponents say it is the first photographic evidence of an actual unknown creature. The movie has been subjected to a number of different scientific analyses over the years – many of which have concluded that the film either shows a real unclassified animal, or that a definitive conclusion cannot be made.
The story of how the film came to be is an interesting
one. Roger Patterson was a rodeo rider who during the 1960s developed an
interest in Bigfoot after reading an article by author and zoologist Ivan
Sanderson about America’s “abominable
snowman.” . (Sanderson had investigated the original Bluff Creek
incident in 1958). Patterson wanted to film a documentary on the subject
and enlisted the help of his friend and fellow Yakima, Washington resident,
Bob Gimlin. Gimlin and Patterson made many trips to the forests surrounding
Mt. St. Helens, Washington, before finally setting out on an expedition
to the Bluff Creek area of northern Ca. to follow up on recent reports
of the creature.
Patterson claims that in the early afternoon of October 20, 1967, as he and Gimlin (on horseback) were following a trail in the creek bottom, they spotted a creature by the edge of the creek about 60-80 feet to their left. Patterson’s horse, apparently frightened by the animal, reared up and fell, temporarily pinning him to the ground. Patterson worked himself free, grabbed his 16mm camera and started filming while he ran toward the retreating creature. Gimlin sat ready with his rifle in hand as the figure walked down the creek bed and away from the men. According to the book “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science” some twenty five years later, Gimlin recalled his encounter that day:
“My impression is that there is a creature, and I don’t feel it was a man in a suit. If it had been, I don’t know how they would have gotten him back into that particular area. I have heard this story and thought about it many times. God! At one point with the film circulating all around and people criticizing, I was almost to the point of not being even sure myself. But I thought about it all these years and I’m quite sure it wasn’t a man in a suit. I saw the face. I saw the expression on its face. With all the muscles in the arms and legs, I don’t know how it could be a man. The thighs, the buttocks, the arms and shoulders, you could see it move clearly underneath the hair. Plus I never had anything to do with a man in a suit and if Roger did, how would he know I wouldn’t shoot it? In my opinion, that creature was not a man in a suit.”
When word got out about the film, one of the first people on the scene to investigate the sighting was Bob Titmus. As an experienced taxidermist, Bob was the person who supplied Jerry Crew with the plaster-of-Paris and instructions to make his famous cast of a 16-inch footprint at the Bluff Creek construction site back in 1958. Titmus was an experienced tracker and had been investigating the reports of Bigfoot ever since the 1958 sighting. Titmus visited the Patterson-Gimlin film site and made casts of the tracks he found there. Later, he recounted his experience in a letter to researcher, John Green:
In 2002 Philip Morris of Morris Costumes in North Carolina, claimed he was the person who made the gorilla suit used in the Patterson film. He said Patterson called him about two months before the film was made and asked him if he had any realistic-looking ape costumes. Morris states that he shipped him a suit, then shortly after receiving it, Patterson called him again, wanting to know how he could make some modifications to it – like hiding the zipper in the back, making the arms appear longer, making the shoulders more massive, and hiding the actor’s skin that would show through the eye holes of the mask. Morrison claims that a few months later he was watching TV and saw the Patterson footage, and immediately recognized it as being his gorilla suit. While Morris has no proof to back his story, there are a number of details which match another man’s claims about the film.
In 2004, Bob Heironimus, a Yakima, Washington native came forward with a story claiming that he was the person seen in the Bigfoot film and that the entire incident was an elaborate hoax staged by Roger Patterson. Heironimus claimed that he was offered $1000 to appear in the film and that Patterson and Gimlin were both in on the hoax. In a book titled The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story, author Greg Long attempts to make a connection between Heironimus and Morris by pointing out a number of consistencies between the two men’s stories.
For example, Morris said the person in the costume must
have had his clothes on underneath because it looked so tight on him. Heironimus
independently stated that he in fact did have his clothes on under the
suit and that it was very tight. Morris also stated that because of the
constraints of the costume, if the person wearing it wanted to look behind
him, he could only turn his head about a quarter of the way, and he would
have to twist his entire upper body to do so. That’s why the Bigfoot
turns and looks the way he does in the film. Heironimus also confirmed
that he had to turn his entire torso, instead of just his neck, because
of how he was constrained in the suit. But while some of the details match
up between the two men’s stories, there are others that do not.
Heironimus describes a 3-piece suit made from a skinned red horsehide that stunk very bad. Morris describes a 6-piece costume made with a dark brown synthetic fur called Dynel. Heironimus says the suit had an upper torso section that he put on like a shirt, and a bottom portion that he cinched with a drawstring. He also said the suit had no metal pieces. The suit Morris manufactured, however, was a one-piece that a person stepped into, with a metal zipper going up the back to secure it. And finally, Heironimus said the suit had hands and feet that were attached to the arms and legs, while Morris’s suit had hands and feet that were separate pieces.
The mystery of the Patterson film may never be solved, but if it was indeed a hoax, then there are some important issues which need to be addressed before the footage can finally be dismissed:
1. Where is the original costume? If the original costume is gone, why can’t an identical one be made? In this age of advanced make-up and special effects techniques, a reasonably close re-creation of the Patterson footage should not be a problem.
2. Roger Patterson died of cancer in 1972. What little profit he made from his film was all spent in continuing his search for the creature. While Patterson could have made a substantial profit by revealing a hoax, he maintained his original account of the events – right up until the day he died.
3. Bob Gimlin maintains to this day that the film is genuine and what he saw that day was an actual creature. Is Gimlin telling the truth or is he covering up the actual events of the story?
4. None of the hoax confession stories were ever backed up by the basic proof that would settle the issue once and for all - a matching piece of footage, or the ability to demonstrate how it was done, in full dress, so the side by side images would speak for themselves.
To this day, the Patterson footage has stood the test of time. No scientists or qualified experts have ever debunked the film. It has never been shown to be a hoax. Every scientist who has studied it either says it shows a real, unclassified species, or that a conclusion cannot be made.
Fifty years after Jerry Crew appeared in the newspaper with his famous plaster cast of a “Bigfoot” track, we are no closer to solving this mystery than we were back then. Since that time, people have been finding, photographing, and casting sets of large human-shaped tracks that are very similar to the ones Jerry Crew found in 1958. Most are discovered by chance in remote areas. Each year, thousands of people come forward to report encounters with a tall, bi-pedal man-like creature, many of whom are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that what they saw was real. Photographs, videos and movie clips have surfaced for decades, purportedly capturing the image of Bigfoot, most of which have been identified as hoaxes; some of which lack enough clarity and detail to even be considered as evidence.
In the case of Bigfoot, we unfortunately are left with no concrete evidence at all. No body, bones, or physical artifacts to examine. Only stories, legends and the occasional blurry video of something dark and hairy moving in the distance. So what are we to make of all this? If Bigfoot is never proven to exist, will all the research, investigation, speculation and theorizing be for nothing? One Bigfoot researcher put it best when he said:
Whether Bigfoot truly exists in physical form or not, one thing is certain. He will always exist in the hearts and minds of those who believe there are still great mysteries in the world to be solved.
©2006 The Greater Pittsburgh Parnormal Society™