Somewhere in the forests of the Pacific Northwest a thing is hiding, a large thing, a hairy thing, a real thing? Bigfoot is everybody’s go-to mythical man-ape. Only Nessie can claim the same level of cryptozoological obsession. Fully-grown men have dedicated their lives to finding one. Apart from footprints and blurred film there’s no evidence. So what is it? Is it a personification of our primeval fears from another dimension or a bear with mange, an ancient survivor of evolution or survivalist tramps?
Bigfoot & Sasquatch
Bigfoot has many names: Sasquatch, Seeahtkch, Boqs, Omah and Loo-poo-oi’yes are just some of the Native American ones. They all mean wild man or man of the forest. The somewhat catchier ‘Bigfoot’ comes from a newspaper headline. In 1958 workers clearing woodland in Bluff Creek, California were allegedly too scared to go on site after massive, sixteen inch long footprints were found surrounding their bulldozers. The owner of the site was Ray Wallace, a notorious practical joker. Wallace went on to become a very lucky Bigfoot researcher who once found Sasquatch hair; it was bison and he’d planted it himself but still. After his death his family proudly showed off the fake feet he was said to have used. They were wooden and worn like snowshoes. However, Bigfoot believers pointed out that dermal ridges and sweat pores could be seen in the casts. Who would have thought to put those on? Additionally some of the prints would require 450 pounds of pressure to leave an impression; a lot of effort for a crap joke.
The Patterson Gilman Film
In 1967 at a forest clearing near Orleans, California, friends Roger Patterson and Robert Gilman saw something moving by the edge of the trees. The one-minute film of what they saw burned in to the mind of everyone who saw it. In the seventies it was everywhere, notably on Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. To a child of the time it was proof that life was not as dull as it looked. It became iconic enough to be parodied in The Simpsons and Elf and many still believe it to be genuine. It purports to show a female Bigfoot striding purposely across the bank. It looks back at the camera and thumps away to the woods. The picture is shaky – perhaps the cameraman can’t believe his luck and looses control of his hands or perhaps shakiness deters scrutiny. But the more you look the more you’re reminded of the monsters from Lost In Space and you fancy you can see a zip. (You can’t).
Patterson died in 1972 but there was no deathbed confession. In 2004 a man called Bob Heironimus came forward. He said Patterson still owed him a thousand dollars for being the man in the ape suit. Then a Hollywood costume designer called Philip Morris said he had made a gorilla suit with football pads and horsehair and even remembers selling one to Patterson. And with that, the hearts of a million little boys were broken.
If Albert Ostman were to come to your dinner party he would win best anecdote hands down: Bigfoot kidnapped him. Ostman claims that in 1924 he was prospecting for gold in British Columbia when one night he was lifted in his sleeping bag by a seven feet tall, five hundred pound humanoid beast. The Sasquatch took Ostman to meet the wife and kids, who he described as peaceful and not aggressive. Ostman stayed with the family for six days until he fed the male his tin of tobacco and escaped as the creature curled up in agony.
Ostman could also win the biggest liar award but he stuck to his story his whole life and told it long before Bigfoot became famous. Other than fairytales he had no cultural reference to base it on. In fact, when Ostman started the hairy ball rolling many of the sightings were thought to be rogue Native Americans. However, old-timers of the West have a reputation for tall-tales:
“Did I ever tell you about the time I was kidnap…”
“Yes, uncle Albert. Yes you did.”
Randy Lee Tenley
Randy Lee Tenley is the only man known to have died while disguised as Bigfoot. In August 2012 two cars hit the 44 year old from Montana while he was standing by the side of the road dressed in a military camouflage suit called a ghillie. It is thought he was trying to provoke Bigfoot sightings. Police believe drink was a factor.
Gigantopithecus was the largest ape that ever lived. Only fragments of bone have been found but enough to estimate a height of nine feet and a weight of 550 pounds, roughly the size of, oh, say a Bigfoot. It looked like a huge orangutan and reconstructions of the animal certainly looks Bigfootish. It’s a neat theory and feels logical. But there’s a problem. We would have gotten away with it too if hadn’t been for you meddling evolutionary anthropologists. Gigantopithecus lived in China, probably walked on all fours and there is no fossil evidence that it lived beyond 300,000 BC. Thus ruining everybody’s fun.
The Primal Fear Theory
You’re alone in the dark black night. All you can hear is your own breathing. Then a twig snaps. It’s in the trees! It’s coming!
Chances are your monster is tall, dark and hairy with glowing red eyes and an evil presence, an image of horror that has been with us for millennia. The theory is that Bigfoot is in all of us, a universal memory of terror from before we were human. There are reports of hunters shooting a Bigfoot at pointblank range only to find they’ve shot mist. Were these hunters just spooked? This idea is too spiritual for some but with thousands of reported sightings it can’t be denied that these people are seeing something. Please don’t let it be tramps.