Posted by: Craig Woolheater on March 30th, 2007
Does Bigfoot exist?
The answer to that is still up for debate, but Pennsylvania ranks fourth among states in the number of alleged sightings of the elusive human-ape creature, members of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society said.
The claims were made during a program titled “Have You Seen Bigfoot?” presented Saturday at Yellow Creek State Park by Friends of the Parks.
“I won’t (necessarily) turn you into a believer, but I’ll give you some things to think about,” said Eric Altman, director of the PBS, who, with member Tim Cassidy, gave the presentation. They discussed the history of Bigfoot, also called Sasquatch; how the creature got its name; its supposed characteristics; and some alleged recent sightings locally.
The PBS, Altman said, is “a group of volunteers … who investigate sighting reports and go out in the field and try to collect evidence to prove the existence of Bigfoot,” Altman said.
And there seem to be few better places to do it than in Pennsylvania, which ranks behind only California, Washington and Oregon in number of Bigfoot sightings, Altman said.
“This seems to be a hot spot for Bigfoot sightings. If you want to look for Bigfoot, you’re in the right place,” he said.
THE GROUP has about 75 members, 40 to 45 of whom Altman said are active field researchers. Membership has been as high as 150 members – Altman said it tends to fluctuate based on the number of sightings in the area. He said there have been a number of sightings reported to the PBS recently, including one March 17 in Derry Township, Westmoreland County, which the PBS investigated Sunday.
Members of the PBS investigate reports submitted to them by phone and at their Web site, www.pabigfootsociety.com. The best evidence, Altman said, is hard evidence such as footprints, tracks, hair samples and other evidence of an animal, rather than photos and videos, which are easily faked.
A 1967 video clip by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, taken in Bluff Creek, Calif., is considered the “staple of evidence” among many Bigfoot researchers, Altman said. However, his opinion is that the footage is inconclusive. Several individuals have claimed they were involved in the faking the video, but nothing has been proved conclusively.
Because no conclusive physical evidence of the creature has ever been found, “all that we have to really learn from is the evidence that we are able to collect and the witness sighting reports we receive,” Altman said.
HE SAID the name “Bigfoot” came about in 1958, when a newspaper published an account of a road crew in California who discovered and made casts of large tracks of an unidentified animal around their work site. Prior to this, it was called Sasquatch, which comes from a Native American language, or simply a “wild man.”
Based on sighting reports, Altman said Bigfoot is believed to be 7 to 12 feet tall and bipedal, and covered in hair other than on its face, hands and the soles of its feet. It is thought to be nocturnal and probably omnivorous and makes sounds including high-pitched shrieks, whistles, grunts, growls and squeals. It is also thought to be able to mimic other animals.
Some of those who report seeing the creature also report various types of foul odors. Cassidy said he thinks the odor may be a pheromone that induces a fight-or-flight response in humans.
Bigfoot is believed to roam in the United States – sightings have been reported in every state except Rhode Island and Hawaii – and Canada, although legends of similar creatures exist all over the world, Altman said. In Pennsylvania alone, there have been more than 800 alleged sightings since 1830. Even so, Altman said, Bigfoot is thought to be relatively rare.
“Because the sightings are so rare and they’re so sporadic, we’d like to try to get this animal proven so it can be protected,” Altman said.
HYPOTHESES about what the creature, if it exists, is are varied. Some believe it is the “Missing Link” between humans and other primates; others think it may be a descendant of another primate species that has gone extinct, such as Gigantopithecus blacki, Paranthropus robustus or Meganthropus. Still others think it could be an undiscovered primate species or something else entirely, such as a pervasive hoax.
According to the PBS Web site, alleged sightings of Bigfoot have been reported in White’s Woods in White Township, as well as near Homer City and in Brush Valley and Buffington Township.
Bigfoot research has historically been chiefly the domain of amateurs. However, more mainstream researchers are beginning to pursue it, boosting the odds that conclusive evidence will be found, Altman said. Grover Krantz, a professor at Washington State University who died in 2002, and Jeffrey Meldrum of Idaho State University, are two such researchers.
Recent Bigfoot sightings in western Pennsylvania have occurred in Allison Park, Allegheny County, in Bell Township, Westmoreland County, and, on March 17, in Derry Township, Westmoreland County. In the March 17 sighting, a man returning from a friend’s house heard someone speaking “in a high-pitched voice but sounding like complete jibberish” as he left his car. The man’s father said that the night before, he had heard what sounded like a shrill scream. PBS members investigated the sighting Sunday.
Based on the sightings, Cassidy said the creatures seem to be moving through areas that aren’t heavily populated.
Although Altman said he hasn’t seen Bigfoot in field, he’s been interested in the creature since he was about 10, when he saw “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” a docudrama about a Bigfoot-type creature thought to have been seen in Fouke, Ark. He did book, magazine and newspaper research for years and got into field research around 1997, when he was 27. The Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society formed in 1999, and Altman became director in 2001.
PBS members weren’t the only ones interested in Bigfoot sightings. John Lake, of Northern Cambria, brought pictures of some tracks in the snow that he saw in January 2006 near his house. The tracks were about 16 to 17 inches long, about 8 inches wide and about 46 to 48 inches apart.
Lake said he’s been interested in Bigfoot research “since day one,” but hasn’t seen the creature itself.
“I didn’t see him, and I don’t want to see him,” Lake said.Erica Fontana