My first introduction to Bigfoot (or “Sasquatch,” as he’s commonly referred to north of the 48th parallel) was in the film Harry and the Hendersons. In this 1987 comedy, John Lithgow and family run over a strange creature on their way home from a camping trip. For reasons that are still unclear, Lithgow’s character straps the creature to the roof of his car and continues on his way home. There, Bigfoot, or “Harry” in this case, wakes up and terrorizes the home before befriending the family who eventually return him to his rightful place, the wild.
As a young boy at the time, I didn’t know enough to question the absurdity of Harry and the Hendersons, but even in such a state of naivety, I remained unconvinced of the legitimacy of Bigfoot. The basic idea that a colony of Bigfoots (or would they be called Big Feet?) could be roaming around undiscovered to this day, seemed preposterous to me. Surely the number of creatures required to maintain a relatively healthy population level could not go unnoticed for all these years, especially in a world that is quickly becoming devoid of hiding places. Someone would’ve seen something, somewhere, sometime, wouldn’t they?
The idea that one of the world’s secrets had remained unanswered, at least, en mass, was something I found increasingly intriguing as I grew older. To think, that we as humans don’t have all the answers, that some ancient creature with feet so large, that its name origins was derived, was something I could no longer dismiss. I wanted to believe in these creatures that purportedly stand upwards of eight feet tall and top the scales at an eye-popping 500 pounds. These mountains of fur, that patrol the far reaches of Northwestern forests or the shadowy canyons of the Rocky Mountains, away from our curious eyes. The more I thought about it, the more probable their existence seemed. New species are discovered on a seemingly daily basis. Why couldn’t Bigfoot have been just one of many that had slipped through our grasp in our rush to tag everything with a label and bar code?
I officially became a Bigfoot fan, ready to proudly announce my belief at any moment, and denounce any doubter. It wasn’t the creature itself that I feverishly protected, but the possibilities it represented. I was tired of living in a world without mysteries to unravel, secrets to keep, hope of something more than just the present, the everyday, the boring. And so I clung to every sighting, every piece of evidence that there was more out there for us to explore, uncover, experience.
For me, the Pacific Northwest quickly transformed in my mind, into the world’s playground, growing more and more enchanting, with each reported Bigfoot sighting. Dating back to the early 1920’s, there were stories that gave me hope. Fred Beck famously detailed a horrific summer night in July 1924, when he and a group of fellow minors were attacked by several “apemen.” Others tried to dismiss the incident, explaining them away as bored pranksters with too much time on their hands. The reports didn’t stop. They ranged from a terrified mother receiving an alarming wake up call in her British Columbia residence, when a Bigfoot allegedly approached her home, to a Californian bulldozer operator uncovering a series of enormous footprints on the outskirts of his worksite.
In 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin famously captured footage of a Bigfoot which later became known as the Patterson-Gimlin film. To many, this legitimized their belief. Clear proof of the Bigfoot had now been established, or so it seemed. The non-believers claimed foul play, which many dismissed as an inability to grasp the unknown. Several years later, the non-believers scored a major victory, when Bob Heironimus, an acquaintance of Patterson’s, proclaimed that he was in fact the mysterious Bigfoot, shattering the dreams of many. A polygraph test in 2005 confirmed Heironimus’ claims that he believed he was in fact the man behind Bigfoot in the famous video.
With the start of the new millennium, it became increasingly difficult to justify or defend one’s stance on the positive existence of Bigfoot. A series of well staged hoaxes throughout the years, in addition to Heironiumus’ crippling admission, had all but eradicated any firm foundation for believers to stake their claim. But things changed suddenly on September 16th, 2007. An image of a potential Bigfoot was captured by Rick Jacobs’ automatically triggered camera attached to a tree. The Pennsylvania Games Commission quickly dismissed the image, saying that it looked like a “bear with a severe case of mange.” It appeared that Rick Jacobs’ photo was just the latest in a long line of dashed hopes for the Bigfoot believers, until a group of scientists examined the photo in-depth in 2008, and discovered the creature’s proportions were not aligned with that of a bear’s. The debate of the Bigfoot was once again on. For the hopeful, there was finally something to point towards and silence their close minded opponents. The doubters could only sigh, and point to a history littered with so called “pieces of evidence” that have been thoroughly dismissed time and again. Why should they concede that this would be any different?
Personally, having stood on both sides of the spectrum with firm footing, I now find myself in an unfamiliar place, a “no man’s land” or sorts. In the end, I go back to the beginning, and look to Harry and the Hendersons for answers: “According to science, Bigfoot doesn’t exist. When you can’t believe your eyes, trust your heart.” Sadly, in reality, I trust my eyes but not the evidence that they see, so in my heart there is no room for Big Foot until that time that I am proven wrong.
Patiently, I wait.