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Beacon Journal | Akron, Ohio | March 24, 1999

Believing in Bigfoot

You can scoff at these folks all you want, but they know . . .

By Chuck Klosterman
Beacon Journal staff writer

In the woods of Ohio and Pennsylvania, there lives a creature.

This creature is impossible to photograph and difficult to describe, and it has managed to survive the intrusion of technology. It defies the laws of science and the rules of common sense. And it's a creature that evidently cannot die, no matter how many people try to kill it.

It is a creature called Hope.

It's the hope that -- somewhere, perhaps in the deep underbrush of Coshocton County -- there is a Sasquatch. Laymen refer to this species as Bigfoot; experts'' call it the Pennsylvania Creature. But most people simply call it a myth, and those who believe in that myth are politely called insane.

It's not easy to have faith in the Sasquatch. Tell your co-workers you've seen a Bigfoot, and they will laugh at you. When you walk the streets of your hometown, local teen-agers will drive by, roll down their car windows and growl at you. Your credibility will constantly be weighed against your espoused belief in a hairy, 7-foot primate that nobody can capture (or even successfully photograph). Everyone will think you're nuts.

But for true believers, the unified sarcasm of a skeptical society simply does not matter.

During the first weekend of March, about 150 believers drove though a blizzard to Newcomerstown, Ohio, a town with a population of less than 4,000. They came to Newcomerstown to sit on metal folding chairs in a tiny elementary school gymnasium, where they drank complimentary Coca-Cola and rapped about the Sasquatch lifestyle.

For 11 years, Newcomerstown has hosted an annual Bigfoot Conference. Among them are a few especially serious Sasquatch searchers who come to Newcomerstown each month to attend meetings of the Tri-State Bigfoot Study Group, where they analyze recent sightings and discuss the growing body of Bigfoot evidence.

It is a collection of people who don't care what you think.

Back in 1988, my name appeared in the local newspaper because of my Bigfoot sightings, and some of the younger kids in town made fun of me whenever they saw me out and about,'' says 33-year-old John Regoli, a Belmont County resident who claims to have seen the creature on four separate occasions.

They would yell stuff at me, and they all seem to think I'm crazy. But once you see it, you immediately become a believer. You just have to be in the right place at the right time -- and I just happen to have been in that position several times. I think most people disbelieve the wrong things. They are willing to believe anything they see on tabloid TV or in a newspaper, but they totally discount eyewitness experience from everyday, hard-working people. And I don't know why that is.''

For a handful of conference-goers, belief in Bigfoot really isn't a choice -- they merely cannot deny their own optic nerves. It might seem cliche, but seeing is believing. Conference organizer Don Keating says he knows why the world scoffs at the Sasquatch concept, because he used to feel the same way. But in September 1985, he saw a large, light-colored individual'' four miles south of Newcomerstown. That changed everything.

"I can understand the public's unwillingness to believe in Bigfoot, because we don't have anything physical,'' Keating says. "There's not a Bigfoot body laying on a metal table that you can prod with a stick. If I had not seen it myself, I'd still be pretty skeptical. It's a tough sell. But I'm positive of what I saw.''

It's difficult to argue with a person who says he's seen a Sasquatch; beyond calling him a liar, there's really nothing to debate. All the logic in the world won't convince someone that what he saw wasn't there.

But what about the people who believe without seeing?

Ms. L* is a Midwest investment banker. . . Actually, L is her birth name; she refuses to use her business name in print, because Ms. L S is certain she'd be fired if it was widely reported that she spends her free time hunting for Bigfoot.

"My name is very well known in the investment community, so I have been reticent to attach myself to this subject,'' says Ms. L, 39. There are lots of credible people out there who have stories about Bigfoot. Unfortunately, they're usually afraid to come forward.''

What makes Ms. L's interest in Bigfoot particularly fascinating is that she's never even seen one. As a high school senior, she had "an encounter'' in the woods. . . she suspects a Sasquatch may have chased her through the brush. But she never actually saw the beast -- and seeing one has become her ultimate goal.

Conversationally, Ms. L seems completely rational (she has degrees in political science and communications. . .). Her only personality anomaly is an avowed quest for the Sasquatch. She pores over the Internet, looking for people who have Bigfoot stories. She is searching for a lost newspaper clipping about an alleged "dead monkey'' discovered in a. . .swamp in the 1960s. She's even purchased a piece of satellite equipment called a GPS -- a global positioning system that will aid in the Sasquatch tracking process.

"Anyone who doesn't speculate in the hope of broadening knowledge is not a very intelligent soul,'' Ms. L said. "Sometimes it seems like we've reached a point in our social evolution where we assume we know everything. But we don't.''

Facts vs. fiction

Maybe Ms. L is right; maybe society does assume it knows everything. But what society knows'' about Bigfoot could be stored in a shot glass.

We have no Sasquatch flesh; we have no Sasquatch bones. There have been more than 700 Bigfoot sightings in the Pacific Northwest, but nobody's ever hit one with a logging truck. Some people swear they've found Sasquatch hair samples, but the DNA evidence is inconclusive.

The proof'' of Bigfoot's existence is primarily built on hearsay, a bunch of weird footprints, and 952 frames of 16 millimeter film that were shot by a stuntman named Roger Patterson in 1967. Filmed near Bluff Creek, Calif., it's the grainy footage that just about everyone has seen: A female Sasquatch appears to be fleeing from a stream bed into the forest, momentarily glancing back at the camera. Though the film has never been exposed as an absolute hoax, it has been widely discredited.

Still, the hunt for information continues. The torch is being carried by cryptozoologists such as Loren Coleman, the conference's keynote speaker. (Translated literally, cryptozoology is the study of animals that are secret or hidden.)

Coleman lives in Portland, Maine, and teaches college courses in sociology, anthropology and documentary filmmaking. However, he's better-known as the co-author of The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide.

In cryptozoology, we are very careful about using the word belief. That word belongs in the providence of religion,'' Coleman says. However -- after 40 years of research -- I have come to accept the possibility that some kind of unknown primate is out there.''

Coleman assumes that at least 80 percent of all Bigfoot sightings are mistakes or hoaxes. He admits that it probably is a little irrational to hunt for Bigfoot, mostly because a totally rational person is not the kind of guy who's going to go looking for something that can't be easily proven.'' But he thinks that part of intellect is having an open, creative mind -- and he doesn't care if his peers think otherwise.

There is a thing in academia called the ridicule curtain','' Coleman says. It's used against anyone who is working on a subject that's on-the-edge. As soon as I mention Bigfoot, some people stop listening to everything else I say. There are some people who just call me the yeti guy' or that guy who writes about Bigfoot.' But I'm so used to being ridiculed, it doesn't even affect me anymore.''

*No longer wants her name used in association with Bigfoot--January 2002.


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