Robert Todd Carroll
Bigfoot [a.k.a. Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, Mapinguari (the Amazon), Sasquatch, Yowie (Australia) and Yeti (Asia)]
An apelike creature reportedly sighted hundreds of times around the world since the mid-19th century. The creature is variously described as standing 7-10 ft (2-3 m) tall and weighing over 500 lb (225 kg), with footprints 17 in. (43 cm) long. The creature goes by many names, but in northern California it is known as “Bigfoot.” (It is also known as the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, Yeti or Meh-Teh [Asia], Mapinguari [the Amazon, where descriptions match that of a giant sloth thought to be extinct*], Sasquatch, and Yowie [Australia]). The creature is big business in the Pacific Northwest along a stretch of US-101 in southern Humboldt County known as the Redwood Highway. Numerous shops line the roadway, each with its own Bigfoot chainsaw-carved out of majestic redwood.
Most scientists discount the existence of Bigfoot because the evidence supporting belief in the survival of a prehistoric bipedal apelike creature of such dimensions is scant. One notable exception is Grover S. Krantz (1931-2002), an anthropologist at Washington State University. For nearly forty years, Krantz argued for the probable existence of Bigfoot,* but was unable to convince the majority of scientists. The evidence for Bigfoot’s existence consists mainly of testimony from Bigfoot enthusiasts, footprints of questionable origin, and pictures that could easily have been of apes or humans in ape suits. There are no bones, no scat, no artifacts, no dead bodies, no mothers with babies, no adolescents, no fur, no nothing. Not that there aren't "sightings" of such. There are "sightings" galore. Just check The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization's website for an uncritical list of sightings. However, there is no evidence that any individual or community of such creatures dwells anywhere near any of the “sightings.” In short, the evidence points more towards hoaxing and delusion than real discovery. Some believers dismiss all such criticism and claim that Bigfoot exists in another dimension and travels by astral projection. Such claims reinforce the skeptic’s view that the Bigfoot legend is a function of passionate fans of the paranormal, aided greatly by the mass media’s eagerness to cater to such enthusiasm.
In addition to the eyewitness testimonials of enthusiastic fans, the bulk of the evidence provided by proponents of Bigfoot consists of footprints and film. Of the few footprints available for examination in plaster casts, there is such great disparity in shape and configuration that the evidence “suggests many independent pranksters” (M. Dennett, 1996).
Probably the most well-known evidence for belief in Bigfoot’s existence is a film shot by Bigfoot hunters Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin on Oct 20, 1967, at Bluff Creek in northern California. The film depicts a walking apelike creature with pendulous and hairy breasts. Believers estimate its height at between 6' 6'' and 7' 4'' and its weight at nearly one ton. Non-believers make more human-sized estimates and consider the "beast" to be a costumed hoaxer. Over thirty years have passed, yet no cryptozoologist has found further evidence of the creature near the site except for one alleged footprint.
The North American Science Institute claims it has spent over $100,000 to prove the film is of a genuine Bigfoot. However, according to veteran Hollywood director John Landis, “that famous piece of film of Bigfoot walking in the woods that was touted as the real thing was just a suit made by John Chambers,” who helped create the ape suits in Planet of the Apes (1968). Howard Berger, of Hollywood’s KNB Effects Group, also has claimed that it was common knowledge within the film industry that Chambers was responsible for a hoax that turned Bigfoot into a worldwide cult. According to Mark Chorvinsky, Chambers was also involved in another Bigfoot hoax (the so-called “Burbank Bigfoot”). According to Loren Coleman, however, Chambers denied the allegations about the Patterson hoax in an interview with Bobbie Short and claimed that Landis had in fact started the rumor about him (i.e., Chambers) making the suit. Apparently, Short did not ask Chambers about the “Burbank Bigfoot” incident, nor did he interview Landis for his version of the story (Chorvinsky 1996). Short and Coleman remain convinced that the film is not of a man in an ape suit but is footage of a genuine Bigfoot. In 2004, Greg Long claimed that the Bigfoot in the Patterson film is indeed a man in a gorilla suit, but the man is Bob Heironimus, a retired Pepsi bottler from Yakima, Washington, and the suit was made in North Carolina for Patterson by a man named Philip Morris.* Bob Gimlin, Patterson's associate, issued an ambiguous statement through his lawyer in Minneapolis: "I'm authorized to tell you that nobody wore a gorilla suit or monkey suit and that Mr. Gimlin's position is that it's absolutely false and untrue." What's absolutely false and untrue?
According to David J. Daegling and Daniel O. Schmitt, “it is not possible to evaluate the identity of the film subject with any confidence” (Daegling 1999). Their argument centers on uncertainties in subject and camera positions, and the reproducibility of the compliant gait by humans matching the speed and stride of the film subject.
According to Michael Wallace, Bigfoot is a hoax that was launched in August 1958 by his father Ray L. Wallace (1918-2002), an inveterate prankster. Shortly after Ray’s death, Michael revealed the details of the hoax, which were reported widely in the press. Ray had a friend carve him 16-inch-long feet that he could strap on and make prints with. Wallace owned a construction company that built logging roads at the time and he set the prints around one of his bulldozers in Humboldt County. Jerry Crew, a bulldozer operator, reported the prints and The Humboldt Times ran a front-page story about “Bigfoot.” The legend was born. However, a former logger, 71-year-old John Auman, claims Wallace left the giant footprints to scare away thieves and vandals who'd been targeting his vehicles. His hoaxes didn't begin until after he'd seen what a stir he'd created.
Over the years, Ray Wallace produced Bigfoot audio recordings, films, and photographs. At one time, he even put out a press release offering $1 million for a baby Bigfoot. He published one of his photos as a poster depicting Bigfoot having lunch with other animals. He also published photos and films of Bigfeet eating elk, frogs, and cereal. Michael Wallace claims that his mother told him that she participated in some of the pranks and had been photographed in a Bigfoot suit. Chorvinsky claims that Ray told him that the Patterson film was a hoax and that he had alerted Patterson of the sighting at Bluff Creek. According to Chorvinsky, Ray knew who was in the Patterson suit, but said he had nothing to do with it (Young, Bob. 2002. “Lovable trickster created a monster with Bigfoot hoax,” The Seattle Times, December 5).
The news of Wallace’s 1958 hoax did not daunt Bigfoot enthusiasts such as Loren Coleman or Idaho State University anatomy professor Dr. Jeff Meldrum, who has casts of 40 to 50 big footprints. Coleman asks
Meldrum believes such a large number of casts couldn’t all be hoaxes (ibid.). The same has been said about the large number of crop circles, but it appears that hoaxers are not deterred from their activities by the belief that their numbers are small.
The interest in Bigfoot seems to have been succinctly captured in the saying of an old Sherpa: There is a Yeti in the back of everyone’s mind; only the blessed are not haunted by it.
Daegling, David J. and Daniel O. Schmitt. "Bigfoot's Screen Test," Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 1999.
Dennett, Michael R. "Bigfoot Jokester Reveals Punchline--Finally," Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1982.
Napier, John. Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality. (N.Y.: E. P. Dutton and Co Inc., 1972).
For a contrary view, see
Robert Todd Carroll