Sunday, October 05, 2008

Bigfoot turns 50

OK, so Bigfoot-type reports did not just begin 50 years ago - they go back a century or more before that. But this is the 50th birthday of Bigfoot as a media phenomenon.

On October 5, 1958, the Humboldt (CA) Times ran a photograph of a road construction worker named Jerry Crew holding the cast of a huge footprint. Crew had found prints like it on two occasions at the site his company was working in Bluff Creek, CA. For the first time in print, the term "Bigfoot" was used. A phenomenon was born.

So where did that print come from? The family of a man named Ray Wallace, after Wallace died in 2002, claimed that Wallace had "invented Bigfoot" by making the original tracks, and they showed the press the wooden feet Wallace had supposedly used to make said tracks.
The problem? Oddly, none of the "Bigfoot Hoax Solved" articles that flooded out mentioned that, if you put Wallace's fake foot next to a surviving cast of the Crew track, they don't match. They're not even close. Only the cryptozoologists pointed this out, and no one paid much attention. (See the comparison photos at the title link.)

That doesn't mean Wallace had no role. It's possible he had carved earlier, now-lost feet which did match the Crew cast. But whether the tracks in the woods were made by Wallace, another hoaxer, or an unknown primate, their appearance in the Times set off a modern American mystery that still attracts the curious, the determined, the skeptical, and the exploitative.

COMMENT: There are two possible situations behind this whole business.

Option One is that a huge upright ape, of which we have no fossil record, is hiding out in the still-wild corners of North America, and doing such a good job of it that no specimen has ever been killed, accidentally or deliberately. (Claims of specimens found or taken but lost have no more weight than any other sighting report.)

Option Two is that hundreds of people have mistaken something mundane for a huge upright ape and that a startling number of hoaxers all over the continent have left fake prints, encouraged rumors, and told false tales to the press (and, in some cases, to legal authorities.

Neither of these alternatives seems credible, but one has to be true. I lean toward the second, but I sincerely hope for the first.

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