SI Vault
Bil Gilbert
January 06, 1986
A 35-year interest in the North American Sasquatch leads the author into wild country and conjecture--but there's nary a Bigfoot
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January 06, 1986

Big Foot

A 35-year interest in the North American Sasquatch leads the author into wild country and conjecture--but there's nary a Bigfoot

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Thirty-five years ago, during the course of a summer-long honeymoon, my wife and I bicycled from southern Michigan through central Ontario. Near Thessalon on the northern shore of Lake Huron, we began to hear about a rampaging monster in the area. Witnesses said that it was between six and 10 feet tall, covered with shaggy hair and that it either growled or screamed. Several times after dusk it was briefly sighted grappling with cows. At the approach of humans it ran off in an odd, lurching fashion. The most common theory was that this was a Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, one of the ape-man creatures that have regularly been reported throughout North America.

We did not really believe this, but as we camped out at night, innocent things like snorting deer, scavenging raccoons or creaking limbs set our adrenaline flowing at a great rate. By the time we reached Sudbury, Ont. 150 miles away, the mystery had been solved. The monster turned out to be an old, arthritic ex-prospector who had been living like a hermit in a shack on an abandoned farm. He had become increasingly unkempt, perhaps demented and certainly very hungry. He had taken to sneaking down to steal milk from the cows in the fields. Some local farmers said later that they had known all along about the old man and had put out grub for him, but they didn't talk about him so as not to spoil the monster stories.

All of this confirmed my natural skepticism about such phenomena. Nevertheless, this episode was the beginning of a 35-year-long interest in various mysterious mythic creatures—especially "squatches," which is what buffs call the Sasquatch. I do not believe I have ever come closer to one than we did in Ontario in 1950. Nor do I think anyone else ever will. I am almost absolutely certain that they do not exist. However, I have found monster reports—and particularly monster reporters, whom I have made a habit of visiting whenever I am in their neighborhoods—to be both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Monster is not exactly the right word for these things, though, because it is too loaded with wicked inferences. I have invented a less pejorative and more descriptive term: GUFO, which stands for Greater Undocumented Faunal Objects. The word greater is necessary for better reasons than merely making up a smart-alecky acronym. Species previously undocumented by science are discovered every year, and there are probably thousands more waiting to be identified. Mostly, they are minor beasts—bugs and other invertebrates—which have remained unknown to man because of their insignificance or inaccessible habitat. GUFOs, on the other hand, are generally monstrous—and I am using the word to imply nothing but exceptional size. No GUFO can hide under a leaf, or for that matter under the average privet hedge, and the stouter ones are built along the lines of King Kong or Moby Dick.

Big as they may be, no GUFO has ever been authenticated by conventional scientific techniques, and the overwhelming majority of conventional scientists are convinced they never will be because they are simply not corporeal. On the other hand, there are a surprising number of others who claim to have encountered GUFOs—or to know veracious people who have.

One crucial problem of GUFO identification and definition is the fact that there are some other things that superficially resemble GUFOs and have often been confused with them. Call these things pseudo-GUFOs. They too are fully undocumented, largely because they tend to originate and function only in psychic or supernatural environments not in zoological ones. For the convenience of beginners or casual field students of GUFOs, it is perhaps well to list some typical examples of p-GUFOs.

The Jersey Devil. In the early 18th century near the New Jersey Pine Barrens lived a woman now remembered only as Mother Leeds. She was alleged to be a part-time witch and was not generally well liked, but she seems to have had good or at least frequent relations with her husband. By 1735, she had had 12 children with him. Mother Leeds found this an excessive number of offspring and she publicly announced, "If I ever have another child, may it be a devil." This proved to be an ineffective approach to family planning, for in 1736 she bore a 13th child. It had the head of a ram, the body and wings of a huge bird, cloven hoofs and a phosphorescent complexion. As soon as it gained its strength it flew up the Leedses' chimney, and it has been seen around the neighborhood ever since. While conducting artillery practice off Cape May, Stephen Decatur, the hero of the War of 1812, spotted the Jersey Devil and scored a direct hit on it with a six-pound cannonball. A Camden cop once emptied his revolver into it. In 1939 it was made the official New Jersey State Beast, and in 1960 merchants in Camden offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who caught it alive. All to no avail. For 250 years the J.D. has been burning fields and preying on domestic stock, once (in 1840) eating at one sitting "two large dogs, three geese, four cats and 31 ducks."

Thunderbirds. These avian creatures with wingspreads of up to 160 feet have been appearing—to some—since the mid-19th century, most recently in 1961 along New York's Hudson River. In 1886 a Thunderbird was shot near Tombstone, Ariz. It was smallish, measuring only 36 feet. The carcass was nailed to the side of a barn, and photographs were made, copies of which circulated for many years. Although I am a resident of southern Arizona, I have never seen a Thunderbird. I am well acquainted, however, with the temperament and humor of citizens of this region. I am of the opinion that the Tombstone Thunderbird was a relative of the jackalope and the furred trout, other pseudo-GUFOs that have evolved as Western predators on Eastern dudes.

Mothman. On the evening of Nov. 14, 1966 two teenage couples were parked for undisclosed purposes in an abandoned ammunition dump near Point Pleasant, W. Va. They were approached by a 7-foot human figure with fiery red eyes and a pair of large, soft wings. The car's driver hauled out of the dump, eventually attaining speeds of over 100 mph. Mothman easily kept pace, the youngsters testified, fluttering along just over the windshield until it finally veered off at the Point Pleasant city limits. The next day the youths held a press conference about the experience. Since then, Mothman has dived at autos and perched on roofs in many places along that part of the Ohio River valley.

A good many other pseudo-GUFOs have been reported, but this sampling should be more than enough to illustrate their definitive characteristic. In my opinion, they are all either apparitional or promotional species.

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