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Among the shadowy creatures that haunt our forests and imaginations, few loom larger than Bigfoot. First sighted 45 years ago in Northern California, the shaggy, stinky, camera-resistant beast helps satisfy some strange need for wilderness in our lives.
This backwoods answer to the Abominable Snowman has inspired dozens of books, documentaries and Weekly World News headlines, including I WAS BIGFOOT'S LOVE SLAVE, IDAHO FAMILY EATS 600-POUND BIGFOOT and, most astoundingly, AUSTRALIAN BIGFOOT DIGS NEIL DIAMOND!
Well, something is stirring in the leafy glades of the Pacific Northwest, but it may only be the final twitchings of the Sasquatch saga. To the chagrin of millions of true believers, Bigfoot has been exposed as a "hoax" perpetrated by Ray Wallace, a prank-loving logger. Who would have guessed?
Wallace, who died in late November at age 84, supposedly got a friend to carve 16-inch-long alderwood feet that Wallace could strap on, and then he stomped around his Humboldt County logging camp in them. After a bulldozer operator saw the footprints encircling his rig, the Humboldt Times ran a front-page story, dubbed the critter Bigfoot and gave birth to both a legend and an entire industry.
Over the years Wallace tracked down herds of Bigfeet and milked them for all they were worth. He recorded their cries and love calls (Sweet Caroline was not among die selections), photographed them throwing rocks and eating frogs and Frosted Flakes, and offered a $1 million reward for a Bigfoot baby. "Bigfoot used to be very tame, as I have seen him almost every morning on the way to work," he wrote to the Klamity Kourier in 1969. "I would sit in my pickup and toss apples out of the window to him. He never did catch an apple, but he sure tried."
The most famous "evidence," a blurry 1967 home movie of a startled specimen striding into a thicket, also may have been Wallace's work: possibly his wife, Elna, in an ape suit. "Ray L. Wallace was Bigfoot," his son Michael confessed last month. "The reality is, Bigfoot just died."
Or perhaps it was just stunned. At least a few cryptozoologists still believe that Bigfoot is alive and well and that Wallace's real hoax was getting people to think he invented the animal. "If Wallace faked prints, so what?" asks Don Keating, director of the Eastern Ohio Bigfoot Investigation Center. "What about the other different-sized prints discovered all over the country through the decades? Did Wallace travel extensively 365 days a year with several wooden feet and fake all those tracks? Not likely."
Craig Woolheater says his faith in the big guy remains unshaken. "I have seen one personally," claims the director of the Texas Bigfoot Research Center. He recalls driving to Dallas from New Orleans on May 30, 1994. "My wife and I both saw a tall, hairy being walking 20 feet from the road."
It looked grayish, at least in the glare of his headlights, and was headed in the same direction as the car. "We only saw the backside," Woolheater concedes. He wanted to turn around, his wife didn't. "We were in an open convertible," he explains.