Why do so many people still want to believe in Bigfoot? | Story

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Bigfoot is still a big deal for many conspiracy theorists.
Cade Martin

Sixty years ago this fall, Bigfoot first entered public consciousness. “Giant footprints intrigue residents”, headline in the Humboldt time announcement. The small Northern California newspaper reported that a road construction crew discovered human footprints measuring 16 inches long. The newspaper was the first to give the mysterious animal that made the footprints its memorable nickname – “Bigfoot” – and the creature has crossed the American imagination since then.

Today, the legendary beast seems to be everywhere: you’ll find Bigfoot very cute this year in two children’s films: Bigfoot’s son and Small foot. Animal Planet recently aired the finale of its popular series “Finding Bigfoot,” which spanned 11 seasons despite never keeping its title promise. And the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization lists at least one report from every state except Hawaii over the past two decades. The most recent sighting, in June 2018, was by a woman in Florida who reported a creature that looked like “a big pile of soggy grass.” Other evidence in the database includes suspected Bigfoot droppings, nests, and noises. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it may not make a sound, but it looks like someone will report that a Bigfoot knocked it over.

“Interest in the creature’s existence is at an all time high,” observed paleontologist Darren Naish, although “there is nothing convincing, as the evidence shows.”

Of course, Bigfoot isn’t the first legendary hominid to roam North America. Sasquatches have long populated the mythologies of Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest, but these 1958 imprints turned the myth into a media sensation. The tracks were planted near Bluff Creek in Northern California by a man named Ray Wallace, but his prank wasn’t revealed until his death in 2002, when his children said it was all had been “just a joke”.

By this point, more significant evidence had entered the Bigfoot case. In 1967, Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin filmed for seconds a hairy creature walking on two legs near the same Bluff Creek, the most famous and contested evidence of Bigfoot to date. The fact that the Patterson-Gimlin film premiered in the same location that Wallace staged his hoax is just one reason to doubt its authenticity. Skeptics say the animal was a man in costume, while believers argue that the movements and proportions of the creature’s body cannot have been human. The debate has been raging for half a century, which raises a question of its own. “How come the evidence hasn’t improved despite the exponential increase in the quantity and quality of cameras?” Asks Benjamin Radford, associate researcher at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

However, the absence of proof is not proof of absence either. Wild animals are not really fond of photos, and the forests of the planet, which do not stop shrinking, still regularly reserve surprises, like the saola, an untamed cousin of the cow discovered by Vietnamese scientists in 1992. But the saola had no legions. of amateurs chasing him with cameras. With or without hard evidence, many people clearly want to believe in Bigfoot. Which suggests that we are dealing more with the human imagination than with human evolution.

Naish wrote that Bigfoot is the “modern American manifestation of a cultural concept on a human scale, not a zoological reality”. He has a lot in common with the Aussie Yowie and the Himalayan Yeti: an upright posture, unkempt hair, and, of course, big feet. As so-called savage men, they hold up a crude mirror to our own species: what would Homo sapiens look like if civilization had not removed it from nature?

Fact or folklore

Can you tell real animals from fakes? Hover over each animal to reveal whether it is fact or folklore. (Illustration by Iris Gottlieb)

Illustrations by Iris Gottlieb

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Some people see these cryptohominids as symbols of pure freedom, living on instinct and foiling all efforts to pin them down. To look for Bigfoot in the forest is to taste this freedom. On the trail, you become extra attentive to nature: the smell of excrement, the sounds of broken branches, the curious impressions in the earth. As long as there are wild places in America, Bigfoot remains a possibility that its most ardent supporters cannot be refuted.

Bigfoot hunting emulates an earlier mode of discovery, when new knowledge was not the product of advanced degrees and expensive machines, but rather of curiosity, bravery, patience, and survival. In the 19th century, the American landscape revealed its majesty to ordinary settlers pushing west into territory unmapped by Europeans. To follow Bigfoot today is to channel this frontier spirit (as well as to appropriate Native American traditions).

Bigfoot also embodies other less romantic but no less enduring American traits like gullibility and thirst for attention. “There are so many fake videos,” says Loren Coleman, founder of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. The problem is compounded with social media, where viral hoaxes, like drone footage of a supposed Bigfoot in an Idaho clearing, can rack up millions of views. Coleman, for his part, believes there is some evidence for Bigfoot’s existence, but he and his like-minded peers are struggling to draw attention to the material amid the growing number of obvious shams. “Technology has ruined the old cryptozoology,” Coleman says.

His complaint echoes concerns in more traditional American life, where technologies that promised to create consensus have, in fact, made the truth harder than ever to discern. On the internet, Bigfoot has found a much more hospitable habitat than the forests of North America. It turns out that Bigfoot doesn’t have to exist to live forever.

The Ice Man Cameth

The incredible story of Minnesota’s infamous frozen “missing link” and the stubborn scientist behind him.

November 1968 | Incredible discovery

(Illustration by Iris Gottlieb)

Showman Frank Hansen is exhibiting the “Iceman” – a Bigfoot-like creature locked in ice – at the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago. This “relic of the ice age,” he claims, was found in the waters off Siberia. The news soon reaches Ivan T. Sanderson of the Society for the Investigation of the Unxplained.

December 1968 | Reality test

(costello 1984)

Sanderson and Bernard Heuvelmans of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences examine the creature in a trailer in Minnesota. “We have considered this to be a genuine and unique example of a most invaluable specimen,” Sanderson wrote to John Napier, director of primate biology at the Smithsonian.

Winter 1969 | The missing link?

(AB med)

In a scientific journal, Heuvelmans declares to have discovered a new species of man, Homo pongoids. Napier decides to investigate: “The Smithsonian believes it has an obligation not only to science but to the general public to determine for themselves the significance of this specimen. Hansen won’t let him see the body.

April 1969 | FBI in Smithsonian: good luck

(FBI)

The Smithsonian appeals to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for help. Hoover refuses, citing “the absence of violation of a federal law within the framework of our investigative jurisdiction”. Napier reports that US Customs will look into the matter; the body, after all, would have been imported. Meanwhile, Hansen exhibits a “model” of the specimen.

May 1969 | Long live Hollywood

(U.S. National Library of Medicine / National Institute of Health)

Without access to the body, Napier studies photos and videos. The Smithsonian also calls Hollywood props houses and finds one that admits to having created the Iceman in 1967. The Smithsonian announces that it is “satisfied that the” creature “is simply a carnival display made of rubber from latex and hair “. Today, the creature lives in the Museum of the Weird in Austin.


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