July 27, 1997 -- Neese South Carolina -- Sonja Gleaton doesn't get out into the swamp much. But if Bigfoot should ever venture out of the woods and into Town Hall to get a permit or something, she'll be prepared to document the moment. "I'm not saying I believe in Bigfoot," the town secretary and treasurer said. "But I've got film in my camera, and I'm ready."
The town of Neeses has taken pretty much the same attitude since July 15, when an 8-foot-tall creature, covered with thick black hair and smelling like a goat, tried to get into the dog pens behind the Huttos'place on Ninety Six Road.
Or so say the teen-age Hutto brothers. To locals, the sighting was either a hoax perpetrated by a couple of bored kids or a hairy exclamation point on the strange things that have been happening for years around this Orangeburg County town near the North Fork of the Edisto River.
Bigfoot's tracks, if he left any, were washed away by an afternoon storm hours after 14-year-old Jackie Hutto scared the creature away when he went out to tell the dogs to shut up. But his figurative tracks are all over town, from the 8-foot-tall "Big Foot Welcome Center" painting erected on U.S. 321 by Dog City Paint and Body Shop to the unnaturally shaggy mannequin bearing the sign "Bigfoot Captured" at the Family Hair Center.
If nothing else, this Lizard Man on Rogaine could put Neeses on the map the same way his scaly forebear did for Bishopville. It was nine years ago this summer that national media descended on Scape Ore Swamp, where the tall reptilian creature was sighted. "That's what I thought the day after the story," said Art Dent, owner of Dog City. "Here we go, it's going to be just like the Lizard Man."
Not that Dent minds one bit. In fact, he has been the town's leading Bigfoot cheerleader, and not just because of his sign. He proudly shows off the uniform shirt - size XXXL - sent to his business by mistake, but now marked ''Bigfoot'' in case the creature ever comes out of his swampy closet and needs a job.
"We think that truck right there hit a Bigfoot," he said, pointing out a pickup with a crumpled front end. "It done rained on it, but there was hair up under there." He lifts the hood and hunts around, plucking out a tiny tuft of brown fur. "There," he said, "there's you a Bigfoot hair."
Dent is just kidding about the truck - it's deer hair - but not about Bigfoot. The swamps around Neeses are "so thick an alligator couldn't get through," he said, a perfect place for a shy creature like Bigfoot to hide.
And to those who say the Hutto brothers just saw a deer or even a bear, Dent scoffed. "When little boys grow up around here, whenthey get 4 or 5 years old, they don't get a bicycle or a skateboard," he said. "They get a .22.
They spend their whole lives hunting. If those boys said theysaw something and it wasn't a deer, they probably saw something."
Witness: No hoax One of the rumors floating around town last week was that Jackie Hutto and his brother David, 17, had admitted they made the whole thing up. But while Jackie Hutto said he kind of wishes he hadn't gone public with his story, he's standing by it. "This is not no prank or hoax," he said.
"There's always going to be doubters. I was a doubter to begin with. But now I want to become a Bigfoot researcher myself." Jackie had been watching TV about noon that day when he heard the dogs barking up a storm. He yelled at them, then went back to his show. When the dogs didn't shut up, he went outside. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the creature, which looked right at him. He got a good enough look at it to tell it had big teeth, a few bald spots and was definitely male. "I started running," he said. "That's what made him run. I was still looking when I was running. I could hear it grunting. Every step it took, it was grunting."
David Hutto heard the commotion and came out of the family's neat frame house just in time, he said, to see the creature's hindquarters heading back into the woods. David is the one who called the Orangeburg Times & Democrat to report the encounter. National attention.
Since the paper printed the first story, Bigfoot has been the talk of Neeses, from the restaurant at Giant Food World to the Neeses Farm Museum.
TV crews from around the state have descended on the town, and Gleaton has gotten calls from as far away as Texas. Some of the callers have asked where the nearest motel is (at least 15 miles away), but so far there hasn't been an invasion of Bigfoot searchers, nor is anyone hawking "I Saw Bigfoot" T-shirts on U.S. 321. While talk about Bigfoot hasn't died down in Neeses, some of the initial fear has.
When Mack Milhouse told his mother, Karine, about Bigfoot, she was scared to death and not too happy her son promptly went out for the night, leaving her all alone at home. Now, she doesn't worry about it. "I'm scared of these live people running around more than I am of some Bigfoot," she said emphatically.
Mary Harsey, who lives just down the road from the house where Bigfoot was allegedly seen, is a believer. "I wouldn't let the young'uns out for a couple of days," she said, while some of them play outside. "But if it's that big, it's gonna get us if it wants to get us." Her daughter Ashley, 11, isn't worried, though. "If I'd seen one, I guess I'd be afraid," she shrugged.
Several people, Dent and Gleaton among them, said there are others in town who say they've seen Bigfoot, too. But none of them is willing to talk about it, even after the Hutto boys went public.
Others said there have always been strange goings-on around the isolated town. Cray Chavis, 19, hasn't seen Bigfoot, but he has seen "some weird things around here." Like what? "Like it'd be light at night and you see something run across the road in front of your car," he said, standing outside Giant Food World. Not exactly material for 'The X-Files,' but others said they, too, have always thought there was something strange living in the woods.
Darlene Hughes and Linda Bizzell, owners of the Family Hair Center, have never seen anything too odd, but they know people who have. Of course, Hughes said, there is another explanation: "Neeses has some scary-looking people. ..."
Her husband, Lee, doesn't believe in Bigfoot for a minute. "Neeses is a little old small town," he said, taking a break from weed-whacking outside his wife's shop. "Nothing ever happens. I reckon that's how the whole thing started."
Byline: Pat Butler
The Sun News
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