Bigfoot Encounters

Bigfoot hunters still on their toes
February 2, 2003

The Plain Dealer.Life News

Dreams die hard. Especially the big ones, like the dream of finding Bigfoot. Imagine if you did it. Smokey Crabtree, the noted Bigfoot hunter from Arkansas, considered the possibility at a conference a couple of years ago.

"That critter's prolly werf fi' thousand dollars," he said, and he wasn't even thinking about the potential in the NBA or NFL for a hairy critter pegged at 8 or 9 feet tall and maybe 900 pounds.

But the dream took a hit after the recent death of Ray Wallace, a prank-loving builder in Centralia, Wash. Wallace's offspring used the occasion to announce that he had created the myth of Bigfoot when he used a pair of 16-inch carvings to stomp out footprints at a California logging camp in 1958.

The tracks caused a sensation. A local paper coined the name Bigfoot, and North America had its answer to the Yeti, the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas.

Wallace later cut a record of purported Bigfoot sounds and provided film and photos of the creature. His wife admitted she had been photographed in a Bigfoot suit. "It was just a joke," one of their sons said, "and then it took on such a life of its own that even now, we can't stop it. The reality is, Bigfoot just died."

One reality, anyway. A legend doesn't die that easily.

The biped's believers and a handful of scientists are willing to give Wallace credit for the hoax, and some of them say it's old news. But they say the evidence remains too strong to kill a creature that dates from American Indian lore as Sasquatch.

And Don Keating, who heads the Eastern Ohio Bigfoot Investigation Center in Newcomerstown, doubts that Wallace was responsible for the Buckeye Bigfoot.

"I don't think he was 9 feet tall in a white suit," Keating said. "I've seen the creature itself - Sept. 15, 1985, four miles south of Newcomerstown, no more than 35 feet away. Within 10 miles of my own home, I've seen footprints. It's really difficult to doubt your own eyes."

Keating doesn't doubt his eyes, and he isn't much bothered if someone else does. He got interested in Bigfoot more than 20 years ago after reading the book "Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us," and has been doing "active research" since 1984. He publishes a newsletter on the subject and has produced several videos about his findings.

On April 5, he'll be the host for the 15th annual Bigfoot Conference at the David Barber Civic Center, west of Interstate 77 in Newcomerstown. From small beginnings, the six-hour expo has grown to attract hundreds of believers and skeptics as the nation's longest-running conference devoted to Bigfoot. Its purpose, Keating said, is not to convince people that the creature exists in Ohio or anywhere else, but to present alleged evidence that it might. You can find more about it online at www.angelfire .com/oh/ ohiobigfoot/abc.html.

Keating, who has seen hoaxes before, wasn't discouraged or deterred by the Wallace family's claim. He wonders if it might be old Ray's final joke, maybe even stipulated in his will.

"I find it very morbid to begin with, that less than 10 days after he died his family members were making these outrageous claims," he said. "I don't know why the family is coming forward with all this crap. Maybe it immortalizes his name. I don't buy it for a second.

"Let's say he faked it in the '50s and '60s. What about all those other footprints and sightings across North America? Did he travel 365 days a year?"

Besides Bigfoot and Yeti, there have reports of apelike creatures from the Pyrenees in France to the jungles of Malaysia and the bayous of Louisiana. Northeast Ohio has Grassman, which Keating calls an urban legend but identifies as the same elusive creature.

So the search goes on, and Keating has been rewarded by sightings of bald eagles and cougars while tromping wintry woods and fields. But skeptics tend to pass on invitations to join his unarmed, late-night prowls, and he knows that film is too easily faked to serve as proof of Bigfoot.

"The scientific community wants a body," he said, and he doesn't expect to produce that. Not Yeti, anyway.

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