Bigfoot Encounters

Review: A Report on the Seattle Symposium June 5, 2005

I thought you might be interested in one attendee’s perspective on Seattle Museum of the Mysteries First Annual Sasquatch Symposium, which was held yesterday, June 5. I apologize for the length of this missive, but I wanted to cover everything.

The UFO/Paranormal Conference had been held the day before, and I’m not certain how much carryover there was between the events. It seemed as though a number of Saturday’s speakers attended Sunday’s function, and it made it difficult to estimate how many actual attendees there were Sunday. However, I would guess that with guests, staff, and attendees, there were never more than fifty people present at any given time, which made for a generally informal atmosphere -- a good thing, in my opinion.

The first speaker Sunday was Chris Murphy. Based on everything I have read about and from Mr. Murphy, I was not inclined to expect much from his presentation -- nor was I disappointed in that regard. Most of Mr. Murphy’s presentation had to do with his Sasquatch exhibit (the name of the museum that held the exhibit escapes me, but I’m sure you know it), with many tangential side trips and unrelated asides -- along with a jumbled recounting of the (I thought) long ago refuted “Jacko” story, up to and including many unsupported-except-by-hearsay suppositions extending from Grover Krantz’s theory that Jacko was sold to P. T. Barnum, died, and was replaced by Jo-Jo the Dog-faced boy.

I thought about counting the number of times Murphy used the qualifiers “apparently,” “allegedly,” “undoubtedly,” “in my opinion,” and “possibly” to gloss over sections of missing and/or shaky evidence supporting his conclusions, but they were coming so fast and furious, I gave up.

All-in-all, Mr. Murphy’s talk was more about himself than any evidence he’d found or conclusions he’d reached.

The low point was where he took the Manitoba video to task, practically shouting about how ridiculous it was for anybody to expect to obtain any useful information from a video of a subject taken from three hundred meters. Strangely, he failed to mention his own attempts to resolve objects less than an inch in length by repeatedly enlarging a printed, screened photograph from the Patterson/Gimlin film on a photocopier…

His talk lasted just a shade over two hours. Two hours I’ll never get back.

Dr. John Bindernagel was the next speaker and he, thankfully, returned the discussion to one that involved a critical assessment of the facts. Much of his talk was concerned with ways to provide members of the general public with a way to describe and report what they’ve witnessed and thereby make more evidence available, and ways to present the existing evidence so that scientists will be inclined to examine it. He has clearly given a lot of thought to the problem of how Sasquatch evidence is perceived by those outside the Bigfoot community. Unfortunately, the attendees included among their number several representatives of the very passionate (but I think completely misguided -- or at least premature) Bigfoot-are-human-and-it-would-be-murder-to-shoot-one crowd who took exception to his characterization of Sasquatch as apes (and to the title of his book North America’s Great Ape: Sasquatch), and to his public recognition of the fact that most scientists won’t accept any evidence short of a body.

During the question-and-answer period, one man stood up and asked Dr. Bindernagel (who had been very clear that he personally did not advocate shooting a Sasquatch) in a confrontational tone, “Instead of shooting one, don’t you think we should study their intelligence?” As if we were able to study any aspect at all of the creature at will. Dr. Bindernagel was charming and polite, but it was obvious that he realized he was attempting to reason with the unreasonable. In talking to him afterward, I was further impressed by his dedication to the application of scientific reasoning and common sense to the Sasquatch problem.

The next speaker was Owen Caddy who, in association with Rick Noll, has performed the most rigorous and revealing computer enhancements of frames from the Patterson/Gimlin film to date. He began his presentation with a long, but fascinating explanation of how images are recorded to film, the resolving capabilities of the Kodak II film that Patterson used and how its four layers of color emulsion are “stacked” on each frame of film. Before showing any of his enhancements, Mr. Caddy also diagramed the process by which each enhancement was made.

The results of the enhancements (all of which focused on Patti’s upper chest and head) were eye-opening, to say the least. His work has literally put a new face on the creature in the film. He demonstrated quite convincingly that the creature’s mouth is considerably lower down on its face than any current interpretations would have it. Using a considerable number of photos of chimpanzees taken during his own work with them (unfortunately, I was never able to catch Mr. Caddy’s credentials, though it seemed he had spent a number of years working directly with chimps in primate research), he proved (to me, at least) that the prognathism evident in all of the Great Apes can, under many conditions, present the appearance of a false mouth that is much higher up on the face than their actual mouths. This optical illusion -- caused by light reflecting off their upper lips at the point where the lip presses against the protruding ridge in the upper jaw -- most often occurs when a subject is brightly lit from above. Since the subject in the P/G film is lit by bright sunlight coming from above, this false mouth is what has long been interpreted as its actual mouth. But Caddy’s enhancements show the true mouth is considerably below the supposed upper lip -- giving the creature a much more ape-like appearance than previously assumed.

Some of Caddy’s enhancements show the creature pursing its lips (a common primate expression of annoyance or fear), and opening its mouth several times. To my eye -- and in Caddy’s line-drawing interpretations of what the enhanced images show -- the creature’s upper lip pulls back in a very ape-like manner when it opens its mouth. Caddy also said that the enhancements suggest the creature possessed deep wrinkles around and below its eyes.

Mr. Caddy’s enhancements were made from a second-generation, enlarged copy of the P/G film (the same copy made from John Green’s first generation copy that was used for the Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science TV show). He is continuing his work, hoping to enhance other portions of the creature’s anatomy. Unfortunately, due to possible copyright conflicts, it is not known when, or even if, Mr. Caddy will be able to publish his findings.

At this point, Bob Gimlin was introduced, and he spent a few minutes telling the story of his and Patterson’s encounter. He struck me as such a sincere, down-to-earth man that I cannot fathom how anybody could question his version of the events of that day. My favorite comment: “I was carrying a 30.06 rifle, loaded with 185 grain bullets. But I’m glad I never took a shot -- because I don’t think it would have been enough.”

A “Bigfoot Panel” had been scheduled next, but never materialized. Instead, Ray Crowe was asked to speak for a few minutes. He obviously hadn’t intended to give a speech, but he was helped to the stage (he’s in a wheel chair after losing the lower part of his right leg due to a heart attack last year) and he held forth for a while about the early days of the Western/International Bigfoot Society and how he came to be interested in the Sasquatch problem.

While I respect Mr. Crowe’s earnestness, his (again, premature) belief that the various conflicting descriptions given in Bigfoot reports from around North America are the result of relict populations of Homo Erectus which immigrated from Asia, and relict populations of Neanderthals which immigrated from Europe, and the cross-breeding of both of those species with each other and with humans, had me squirming in my seat. If he had presented his theories as theories, I could have let it pass. But his insistence on expounding his theory as fact (and his recounting of his head-butting arguments with Grover Krantz over his theories) had me feeling sorry for the uphill battle people like Dr. Bindernagel face when trying to get ambivalent scientists to examine the possibilities.

Next up was Matt Crowley, a self-professed amateur in the field. However, his presentation was the most thought provoking of the day (barely edging out Mr. Caddy’s). His story was that, after reading about Jim Chilcutt’s confirmation of the presence of dermal ridges in some casts of Sasquatch footprints, he decided to see if he could create plaster casts of his own footprints that would show dermal ridges. After experimenting with a number of different soils and substrates, he finally found one (extremely fine fly ash -- a by-product of burning coal) that could be impressed with human dermal ridges. However, upon making casts, he discovered that, in addition to his own dermal ridges, portions of the cast seemed to show ridges of the same type visible in some Sasquatch casts -- ridges that were not present when the plaster was poured into the mold.

He subsequently cast impressions made with a flat, smooth piece of plastic glued to a piece of 2x4 that, when removed from the mold, showed exactly the same kind of, as he termed them, “dermal ridge artifacts” that had showed up on his earlier casts.

After experimenting with various plasters, substrates, temperatures, and other variables (including a test done under the same warm weather conditions as when the Onion Mountain cast made by John Green in 1967 -- a footprint in which Mr. Green himself recalls seeing no ridges prior to casting), Crowley discovered that dermal ridge artifacts formed spontaneously under a fairly wide variety of conditions.

While Crowley says his experiments are continuing, the castings he has made thus far when compared side-by-side with replicas of casts featuring Chilcutt-authenticated dermal ridges certainly seem to suggest that the dermal ridge phenomenon requires a very critical review. If ridges identical to those found to be “real” by Mr. Chilcutt can occur in spontaneously in repeatable experiments with known non-ridged castings, one has to wonder if any casts have ever been made that show actual dermal ridges.

Unfortunately, after a fine meal at the banquet, the evening ended on a down note: John Green, who had been scheduled to appear, was unable to attend because of illness. They were planning a computer televised hook-up with Mr. Green, but the required equipment had not yet arrived. As my friend and I had a three-hour drive back to Portland, and both had to be at work today (Ha! Maybe I should do some actual work!), we decided to leave.

I wouldn’t have missed some of the presentations for the world, but there were also a couple I could have done without. Any factual errors in my report are mine alone, and should not reflect on the speakers.

Randy Stradley
Portland, Oregon

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