Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Sept. 11 newspaper on Page A1.
McARTHUR — Some people think of Bigfoot as merely a legend or even a hoax, while others actively search for what they believe to be an elusive species of primate.
Or, rather, evidence that could point to its existence.
Bigfoot enthusiasts and skeptics alike gathered together Saturday evening at Herbert Wescoat Memorial Library in McArthur to hear about the history of Sasquatch, as well as learn about the research of the Southeastern Ohio Society for Bigfoot Investigation founder Doug Waller. Waller is currently working on his fifth book about Bigfoot investigation.
The Southeastern Ohio Society for Bigfoot Investigation was officially founded in 2008 and is based in Guernsey County.
Waller walked attendees through the origins of the phenomenon, pointing to Native American cave drawings and totem poles depicting large, fur-covered creatures that walked on two legs. In addition, Norse accounts tell of a creature called “Skellring,” which, as the tale goes, was covered in hair and towered over Viking soldiers.
Waller noted that he and many other Bigfoot investigators believe that Sasquatch is more so a species of animal rather than a singular entity, as many media portrayals of the creature demonstrate it as the only one or last of its kind.
Descriptions of the famed ape-like or Neanderthal-like creatures vary across the globe: some reports describe them as being built like a football player, tall and stocky. Others are described as being built more like a typical basketball player: tall and lanky. Waller noted there have been reported sightings on every continent except Antarctica, and in the United States, reports have been made in every state except for Hawaii (although he has been challenged on that statement in the past).
The first possible Bigfoot account made in Ohio, Waller said, was made in 1869 in the Gallipolis area. A father and daughter filed a report with law enforcement stating they were attacked while travelling in a carriage by a “wild man” covered in hair, who the daughter was able to scare away by throwing a rock at his head.
Ohio’s popular version of the Bigfoot legend, “Grassman,” is described as gorilla-like, but standing straight. Accounts commonly depict Grassman as being sighted near farms.
Waller said there are many similarities among reports in Southeast Ohio. For example, people have often reported seeing handprints, footprints, hair and even feces that seem out of the ordinary. Many report smelling a pungent, rotten-egg odor during these encounters.
A popular component of a Bigfoot account, Waller noted, is the report of a cry, scream or howl not quite like that of any other animal.
Waller also listed off a few sights that have been linked to Bigfoot encounter accounts: rocks stacked on top of another in towers, trees twisted around and odd structures created from branches and standing trees in the middle of the woods.
Ohio has the fifth most reports (with nearly 300 total) of alleged Sasquatch sightings or interactions in the country, according to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) database. Waller and his crew of investigators have used this database to assist in charting out sightings and other suspicious accounts.
BFRO reports are submitted anonymously and aren’t necessarily backed up by reports to law enforcement. The database, though, classifies its data by the nature of the account. Class A reports focus on alleged sightings of Sasquatch in the flesh, while Class B and Class C reports focus on sightings of footprints or accounts of horrible smells and out-of-the-ordinary noises.
BFRO has received from Vinton County four accounts of supposed Sasquatch sightings or other interactions, starting in 1956 with several sightings from the same family in the Zaleski and Prattsville areas. Years later in the late ‘80s, a family reported seeing a hairy man cross the road with a pack of dogs in hot pursuit. A report May of 2000 states that while riding his motorcycle on his family’s property in Hamden, a teenage boy stated he was chased by a seven-foot tall, hairy creature. Most recently, a woman reported to the BFRO that in June of 2004 that after spotting a peculiar shadow in her living room window, seeing large handprints on the glass the next morning.
The BFRO received five accounts from nearby Athens County, but no reports from Jackson County. The Southeastern Ohio Society for Bigfoot Investigation, though, has received a few accounts in that area.
Although the existence of Bigfoot is up for debate, the fascination thrives in popular culture. One attendee sported a humorous t-shirt during the event, for example.
“Bigfoot doesn’t care if you believe in him,” it read.