February 26, 2010

PART 4 : MORE RECENT EVENTS


One day in September, 2003, after dropping his daughter off at Southern Vermont College in
Bennington, Ray Dufresne headed north on Route 7, beginning the 125-mile drive back to his home in Winooski.















It was about
7:00 p.m..

When he had reached the highest elevation between Bennington and Manchester, Mr. Dufresne noticed something moving in a narrow, deserted field on his right.

“What the f--- was that?” he said in the empty car.

During a recent interview at his home, he told me, “It was a big black hairy thing, walking strangely. Long hairy arms; the body was huge. It was a lot bigger than me. I’m 220, so this must have been over 270. A lot over. Over 6 feet. Wider. Beefier. I just couldn’t believe it. Must be a man in a gorilla suit, I thought.”

He lost sight of it as it moved east into the woods of Glastenbury Mountain, an area where, over the years, many strange sights and sounds have been reported.

“I kept driving,” Mr. Dufresne said. “There was nothing around. No cars, no houses. It was a desolate place. Now I kick myself because I didn’t go back and investigate.”

“I’m not saying it’s Bigfoot,” he said. “I was never a Bigfoot believer. But I saw what I saw and I can’t change what I saw.”

The truth of Mr. Dufresne’s tale was buttressed when other people reported similar sightings in the same area.

When Ray’s story appeared in the Bennington Banner, San Francisco writer Doug Dorst came forth to report that he had seen a similar creature a week earlier as he was driving toward Bennington College to give a reading. He saw what Ray did not: the creature’s face, which he described as light brown.

Two women -- Sadelle Wiltshire and Ann Mrowicki – said they had also seen the “beast” the same night as Mr. Dufresne. They estimated they’d been as close as 10 feet away.

While everyone admits a misidentification or hoax might be possible, Ray Dufresne says it definitely was not a bear. As a lifelong hunter, he can easily identify a bear. Besides, bears will not walk on their hind legs for any great distance.

". . .it definitely was not a bear. . ."

A hoax is another matter, but “the man in a gorilla suit” solution is pretty far-fetched. And dangerous. Armed men in pickups routinely patrol that isolated area. Any trickster dressed in a gorilla suit would be about as safe as some lunkhead wearing antlers in the woods during deer season.

To be continued . . .

February 17, 2010

MYSTERIES AND MORE MYSTERIES















To me, Sarah Vogelsang’s inconclusive analysis of the "Bigfoot" photo is an apt metaphor for the whole Vermont Bigfoot enigma: People repeatedly see something, but they don’t know what it is.

The point seems to be that it – whatever "it" is -- has been surfacing for centuries. While the skeptics, along with most local media, dismiss Bigfoot sightings as nothing but a bunch of ape droppings, the persistence of evidence suggests something really is out there.

Could there be a hidden population in our midst?

Do families of Bigfoots live in little enclaves in the most inaccessible regions of our state?

Or are they migratory, passing through Vermont according to some as yet undiscovered timetable in the manner of catamounts and salmon?

That is all part of the mystery. What we have as of this writing is dots of evidence. And it’s time for those with uninhibited curiosity to connect those dots.

One such dot is an early encounter reported October 18, 1879 on the front page of The New York Times. “Pownal, VT., Oct. 17 -- Much excitement prevailed among the sportsmen of this vicinity over the story that a wild man was seen on Friday last by two young men while hunting in the mountains south of Williamstown. The young men describe the creature as being about five feet high, resembling a man in form and movement, but covered all over with bright red hair, and having a long straggling beard, and with very wild eyes.

“When first seen, the creature sprang from behind a rocky cliff and started for the woods near by. When mistaking it for a bear or other wild animal, one of the men fired, and, it is thought, wounded it, for with fierce cries of pain and rage, it turned on its assailants, driving them before it at high speed. They lost their guns and ammunition in their flight and dared not return for fear of encountering the strange being.”

But even in those days stories of Vermont’s hidden hairy hominids were well known. The article goes on:

“There is an old story, told many years ago, of a strange animal frequently seen along the range of the Green Mountains resembling a man in appearance, but so wild that no one could approach it near enough to tell what it was or where it dwells.

"From time to time, hunting parties, in the early days of the town, used to go out in pursuit of it, but of late years no trace of it has been seen, and this story, told by young men who claim to have seen it, revives again the old story of the wildman of the mountains. There is talk of making up a party to go in search of the creature.”

Note how myth and fact collide in this 19th century accounting.

But it’s facts we’re interested in, and the evidence continues to pile up -- hundreds of examples, sometimes solitary sightings, sometimes clusters -- right up until the present day.

In February 1951 lumbermen John Rowell and a Mr. Kennedy returned to their logging operation in Sudbury Swamp. They discovered a canvas-covered oil drum had vanished overnight. Somehow the 450-pound fuel drum had traveled from a tractor to a spot several hundred feet into the woods. Examining the ground revealed dozens of huge human-like footprints. Mr. Rowell photographed the tracks with his Polaroid. They measured 20 inches long and 8 inches wide. Alas, those photos seem to have vanished.

In the early 1960s, William Lyford, a Plainfield farmer, heard his cows making a ruckus. Heading out to check, he saw a tall, hairy creature standing upright. When Mr. Lyford aimed his flashlight on it, the figure took off running into the darkness, leaving yet another baffled witness.

In the 1970s and ‘80s a series of confrontations began in Chittenden, where the mystery photo was taken. One of the most dramatic involved the pseudonymous Everett Pike. In the spring of 1984 Mr. Pike was wakened by loud screaming in his dooryard. This long-time hunter wasn't usually easy to spook, but he told investigator Ted Pratt, "I just couldn't get out of bed. It was a horrible scream. It lasted five to seven seconds." His terror escalated when he heard something rip his cellar door off its hinges. Whatever it was noisily cased the basement, then fled, leaving a handprint, a footprint, and a broken door made of solid two-inch oak.

When I spoke with James Guyette of Hartland, he recounted his especially poignant encounter of April, 1984. It was still clear in his mind. I suspect such episodes imprint themselves indelibly on the memory.

He says he was driving north on Interstate 91 at about 6:00 o’clock in the morning. When he was within sight of the Hartland Dam, Mr. Guyette spotted a "huge hairy animal-man" swinging its arms as it walked along the roadside about 100 yards away. He says it was tall and lanky, but unquestionably walking upright on two legs. The creature moved down the bank beside the interstate heading west, away from the Connecticut River. Later, when telling his wife of the reality-altering encounter, Mr. Guyette began to weep.

1759, 1879, 1951, 1960, 1984 -- it is easy to relegate all such sightings to the distant past. But that would be a mistake. Such events are still happening on a regular basis. We just don’t know it because local newspapers rarely report them.

For example, Mr. Rowell delivered his Polaroids to the Middlebury newspaper yet they were never published. Noah Hoffenberg, then with the Bennington Banner, is the great exception. He covered a cluster of Bigfoot sightings without ever putting tongue in cheek.

To Be Continued . . .


NOTE: First Bigfoot image is from Loren Coleman's Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.
The second image is by Stephen R. Bissette from The Vermont Monster Guide.

February 8, 2010

VERMONT BIGFOOT -- The Photographic Evidence


PART TWO


Vermont’s oversized hirsute hominid has never gone away, suggesting that if it exists outside the realm of conventional zoology, there must be a breeding pool large enough to sustain a population. He, she, or it is still sighted with alarming regularity, even in populated parts of the state.

Certainly there have been as many Bigfoot sightings as Champ sightings; it’s just that Champ gets all the publicity. And the existing photograph – seemingly of Bigfoot -- though never made widely public, suggests that he, like Champ, is not a hallucination.

The photo itself is almost as mysterious as the image it contains. Its primary investigator, Dr. Warren Cook of Castleton State College, is dead. He was part of an apparent conspiracy to hush up the picture’s existence. During my research I was given a letter from Dr. Cook to Don Cochrane who, in 1987, was working at what today is known as the Mountain Top Inn & Resort in Chittenden.

I phoned Mr. Cochrane on July 21, 2006 hoping for clarification. It was a very brief non-conversation. When I told him what I was calling about he said, “I don’t want to talk about it,” and hung up the phone.

Because of this gothic reception, the mystery deepened. My most direct links to the photo were either deceased or not talking.

Realizing my magazine deadline was becoming near-lethal, I began a series of panicky phone calls. A lot of people in the Chittenden area recalled something about the incident, but no one could give me specifics. Who took the photo? Where, exactly, was it taken? Why was there a cloak of silence over its existence?

When I connected with Roger Hill, Activities and Facilities Director at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort, he recalled a few telling details. “What I remember about the picture,” he said, “was that it was taken on forest service property, near here, which we have a permit to use for skiing and horseback riding. In the foreground the picture shows a couple of stringers running across a stream. That’s the beginning of a bridge that was being built for cross-country skiing. I’m not sure if the photo was taken by Don Cochrane, but he was involved in one way or another. After it was developed it came back and somebody started looking rather oddly at that figure in the background. Some of us wonder what the heck it is.”

There in the trees, as if it had been watching them all along, was what appeared to be the stocky torso and head of a gorilla. Its featureless face seemed surrounded with silvery hair.

Through another series of phone conversations, including chats with former inn owners, I was able to piece together a more complete version of the story. The photo was apparently taken by Don Cochrane in October of 1977, 2.9 miles into the Chittenden woods. He was accompanied by two other men.

No one noticed anything unusual until they examined the developed prints. Not knowing what to make of the puzzle in his picture, Mr. Cochrane brought it to the attention of Dr. Cook. For many years Dr. Cook had actively investigated the possibility that Vermont might be home to a hidden Bigfoot tribe. This photograph seemed to back that up.

Dr. Cook submitted it and the negative to a prestigious photographic lab in Los Angeles who assured him the negative had not been tampered with. In a letter to Mr. Cochrane, Dr. Cook wrote, “I think I can assert, without doubt, that whatever caused the image on your negative, it was transitory.”

Dr. Cook and his team had visited the spot to try to identify anything that could have been mistaken for a giant ape. After taking more pictures, they cleared away the bushes within 60 feet of where the image had appeared. “We found no upturned stump, nor stump, or hole of any size to account for the big, black image in your photo.”

In July of 2006 I asked photographer and photo analyst Sarah Vogelsang – who occasionally works with Paranormal Investigators of New England -- to take a new look at the mystery photo. Because we did not possess the negative, Ms. Vogelsang was at a disadvantage. With some frustration, she told me, “I can’t seem to figure it out!” Her cautious conclusion was as follows: “My analysis of the photo, given that it is the only evidence presented at this time, is not enough to convince me that the dark object in the image is a living ape-like creature (assuming that is what we are looking for) due to the lack of highlights, but it is also convincing enough to believe otherwise.”

To be continued . . .

NOTE: The Bigfoot in the portrait resides at Loren Coleman's Cryptozoology Museum in Portland Maine


February 1, 2010

BIGFOOT IN VERMONT

VERMONT’S HIDDEN POPULATION

©2010 by Joseph A. Citro


In 1977 Sandra Mansi snapped a photo of what might be Champ, the so-called “Lake Champlain Monster”. In 1979, when she released it to the press – including The New York Times, Time magazine, The Today Show, and hundreds of other media -- the whole world quickly learned about Vermont’s underwater wonder.


Ms. Mansi’s odyssey was dramatized on NBC TV's Unsolved Mysteries and Fox's Sightings. Japanese television produced a 90-minute documentary. Hundreds of books, magazines, and newspapers flaunted the story.


Over the last thirty years Lake Champlain’s elusive critter has become a cryptozoological superstar.

But what nobody knew is that an equally mysterious photograph was snapped that same year. It wasn’t shanghaied by the press; no media exploited it. It never went viral.


Instead, the curious photo was filed away, essentially kept a secret, remembered by only to a few believers and skeptics.


This remarkable “whatzit” was photographed on land, in the depths of the forest, once again raising the question: Are there really monsters in our midst?


Not a new question, to be sure.


For hundreds of years Vermonters have been seeing strange things in the woods. Some of these encounters have been documented – enough so as to provide a continuing ribbon of weirdness starting, perhaps, in 1609 with Samuel de Champlain himself. He heard Native American stories of oversized, hairy men who hid in the dense woods. Monsieur Champlain disregarded the stories as too fanciful.

Perhaps he was too hasty.


Historically, the first recorded encounter came in 1759, witnessed by a man named Duluth, a scout with Roger’s Rangers.

While they were retreating after the raid on the Abenaki settlement of Odanak, near Memphremagog Bay, the men “were ever being annoid, for naught reason, by a large black bear, who would throw large pinecones and nuts down upon us from trees and ledges, the Indians being also disgusted, and knowe him, and call him Wejuk or Wet Skine.”


Wet Skin, renamed “Slipperyskin” by the white settlers, was still around as Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom began to grow. There, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the towns of Lemington, Maidstone, Morgan, Victory, and Westmore, were routinely harassed by this fearsome oddity. Those who confronted the thing identified it as a bear of tremendous proportions. It terrorized the inhabitants with a series of hostile pranks, including destroying their gardens, frightening their livestock, attacking their children with stones, stealing food, and destroying machinery. All attempts to trap it or kill it were predictably unsuccessful.


But here’s the thing: Slipperyskin was like no bear anyone had ever seen.
Not only was it extraordinarily intelligent, but it always walked on its hind legs, never on all fours.


Recently, researchers have taken a new look at this old tale. Could Slipperyskin have been something other than an uber-bear?


Most likely.


Whatever it may have been, it seemed to be trying to discourage the encroachment of human settlement into an area that had once been its own.

Suspects more tangible than myth include a disgruntled Indian, a hermitical eccentric, or quite possibly what we know today as Bigfoot.

To be continued . . .

Bigfoot image by Steve Bissette from our book The Vermont Monster Guide