February 17, 2010

MYSTERIES AND MORE MYSTERIES

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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.