Tracking the Legend of Bigfoot
Cast of Alleged Bigfoot Footprint
Footprint found by Roger Patterson, Bluff Creek, northern California, 1967
Length: 18.0 in. (45.7 cm.), Width: 9.2 in. (23.3 cm.),
Plaster cast made by John W. Olsen in 1979 at Arizona State Museum from a cast that was obtained from Grover Krantz
(ASM Catalog No. 2011-470-1a)
Legends of wild humanoid creatures are as old as human history and span the globe. Names and other details vary, but common traits of these undocumented animals are bipedalism, gigantic size, hair-covered bodies, and a potential to cause harm. A Native American tradition in the Pacific Northwest tells of a giant hair-covered ogre named Tsonoqua who steals children and food. This is likely the origin of the Sasquatch or Bigfoot legend.
Bigfoot was popularized in 1958, when news media picked up a story about Ray Wallace, a road contractor working in northern California, who made plaster casts of giant footprints that he found near his worksite. Hundreds of similar footprints and a few handprints have now been reported; some were clearly made by bears, some are fraudulent (one of Ray Wallace’s relatives later found carved wooden feet matching some of the footprint casts), and many others remain unexplained.
This footprint cast is associated with the most celebrated Bigfoot sighting of modern times. In October 1967 Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin ventured into the woods in search of Bigfoot near where Wallace found his Bigfoot tracks. In Bluff Creek, they sighted a creature strolling through a clearing and they managed to film a short sequence from a reported distance of about 80 feet. The resulting movie is grainy and difficult to interpret, but clearly shows something unlike any animal known to inhabit the region. To some this is incontestable proof that Bigfoot lives among us, but to others it is merely a man or a woman in a gorilla suit.
This handprint cast is a copy of the original made by Ivan Marx. Grover Krantz, a physical anthropologist who studied the anatomy of Bigfoot hand and foot impressions, found many details in this impression that he thought were too difficult to fake. Others were not convinced; the original museum catalogue card for this item has the note: “This ‘handprint’ is almost certainly NOT genuine!”
Despite many eyewitness accounts, blurry photos or films, and the many footprints, conclusive physical evidence of the creature itself remains elusive. Replica casts such as these may now be purchased online, but the fact that these were obtained during the heyday of the Bigfoot phenomenon makes them important historical artifacts regardless of their authenticity.
The search for Bigfoot and other undocumented species falls under the quasi-scientific discipline of cryptozoology. Some have suggested the possibility that an extinct giant ape named Gigantopithecus may be the ultimate origin of the legends. This ape has been identified from fossils found in southeast Asia and it is possible that early humans and Gigantopithecus were contemporaries.
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