Film review: Mothman of Point Pleasant

The Mothman was immortalized in the American consciousness with John Keel’s classic book The Mothman Prophecies, and the tale was re-energized by a 2003 Richard Gere film by the same name.  Centered in the Ohio River town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, it’s one of my all-time favorite weird tales (I gave a quick-and-dirty overview of the Mothman furor here).

Now we have a new documentary on the Mothman phenomenon, including all the attendant high-strangeness hijinks, courtesy of  Small Town Monsters.  After the fashion of STM’s three other films, Mothman of Point Pleasant (their first non-bigfoot-related film) presents the story unembellished, straight from the mouths of Mothman witnesses and longtime Point Pleasant residents. There are no cheesy “re-enactments” in Small Town Monsters’ films.  Mothman creatively makes use of animation to illustrate some of the eyewitness accounts, but if you want to see flailing actors feigning horror as a CGI creature closes in, you will have to look elsewhere.  Mothman of Point Pleasant is creepy, educational, tragic, and deeply human.  The film manages to gracefully walk the less-traveled road between monster tale and tragedy, taking the viewer on an unexpected emotional roller-coaster along the way.

The Mothman story is far from straightforward.  Sure, there’s the weird, red-eyed, winged cryptid terrorizing small-town American teens, but perhaps what impressed me most about this film is how all of the story’s disparate elements were represented.  From all the weird “Men in Black” encounters, a Native American curse, possible extraterrestrial meddling, and the involvement of John Keel and local reporter Mary Hyre — it’s all here.

The filmmakers found Mothman witnesses willing to speak on camera about their decades-old experiences; the creepiest may have been the man who described awakening in the wee hours to see the Mothman in his bedroom.

Here is the peculiar strength of the Small Town Monsters films:  their treatment of the human element.  Seeing these people on camera, it becomes nearly impossible to dismiss such phenomena as “myths” or “urban legends.”  Real people are affected — often permanently and profoundly — by these events.  How would you feel if Mothman were standing at the foot of your bed at 3 a.m.?  Not too chipper, I reckon.

The Mothman story, of course, culminates in the tragedy of the Silver Bridge collapse.  The old bridge spanning the Ohio River collapsed without warning on December 15, 1967, sending dozens of cars plunging into the frigid current.  Forty-six lives were lost that day, and nobody in Point Pleasant was unaffected.  The bridge collapse is heartbreakingly chronicled in the film with interviews played over vintage footage from the disaster.

Was the collapse related to the Mothman?  Nobody knows, and this film avoids making the connection.  Nevertheless, after the disaster, Mothman sightings pretty much ended.

Of all Small Town Monsters’ films to date, this one succeeds the most at the “small town” angle.  It’s a biography of the town equally — if not even more — as it is of the monster.  The healing process after the weird events and devastation of fifty years ago has not been easy for Point Pleasant; for better or worse, the town will always remain in the Mothman’s shadow.  The townspeople have learned to live with and even embrace the Mothman’s legacy, with a Mothman Museum and a popular annual Mothman Festival.  But their story — like the film — is undeniably sad and haunting.

 

 

 

Marian T. Place

Many of you will be familiar with the name Marian T. Place.  Place authored 47 books for children, earned numerous awards, and supplied a faithful reading public with thoughtful, well-written books on a huge variety of subjects — from Native Americans to the gold rush to UFOs and of course, bigfoot.

Place was a tireless researcher and a confident, fluff-free writer.  She was also a strong, opinionated woman in a time and place when those things may not have been viewed exactly favorably — even taking a male pen name, “Dale White,” for several of her books.

Born in Indiana in 1910, Place moved to Montana in the 1930s, where she worked as a librarian, freelance writer, and reporter.  Dismayed at the lack of children’s and young adult books on the history of the western United States, she decided to write her own.  She went on to win four Western Writers of America “Golden Spur” awards for her nonfiction books for young readers.

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Place’s first book, written under the Dale White pseudonym, was 1953’s Tall Timber Pilots.  It tells the story of early aviation in Montana, including hair-raising search-and-rescue escapades and tight scrapes galore.  As the jacket says, “Truth is not only stranger than fiction but frequently a great deal more exciting.”

Place’s books for kids have been credited with influencing a generation of bigfoot researchers.  Her first foray into cryptozoology, On the Track of Bigfoot, was published in 1974.  A 1979 profile piece in the Arizona Republic newspaper states Place got into bigfoot writing for fairly ordinary reasons: she was living in Portland, Oregon (sasquatch ground zero) at the time; worked in a library; and children frequently asked her for books about the hairy hominids.  Unable to find suitable books and not one to shy away from a challenge, Place began writing her own.

Nobody Meets Bigfoot, published in 1976, was the first Place book I came across.  In the fictional story, a boy who fancies himself a “nobody” goes on a bigfoot expedition to Bluff Creek, California, with his free-spirited grandmother.  Some authors might be tempted to poke fun at the subject, but not Place.  Her writing style is lively yet serious, and she introduces some heavy concepts (including the kill vs. no-kill debate) to her young readers.  It is obvious Place did her research both in the geography of the area and on bigfoot history — and given that she was in her mid-60s when the book was written, I can’t help but wonder if a bit of the eccentric-grandma character was autobiographical.

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Place as pictured in a 1979 profile in the Arizona Republic

Another Place book I’ve read is Bigfoot All Over the Country, published in 1978.  Place chooses to open this book with a proven hoax, then goes on to summarize creature sightings from all over the country.  It is a book not just about monster stories, as Place states in her introduction, but also about “the problems we must face if the stories are true.”  Place treats her young audience as intelligent information consumers, actively encouraging them to exercise critical thinking skills.  She even throws down the gauntlet to the scientific community:

Now that you have read this much about Bigfoot all over the country, do you believe all these stories?  Of course not.  Some appear to be true.  Some are “iffy,” maybe true, maybe not.  Some are out-and-out hoaxes.

All were reported as facts, but most read as if they are fiction.  Who was right, the teller of the story, or the reader?  How can anyone claim, “I saw a Bigfoot,” and not have to present proof that this really happened.  On the other hand, if the reader or listener feels the story is not true, must not he or she have to prove the story is a lie?

Suppose we apply the same challenge to the scientists who deny Bigfoot could be real.  Most spend their time in classrooms, offices, and libraries.  Yet they do not hesitate to state flatly, “Bigfoot is a fake.  If the creature existed, it would have been discovered long ago.”  Don’t these experts have an obligation to explain clearly, and in detail, why they know there is no such creature?  Shouldn’t some at least make an effort to leave their desks, hike through Bigfoot country, and on hands and knees study one of the genuine, mysterious, exasperating footprints?

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In my used copy:  I’m sure they are all professional cryptozoologists now

Place did not seek publicity, and information about her is elusive.  Fortunately, I was able to find a few articles she wrote in the archives of Montana: The Magazine of Western History, published by the Montana Historical Society.  These pieces show some insight into Place’s personality and her approach to writing.

She first appears in print in the magazine in a 1955 letter to the editor, written on the art of history writing.  “I go to great lengths in checking facts,” she writes. “Before writing a particular book I read and gather far more material than I can ever use because I, personally, have an insatiable hunger for facts.”  She goes on to express the hope “that the general reading public is slowly but surely being weaned away from distortion and sentimentalism and sensationalism, and finding that history can be more absorbing than fiction or feature articles.”

Place went on to be listed as an editorial assistant for the magazine, and briefly wrote a column on children’s literature called “Kids’ Corral.”  She was not shy in expressing her opinions on the state of modern publishing.

“Publishers’ lists still contain too many ‘formula’ books,” she writes.  She characterizes books about Western U.S. history as “literary phenobarbital” and castigates the history publishing industry as experiencing “rigor mortis.”  Her brief book reviews are peppered with words such as “hackneyed” and “stilted.”  And as for literature aimed at young women: “Unfortunately, books written for girls are more pap than protein.”  However, Place recognizes that there are factual, entertaining books on the market, if one takes the time to find them:  “There’s little excuse,” she writes, “for boys and girls to grow up wholly ignorant of the magnificent heritage, past and present, as revealed in countless quality books dealing with Western people, places and history.”

Marian Place passed away in 2006 at the age of 95, leaving a legacy of engaging, entertaining, and well-researched books, well worth seeking out for readers of all ages.  Many can be found used online or at your local library.  For more about this author, check out Episode 101 of the SasWhat podcast.

The wonder and the wild

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis for man’s desire to understand.  — Neil Armstrong

As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armour themselves against wonder. — Leonard Cohen

There will always be controversy over the nature of the unknown, and more specifically, on how we humans ought to be coping with it.  Not everything can fit nicely into what we like to think of as our tidy, well-organized, hygienic human culture.  And hallelujah, thank the Universe it doesn’t!  What if we humans really did understand everything about our planet and our role on it — then what would we have to learn, to reach for?  How can we better our environment if there’s nothing more to learn about it?  If we can only allow ourselves to admit that we don’t have all the answers, we will be better caretakers of our earth and of our neighbors.  This world and all of its inhabitants are far better off with some mysteries to ponder.

So, in belated honor of Earth Day, here are a few quotes I’ve come across in my recent readings about the mystery of this little old mess of land and water that we call home.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

To allow mystery, which is to say to yourself, “There could be more, there could be things we don’t understand,” is not to damn knowledge.  It is to take a wider view.  It is to permit yourself an extraordinary freedom:  someone else does not have to be wrong in order that you may be right.

— Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men

How much should we respect nature’s autonomy?  How much should we try to manipulate and control it to save it?  Do we know enough to risk doing it?  And what happens if we get it wrong? (These questions) have not been conclusively answered, nor should they be.  They are more useful as questions that ought to be asked every time we face any decision about preserving life on earth than any answer we can give today.

— Jordan Fisher Smith, Engineering Eden

People who go around muttering about God make me nervous.  It seems to me that the word “mystery,” not capitalized, should suffice.

–Edward Abbey, Abbey’s Road

Strangeness on the ranges, part three: The puzzle persists

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Cascade County Sheriff’s Capt. Keith Wolverton stands near a mutilated bull in this 1976 news photo.  The bull’s sexual organs were removed, along with a circular area of its hide.

Parts one & two of this series can be found here and here.

Mysteriously mutilated cattle carcasses were turning up on ranches in and around Cascade County, Montana, in the mid-1970s.  The cows had injuries that indicated someone, or something, had removed various organs and body parts with surgical precision.  No tracks, or other evidence of human presence, were ever found.  Sheriff’s officers were relentless, following up leads from UFOs to bigfoot to suspected devil-worshiping cults.  But there was little agreement on who, or what, had butchered the bovines.

Some veterinarians publicly disagreed that the mutilations could be attributed to any unknown source.  Despite the fact that they had never personally investigated a mutilation and were usually unnamed in the press, these vets stated that the mutilations were nothing but the result of decomposition and the depredations of common scavengers.  Sheriff’s deputies, they said, simply were not qualified to assess such things.

From the Great Falls Tribune, Nov. 13, 1975:

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“If a qualified individual examined a dead animal he could determine with a great degree of probability what caused the death,” one veterinarian said. … He said in past years animals died or were killed and similar carcass damage resulted, but it was “chalked off to coyotes or other predators until the cult thing became the vogue.”

A January 1977 meeting between state veterinary examiners and frustrated police investigators is described as “little more than a shouting match” in a Great Falls Tribune article entitled “Fur flies over mutilations:”

(State veterinarian Dr. Beckwith) Hubbell said he and his staff have looked at 35 mutilations in the last fiscal year, and “I would say that 98 percent of those we looked at were nothing more than predations.”

“Can you prove it’s predators?” asked Cascade County sheriff John Krsul.

“No, but you can’t prove it isn’t,” Hubbell replied.

“Listen,” said Krsul.  “I ordered (Capt. Keith) Wolverton to investigate these dead cattle.  We’re interested in this and I think the ranchers are, too.”

“Are you implying these animals are being mutilated?” said Hubbell.

“I’m saying we want to find out why these cows are dying.  I think you guys are mad because you didn’t get into this investigation at the beginning.”

….Following the meeting, Hubbell maintained his position of predators.

“I didn’t learn anything new, just more of what I had been told,” he said.

Despite Hubbell’s arrogance, the meeting evidently put pressure on state livestock officials.  One month later, a headline in the Dillon Tribune-Examiner reads “State officials admit cattle mutilations are a problem.”

In the article, Dr. Hubbell appears suitably chastised, saying, “There obviously is a problem.  I don’t know what the problem is, but something should be done at the state level, including the Predator Control Board, Brands Enforcement Division, Animal Health Department, Fish and Game, and others.”

If something was indeed done by the state of Montana, I cannot say.  My research revealed only one further article about the Montana mutilations during this time period.  In March 1977, the Dillon Tribune-Examiner posted three tiny paragraphs out of Cascade County:

Mutilations Investigation

Cascade County undersheriff Glenn Osborne has pledged that his department will continue to investigate any reports received of possible cattle mutilations, despite criticism from some skeptics who have called it a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Osborne explained that until it can be determined who or what is doing this, the incidents must be considered a criminal act.

“We have a responsibility to investigate,” Osborne said.  “We are taking all incidents reported to us and we are investigating them. No matter what the outcome, we want to investigate them to a logical end — to try to determine what is causing this, no matter what it is.”

The cattle-mutilation furor may have slowed down in Montana, but it reached a nationwide zenith in 1979 and 1980, when ranchers, law enforcement, and congressmen joined forces to pressure the FBI into opening an investigation. The Bureau had so far declined to investigate the mutilations on the grounds that they had no jurisdiction on matters not occurring on federally owned land.  The FBI finally consented to check it out when several mutilations were reported on Indian reservations.

I am unable to locate the full text of the resulting FBI report, but some of the correspondence related to it can be seen on the FBI Vault archival website.  According to the book Mysteries of the Unexplained, lead investigator Kenneth M. Rommel, Jr. stated each supposed mutilation he personally investigated was “consistent with what one would expect to find with normal predation, scavenger activity, and normal decomposition of a dead animal.”  (More on the Rommel Report here.)

Cattle mutilations continue today, albeit not with the frequency experienced in the 1970s.  The phenomenon is as controversial as ever.

Probably at least some mutilations can be explained by the natural process of decomposition.  The following clip is from a NatGeo special and details a 1979 experiment performed in Arkansas.

Whatever the theories, cattle mutilation remains a modern-day mystery with few clues.  The 1976 book on the Cascade County incidents, Mystery Stalks the Prairie, offers the following summation:

(T)he men who have investigated the strange episodes related here have seen and heard too much to casually disregard it.  They believe those persons who say they have seen hairy creatures or UFOs.  In fact, some of the officers have seen UFOs themselves.

As for the cattle mutilations, the officers have observed too many strangely butchered cows to mark it all up to natural causes or predators.

There has to be an explanation for the strange and frightening incidents, and a solution to the syndrome of puzzling events.  Those in the Cascade County Sheriff’s Department have no intention of giving up before they unravel the mystery — no matter how long it takes.

They feel strongly that local sheriff’s officers will probably be the people responsible for solving the mutilation mystery, when and if it is solved.

At that time, this book may have a sequel.

Strangeness on the ranges, part two: Bigfoot, cults, and UFOs

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Part one of this series can be found here.

According to the 1976 book Mystery Stalks the Prairie, Cascade County, MT Sheriff’s Capt. Keith Wolverton initially thought he could unlock the cattle mutilation case within three weeks. But three weeks came and went, and he found himself still devoted more or less full-time to the investigation.

Wolverton was given a loose rein by Sheriff John Krsul during the course of the investigation.  As stated in Mystery Stalks the Prairie, “No idea was too weird to merit careful consideration.”  His research led him from a prison in Minnesota to an alleged bomb plot to a supposed ceremonial cult site outside Butte, Montana.  He consulted with remote viewers and veterinarians.  He and his team experimented with donated calves — later returned, unharmed, to their owners — to try to determine the effects of different drugs on the cattle.  He tried to cut pieces of cow-hide with all manner of pinking shears, pizza cutters, and other instruments to attempt to replicate the mysterious serrated marks often found on the mutilated cows.  And the mutilations continued to occur with disturbing frequency, with over 100 individual cases reported over just a nine-month period in 1975-76.

Along the way, UFO reports flooded the sheriff’s office.  UFOs of all shapes and sizes were reported, from egg-shaped to saucer-shaped to one that resembled, in the witness’ words, a “two-story hotel sitting out there in the field” that slowly lifted off and drifted away.

In one case, a helicopter-like UFO was seen flying during a storm in 40-mile-an-hour winds — an unlikely feat for any common pilot to attempt.  In another report, a UFO was seen deliberately keeping pace with an Air Force plane.  Although Cascade County is the site of Malmstrom air base (and at the time, of several missile silos), officials there publicly denied any responsibility for, or knowledge of, the UFO reports.

It was only a matter of time before bigfoot showed up to take part in the hullaballoo — although the creatures do not appear to have been directly implicated in the mutilations.  Several unknown creature (and footprint) reports came into the sheriff’s office, with witnesses typically describing red eyes and a pungent odor going along with the hairy bipeds.  Oddly, when the bigfoot reports started coming in, the UFO sightings slowed.  Were the two phenomena somehow linked?

“There was overlapping,” write co-authors Wolverton and Roberta Donovan in Mystery Stalks the Prairie, “but one type of activity seemed to decline as another started.  Was it a piece of the puzzle, or purely coincidence?  Speculation seemed futile.”

From a report in the Helena Independent Record, entitled “What’s going on in Cascade County?,” February 11, 1976:

Reports of screams in the night, pulsating airborne lights and hair-covered creatures have officials here wondering just what is going on in Cascade County — and they’re asking for help.

“With a little help from citizens, we might be able to get to the bottom of this mystery,” Sheriff’s Captain Keith Wolverton said.

Wolverton himself watched one of the hovering lights for about two hours last Thursday night, but was unable to get near it because of the terrain.

Today he was continuing his investigation into a report by two young women who said they saw three hair-covered, human-like creatures near Great Falls on Dec. 26.

Wolverton scheduled a polygraph test for one of the two women, but said it was a routine investigative step.

“We don’t think it’s a hoax by any means.  We’re still investigating.”

Several county residents have reported being awakened at night by a sound “like a man screaming in terror or pain,” Wolverton said, but when they investigated they found nothing but frightened farm animals or pets.

Wolverton is treating the whole matter cautiously and will release few details — and no names.

“We figure there are quite a few people who have stories (of similar sightings) to tell and won’t because of fear of ridicule,” Wolverton said.  “We would like to have those reports.”

He guaranteed anonymity to anyone who requests it in connection with the investigation.

(Both women later submitted to, and passed, polygraph examinations.)

What if the mutilations had a more, let’s say, earthly explanation?  In the wake of the Manson Family, cults were all the rage in the 1970s.  Wolverton, according to Mystery Stalks, had been told by a fellow law officer that “the cattle were being injected with PCP, a hallucinogenic drug.  The blood was then removed from the animal and given to the witches of (a) cult to drink, which caused them to trip out.” (Yes, the italics appear in the original text.)  The cult theory led Wolverton to Minnesota to speak with a convict imprisoned there.  The man supposedly had inside information relating not only to cattle mutilations, but also to a plot to bomb Helena, Montana; and furthermore, that a cult was planning to mutilate human beings, mostly Hollywood celebrities.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, this lead turned out to be dead on arrival.

Wolverton did not discount the cult theory altogether, however.  In April 1976, he traveled south to Butte, MT to reconnoiter a suspected “devil-worshiping” cult’s ceremonial stomping grounds.  This lead also proved futile: nothing of import to the investigation was uncovered at the site.

This is part two of a three-part series.  Part three will drop shortly; in the meantime, here is a Youtube interview of both Capt. Wolverton and Sheriff Pete Howard of neighboring Teton County, Montana.

Strangeness on the ranges: A cattle mutilation timeline, part one

A similar scene played out all over the United States in the 1970s:  A rancher going about his or her normal business finds a dead animal — usually a cow, but occasionally a goat, pig, or horse — in the field.

Upon inspection it appears the animal has been mysteriously mutilated.  It may have an ear cut off here, an eye scooped out there, and perhaps a perfect circle or square of skin missing.  Frequently, the animal’s sexual organs will be conspicuously absent.  The organs appear to have been cut with a precise surgical instrument, sometimes leaving strange serrations along the margins.  Usually there are no signs of struggle and no blood, footprints, or tire tracks found anywhere near the scene.  In fact, sometimes it appears the animal was dropped to its final resting place on the Western range, right from out of the clear blue sky.  There are no other marks on the animal and scavengers seem to avoid it.

The law is called.  Sheriff’s deputies come out, take photos, scratch their heads.  If the corpse is fresh enough, they may call a veterinarian to try to determine a cause of death.  The examining vet is as puzzled as anyone.

Usually no cause of death can be pinpointed.  Usually the ranchers report the animal had appeared perfectly healthy just a day or two before its demise.  Often, unidentified flying objects have been observed in the immediate vicinity.

Word spreads.  Everywhere across the West, from the Dakotas down to Texas and over into Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, and Montana, nervous ranchers scan the night skies, loaded rifles at the ready.  They wait for the strange flying lights that could spell doom for their herds.

Despite their watchfulness, thousands of cattle were found dead and mutilated under mysterious conditions in the 70s.

One such flurry of mutilation cases is profiled in the excellent and very strange book, Mystery Stalks the Prairie.  The book, published in 1976, details a number of mutilations and subsequent investigation undertaken by Capt. Keith Wolverton of the Cascade County, Montana, sheriff’s department.  A collaborative work between Wolverton and reporter Roberta Donovan, Mystery Stalks describes, in a dispassionate, matter-of-fact tone, the twists and turns the investigation took as it meandered its way down increasingly arcane tributaries of weirdness before ultimately concluding — absolutely nothing.

The mystery remains even today.

I did some searching on newspapers.com to find more information on the Montana mutilation incidents.  Although the mutilations in Cascade County began in 1974, the first news article I found appeared in the Great Falls Tribune in the summer of 1975.  In it, Wolverton appeals to the public for help in solving the case, stating that 14 mutilated cattle had been found in the last year.

On Halloween 1975, a Helena Independent Record headline reads:

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“If this doesn’t settle down, there could be some innocent people get hurt,” Montana Stockgrowers’ Association Director Mons Tiegen says in the article.

Clearly the gory goings-on had gotten under Tiegen’s skin.  One week later, on November 6, 1975, the Chouteau, MT Acantha reports that the Stockgrowers’ Association is offering a $1000 reward for information leading to the capture of the mutilators.

Two days after that, a Tribune item describes the 17th mutilated cow investigated in Cascade County:

Deputies said the cow had been dead less than 24 hours after they reached the area but reported no physical evidence at the scene to indicate how the pasture was reached.

Deputies said they also are puzzled by the manner in which the cow was mutilated.  According to officials, after the one ear was removed the 1000-pound animal was rolled completely over onto its other side so the mutilated portion of the head was lying against the ground.  “It must have taken a great deal of strength to roll that carcass over,” said one deputy.

And this was just the beginning.

This is part one in a three-part series.  Stay tuned for part two.  For your reading pleasure in the meantime, Mystery Stalks the Prairie is available freely here.

Bigfoot book bonanza

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A portion of the bigfoot-slash-strange-stuff collection

I read a lot of books.  I’ve taken out many from the trusty library, I own a decent bigfoot book collection and have probably twice that many on my Kindle.  It’s a good thing, too, ’cause you gotta do something during the long, dark purgatory that is winter in Montana.  So here’s a brief tour of my bigfoot/paranormal literary trove.  I can’t review them all — well, I could, but ain’t nobody got time for that — so I will try to highlight some that are lesser known.  (I discussed a few other books in an earlier post.)  If you have any favorite bigfoot books, let me know!  I’d love to hear about them.

Best Local Interest Book

Mystery Stalks the Prairie, by Roberta Donovan and Keith Wolverton

What caused a flurry of cattle mutilations in central Montana in the 1970s?  This book is its own high-strangeness festival.  Black helicopters, occultists, and bigfoot, oh my!  Complete with color photographs of the damage.

Best Cover

DSCN0649Hands down, the best cover in my collection belongs to the weird little paperback, The Secret Origins of Bigfoot, by Warren Smith.  Behold its glory.

This was an impulse buy made while browsing Abebooks (a wonderful site for all your bigfoot book needs — cheap!).  This book does not live up to its promise, i.e., no “secret origins” are discussed at any point.  However, I still feel good about the purchase based not only on the fact there’s a weird hybrid seal-man on the cover, but also because it actually reveals some reports I’ve not seen elsewhere — notably, that a suspected bigfoot terrorized customers at a garden center on Long Island in 1931.

Best Books for Serious Research

Raincoast Sasquatch, J. Robert Alley

Interesting book about bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.  Includes a handy index wherein the encounters logged in the book are categorized by type of encounter and behavior observed.

The Historical Bigfoot, Chad Arment

Exhaustive collection of newspaper stories about bigfoot-type creature encounters, all from before “bigfoot” was even a word.

Best New Arrival

DSCN0650Monster Spotter’s Guide to North America, Scott Francis

Another impulse buy; this book showed up in my “Recommended based on your browsing history” Amazon feed.  And it’s really good!  I received it this past weekend and inhaled it just last evening.  Combining cryptozoology and folklore, Francis takes us on a continent-wide mysterious monster quest.  Yes, in places it’s tongue-in-cheek, but I guarantee you will learn something you didn’t know about North America’s hidden menagerie.

Best Bigfoot Book for Kids

DSCN0656Nobody Meets Bigfoot, Marian T. Place

Slightly awkward adolescent takes summer-break trip with wacky grandma to search for the elusive bigfoot.  Place introduces young readers to famed bigfoot accounts and Native American tales, and even shows us a glimpse at the seedier side of bigfootery.  Good read!

Honorable Mentions

Giants, Cannibals and Monsters: Bigfoot in Native Culture, Kathy Moskowitz Strain

A cultural anthropology of a legend:  Fascinating review of Native American “hairy man” tales and folklore, profusely illustrated with photographs and Native art.

The Locals, by Thom Powell

Not your typical bigfoot book:  A wide-ranging overview of Bigfoot phenomena, including some of the “high strangeness” aspects which surround it — UFOs, government coverups, cloaking, etc. Powell includes some interesting, detailed encounters reported to him during his years as a BFRO investigator.

February odds & ends

First off, I’d like to send a giant “get well soon!” to Tom Yamarone.  Yamarone is not only a great musician, but a wonderful friend and ambassador to the bigfoot world.  He is currently in rehabilitation, recovering from a stroke he suffered a couple of weeks ago.  He helped me out a ton when I was organizing Big Sky Bigfoot last year and honestly, getting to know him was one of the highlights of 2016 for me.  So I’d like to help give back.  Please visit the fundraising page that has been set up for Tom and his family, and consider making a contribution if you are at all able.  Every dollar helps!  Thank you!

A couple of recent news items have got me thinking about bigfoot in the Great Plains.  The Plains as sasquatch habitat is a subject that generates some debate, because, honestly, a lot of us don’t necessarily associate the cornfield flatlands of the midwest with large hairy hominids.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a news report detailing an alleged sasquatch sighting and trackway find in southeastern ND. (Be sure to click the arrow on the video to see a photo of one of the tracks.)

But later, in an anonymous letter mailed to the news station, a nameless person claims to have been behind it all. It was a prank, he or she writes, that (as we know pranks are prone to do) got a bit out of control.

The outdoorsman who found the tracks claims that not only did the line stretch on for miles in the snow, but also that it showed a four-foot step — both unlikely for what the reporter says was simply “a booze-fueled stroll on a pair of homemade Sasquatch slippers.”

The track photos, if indeed were found where they are claimed to have been found, don’t look like prosthetic big-feet marks to me.  On the other hand, who the heck writes an anonymous letter hoaxing a hoax?

As those of you who grew up playing Oregon Trail should know, the Great Plains once teemed with wildlife, including bison, wolves, and grizzly bears.  Why not bigfoot as well?  Of course, those days are far in the rearview mirror now, ever since the sodbusters brought “civilization” to the region.  The once-unbroken expanse of grassland has been replaced by miles of farm fields, arrow-straight blue highways, grange halls, and grain elevators.  But what remain are a handful of river & creek corridors lacing through the prairies that theoretically could offer migration routes for an elusive creature.

North Dakota isn’t the only plains state where bigfoot is reputed to walk.  Nebraska has a surprising amount of encounters (here’s one from a couple years ago), and the first Nebraska bigfoot conference took place this past weekend in Hastings, NE.  From the reports I’ve seen, it sounds like it was a great gathering, so bravo to the organizers.  I’m all for fledgling bigfoot conferences.  However, the proliferation of bigfoot meet-ups in recent years has drawn criticism.

Writes editor Daniel Perez in the January 2017 issue of Bigfoot Times, “My own opinion about Bigfoot conferences these days is a mixed bag.  They are great as a social mixer but for real content in the talks I have yet to see real detailed notes posted anywhere.  It just seems to me they are all about merchandise sales and you can just as well buy their products on line.”

Yes, I get Bigfoot Times and I don’t always agree with Perez, but it does offer a glimpse into some of the current goings-on in the bigfoot community (such as it is).  But I really beg to differ with his assessment here.  For one thing, many of the talks given at bigfoot conferences can be found on Facebook and Youtube if one takes the time to look.  Also, speaking as a conference organizer here, I am confident asserting that nobody’s getting wealthy off these things; if we sell a few products, it just goes to cover our costs. But most importantly — the “mixer” aspect is where  everything happens.  Sure, you can interact with fellow bigfooters (and trolls aplenty) on the web; but mingling face-to-face in a nonthreatening environment is where reports are exchanged, ideas are discussed, and friendships and research partnerships are formed.  They’re fun, sure, but also useful.  Maybe they won’t last forever, so let’s enjoy ’em while we got ’em.

 

 

 

The tulpa connection

 

Here in Montana we are in the midst of one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record.  I’m itching to get into the mountains, but that’s not practical right now.  So I’ve been sitting around the house, growing pale and flabby, and reading lots of books.  Two of the books I’ve read this winter are American Gods by Neil Gaiman and Three Men Seeking Monsters by Nick Redfern.  Both of these books explore the concept of the thoughtform.

I was introduced to thoughtforms, or specifically “tulpa,” in an Into the Fray podcast episode last summer, which you can find at this link.  The tulpa is a Tibetan concept.  It is an entity created entirely from thoughts — if you concentrate long and hard enough, according to the concept, from your brain can spring the fully-formed embodiment of your thoughts.  Essentially a tulpa is a being which crosses over from the realm of imagination to that of reality.  Sometimes these beings are benevolent; other times, they can “go rogue” and terrorize or even destroy their creators.

In Three 51jsejqqv6l-_sx287_bo1204203200_Men Seeking Monsters, author Redfern and two friends go on a quest throughout Great Britain following up reports of monster sightings.  Along the way they run into an improbable-sounding “witch” called Mother Sarah who cautions them that what they seek is not necessarily what they expect.  Sarah discusses the tulpa but then launches into a epic tale about the “Cormons.”

The Cormons, as I understand Redfern’s retelling, are ill-intentioned beings from another dimension who were summoned into our world by a shadowy group of occultists at some time in the dim and distant past.  For weeks, these dark practitioners concentrated on “opening the door” to the Cormons.  They eventually succeeded.  This original group was found murdered, their bodies mutilated.  The Cormons had escaped.

The Cormons, according to Redfern, are entities that feed on emotion and as such, are adept at assuming forms meant to terrify the unsuspecting human race.  In this interpretation, bigfoot, other cryptids, and even extraterrestrials are actually hellish spirits whose modus operandi is to scare the bejesus out of us, slaking their evil appetites on our psychic energy.  Redfern hypothesizes that some of these beings have become extinct while others have become strong enough to exist as independent entities on the earth, but still require regular emotional feedings to survive.

In Gaiman’s novel American Gods, the gods and other mythologized beings are the thoughtforms.  These differ from the tulpa or the Cormons in that it is the coll51irop3eirl-_sx276_bo1204203200_ective consciousness of a given society that forms them.   Conjured by belief and given strength through the devotion of their worshipers, the gods emerge as sentient, separate entities.  But the gods thus created are effectively orphaned when these beliefs die or change, abandoned to make their own ways in the world.  As one god puts it, “One day they forget about you, and they don’t believe in you, and they don’t sacrifice, and they don’t care, and the next thing you know you’re running a three-card monte game on the corner of Broadway and Forty-third.”

As society changes, the gods change with it.  What are the current gods in Gaiman’s twenty-first century USA?  Technology (characterized as an obnoxious, chubby kid who has a nervous breakdown when wifi’s not available) and Media (a pretty, upbeat, platitude-spouting female news anchor), to name a couple.

This is a fun concept.  Hmmm.  I wonder what “capitalism” would look like?

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Tulpa, Cormons, thoughtforms — fascinating concepts all, and alternative explanations for alternative happenings.  You don’t have to believe that bigfoot is the embodiment of a fear-devouring evil spirit to concede that our thoughts do have power.   The question is, to what extent, and how do we control it?  What do you think?

 

 

 

The Summit of Squatch

“You’ve got to go to the Sasquatch Summit,” they say.  “It’s so much fun,” they say.

This year, I listened.  Booked a cheap flight to Seattle, rented a cheap car, and made my way to the Quinault Casino in Ocean Shores, WA.  This entailed sojourning south on I-5, taking a right at Olympia, and heading straight through that little slice of paradise known as Aberdeen.  More correctly, it entailed making about five complete circuits around Aberdeen before finding my way out.

I don’t remember Aberdeen being so complicated.

I arrived at my hotel on a Friday afternoon in plenty of time for the evening’s squatchy activities.  After finding the casino and ordering a massive bowl of chili and a couple of beverages in the bar, I was ready to go.

When I say “casino,” I mean it.  This was an incongruous setting for a bigfoot conference.  Walking out of the enormous ballroom where hundreds of people are seriously considering the existence of an eight-foot-tall hairy hominoid and into a bright, smoke-filled room full of gamblers staring at dinging and chirping slot machines never got old.

Some friends I’d met at previous conferences had graciously saved me a seat in the second row.  The first presentation of the evening was by Russell Witala, a local researcher.  I must admit I’m still not sure who this person was or why he was speaking, but he frequently assured us that he was saving some essential information to share with us at Sasquatch Summit ’17, so apparently he’s on the roster for next year as well.  Witala spoke of a habituation site he frequents where the juvenile sasquatches have taken a shine to him.  He then showed us some photos of trees which he said were broken by the squatch kids playing on them.  He said they also like to make coyote noises at him.  How he knows that it was not snow that broke the branches or actual coyotes making the noises, I’m sure he’ll reveal next year after he borrows a razor from Mr. Occam.

So we were off and running. Next up was Ron Morehead, whose 1970s “Sierra Sounds” recordings have become iconic in certain circles.  Morehead and certain linguists believe the sounds represent actual conversations between the creatures.  You can hear some of the recordings here.

Next on the program was David Ellis, an audio specialist with the Olympic Project.  The Olympic Project is a well-known outfit which researches alleged bigfoot activity on and around Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.  I was familiar with Ellis through the podcast OK Talk, which I adore, and on which he’s been a frequent guest.  Ellis was presenting sound recordings from the “Devil’s Creek” location discussed in the podcast, so I had already heard most of what he had to share.  They have captured some interesting sounds there, similar to gorilla chest-beating, as well as alleged vocalizations.

I have a slight complaint about Ellis’ presentation and that was that he showed us none of the visual signatures of these sounds. Sound produces vibrations, which can be represented visually similar to a seismic readout of an earthquake.  Ellis repeatedly said that through these spectographs, he can tell that the sounds have NOT been made by known animals in the area — but he didn’t show them as part of his presentation.  David, if you are reading, toss in some screenshots next time!

After a brief “town hall” meeting moderated by Derek Randles, also of the Olympic Project, it was back out into the casino for the remainder of the evening, complete with a live band and line dancing in the bar.

I was a bit late next morning.  Ordered some breakfast back in the good old casino bar and it took a long time.  So I missed the first speaker, who was Mitchel Townsend. Townsend has found bones with teeth marks he alleges are from sasquatch.  He has written an incredibly lengthy and dense analysis of this find which I, admittedly, will probably never work up the wherewithal to read.  I can barely make it through the title page.  You can find it here.

Thom Powell was taking the stage by the time I wandered into the conference room.  Our front-and-center seats had been bogarted, but I skulked around the edges of the room and found a spot.  Confession time: I like Thom Powell.  He reminds me a lot of Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future and one expects at any moment to see the man hop into a DeLorean and disappear.  His book The Locals is one of my favorite bigfoot reads.  I was in the middle of his more recent book, Edges of Science, at the time of this conference.  Powell has, after years of study, developed a sort of unified theory of the paranormal, which is fascinating in itself whether or not you agree with much of it.  What do extraterrestrials, Aztec gods, Eisenhower, and bigfoot have in common?  Look up “Edges of Science” if this interests you (how could it not?).

Cliff Barackman next did a presentation on sasquatch hand prints.  A lot of attention is paid to footprints, obviously, but a number of alleged bigfoot handprints have been found as well.  This was my favorite presentation of the conference.  So often, the same old beloved stories are dusted off at these conferences.  But Cliff, who is an engaging speaker anyway, was treading territory here unfamiliar to the mass of us.  Explaining the telltale markers of finger length and even the folds of one’s palms, the prints Cliff displayed indicated a definite pattern of hand movement and usage that are more primate than human.  We’re accustomed to thinking in terms of footprints, but obviously handprints have the potential to reveal vastly more about this creature’s behavior.

After another Olympic Project presentation about an alleged sasquatch nest site, complete with photos that indeed appear to be very large ground nests made primarily out of huckleberry twigs, Christopher Noel took the stage to tell us about autism and bigfoot.  I read a book by Noel a while back because it was a free download for the Kindle.  In the book, Noel offers that certain behaviors common to individuals on the autistic spectrum are common to bigfoot as well. He speculates that these behaviors increase the bigfoot’s chances of survival in the wilds.  He calls this the Sasquatch Savant Theory.  I’m just gonna leave this right here.

In another odd juxtaposition — the speaker following Noel was Dr. Jeff Meldrum.  I was especially interested to see Meldrum’s presentation as I had only gotten to see snippets of it at the Big Sky Bigfoot Conference.  Meldrum expressed his displeasure at the public perception of bigfoot as “paranormal,” bemoaning that his book is located not in zoology sections of bookstores and libraries, but in the occult or new-age areas.  (Dewey, of the decimals, categorizes it as “controversial knowledge.”)  He complained — as do I — that the so-called “skeptical” literature of the bigfoot world is anything but.  And like at the Montana conference, he urged the crowd to act as citizen scientists, collecting evidence in a systematic way that can be verified by scientific means.  The implication, of course, is that taking a no-nonsense scientific approach to the problem of sasquatch will elevate its study in the public eye.

I was waiting for David Paulides.  A one-time bigfoot researcher and former law enforcement officer, Paulides has more recently turned his attention to missing-persons cases, writing a series of six (!) books under the title of Missing 411.  He was the anchor of the program and was allotted an hour and a half for his presentation, whereas everyone else had gotten a slim hour.  Paulides’ talk, after taking some potshots at the “bigfoot community,” was a catalog of missing-person case after missing-person case after… well, you get the idea.  It soon began to feel that I was at the “Missing Persons’ Summit” instead of the Sasquatch Summit.  So mainly I had been waiting for Paulides because I really, really wanted the man to make some sort of bigfoot connection, although I didn’t have any expectation that he would do so.  What connections DOES he make?  Well — a lot of people who go missing are doctors!  How can that be a coincidence?  And — a lot of people who go missing are picking berries or mushrooms in the woods! How can that be a coincidence?

So, essentially, the answer to the question “What connections does he make?” is really “None.  None at all.”  But he sure does have a lot of books to sell, and by refusing to make these connections, he assures that he can sell them to the widest possible audience.  I’ve stated before on this blog and I will state again now: There is no good that can come of stirring the pot.  And anyway, what’s the point of collecting hundreds of stories and not formulating a theory to connect them?

Well.  What were my impressions of my virgin Sasquatch Summit? They were right, it was a blast.  It was also large; I believe more chairs had to be brought in to accommodate the hundreds of people who came.  I learned that you can have an eclectic line-up of presenters which includes both “flesh-and-blood” and paranormal believers, and that it can actually work, for the most part.  The Summit affirmed my belief that we CAN all get along despite having disparate positions on the phenomenon. But I also learned that I have real issues with people presenting theories as facts, and perhaps even bigger issues with people presenting facts that have no theories.

The Summit caused me to think quite a bit about the responsible presentation of information.  If you accept as fact when someone tells you, for example, “This tree branch was broken because of sasquatch; I may not have evidence of this, but I know it to be true,” — that’s not critical thinking.  To flip that coin, if you say (as do many of the so-called “skeptics”), “I believe bigfoot does not exist, therefore bigfoot does not exist,” your brain may as well leap out of your skull in a frenetic and desperate attempt to find a better home.  Similarly, if you say, “I have documented hundreds of cases of missing people but I refuse to make any logical connections unifying them,” — what the heck is even the POINT?  Without a logical framework, ANY and ALL presumptions fail.

Going in, I knew it would be a weird blend of flesh-and-blood and paranormal believers, but I didn’t expect the Sasquatch Summit to be so thought-provoking.  I also didn’t expect the casino food to be so good (I’ll be thinking of Friday night’s fisherman’s platter probably for the rest of my life).  So I’m glad I went.  As the last conference of 2016, Sasquatch Summit was a definite winner.