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.

DSCN0721

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.

marian

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?

DSCN0724

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.

Bigfoot book bonanza

bfbs

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.