Reading Time: 4 minutes Impersonating Bigfoot. (Redwood Coast, Flikr, CC BY 2.0)
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Fake news isn’t new, evidently.

One particular bogus storyline began with this headline in an October 1958 edition of the Humboldt (California) Times: “Giant footprints puzzle residents.”

Impersonating Bigfoot. (Redwood Coast, Flikr, CC BY 2.0)

Thus the metastatic and enduring “Bigfoot” fever dream was born.

The discovery

It began when Jerry Crew, a California road construction foreman and his team discovered enormous footprints along Bluff Creek, reporting the find to authorities, from whom the Humboldt Times learned of it. The article coined the term “Bigfoot.”

Smithsonian magazine reports in its September 2018 edition that, in fact, “The tracks were planted … by a man named Ray Wallace — but his prank was not revealed until his death in 2002, when his children said it had all been ‘just a joke.’”

One would think, in a rational world that would have been the end of it.

But no.

The Bigfoot myth exploded on the American consciousness like smallpox epidemics among colonial Native American populations, and is still highly infectious nearly two decades into the new millennia.

Scientists: Nah

No matter that scientists have consistently dismissed the claim as unsubstantiated. A 2013 report by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), titled “Backing Key Trends in Biodiversity Science and Policy” waved away Bigfoot reports:

“There have been regular claims of sightings of a ‘scientifically undescribed large primate’ in the forests of western North American, there is still no hard evidence this ‘species’ ever existed.”

The Bigfoot hoax is just one of many superstitious artifacts that litter the American cultural landscape, proving yet again that people love a good story or impossible hypothesis even after it’s thoroughly debunked.

That’s a problem for a secular republic, not to mention ostensibly reasonable people. We delude ourselves at our own peril. Like those Heaven’s Gate cultists who, at their leader’s direction, donned matching togs, drank a lethal poison and lied down, believing they would soon levitate to a Paradise-bound spaceship hidden behind the Hale-Bopp comet then passing by Earth.

I’m almost certain they missed their connection.

Myth springs eternal

So, despite zero confirmation of veracity, we now have millions of devoted Bigfoot “trackers,” global organizations focused on finding the elusive creature and a dizzying array of internet sites dedicated to this clearly bogus imagining.

Likewise, newspapers large and small throughout the nation continue as they always have to post daily “horoscopes,” which as you may already know, project how everyone’s day will go based on the positions of heavenly bodies when they were born as well their nexus with the cosmic line-up in each 24-hour period. Keep in mind that the last educated people who actually believed this stuff lived in the Middle Ages.

Another cultural touchstone of ignorance in the 21st century are so-called “psychics,” people who supposedly have “paranormal,” meaning supernatural, abilities, including bending spoons with their minds and locating people, remotely, on another continent. There’s no irrefutable material evidence that they inhabit these skills, but there’s mountains of evidence that people really, really want to believe they do. The internet is even more awash in paranormal nonsense than Bigfoot sites. Recently a commenter on my blog lashed into me for disbelieving in psychic powers, arguing that police departments throughout the nation swear by them. Well, maybe on TV shows and when all else has fails in a real-world murder investigation where other victims are at risk and the killer is nowhere to be found, and the police are desperate and willing to literally try anything.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes: “Research in parapsychology—such as testing a subject’s ability to predict the order of cards in a shuffled deck—has yet to provide conclusive support for the existence of clairvoyance.”

In other words, as with the purported existence of Bigfoot and the efficacy of horoscopes in predicting anything, there is no concrete evidence supporting people’s fascination with the paranormal. However, these imaginings provide tons of evidence for the overwhelming power of desire over actual experience.

Like religion. And love at first sight.

Bigfoot is ‘everywhere’

That a seemingly high-brow publication like the Smithsonian devotes three pages to the continuing Bigfoot enthrallment is a symptom of the problem, and a problem in and of itself for promoting such things, even off-handedly.

In the Smithsonian article, Ben Crair wrote, “Today, the legendary beast seems to be everywhere: You will find Bigfoot looking awfully cute this year in two children’s films: The Son of Bigfoot and Smallfoot. Animal Planet recently aired the finale of its popular series ‘Finding Bigfoot,’ which lasted 11 seasons despite never making good on the promise of its title. And the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization lists at least one report from every state, except Hawaii, over the past two decades.”

Crair wrote that the most recent Bigfoot “sighting” was this summer, in June, and it was described as looking like “a large pile of soggy grass.” My first thought is that’s probably exactly what it was. And that beer may have been involved. But, I confess, I wasn’t there.

The article also noted an embarrassment of Bigfoot sightings over the years, extensive and up-to-date databases of Bigfoot-supporting information, even photographs, inevitably grainy and obscure — or of a creature looking as if it stepped out of a bad mid-century Japanese horror flick or a cheesy Halloween-costume shop (see photo above).

I get it. This phantasmic stuff is utterly engrossing to apparently tens of millions of people. Fine. Except for the part that many of them actually believe it may be real.

To each his own, of course, but, seriously, let’s not encourage them.


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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...