Oct 212011

In 2006 Dr. Jeff Meldrum authored a book entitled Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science (ISBN 0-765-31216-7) which puts forth a variety of arguments for the existence of Bigfoot. An entire chapter is devoted to the analysis of a large cast that was quickly dubbed the “Skookum Body Cast.” Meldrum addresses claims that the most likely candidate other than Bigfoot for the creation of this large impression was an elk. Meldrum first offers this line drawing on page 119 which is captioned “Typical posture of a bedding bull elk, with the resulting pattern of impressions. The darkest regions indicate the position of the hooves.”

Contemporaneous with the publication of Meldrum’s book was an analysis by Dr. Anton Wroblewski, a professional geologist with a background in paleontology and ichnology. Wroblewski created a photomontage that cleanly matched the features found in a wallowing elk to those found in the Skookum Body Cast.

As we can see in Wroblewski’s photomontage, the elk’s hooves are beside the elk, not under it as in Meldrum’s drawing. In addition, an informal written analysis was posted to a popular Bigfoot Internet forum, and later reposted to the James Randi Educational Foundation forum. Needless to say, this caused a firestorm in the Bigfoot community, as the credibility of multiple Bigfoot advocates was called into question. A variety of arguments were advanced by Bigfoot advocates that the cast did not represent an elk. One persistent claim has been about how elk leave hoof prints when rising from a wallow. On page 119 Meldrum writes:

“And finally, and perhaps most telling, when an elk rises from a repose it must place its hooves directly under its weight in order to stand, leaving tracks in the centerline of its imprint, Yet there are no elk tracks located in the center of the Skookum imprint, only deep and clear elk imprints skirting the imprint.”

This claim is in direct opposition to Wroblewski’s analysis:

“Significantly, the lack of hoof prints directly within the outline of the main body print is exactly what is seen in deer, elk, and other ungulate lays (see Elbroch, 2003). Hoof prints found outside the main body outline, but related to the forelegs reveal how the animal stood up.”

Here is a set of screen captures taken from an elk hunter’s video. As we can see from the digital time display, the elk bounds out of the wallow very quickly, within a second. First off, we see from the video that “wallowing” is a dynamic activity, and the elk is in different positions at different times. Here is a screen shot that shows the elk on its side, not on its belly, as in Meldrum’s drawing.

The next still image is just after the elk has been hit with an arrow.

From there we see a quick series of positions, none of which show the elk’s hooves positioned in the main body impression. The elk has explosively heaved itself to the side, not placidly stood up in its own body impression. Remember, Meldrum claimed that an elk must place its hooves directly under its weight in order to stand which is an absolute statement. As such, Meldrum’s absolute claim is factually inaccurate.

It’s possible that Meldrum could have avoided making fundamentally flawed arguments like this if he had first consulted professional ichnologists. As Dr. Wroblewski put it:

“Mark Elbroch, whose book I used as a conveneient, (sic) authoritative, and recent reference in the hopes that BFers would actually take the time to investigate how “real” trackers work, has weighed in and agrees with my interpetation (sic) as well. There is no controversy as to the identity of this particular cast. Anyone with one working eye and an ounce of common sense can see that it’s an elk or large deer trace.”

For further reading, here is another account of Wroblewski’s analysis by Daniel Perez.

 Posted by on 10/21/2011 Bigfoot 4 Responses »
Oct 162011

Yes, this track is real! It’s a depression in the ground, and as such is a physical fact. But was it made by Sasquatch? That’s the sixty-four dollar question. With virtually all tracks attributed to Sasquatch, we don’t have a film or video record of what actually made the track at the time the track was made. We have to infer what might have made the track after the event.

First off, the track in question was part of a series videotaped by Paul Freeman. An edited portion of this video surfaced some years ago in a TV and DVD documentary entitled Legend Meets Science, produced by Doug Hajicek. The video that this screen grab was taken from was recently uploaded to YouTube, and contains shots of a trackway that appears very ‘Squatchy.

One track in particular caught my eye, and it appears at about 43 seconds into the video. The track contrasts strongly with the surrounding forest litter, as there is very little debris in the track itself. To me it appears to have been excavated rather than created by compression. I came to this conclusion because some years earlier I had made various tests using large prosthetic feet. One test I performed in my front yard. As you can see in my photo, there is plenty of green moss and fine vegetation in both the bottom of the track and the soil surrounding it. I made this track by repeatedly stomping on a Ray Wallace style wooden prosthetic. If you look closely you can see an impression of my own size 12 shoe to the right of the track.

Various details can be gleaned from this simple test, but the obvious one here is that a compressive event, such as a heavy mass pressing into the earth should mash the vegetation in with it, and the vegetation should remain. From this I would conclude that the track seen in the Freeman video was not made by a singular or even multiple compressive event, and as such cannot be attributed to an animal.

I’m not the only person who concluded that Paul Freeman’s tracks were fake. In 2005 a fascinating book entitled Tracker was published by Joel Hardin (ISBN 0-9753460-0-8) which included a chapter entitled Tracks of Bigfoot. Hardin details personally investigating a trackway associated with Paul Freeman in the Mill Creek watershed near Walla Walla, Washington in 1982. Hardin devoted 20 pages to detailing an extensive onsite investigation into this trackway. Unlike me, Hardin is a professional tracker, and perhaps not surprisingly concluded that the trackway was fake. It’s an excellent book, and deserves wider recognition within both the Bigfoot and skeptic communities. After reading Hardin’s book, the notion that an 8 foot tall monster could wander the North American continent and remain impossible to track becomes rather ludicrous.

Despite Hardin’s professional appraisal, the evidence put forth by Freeman has been taken quite seriously by Bigfoot advocate Jeff Meldrum, who devoted a considerable portion of his 2006 book Sasquatch Legend Meets Science (ISBN 0-765-31216-6) to arguing that Freeman’s evidence was real.

 Posted by on 10/16/2011 Bigfoot, Pseudoscience 2 Responses »
Jan 222011

Several weeks back, librarian and MetaFilter moderator Jessamyn West contacted me and asked for my mailing address. She wanted to send me a surprise gift. I soon received a copy of a novel by Joseph A. Citro entitled The Gore. Jessamyn was curious as to what I thought of the book, so by way of thanks I thought I’d jot down this review.

First off, I think Jessamyn was aware of my interest in Bigfootery, as the book incorporates Bigfoot into the story, albeit in a somewhat tangential way. Citro is a New England author of both fiction and non-fiction, whose subject matter is largely Fortean or supernatural.

Unfortunately, I may not be the best person to give an incisive analysis of a work of fiction, as I’ve read very little of it during my lifetime! My favorite author of fiction is Joseph Wambaugh, who writes about police work in Southern California. In the late 1990’s I went absolutely ga-ga over his masterpiece of burlesque and tragedy, The Choirboys.

Here I’ll put in the obligatory disclaimer that the following review contains spoilers. I think today’s de facto alert is supposed to look like this:

**************************SPOILER ALERT************************

The book’s title itself is a great teaser, as one naturally thinks of horror fiction as incorporating “gore” in the sense of blood and dismemberment. But Citro works in a clever double entendre, as “gore” can also mean a triangular plot of land that is a sort of irregular leftover from roughly orthogonal land division. Indeed, our story takes place in a forested Vermont gore. The novel was first entitled The Unseen, so the title change worked well.

The story starts tragically, as “Lunker” Lavigne sees something in the gore that so disturbs him he commits suicide. We don’t get to learn the identity of what he saw until the end of the book. A variety of characters intersect socially and geographically to investigate the gore’s goings-on.

Citro incorporates two Fortean elements into the novel to create his boogeyman. Native American legends about the “Wild Man of the Woods” are as varied as there are tribes, but one of the more well known is the “Windigo.” This monster is malevolent to be sure, and fits in well in a horror novel. But some of the human characters in the novel can’t be sure of what they saw, and suggest it’s our old friend Bigfoot.

Citro has managed to glean enough from the subculture of Bigfootery to know that some Bigooters, particularly Kathy Strain, have seriously proposed that Native American Wildman legends such as the Windigo are actually derived from a biologically real Bigfoot. It’s amusing to me as a resident of the Pacific Northwest to have witnessed the steady growth of the putative habitat of the Sasquatch from the late 1960’s until the present. Back in the late 1960’s, the dominant Bigfoot advocate argument was that the forests of the Pacific Northwest offered a habitat sufficiently vast and rugged to allow a cryptid megafauna like Sasquatch to evade human detection. But as time went on, reports from areas outside the Pacific Northwest began to come in. This presented a conundrum for the advocates, as the argument from habitat had to be quietly set aside. As one Sasquatch skeptic who posts as “LTC8K6” on the James Randi Educational Forums succinctly put it: “Bigfoot is everywhere, yet nowhere.” Indeed, anecdotal sightings of Sasquatch are now recorded for the entire North American continent. If Bigfooters dismiss sightings from states like Missouri or Kansas out of hand, then the same logic could be applied to sightings in the Pacific Northwest…

As far as the novel goes, Citro is accurately depicting the current state of affairs; people in places like Vermont or New York occasionally report seeing Bigfoot, despite the ludicrous lack of biological evidence for such an animal.

Citro works in the theme of the Underground Railroad, which is of course an historical reality. But that too is the subject of exaggeration and mythology as well. Like all works of fiction, you start with something real, then augment and fine tune it.

Certain story elements didn’t quite work for me, as numerous human characters survive horrific and violent encounters only to recover and go back for more. For me, this had a bit of a Wylie Coyote feel to it, lacking only the Acme anvil. In real life, even a sprained ankle can be deadly out in the woods, yet Citro’s characters survive much worse injuries.

I’m sorry to report that Citro made a glaring technical error on pages 209 and 211 by including a safety on a snub nosed .38.

The dues ex machina of the novel is that the Wendigos are really humans after all, reduced to living in a feral state. Interesting but implausible; I think I would have enjoyed the monsters remaining Windigos.

An even stranger literary genre than Fortean horror fiction are books about Bigfoot “habituation” in which individuals periodically encounter and interact with Sasquatch. Despite the best efforts of individuals like Jeff Meldrum or the producers of TV’s Monserquest to legitimize the oft-mocked topic of Bigfoot, these books push the envelope of credulity to the outer limits. These accounts often become ripe objects of scorn, even within the subculture of Bigfootery itself.

In the end, I’m probably not the best candidate to review a book like The Gore, as I’ve read so much literature on the subject of Bigfoot that Citro’s novel just doesn’t seem that striking to me. The “fringe” of Bigfootery is so vastly weirder and wilder than Citro’s novel that what’s claimed as fact by some outshines even Citro’s fiction.

Thanks again for the book, Jessamyn, the world needs more spontaneous gift giving!

 Posted by on 01/22/2011 Bigfoot, Culture, Opinion Comments Off on The Gore
May 242010

Wow, I guess I don’t pay attention to the blogosphere like I should! I just found this page, which was written over a year ago, today! My interest in Bigfootery has diminished since 2005, and I don’t scan the Bigfoot blogosphere very carefully.

But I’m impressed that the author of the entry got the story quite correct. Bigfootery often becomes deluged with irrelevant material, and it can often be trying to wade through it all to get to the truth.

I see Ms. Hovey posted a comment immediately after the blog post in which she misspells the word “you’re” just as she did when she falsely accused me of being a liar on the JREF board! Some bad habits die hard!

The links with the blog entry are to the previous incarnation of my website, and need to be updated. The correct index page about the desiccation ridge business is found here.

 Posted by on 05/24/2010 Bigfoot, Opinion Comments Off on The Dust Never Settles
Mar 092010

This evening I had the distinct honor of finally meeting Dr. Anton Wroblewski and his wonderful wife Bonnie. Here he is seen examining with a loupe a test cast I made some time ago. I think he found a “sweat pore”:

The obligatory dour pose:

Bigfootery is incomplete without vitriolic finger pointing:

 Posted by on 03/09/2010 Bigfoot Comments Off on The Men Who Killed Bigfoot