Bigfoot: The History and Legacy of North America’s Most Controversial Cryptid – Charles River


People have always been fascinated with the hidden, the mysterious, and the unexplained. Every society has its tall tales and ghost stories, its odd legends, and heroes. Also, every society has its stories of strange beasts, dangerous or benign, that live in the twilight world between the everyday and the legendary. Through most of history, people have been closely tied to nature, hunting in forests and having an intimate knowledge of the animals in their regions. So-called “primitive” peoples were walking encyclopedias of the natural world, and yet most believed there were more creatures lurking in those woods than the ones they usually encountered. Even as the world becomes more connected, the belief in strange creatures continues as strong as ever.

Indeed, the willingness to believe in exotic animals has been so widespread that some have made careers out of displaying “oddities” to the public at circuses, fairs, and museums. Perhaps the most notorious individual to do this is P.T. Barnum, whose New York City museum was so popular in part because he was more than happy to invent items with which to fascinate the public, even if no such item actually existed. His first example of this was the now famous “Fiji mermaid.” Barnum rented this oddity from a Boston rival, Moses Kimball, in 1842, but while the creature floating in the jar of formaldehyde was described as a mermaid, it was actually the body of a very young monkey with a fish tail sewn on over its legs. Barnum leased the item long term for $12.50 per week and then marketed it as having been caught by his friend Dr. J. Griffin, a pseudonym for Barnum’s business associate Levi Lyman. For his part, Barnum saw nothing wrong with what he was doing, justifying the hoaxes by saying they were just “advertisements to draw attention…to the Museum…I don’t believe in duping the public, but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them.”

Although cryptozoology is often scoffed at and widely considered a pseudoscience, one of the reasons it made men like Barnum rich and continues to fascinate people today is the fact that people realize they’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to identifying all the different forms of life on Earth.

In North America, the most debated subject in cryptozoology concerns the existence (or otherwise) of a large, unknown hominid inhabiting the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada’s West Coast. For many skeptics, this is nothing more than a woodland fairy tale that illustrates the credulity of believers, because they believe it would be impossible for such a creature to exist in a country as heavily populated as the United States yet remain completely unknown to mainstream zoologists. On the face of it, that seems a fair contention, since other large creatures such as bears, mountain lions, elk and many others live in the region. Biologists have been able to study these animals in the wild, to recover remains of dead animals, and even live specimens, but while a great many people have looked, to date, no one has been able to capture a Bigfoot or to find remains or other physical evidence such as hair that can be definitively shown to have come from an unknown hominid. That certainly seems to support the skeptics’ case.

Nonetheless, sensible, knowledgeable, and seemingly witnesses continue to make sightings of something very large and odd in the vast forests of the Pacific Northwest. There is even tantalizing scientific evidence that suggests Bigfoot is something more than just a campfire tale. While these sightings are typically dismissed as errors or delusions and that all physical evidence thus far, such as footprints, have been hoaxes, fervent believers are still out there claiming that Bigfoot does indeed exist.

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