Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
In James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds’ smash-hit Image Comics series, The Department of Truth, the power of belief is strong enough to conjure any kind of crazy thing, from a star-faced cannibal, to reptilian aliens, to an ice wall at the end of the flat Earth. And as we saw in issues #10 and 11, even Bigfoot!
But wait, why is that so hard to believe? Bigfoot’s just a big ape hiding in a vast, secluded place, right? Not much different than the gorilla was 150 years ago?
Funny thing is, almost as soon Europeans “confirmed” the existence of gorillas, people in America started seeing them. Must have been misidentifying Bigfoot, who everyone knows has been around since Native American times! Trouble there is that the term “Sasquatch” wasn’t coined (in Canada, it’s worth noting), until the 1920s, and it referred to something much more human than the loping beast we think of today.
America didn’t get “Bigfoot” until 1958, when large (likely hoaxed) footprints were observed around a logging site in Humboldt County, California. No creature was ever sighted, but stories more similar to what we think of now proliferated throughout the ’60s.
Needless to say, there were no more American gorilla sightings at that point, but historian of science Brian Regal says in his 2013 book, Searching for Sasquatch, that Bigfoot effectively killed the werewolf, too. With evolution becoming more accepted as time went on, a big, hairy man-ape made a lot more scientific sense than a big, hairy man-wolf. But contrary to what a lot of people think, that’s not how the American apeman stories really started.
“Paranormal Bigfoot is way older than people think it is,” says archaeologist Jeb J. Card.
In fact, a lot of books actually cite the first known Bigfoot encounter as occurring in what came to be known as “Ape Canyon,” near Mt. Rainier in Oregon. In 1924, Fred Beck and a group of gold prospectors reportedly suffered an entire night of fierce intimidation and stone attacks from a group of 7-foot-tall hairy hominids, who finally skulked away when the sun came up.
What those books don’t usually tell you is that local newspapers at the time reported that Beck and his crew were really going into the woods at night to perform seances. And that when “scientific” Bigfoot started to take off in the ’60s, Beck angrily published a pamphlet connecting his attackers with UFOs and spirits, and telling everyone they were from a “lower plane of existence.”
Pennsylvania’s Stan Gordon pumped some more life into paranormal/alien Bigfoot in 1973 with his book Silent Invasion: The Pennsylvania UFO-Bigfoot Casebook. Reporter Linda Godfrey followed in the ’80s and ’90s with the “Beast of Bray Road” in Wisconsin, which ironically turned a Bigfoot creature more-or-less back into a werewolf (see also: the Michigan Dogman, right next door). By the time we get to hairy humanoids escaping dimensional portals on Utah’s Skinwalker ranch, Bigfoot’s gone from a scientific curiosity to a “wild fiction” fit to stand with Department of Truth‘s Men in Black and Lady in Red.
It might seem tempting, even trivial to say this shift is due to how much science has advanced over the decades, so if Bigfoot really does exist, it can’t be a real animal. Ecology tells us just how unlikely it is to have a sustainable breeding population that goes unnoticed. Paleontology shows us there aren’t any non-human North American apes in the fossil record. Card, though, thinks believers’ pivot away from hard facts is due to America’s growing disregard for expertise in general, and the “declining social cachet of science,” specifically.
“Why the hell would you chase that brass ring, when it’s a tarnished brass ring?” Card asks.
Plus, bizarre and fantastical is just trendy right now. Look at the rise of “cryptidcore,” a whole style unto itself full of starry-eyed crushes on mythical animals and churning microindustries of monster products, from pins to board games to Mothman body pillows. The modern crypto culture seems to have moved beyond seeking science’s approval.
“Your audience is conventions, your audience is YouTube — they don’t give a crap,” Cards says. “They want weird re-enchantment stories.”
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