“There was a time when religion ruled the world. It is known as the Dark Ages.”
– Ruth Hurmence Green
The Hoopa Project by author and investigator David Paulides offers bigfoot research on a level scarcely found in cryptozoological publications. Paulides dedicated years to interviewing witnesses and visiting locations within the small communities of the Hoopa Valley in California. Hoopa was chosen as a high quality location based on several criteria (explained in the text), and it appears to have payed off.
What really stood out about The Hoopa Project wasn’t necessarily the writing style or presentation. Nor were the individual sighting entries (interviews) particularly sensational in and of themselves. On the contrary, most of the sightings amount to the fairly mundane glimpses or brief run-ins with the mystery creature. What really hits home is how the sum of all the individual puzzle pieces come together to be something altogether more impressive.
Whereas other bigfoot authors generally pull material from anywhere they can find it, The Hoopa Project was intentionally focused on a small geographical area. Stories gathered from people with no connection to one another are often easy to put aside. “If these things were real, people would see them all the time.” Or even, “every town has it’s crazies.” Therein lies the real impact of The Hoopa Project: it’s not a scattering of distant parties; it’s about a large number of people in a relatively small physical space and time. And because the entire study focused on one area, it comes off as a natural environment that a real wild animal (or animals) could continuously inhabit. Bigfoot is not a thing that was seen once in this town and never again. On the contrary, it was spotted repeatedly by people who are essentially neighbors, as any real creature would: coming and going at random. The author turns the whole “no frequent sightings” complaint on its head simply by picking a promising area and sticking with it long enough to produce results.
There is another major element of The Hoopa Project which involved an endeavor to employ a trained sketch artist to draw the bigfoot creature as remembered by several of the best witnesses. This produced some interesting material, also included in the book, with a number of drawings having some fairly intriguing similarities. In the end I came away feeling somewhat critical of the sketch concept. That is not to say I think they were a bad idea, or that I don’t feel the artist chosen did a first rate job, but I did find several areas of concern. The author does not explain in much detail how the sketching sessions actually work (neither traditional criminal nor bigfoot), so perhaps a better awareness of the process may have helped lend credibility to the end results.
Many of the sightings are years old by the time they are finally drawn. It’s a known fact that witness memory is easily prone to corruption from external sources. The mind may alter memories over time without the person ever realizing it, even with something as familiar as other human faces. With huge, intimidating, mystery creatures that aren’t even supposed to exist, it has to be almost impossible to maintain a totally unspoiled recollection of creature characteristics several years beyond an incident. This is assuming that the witness even saw what they think they saw in the first place, considering how stressful and brief and unexpected these events must be.
There is one particular sketch which came out noticeably different from most of the others, despite being from a source trusted greatly by the author. He wonders openly in the text about this disparity, but I think it simply makes my point. It requires no intentional deception for testimony to be faulty, and given the author’s own background in law enforcement, I’m surprised this doesn’t seem more obvious to him. It’s likely as simple as an honest mistake of either the witness’s senses (vision), or memory, or both. And while one sketch makes this possibly more apparent than the others, the reality is it could manifest to some degree in any or all of them.
Further, it’s unclear how qualified a sketch artist with a career of drawing human criminal suspects can be when it comes to accurately depicting wild creatures (humanoid or otherwise). I have no concerns regarding the credentials or integrity of the artist himself, I have no doubt he did the job to the best of his ability, and I have no reason to think anyone else would have done differently or better. But that is not to say I’m convinced that the endeavor is scientifically valid. Was the human element that was so prominent in the drawings in any way influenced, even subconsciously, by the fact that they were drawn by someone with a lifetime of experience sketching humans? Further, is it possible that the artist’s own preconceived notions about bigfoot’s appearance could have subconsciously influenced the end product? Given that the artist interviewed several witnesses a day, and all the witnesses in a short time period, is it possible that later drawings were in any way influenced by the earlier drawings?
As I said earlier, a better understanding of the interview procedure may have helped with mitigating some of these concerns. But ultimately, regardless of both the quality of the artist and the integrity of the interviewees, I’m hard to be sold on the true value of the sketches. There are just too many variables, and of course there’s no way to validate any of the results. A photograph or video may be blurry, but what’s visible is essentially accurate and true, even decades after it was taken. It’s just hard to expect the same of artist interpretations of the aging memories of witnesses, even in the best of cases.
With all that said, I don’t want the issues around the sketches to weigh heavily on the final review. The drawings were interesting, but they are only part of the presentation, and the remaining research methodology really goes above and beyond, and is what makes the book worth reading. You simply can’t find this level of commitment in most other works in the cryptozoology field, and the result is impactful. I’m not sure I can recall any other single work that I’ve read to date which does a better overall job of making the case for bigfoot as a real creature. I’m looking forward to reading the follow up.