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Review: Monsters of the Northwoods by Paul and Robert Bartholomew, et al.

Bigfoot may be best known for his appearances in the Pacific Northwest, but that hasn’t stopped reports of the creature from cropping up elsewhere around North America. In Monsters of the Northwoods, authors Paul and Robert Bartholomew, William Brann, and Bruce Hallenbeck make the case that Sasquatch may also be hiding out in the more remote corners of New England.

The text focuses on the states of New York and Vermont, first covering a variety of historical accounts, and leading up to a series of modern day creature encounters.

While the concept here is great, and there are a number of enjoyable items to discover, the execution is best described as uneven. For example, there are a few chapters dedicated directly to local monster sightings, but they’re interrupted by another chapter which attempts, rather unconvincingly, to correlate these events with unidentified flying objects. This diversion only serves to break up an otherwise logical geographical progression in the story telling.

Arguments over arrangement aside, the UFO material was simply not a good fit for the text. The authors were forced to fall back on non-Northeastern events just to make these paranormal connections. Here (and elsewhere) they don’t seem to have been able to decide what kind of book to write: one which discusses the macro issue of “Bigfoot the general mystery” or one which addresses, much more specifically, “Bigfoot in the Northeastern US.” As a result, they spend time on both and excel at neither. I would argue that the latter would be better executed by ignoring the philosophical arguments like “is Bigfoot connected with UFOs?” or even “what is Bigfoot?” (the focus of a later chapter). Leave these discussions to studies of the phenomenon as a whole, which can leverage the most compelling cases from anywhere in the world. You’re not going to be able to do justice to such sweeping issues using only material drawn from as narrow a segment of the globe as the Northwoods, and still make everything feel cohesive and well argued.

The sighting reports, while much more in line with the title theme, are also of hit or miss quality. Chapter two dedicates five or so pages to an incident which seems to be immediately debunked at its conclusion. The main character in this bit has, we’re told, “personally interviewed over fifty people claiming to have either seen or heard [the monster].” Why the authors opt to spend several pages investing in the debunked story, rather than relating any of these other, potentially more interesting and open-ended items is unclear.

While certain incidents (particularly ones directly involving the authors?) are covered in satisfying detail, others are glossed over in little more than a sentence or two. In one instance, at the close of the chapter on Vermont sightings, the authors attempt to draw a comparison between Sasquatch and a mystery feline creature, the “catamount”, also said to inhabit the Northeastern US. They seem to be trying for the argument that, just because something is not proven, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not real. Which is not inherently unreasonable: after all, many animals were myth before they were officially described and accepted by science. Yet in this instance, the catamount, like the Sasquatch, has never been accepted by science, seemingly mooting the entire point. They may as well have drawn a comparison with the Loch Ness monster. Ironically, the authors dedicate some three whole pages to a verbatim news article describing this random cryptid; more detail than is given to any Bigfoot-related clippings elsewhere.

Ultimately, despite the uneven quality and a lack of focus, Monsters of the Northwoods was not unenjoyable. For Sasquatch enthusiasts, it’s always exciting to see the mystery reach new territory. It should also hold particular interest for those who have a personal connection to the region, and who may never have thought to be on the lookout for monsters in their neck of the woods. Those who don’t fall into the above categories might be better served by starting elsewhere.

Rating: 3/5