Tag Archives: Sasquatch

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

Review: The Hoopa Project by David Paulides

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.

Rating: 5/5

Review: Man-Monkey by Nick Redfern

Certain parts of the world are famous for their large hairy hominids: there’s North America, of course, and the Himalayas for the Yeti. Even the isolated Australian continent has its own version of Bigfoot, the Yowie. And while Great Britain may not spring to mind as one of the more well known mystery ape haunts, author Nick Redfern suggests that we should not be so quick to dismiss the British Isles. In “Man-Monkey”, the author takes us on a trip to the European continent, as the tagline reads, “In Search of the British Bigfoot.”

On the positive side, much of the material in “Man-Monkey” is sourced from first hand interviews conducted by the author. The research was a side project of his spanning several years, and he was clearly motivated by a deep personal interest. He was able to visit many of the sighting locations in person, and the paperback text includes an insert of some black and white photographs to illustrate various people and places from the stories.

Unfortunately, for me, “Man-Monkey” never really managed to achieve critical mass. Unlike Bigfoot phenomena from other parts of the world, Redfern’s monsters always seem to avoid leaving behind any convincing physical traces. What we’re left with is a handful of the “momentary sighting of something” types of encounters that, while interesting, don’t really go the full mile in terms of overwhelming evidence. Moreover, the author plays it pretty loose with the variety of strange events to be considered, also bringing topics such as black dogs, ghosts, and shape shifters into the fray. Many of the incidents documented here lack an apparent consistency. The failure to maintain focus further dilutes what is already arguably somewhat sparse source material, and the end result is less of a “there’s a hairy humanoid running around in Britain” type of conclusion, and more of a “people in the British Isles sometimes see odd things.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it’s all a bit more supernatural and haphazard than you might find in some other literature of the Sasquatch variety. There’s also an ever-present autobiographical element which only really serves to pad out the length, and adds little practical value.

My other gripe is a somewhat questionable editing of the final product. Every paragraph was doubly spaced for no apparent reason. Worse, the author seems to have lost control over his adverbs. This particular foible really became increasingly grating the longer I read. I have never seen the word “duly” inserted so often into a single text. (Though there were others overused as well – that one stuck with me.) I’m sure some readers would probably entirely ignore this, but for me, it detracted from the overall enjoyability.

Technical issues aside, at the end of it, “Man-Monkey” left me feeling fairly unconvinced. It wasn’t a terrible read by any means, but it played more like folklore than rigorous cryptozoology. This might be more of a winner for “locals” (or at least “regionals”) with a personal interest in the places involved.

* For other “regional” treatments of Bigfoot phenomena which I find compare more favorably, I recommend “The Yowie: In Search of Australia’s Bigfoot” by Tony Healy and Paul Cropper and “The Beast of Boggy Creek” by Lyle Blackburn.

Rating: 3/5

Review: The Beast of Boggy Creek by Lyle Blackburn

The Beast of Boggy Creek by Lyle Blackburn documents the history of a Sasquatch-like creature that has been making appearances in the vicinity of Fouke, Arkansas for decades. Also known as the Fouke Monster, it originally catapulted to fame when it became the subject of the 70s film The Legend of Boggy Creek. Blackburn recognizes the movie, which he first saw as a youngster, as being a significant contributor to his eventual adult interest in cryptozoology. Finding a dearth of solid documentation regarding the monster, the author took it upon himself to pursue the topic and become the beast’s “biographer.”

A biography almost seems to be an appropriate summary for the book, too. The author does not invest heavily into trying to prove nor disprove the reality of the creature. He does include a summary of some common theories in one of the later chapters, and although it’s made fairly clear that none of the suggested debunkings seem to hold much water, the work ultimately shies away from forcing an explanation. The focus is clearly on recording the story for what it is; who saw what, where, and when. Colorful stories abound, and it’s clear that Blackburn has put a lot of effort into getting around and unearthing every scrap of information he could. Remote sites were visited, living witnesses were interviewed, and news reports were meticulously scavenged for details on the creature. He even manages to tie nearly every scene from the Boggy Creek film to the real life event that inspired it. And the end result is impressive to say the least. Every mystery beast should be so lucky to have such a dedicated biographer.

I really loved this book. It reminded me of all the things I enjoy in a good old fortean mystery. There are colorful characters aplenty, and a constant stream of the odd and intriguing incidents that you just can’t help but want to believe. The author manages to hit pretty much every aspect of the story, too. From the history of the location and early sightings, to the infamous film and the resulting monster craze, and many of the locals who wound up at the core of the situation (right up to present day), there’s rarely a dull moment. The writing is clear and accessible and the pace keeps you turning the pages. Blackburn really manages to express his own love of the mystery and the atmosphere surrounding it to the reader, and his enthusiasm is contagious.

Highly recommended. Existing knowledge of the Boggy Creek film is also by no means a requirement. While I’m sure it adds some extra depth for those who have seen it, The Beast of Boggy Creek easily stands on its own merits.

Rating: 5/5

Review: In Pursuit of a Legend by T. A. Wilson

In Pursuit of a Legend is not your typical sasquatch story. I find bigfoot books generally fall into a couple categories: There are those which seek to document the sightings or experiences of individuals who claim to have witnessed the creature, and then there are the scientific analysis types which attempt to analyze the data from a technical perspective and draw conclusions. T.A. Wilson presents us with neither.

In truth, there really isn’t a lot of sasquatch material to be found here. Readers expecting the concentrated and focused documentation that is more typical of the genre may well be disappointed in this regard (although I certainly wasn’t). Instead, this book contains the story of a man on a personal journey into the wilderness. Yes, his stated goal is to find the mystical primate for himself, but as one might expect, such creatures are not exactly popping out of every tree and shrub just waiting to be photographed. This is not your typical obsessive, sensationalist television documentary with a monster lurking around every corner. No camera crews and no fancy equipment; just a man and his backpack trekking through the woods.

What we have, then, is a story of nature as witnessed through the author’s eyes. More a commentary on bigfoot’s environment, and those who inhabit it, than of the creature itself. We follow the author as he hikes various trails in Pacific coast national parks, and camps among the native flora and fauna, all the time observing and opining on his surroundings. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few unusual occurrences waiting for us along the way, but to focus only on them is, I think, to miss much that this story has to offer.

I have to say that I loved this book. It was not at all what I expected, yet it was also better than I had hoped. I no doubt suffer a bias in that I felt much in common with Wilson’s spirited attitudes toward the wilderness: the beauty of it, the curiosities it holds, and a strong distaste for those who would abuse it. The author is not afraid to criticize people who mistreat the national parks, carelessly starting fires, or littering and polluting the wilds on their pleasure trips. Some people may find his harsh criticism abrasive, but I largely agreed with his attitude, and had no problem with his expressing it.

In an odd way, it’s almost a shame that the book has the sasquatch element to it, as I fear it will cause it to be overlooked by a wider audience who may also appreciate the contents on a less paranormal level. Bigfoot or not, In Pursuit of a Legend is a beautiful story of a man and his time among a fragile and fantastic environment, and I think many should enjoy it regardless of an interest in mythical beasts.

Highly recommended to both bigfoot chasers as well as regular old nature lovers.

Rating: 5/5