By: Benjamin Radford, Life's Little Mysteries contributor
Published: 05/17/2012 12:32 PM EDT on Lifes Little Mysteries
It may surprise people to know there are several Bigfoot conferences in the United States each year; in fact, the Ohio Bigfoot Conference, held recently in a town some 100 miles south of Cleveland, is considered one of the biggest in the world and provides insight into the monster-hunting community.
Guests at the Ohio Bigfoot Conference in Cambridge April 29 included biologist John Bindernagel, who was part of a group of researchers claiming to have found hard evidence and "Bigfoot nests" in Russia last year. (Other prominent Bigfoot researchers denounced the event as a hoax for the publicity.) Also on hand was veteran investigator Peter Byrne, who has led many unsuccessful expeditions searching for Bigfoot and Yeti evidence over several decades.
There's rarely much new in the way of Bigfoot evidence to offer or discuss; after all, it's not as if researchers can give presentations comparing, say, a Bigfoot body found in Oregon in 1984 with a Bigfoot body found last year in British Columbia. Without hard evidence grounding the discussion, conferences are often heavy on personal stories by people who swear they encountered the world's most famous mystery monster, if only indirectly.
Other than the exotic subject matter, Bigfoot conferences are pretty much like any other conferences. There are guest speakers of varying quality, plus lunches and networking opportunities. And, of course, merchandise: Bigfoot is the most commercialized monster in the world, lending its name and likeness to everything from monster trucks to pizzas to beef sticks. Bigfoot-themed sundries include plaster footprint molds allegedly recovered from sightings, DVDs, books, hats and posters, as well as general camping and hunting equipment that might plausibly be used in an amateur Bigfoot hunt.
How do you organize a conference around a subject that has never been proven to exist? Often the answer is by accepting the assumption that the beast exists, and offering theories about it: what Bigfoot monsters eat, where they sleep, their mating and social habits, and so on. Discussions on the details of Bigfoot ecology and morphology often resemble the classic debate among medieval theologians about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It makes for a fun parlor game among interested parties, but it's all opinion, theory and wild speculation until we know they exist.
Many discussions at conferences and within the Bigfoot community tend to put the cart before the horse, a classic example being the long-running "kill or capture" debate: whether it would be ethical to shoot or kill a Bigfoot if it meant that the creature's existence was finally proven. (Ironically, this would be the first step toward protecting these presumably endangered animals.) This debate is taken very seriously and is highly contentious in some circles, especially since it was recently ruled legal to shoot Bigfoot in Texas.
Amid all the talk, one question never comes up: Is Bigfoot real? Is it possible that everyone in the room is discussing something that does not exist? Among this crowd, that is a silly — almost taboo — subject. The question of Bigfoot's existence isn't really treated as a topic for discussion; it is instead an assumed fact or premise. Most Bigfoot buffs seem confident that conclusive Bigfoot evidence is just around the corner — a faith that has sustained that community for over half a century.
Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of "Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures." His website is www.BenjaminRadford.com.
This still image taken from a 1977 film purports to show Bigfoot in California.
A film still shows what former rodeo rider Roger Patterson said is the American version of the Abominable Snowman of Nepal and Tibet. The film of the tall creature was shot by Patterson and Robert Gimlin northeast of Eureka, Calif., in October 1967.
As a motor biker was driving through the Grand River area of Ohio in April 2012, an alleged Bigfoot ran across the road and was caught on videotape.
Depicted is an illustration of a creature reported to inhabit the Kemerovo region of Siberia. Scientists from the U.S., Russia and other countries have yet to find one of these creatures known as the Russian Snowman. In early October, researchers claimed to be 95 percent certain that the animal exists.
An alleged footprint of a Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, appears in snow near Mount Everest in 1951. Now, scientists are setting out to find evidence of a reported unknown, hairy, bipedal creature known as the Siberian Snowman.
Bigfoot or bear? Impression left on the driver's side window of a pickup truck owned by Jeffrey Gonzalez. The bizarre image was left by an alleged Bigfoot in California's Sierra National Forest over Memorial Day 2011. DNA samples of the impressions will eventually determine the identity of the animal responsible for them. (See next slide for a close-up of the paw-like impression.)
Close-up of the "paw" print image. The impression was reportedly left by Bigfoot on the window of a pickup truck in the California Sierra National Forest over Memorial Day weekend 2011.
Bigfoot or bear? Pictured is a second impression left on the rear side window of the same truck from the previous slides. According to forensic/law enforcement photographer Mickey Burrow, "What you're seeing is a swipe mark. It looks like a small hand, swiping to the left, leaving another impression, and there's hair within those areas -- you can see where the hair would be."
This footprint was found over Memorial Day weekend, 2011, near Fresno, Calif. by a group of campers who were on a Bigfoot-hunting expedition. The print, measuring approximately 12 inches, was found near a truck where possible DNA evidence was left behind by more than one Bigfoot creature.
This footprint was found in 2008 in the Sierra National Forest near Fresno, Calif.
Thomas Byers snapped this photo of "Bigfoot" along Golden Valley Church Road in Rutherford County on March 22, 2011.
Bill Willard is the leader of a group searching for evidence of a Sasquatch or Bigfoot creature, spotted by, among others, his two sons in Spotsylvania County. He is shown on May 19 in Thornburg, Va., with a plaster cast he made from a suspicious footprint several years ago.
This still frame image from video provided by Bigfoot Global LLC shows what Whitton and Dyer claimed was a Bigfoot or Sasquatch creature in an undisclosed area of a northern Georgia forest in June 2008.
This October 2007 image was taken by an automated camera set up by a hunter in a Pennsylvania forest the previous month. Some said it was a Bigfoot creature; others believed it was just a sick bear.
A preserved skull and hand said to be that of a Yeti or Abominable Snowman is on display at Pangboche monastery, near Mount Everest.
Idaho State University professor Jeffrey Meldrum displays what he said is a cast of a Bigfoot footprint from eastern Washington in September 2006. Some scientists said the school should revoke Meldrum's tenure.
Joedy Cook, director of the Ohio Center for Bigfoot Studies, talks to a visitor to his booth on Oct. 15, 2005, at the Texas Bigfoot Conference in Jefferson, Texas. The event, hosted by the Texas Bigfoot Research Center, drew enthusiasts and researchers of the legendary creature.
Ken Gerhard of Houston, Texas, holds a duplicate plaster cast footprint Oct. 15, 2005, at the Texas Bigfoot Conference. The event, hosted by the Texas Bigfoot Research Center, drew enthusiasts and researchers of the legendary creature.
Josh Gates, host of Syfy TV's "Destination: Truth," holds a plaster cast of what Malaysian ghost hunters said was a Bigfoot footprint in 2006.
Al Hodgson, a volunteer guide at the Willow Creek-China Flat Musuem in California, holds up a plaster cast of an alleged Bigfoot imprint in 2000. The museum houses a collection of research material donated by the estate of Bob Titmus, who spent his life trying to track the creature.
Costume maker Philip Morris, who does not believe the Bigfoot legend, claimed the Patterson-Gimlin film showed a person wearing a gorilla suit that he made.