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Scenes from a Bigfoot Conference

Rob Boston

Skeptical Briefs Volume 13.4, December 2003

Many people associate Bigfoot, the mysterious eight-foot-tall man/ape creature of longstanding lore, with the Pacific Northwest, said to be the creature’s traditional stomping grounds.

But some believers in the hairy hominid are convinced that the critter actually lives all over the United States and is equally at home in the swamps of the South, the farmlands of the Midwest, and even the rolling foothills of the East Coast. Could Bigfoot possibly inhabit the densely populated states of the East Coast? On September 27, about 200 Bigfoot enthusiasts gathered at an unlikely venue-a dim, cavernous nightclub above a restaurant in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, a tumbledown Rust Belt town-to consider that question. Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society (PBS), the fifth Annual East Coast Bigfoot Conference/Expo gave believers a forum to swap ideas and information about the possibility of sasquatches living in their own back yards.

Skepticism about Bigfoot’s existence was in short supply at this conference. Speakers took it as a given that America’s version of the abominable snowman does exist, though they differed on what exactly the creature might be.

Bigfoot enthusiasts these days tend to fall into two camps: those convinced that the creature is merely a flesh-and-blood animal yet unknown to science, and those who believe it is a paranormal entity. Both camps were represented at the conference, although a certain amount of tension between the two was apparent.

Longtime UFO researcher Stan Gordon, who led off after PBS Director Eric Altman’s opening remarks, seemed to straddle both camps. Gordon noted that in the 1970s, western Pennsylvania was plagued with weird creature reports, including sightings of Bigfoots near UFOs. He conceded this is “a rarity” but added, “There’s no doubt the evidence suggests there’s something out there. We don’t know what it is."

Like many researchers of the paranormal, Gordon is convinced that the federal government has a keen interest in his efforts. He told attendees that after he began studying Bigfoot, a “government agent” called him and requested to be notified if a body were found. Gordon said he later met with this agent, but would not name him or the government department the agent represented. He then told a rambling tale about three men who spotted a white Bigfoot and were later harassed by someone who claimed to be an FBI agent.

Gordon, who was pressed into service at the last minute to fill in for a speaker who couldn’t make it, readily conceded that he’s not a Bigfoot expert. These days he spends most of his time promoting his video about the “Kecksburg Incident"-western Pennsylvania’s answer to the Roswell, New Mexico, UFO crash.

Paul Johnson, a chemistry professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, followed Gordon and offered his explanation for what lies behind the Bigfoot mystery. Johnson told the crowd that his original interest was in UFOs and admitted that he considered Bigfoot “silly.” But a fellow researcher of the paranormal felt differently and pestered Johnson to take a closer look at reports of the creature. He was soon drawn into Bigfoot research.

Johnson then unveiled his startling theory: Bigfoot is a “quantum animal” that moves freely between the real world as we know it and a “quantum world” outside the reach of conventional physical laws.

“This creature does not always behave as a real animal,” Johnson told the crowd. He noted that some people have claimed they could see through Bigfoot, or that Bigfoot seemed to transport across long distances in the blink of an eye. Others have fired guns at the creatures at close range, only to see them vanish.

“We've always ignored these things over the years,” Johnson said. “I just decided not to ignore them.”

Johnson claimed that in quantum physics, electrons do not obey the classical laws of physics. They can, for example, move through barriers, he said. When Bigfoot is in this quantum state, Johnson opined, the creature has no mass or weight and is “just a wave.” Bigfoot’s quantum nature, Johnson told attendees, may explain the lack of clear photos of the beast. “He probably communicates with cameras,” Johnson said. “He knows when they are around. He won’t let you take a picture.”

Johnson acknowledged that his ideas are unconventional and pointed out that nothing in quantum physics supports the idea that an animal as large as Bigfoot could behave like an electron. He noted that many physicists would reject his ideas and even went so far as to say that, as a chemist, “I have no idea what I am talking about” when it comes to quantum physics.

Despite these disclaimers, some in the crowd were clearly bothered by Johnson’s ideas. One Bigfoot hunter from Ohio angrily called out during the question period, “In other words, you’re saying Bigfoot’s an alien?” The man claimed to have captured Bigfoot howls on tape and demanded to know, “How could I record a mass of energy?” Johnson replied that when Bigfoot is in the real world, it smells, eats, growls, leaves droppings, and otherwise behaves like a conventional animal. Others in the audience seemed open to Johnson, and one man asked him if Bigfoot could possibly move between worlds by “vibrating dimensionally.”

The next speaker, Timothy Cassidy, steered the discussion back to a more conventional course. Cassidy, who claims to have seen a Bigfoot in Indiana in 1996, rejected paranormal explanations for the creature: “I know Bigfoots have normal habits just like any other animal.”

Cassidy, a former naturalist for Indiana’s Department of Environmental Resources, spoke matter-of-factly about the routines of Bigfoot, telling attendees that they eat apples, rodents, fish, and deer and live in caves, deep-forest nests, and occasionally in abandoned buildings.

Bigfoot, Cassidy said, tends to be nocturnal. He estimated the Bigfoot population in the United States and Canada at about 4,000 and said the creatures can live anywhere there is an adequate water supply and about 30,000 acres of forest cover per Bigfoot family. Bigfoot is often portrayed as a gentle giant, but Cassidy regaled the crowd with a few horror stories. “There are instances of them being aggressive,” Cassidy said. One case involved a man who could not stop in time when a Bigfoot ran in front of his car. He struck the creature, but it was only dazed and proceeded to get up and chase the man home, keeping pace with his car. The man somehow made it into his trailer, but the Bigfoot jumped on top of it, leaving huge dents. The man’s insurance company, Cassidy explained, was not sure how to process the claim.

After a break for an auction of Bigfoot-related memorabilia-including some truly kitschy Bigfoot art-conference attendees heard from perhaps the most controversial speaker of the day. Janice Coy of Monroe County, Tennessee, claims that her family has been interacting with a family of Bigfoot since 1947.

Coy’s speech was long, disjointed and rambling, but the gist was that her grandfather found an injured young Bigfoot fifty-six years ago, set its broken leg and gave it living space in a barn. Later, the creature’s parents came and took it away. Intrigued, Coy’s grandfather began leaving out food for the Bigfoot family. “Eventually,” she said, “a relationship developed.”

Coy, who was raised by her grandfather on the farm, said she grew up taking the creatures for granted. She claims that Bigfoot creatures can say a few words, though their speech is guttural. The Bigfoot family on her farm, led by an alpha male the family has named “Fox,” remains wary of humans to this day but will accept food.

What solid evidence has Coy gathered in her nearly four decades of interacting with Bigfoot? None. She showed a series of photos at the conference, but they depicted only shadows and trees. (For a sampling of these photos, see Coy’s Web site at “It’s not really clear because he does blend in,” Coy said of one photo. “Some people see him, and some people don’t.” On another occasion, Coy said she got some good photos but, sadly, the local Wal-Mart overexposed the roll. “I don’t know where my pictures went,” she said, “but there wasn’t anything on the film.”

Coy claimed Bigfoot are smart enough to know when cameras are present. She claimed that researchers gave her a small field camera to set up outside near some food she had put out for the creatures. But the Bigfoot were wary and seemed to know something was up. They used sticks to get at the food, and one reached from behind the camera to grab its dinner.

At times, Coy’s story was inconsistent as well as fantastic. She said her goal is to get some Bigfoot DNA to prove the creatures’ existence so they can be protected. She talked about the creatures keeping their distance from humans, yet she also insisted that she has held baby Bigfoot in her arms. She did not explain why, when cradling a Bigfoot babe, she didn’t simply yank off a few hairs to get the prized sample for science. And, despite the animals’ legendary shyness, Coy claims to have observed them in enough detail to know how mama Bigfoot care for their young. Apparently it never occurred to her to invest in a telephoto lens and snap a few candids while doing her fieldwork. She also claimed that the Bigfoot family often brings her presents-bundles of sticks or bunches of flowers swiped from a nearby cemetery.

Coy’s claims were incredible, and there was some low-level grumbling from a few audience members, but overall she was well received and subjected to no hard questioning.

The event also included a presentation by William Dranginis, a Virginia man who claims he saw Bigfoot in 1995. Dranginis has created a “Bigfoot Primate Research Lab"-basically a jazzed-up RV full of video and audio surveillance equipment. Free tours were offered.

Members of the PBS regularly undertake field trips to look for evidence of Bigfoot in Pennsylvania. They often focus on an area called Chestnut Ridge, between the western Pennsylvania cities of Latrobe and Johnstown, where several sightings have been reported. Director Altman told the crowd that several investigations are under way, some of which he could not discuss in detail due to promises of confidentiality. The group plans to meet again next year. For more information, see its Web site at

Rob Boston

Rob Boston is a writer, editor, and senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C.