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Bigfoot at Mount Rainier?

Investigative Files

Joe Nickell

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 38.5, September/October 2014

As part of the Pacific Northwest, Washington State is a prime location for reports of Sasquatch—usually known since 1958 as Bigfoot. In one study (Nickell 2013, 15), involving 1,002 reports from 1818 to November 1980 (Bord and Bord 2006, 215–30), Washington had the greatest number of incidents: 110 (followed by California, 104; British Columbia, 90; and Oregon, 77).

In October 2013, led by a professional guide, I visited Mount Rainier and its vicinity, the locale of numerous alleged sightings, track discoveries, and photographs of the elusive creature (Bord and Bord 2006, 194, 259; Green 1978, 93, 392–95). Some screams—assumed without justification to be from Bigfoot—have also been recorded in the area (Green 1978, 393–95).

The Bigfoot Bear

Bigfoot tends to be spotted in bear territory, to mimic a bear’s behavior, and even to resemble a bear when—as it does in alert mode, especially—it stands upright (Nickell 2013). Consider these cases:

• In the autumn of 1912, near Oakville (between Mount Rainier and the Pacific) a woman saw a tall, bearlike/apelike creature looking in the window of her small ranch house (Green 1978, 389–90). Was it actually a bear, as she first thought?

• In about 1948 (as recalled many years later), a man named Clarence M. Foster was at Mad Lake (northeast of Rainier) when he saw what some have concluded was a Bigfoot. Foster saw it on the opposite shore and described the creature as thin, six feet tall, and squatting with its “arms” in the water. Foster first “thought it was a man but it seemed to be covered with black hair. Later he went to where it had been and could find no sign of a camp” (Green 1973, 15).

• In the summer of 1964, a prospector from Missouri was camping between Spirit Lake and Mount Adams (i.e., approximately due south of Mount Rainier) when he woke to see a seven-foot-tall man-beast, a “dirty brown” in color. He saw it for only “about thirty seconds” and only from the back, but, he recalled, “his legs seemed stuffy in comparison to the rest of his body” and “his front legs or arms” seemed to swing from side to side (Green 1973, 28). He insisted it was not a bear, but I suspect he had not previously encountered one standing upright. Apparently, as bears so often do (Herrero 2002, 116–24), this one had come into his camp looking for food.

• More recently (date not given), two bow hunters near Orting (northwest of Rainier) saw what they thought was a Bigfoot approximately three hundred yards away and watched it for a while. It reportedly stood upright, had a simian appearance, and was covered with black fur. One pro-Bigfoot source commented that “If they had been watching this creature with only their naked eyes, we might think it was just a bear, but since they used binoculars, that explanation is unlikely” (Davis and Eufrasio 2008, 91–92). Actually, binoculars do not necessarily prevent a misidentification at such a distance. The fact that the animal was standing upright may have led them to conclude it was not a bear but a Bigfoot, and that is what they then saw.

In short, can we be certain that eyewitness reports of hairy creatures, even if seen standing or briefly walking upright, are really Bigfoot—or could a witness be fooled by a bear? This could be not only because of poor viewing conditions (caused by distance, vegetation, darkness, etc.), but also because he or she has Bigfoot on the mind. My late colleague, the psychologist Robert A. Baker, called attention to “the power of expectation and how our activities and mental sets can influence our perceptions and beliefs” (Baker and Nickell 1992, 135–39).

On the Trail at Mount Rainier

At Mount Rainier National Park in late October 2013, accompanied by experienced guide Diann Sheldon, I spoke with an official at the park entrance (Challup 2013) who told us that the most active alleged Bigfoot sighting area was around Reflection Lake. He also informed us of someone dressing as Bigfoot—what I call “Bigsuit”—in outlying areas, specifically along Skate Creek Road (Forest Service Road 52, which we intersected coming and going). (See Figure 1.)

BigsuitFigure 1. “Bigsuit” outside Mount Rainier National Park. (Photo credit: Steve Wilson)

Sheldon took me into definite bear country—snow-covered trails at about 5,500 feet elevation on Rainier. There she pointed out some bear “scat” (droppings)—which, she observed, showed the bear had been feeding on the mountain ash berries that were common there. Farther on, we came across more such scat. Later, below the trails, we ate at the Paradise Visitor Center and Inn where I spoke to park rangers and volunteers.

One of the latter (Hollinger 2013) told me how, the previous summer, she had encountered a standing bear on Rainier, just fifty feet away from her—for what seemed a very long time! She pointed out that, with its front legs hanging at its side like arms, such a bear could resemble Bigfoot—especially if it was looking directly at the observer so that its face seemed flatter. She pointed out also that Mount Rainier black bears were often brown or cinnamon colored, which could make them seem even more Bigfoot-like.

She also stated that, at ranger housing at the Sunrise Visitor Center across the mountain, it was not uncommon for bears to be seen standing upright and looking in the windows in their perpetual search for food (Hollinger 2013). This common bear behavior (Nickell 2013) is also frequently reported of Bigfoot (e.g., Bord and Bord 2006, 224, 239–41, 251, 264, 271–72, 300, 303; Green 1973, 28, 38, 58; Green 1978, 252–53, 389–90). Before leaving Mount Rainier we staked out Reflection Lake on the mountainside (Figure 2), but no “Bigfoot bear” appeared.

Joe Nickell looking through binocularsFigure 2. Author searches, in vain, for Bigfoot at Reflection Lake, Mount Rainier National Park. (Author’s photo by Diann Sheldon)

Wild Creek Photos

Perhaps the most notorious “evidence” of Bigfoot in the Mount Rainier area consists of several photographs allegedly made in 1995 at Wild Creek in the nearby foothills by a forest patrol officer. However, numerous red flags are noted—as by Bigfoot authors Janet and Colin Bord (2006, 195) who state:

With any event where the subject is known to be elusive, clear photographs are naturally suspect. In this case we note that Bigfoot seems not to have moved from shot to shot, which seems unlikely, and the photographer must have been a very brave man indeed, to have stayed around long enough to shoot 14 photographs of an unpredictable monster. Also problematic about the Wild Creek photographs is the lack of good scale, the sense that computer manipulation software is involved, and that the supposed “forest patrol officer” has never been identified.

This lack of provenance for the photos is alone highly suspect (having served as a warning sign on the introduction of such notorious fakes as the Shroud of Turin, the Jack the Ripper diary, a forged copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and many other artifacts I have exposed as fakes [Nickell 2009, 42, 67–79, 167]).

Bigfoot in Rainier’s Crater?

Among the most far-fetched of alleged Bigfoot tales is one dating from 1895, but then—it may not be about Bigfoot at all!

The story appears in snippets (e.g., Lee 2013) in works billing it, for example, as a “fantastic encounter with what appears to be Bigfoot” (Dennett 2001, 36). Written by Mount Rainier explorer Major E.S. Ingraham in 1895, “The Old Man of the Crater” tells how he and an unnamed companion “were exploring the steam-caves at the time of my second visit to the crater of Mt. Rainier.” There, he spied some “peculiar marks” on the cave floor, along with a strange glow in the atmosphere. He determined to return later, and did so when his “three bedfellows were sound asleep.”

Creeping back into the cave, Ingraham says, he encountered “a figure of strange and grotesque appearance . . . writhing and floundering very much as a drowning man would do. . . .” He continued:

Its shape was nearer to that of a human being than of any other animal. The crown of its head was pointed, with bristled hair pointing in every direction. The eyeballs were pointed too; and while they appeared dull and visionless at times, yet there was an occasional flash of light from the points. . . . The nails of its fingers and toes were long and pointed and resembled polished steel more than hardened cuticle. I discovered that the palms of its hand and the soles of its feet were hard and calloused. In fact the whole body, while human in shape . . . seemed very different in character from that of the human species. (Ingraham 1895, 42, 44, 46)

When the light formed “an arch” above and between them, Ingraham soon found himself in a sort of telepathic communication with the creature, and for the next hour “received impressions.” However, when the Old Man of the Crater commanded Ingraham to follow him, he instead “broke the spell” and returned to his sleeping companions (Ingraham 1895, 46, 48).

This is clearly not about Bigfoot. Ingraham not only omits reference to the creature being covered in hair, but he goes on to say (1895, 48):

This is no myth. The old man told me of his abode in the interior, of another race to which he belonged and the traditions of that race; of convolutions and changes on the earth long, long ago; of the gradual contraction of a belt of matter around the earth until it touched the surface hemming in many of the inhabitants and drowning the remainder, and of the survival of a single pair. All was shut out and the atmosphere became changed. Gradually the remaining pair was enabled to conform to the new order of things and became the parents of a race which for the want of a better name I will call Sub-Rainians. This Old Man of the Crater had wandered far away from the abode of his race in his desire to explore. Far away from my home we had met, each out of his usual sphere.

Rather than Bigfoot, Ingraham is describing a creature of myth, while declaring otherwise as an element of verisimilitude (or semblance of truth), often used by writers—Poe for instance—to urge the reader to accept the fanciful as real. The creature is from an antediluvian1 (pre-Flood) world of which a pair (like Adam and Eve) survive the deluge to repopulate the species. Calling them the “Sub-Rainians” suggests subterranean, that is, the Underworld, the realm of the dead. And Ingraham’s caves ostensibly lead down into the fiery interior of the volcano, an unmistakable suggestion of death and Hell.

But what is the nature of this fantasy? Did it begin, say, with a hallucination caused by high-altitude oxygen deprivation—a “visionary” experience? Or was Ingraham merely penning a tale in the science-fiction tradition of hollow-earth adventures, like Jules Verne’s 1870 Journey to the Center of the Earth, as a whimsy for his readers? Could it even be a Masonic allegory of the Secret Vault (in Freemasonry, a subterranean repository of secrets that in the end, remain hidden)?2 E.S. Ingraham was, in fact, a Freemason (Sherman 1890, 66). Among their secrets, Masons teach that death—both literally and figuratively—is a continuation toward perfection (Macoy 1989, 117–18).

Whatever Ingraham intended, his creature is not Bigfoot as traditionally portrayed. Yet the two entities do have something in common: both are, as far as current evidence suggests, imaginary.


Acknowledgments

In addition to individuals cited in the text, I am grateful to former CFI librarian Lisa Nolan for extensive research on E.S. Ingraham.

Notes

1. This is a term of significance in Free­masonry (Macoy 1989, 418), the relevance of which will be noted presently.

2. In Freemasonry the ritual of the Secret Vault is part of the Royal Arch degree, so Ingraham’s use of the words vaulted, arch, and the like seem to take on allegorical significance. (Masonry has been defined as “a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols” [Masonic Bible 1964, 26].) The “peculiar marks” suggest Masons’ Marks (inscribed signs by which Masons are distinguished) and the “mysterious glow” could signal Darkness Visible (which in Masonry serves “only to express that gloom which rests on the prospect of futurity” [Macoy 1989, 479]—a theme indeed of Ingraham’s tale). (See Nickell 2001, 227–33.)

References

Baker, Robert A., and Joe Nickell. 1992. Missing Pieces: How to Investigate Ghosts, UFOs, Psychics, and Other Mysteries. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Bord, Janet, and Colin Bord. 2006. Bigfoot Casebook Updated. N.p.: Pine Winds Press.

Challup, Matthew S. 2013. Interview by Joe Nickell, October 27. (Note: Challup is Nisqually Supervisory Visitor Use Assistant, Mount Rainier National Park.)

Davis, Jeff, and Al Eufrasio. 2008. Weird Washington. New York: Sterling Publishing Co.

Dennett, Preston. 2001. Early American mountain Bigfoot. Fate 54(5) (May): 36–37.

Green, John. 1973. The Sasquatch File. Agassiz, BC: Cheam Publishing Ltd.

———. 1978. Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us. Seattle, WA: Hancock House.

Herrero, Stephen. 2002. Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press. Hollinger, Jodie. 2013. Interview by Joe Nickell, October 27.

Ingraham, E.S. 1895. The Pacific Forest Reserve and Mt. Rainier. Seattle: WA: Calvert Company, 42–48.

Lee, Regan. 2013. Frame 352: The Stranger Side of Sasquatch. Online at http://paranormalbigfoot.blogspot.com/2007/08/1895-encounter-sasquatch-on-mt-rainier.html; accessed November 6.

Macoy, Robert. 1989. A Dictionary of Freemasonry. New York: Bell Publishing Co.

Masonic Heirloom Edition Holy Bible. 1964. Wichita, KS: Heirloom Bible Publishers.

Nickell, Joe. 2001. Real-Life X-Files. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

———. 2009. Real or Fake: Studies in Authentication. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

———. 2013. Bigfoot Lookalikes: Tracking Hairy Man-Beasts. Skeptical Inquirer 37(4) (September/October): 12–15.

Sherman, Edwin A. 1890. Brief History of the A. & A.S. Rite of Freemasonry, new ed. Oakland, CA: Carruth & Carruth, Printers.

Joe Nickell

Joe Nickell's photo

Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and "Investigative Files" Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. A former stage magician, private investigator, and teacher, he is author of numerous books, including Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1998), Pen, Ink and Evidence (2003), Unsolved History (2005) and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (2007). He has appeared in many television documentaries and has been profiled in The New Yorker and on NBC's Today Show. His personal website is at joenickell.com.