Does a hulking, 7-foot-tall, ape-like creature roam the rugged mountains and forests of Northern New York and Vermont?
It may seem far-fetched, but accounts can be traced back to Indian lore and even the logs of Samuel de Champlain.
While the lake creature Champ remains the region's best known 'monster,' in recent years, two nationally televised documentaries - on the History and Discovery Channels - have featured entire segments on Bigfoot sightings in upstate New York and Vermont.
The most recent, "Monster Quest," in 2008, chronicled numerous sightings of a large, hairy, ape-like creature on both sides of Lake Champlain.
In the Pacific Northwest, there's Bigfoot or the legendary Sasquatch; in the Himalayas, there's the yeti or abominable snowman.
The Algonquin on the western shores of Lake Champlain told of seeing the windigo or "giant cannibalistic man" who, according to legend, roamed the countryside. One modern-day Native American account of the windigo describes it as "a giant thing, swift "¦ and covered with hair, and has eyes like two pools of blood. And there's this smell, like rotting meat." This description is similar to Bigfoot reports today.
The Iroquois have a similar oral history of flesh-eating stone giants who possessed powerful physiques.
Across the border in Quebec, the Algonquin-speaking Attikamekw called these creatures Kokotshe.
In his ship's log chronicling his voyage of discovery on the St. Lawrence River 1604, Champlain wrote how numerous Indian tribes in the region had told eerie stories of a giant, hairy man-beast that was known to the natives as "the Gougou." Champlain wrote that so many of the tribes recounted such stories that he believed there must be some truth to the tales.
"And what makes me believe what they say, is the fact that all the savages in general fear it, and tell such strange stories of it."
In northern Vermont, Abenaki traditions tell of a huge, hairy, man-like creature known as the Forest Wanderer who would leave giant, human-like footprints behind. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, many early Vermont settlers in Essex and Orleans counties told of encountering a mysterious bear that moved swiftly through the woods on two legs, always managing to elude capture.
Vermont historian Marion Daley describes this creature in her book, History of Lemington
, noting its ability to move about in a swift, ghost-like manner bordering on the supernatural.
A Clever Ruse?
More than 100 sightings in upstate New York state have been recorded.
In August of 1869, a "wild-man" scare took place at Sucker Brook near Ogdensburg. The creature was never found. In 1883, the Plattsburgh Sentinel reported on the "great scare at Port Henry" involving a "wild man who scares women and frightens the children." Some witnesses said it appeared to be wearing "an overcoat." Could this have been fur or hair that was mistaken for clothing by those trying to make sense of what they were seeing? Once again, the creature eluded search parties.
Another cluster of sightings occurred during autumn of 1921, when residents living near Malone organized hunting parties to track down a "wild man." Most of the reports were centered near the hamlet of Skerry, 12 miles to the southwest. A reporter for the Dunkirk Evening Observer
described the tension in the area: "Women sleep ill o' nights, children are kept from school, or guarded by adults on their way there and back, lonely females cower behind locked doors and men wag their heads in gossip as they ponder over the puzzle of the wild man"¦"
Skeptical authorities in Franklin County considered the story unlikely, instead opting to believe that it was "a clever ruse effected by bootleggers to take advantage of the absence of officers," so they could more easily smuggle liquor across the Canadian border with ease.
'SCARY AS HELL'
In the summer of 1969, an ape-like creature was spotted near a cabin at the Pumphouse campsite at Long Lake. The encounter took place at about 11 p.m., as a small oil lantern illuminated the inside of the cabin. One of the men reported afterwards that his wife told him she could see a raccoon staring at them through the window at the back of the cabin. Rolling over in bed, he glanced up and saw a large cone-shaped head and a dark face that appeared to be pushed in. Brownish fur encapsulated the face.
The next morning at a nearby stream, the couple found what appeared to be a heel print 8 inches wide.
Another sighting took place near Saranac Lake on a tranquil summer's evening in August of 1996. Two men fishing in a boat on Pine Lake near dusk spotted what they took to be a black bear. Suddenly the "bear" stood up and walked off, leaving the men shaken. One of the witnesses said it stood 7 feet tall and had dark-brown hair.
"Its face was hairy yet fleshy around the upper cheeks. Its eyes were dark in color but clearly visible and had a brightness about them."
The creature stared at the pair for 10 seconds before tilting its head then darting into the woods with the agility of a cat.
Said one of the men: "The whole experience was very, very upsetting. Although I can honestly say it did not attempt to threaten us, it was scary as hell. That night I did not sleep one wink."
Robert Bartholomew is a former announcer for WIRY Radio, a graduate of Plattsburgh State and the co-author with his brother Paul Bartholomew of
Bigfoot Encounters in New York and New England: Documented Evidence - Stranger Than Fiction, published by Hancock House. E-mail him at [email protected]
Michael Pluta is a Vermont historian, hunter and gun expert who lives in Chittenden with his wife and two boys. He teaches driver education at Mill River Union High School. E-mail him at [email protected]
Bigfoot Encounters, copyright 2008, is available for $24.95 at www.hancockhouse.com.