John Dodge -The Olympian
---Photograph-Skull replicas of the extinct giant ape Gigantopithecus, a lowland gorilla and human are on display at the Sasquatch exhibit at the State Capital Museum.
Sasquatch believers, nonbelievers and the many of us still not persuaded one way or the other should find a yearlong exhibit that opens at the State Capital Museum on Saturday informative and entertaining.
"Giants in the Mountains: The Search for Sasquatch," is an exhibit that explores what we know and don't know about the hairy, half-human, half-ape creature that has stimulated so much discussion, debate, storytelling and expeditions across cultures and across time.
Come to the exhibit, and you'll see:
• Never-before-seen foot and hand casts collected by anatomy and anthropology professor Jeffery Meldrum of Idaho State University, a Discovery Channel regular and Bigfoot author.
• Artifacts and artwork that clearly show how larger-than-life creatures are embedded in the cultures and forest landscapes of Northwest tribes. Particularly impressive is a prehistoric, ape-like stonehead found in the Columbia Basin and on loan to the museum from the Maryhill Museum of Art.
• Physical evidence gathered in the field by Washington State University anthropologist Grover Krantz, who concluded that Sasquatch was a form of Gigantopithecus, a giant ape believed to have gone extinct more than 200,000 years ago.
• Supposed hoaxes and some examples of how the lure of Sasquatch permeates society, everything from Bigfoot Ale brewed by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. to photographs of "Squatch" the Seattle SuperSonics team mascot who is in danger of going extinct if something doesn't happen fast to keep the NBA team's new owners from moving the franchise to Oklahoma City.
As I toured the exhibit last week during the last minute hustle and bustle of getting the exhibits in place, museum manager Susan Rohrer talked about the decision to commit so much energy and time to the exhibit.
"It's a classic Northwest story with roots in Northwest culture and history," she said. "It's the type of exhibit that lends itself to anthropological research and environmental science of the Pacific Northwest."
Look a little closer at the exhibit and you notice it is just as much about the old-growth forests that Sasquatch — fact or fiction — calls home as it is anything else.
Robert Michael Pyle, noted naturalist, author and resident of Grays River in southwest Washington, sums up the theme behind the exhibit best with these words from his book, "Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide."
"If we manage to hang on to a sizeable chunk of Bigfoot habitat, we will at least have a fragment of the greatest green treasure the temperate world has ever known. If we do not, Bigfoot, real or imagined, will vanish; and with its shadow will flee the others who dwell in that world ..."
Pyle, Meldrum and Peter Byrne of Bigfoot expedition fame will be there Saturday for a free public opening of the exhibit. Also scheduled are hands-on activities for children, a chance to shake hands with the Sonics' Squatch and native storytelling with Harvest Moon of the Quinault Indian Tribe.
Back to Sasquatch. Whether he exists will remain an open question without some hard physical evidence such as a skull or skeletal remains or evidence of an irrefutable encounter. Short of that, I remain firmly in the camp of those open to persuasion, but not yet convinced.
In many ways, I'd just as soon Sasquatch remain an unsolved mystery. I don't need, or want, a scientific explanation for every big, or little, thing.
John Dodge is a senior reporter and Sunday columnist for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5444 or email@example.com.
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