By GARY CORSAIR, DAILY SUN
Those who say they saw Bigfoot are:
When it comes to Bigfoot sightings, motive always must be considered. Are they seeking publicity? Have a book to sell? Get their kicks from fooling people?
Even believers admit that most people who claim to have seen Bigfoot are mistaken. The dark, hairy creature they saw from a distance at twilight was actually a bear. Or the terrifying howl they attribute to Bigfoot was actually a Florida scrub cow.
Simply put, the majority of so-called evidence of the existence of Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, or the Florida Skunk Ape, is … there’s no other way to say it — bogus.
''We had one sighting in the Ocala National Forest that turned out to be a dirty, naked, mentally deranged man,'' recalls Henry Cabbage, communications director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Some people who perpetuate the myth are bold-faced liars.
''There are many people who spread misinformation, mostly cryptozoologists. In an effort to make their books interesting, they fabricate, or outright exaggerate, details about the Sasquatch,'' says Bobbie Short, owner/editor of bigfootencounters.com. ''Others fabricate tracks, and some go to ridiculous lengths, walking around in baggy, ill-fitting ape costumes.''
But not everyone who claims to have seen Bigfoot is mistaken or a hoaxer.
Sorting out the fakes and flakes from the serious and sincere is the hard part.
There are dozens of reported sightings. In most cases, there is simply no way to gauge the credibility of each report because 30 or more years have passed. In other cases, the person making the report was anonymous. Other sightings proved to be hoaxes when closely scrutinized.
And then there were a handful of reports from apparently honest, credible people who are 100 percent sure they saw Bigfoot. Two of those accounts are presented here.
By the side of the road
''I actually saw it on the same road my high school is on,'' recalled Martha Calloway from her South Carolina home. ''We went up over a little hill in the road, and as we came down I noticed something on the left-hand side of the road. My (future) stepmother was driving, and I actually had to look across her to see what it was.''
Calloway, a 17-year-old high school student on the July 1977 evening when she became a believer, was returning home from a race in Daytona.
''As we got closer, and the headlights hit it, I couldn’t speak. I was frozen. It was crouched down alongside the road, and one hand was picking up something and putting it in the other hand. It moved slower and slower as we got closer. And then it was like its eyes met mine. I doubt it could see me through the windshield, but that’s what it seemed like. It was like our eyes just met and we were both frozen.''
Calloway found her voice as the car, which she estimates was traveling at less than 30 miles per hour, passed the creature.
''It was like everything went into slow motion,'' Calloway said. ''As we got past it, I finally said to my stepmother, ‘Did you see that?’ And she said, 'See what?' We were talking when I saw it. I just went silent in mid-sentence. To this day, I wish she had turned that way, but she was just looking at me, and the awkward look on my face.''
The memory of what Calloway saw from about 12 feet away on a deserted two-lane road at 2 a.m. is still vivid.
''It's been 30 years, but it’s still as clear in my memory as it was that night. It’s about like a photo that stays in your mind,'' Calloway says. ''I had read about Skunk Apes and Bigfoot, but I never expected to see one, especially in a weird place like that.''
In 1977, there were no web sites where people like Calloway could share stories. When she stumbled across one a few years ago, she posted her experience.
She's not a Bigfoot researcher, she’s not writing a book, and she’s not interested in publicity. She just hoped someone visiting the web site might also have seen the creature in that area that summer.
''I've thought about it a lot over the years and about what it could have been,'' Calloway said. ''There’s just no possible way it could have been anything else. The way it was shaped, the way it looked, the hair, the life in its eyes. The color of its hair was like the color of an Irish setter's: reddish brown. It's arms were really long. I could tell. It was squatting down, but I kind of figured if it would have stood up it would be about 7 feet tall. But that's just a guess.''
For the longest time, Calloway wished that her stepmother had seen the Bigfoot, or better yet, stopped the car so they could both observe the creature. Today, she just feels fortunate to witness something — even briefly — most people will never see.
''It's one of those mysteries, like the Loch Ness monster. I have no explanation, but I know what I saw,'' Calloway says.
Green Swamp surprise
Pat Rance looks very much like a successful owner of a Longwood business — until he dons night-vision goggles, turns on his ultra-sensitive audio recorder and steps into the woods in search of Bigfoot.
Rance's determination to prove Bigfoot exists has taken him to Mississippi, Oklahoma and throughout Florida. North Carolina is next. But it was right here in Central Florida, in the Green Swamp shared by Lake, Sumter and Polk counties, that he saw Bigfoot in April 2006.
''We were finding dozens of footprints, which isn't surprising because there’s a long history of sightings down there,'' Rance says.
''I really didn’t know what to think until I got into it and started finding different footprints — different sizes, different strides,'' Rance recalled. ''I found some that looked like it was walking because they were about five feet apart. There were other prints where it looked like it was running. Those were nine feet apart and the dirt was pushed up on the sides of the print like it had come down hard. And then I found prints where it had jumped across a ditch. They were 26 feet apart.''
Rance and his friends, who call themselves ''bipedal primate researchers,'' measured and photographed the prints. They poured plaster in the most defined prints.
There were so many prints, the researchers staked out the area, leaving apples, pancakes and a jar of peanut butter as lures.
''We set up video cameras and watched areas at night. We’d hide in the woods and try to get video, trying to see something,'' Rance said. ''The next morning, there would be tracks right where we had been looking.''
Days passed without a sighting, so Rance changed tactics.
''I decided to go down a small trail, and set up my tent down there and pretended I was going to camp. I put a camcorder and tripod in the tent, pointed it out of the opening and left.''
On his third day at his ''pretend'' camp, something visited the main camp, ate the pancakes, took 10 apples (and smashed two), and absconded with the peanut butter jar, leaving only the lid. After investigating the scene, Rance retrieved his camcorder from the other tent.
''We got there, and packed it up,'' Rance said. ''We didn't go 50 yards when something appeared on the trail in front of us. It went sideways into the palmetto and palm trees.''
A startled Rance turned to see the creature watching him from the dense foliage at the edge of the trail.
''It was dark, but I could see the outline. Its shoulders were this wide,'' says Rance as he extends his arms about 18 inches from his sides. ''It was in the palmetto leaves, 30 or 40 feet away. I started to raise up my night-vision goggles and it took off.''
Did he really see Bigfoot?
''I saw it for five or six seconds. I know it wasn’t a bear. It was upright, dark and shaggy looking,'' Rance said. ''I know what I saw, and there’s no doubt in my mind.''
The unexplainable case
Lack of corroboration casts doubt on even the most believable account. Rarely does Bigfoot ''appear'' to a group of people, especially people who do not know one another and make reports independent of one another.
But he did at least once in Florida.
On Jan. 9, 1974, Richard Lee Smith was driving his Cadillac on U.S. Highway 27 near Hollywood Boulevard (outside Ft. Lauderdale) in the early morning when he struck a huge figure. According to a newspaper report, after Smith’s accident police received calls from motorists who saw a large, hairy creature limping along the roadside. Police responded, and a patrolman reportedly saw a creature which was more than seven feet tall in the beam of his flashlight before it ran off.
A hoax? Mistaken identification? If so, several motorists were fooled.
Gary Corsair is a senior writer with the Daily Sun. He can be reached at 753-1119 or email@example.com
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