Legends are a big part of oral storytelling, so I think my minor obsession with the story of Bigfoot (and most of cryptozoology for that matter) makes the most sense to me because, at the end of the day, I am constantly amused by strange stories of ghosts, aliens, underground dwellers, and … well … monsters of any stripe, really.
For me, Bigfoot is such an interesting and strange story and not just from his first fuzzy sighting in the woods, but because my home state of Michigan has particular relevance to the Bigfoot legend.
What is a legend?
Legends share many of the same qualities as myths—supernatural stuff, unbelievable characters, etc.—but the major difference is that they come from the recent past, are historical in nature, and are passed from one generation to the next.
Bigfoot’s legendary arrival was in Northern California in 1958 after journalist Andrew Genzoli of the Humboldt Times “thought the mysterious footprints ‘made a good Sunday morning story’” (Little). Though little more than a fluff piece for the paper, the story sparked a huge amount of interest with readers, and so the Bigfoot legend was born out of continued attention and press.
And believe me, there is a lot more to the story, with sightings, pictures, audio, and video as pervasive as the footprints found in the most forested regions in America.
As far as the believability of these pieces of “evidence,” writer Ben Crair addresses what most skeptics already know about the history and reliability of the legend of Bigfoot.
“Of course, Bigfoot is not the first fabled hominid to roam North America,” he writes. “Sasquatches long populated the mythologies of American Indian tribes in the Pacific Northwest, but those 1958 footprints transformed the myth into a media sensation. The tracks were planted near Bluff Creek in Northern California by a man named Ray Wallace—but his prank was not revealed until his death in 2002, when his children said it had all been ‘just a joke’” (Crair).
In other words, the legend is most definitely a hoax, but what makes it interesting is how the legend surrounding it creates a lasting impression on readers and researchers.
Michigan Bigfoot sightings and importance
As a journalist in Ogemaw County (briefly), I became aware (and missed out on) an interview with a man who had seen Bigfoot (THE Bigfoot) some 60-odd-times in his life. I thought, that’s a lot of Bigfoot, but apparently he didn’t think so (but also understood that people thought he was crazy and that sort of rationalization allowed him the openness to discuss it with writers, experts, and at cryptozoology panels).
The reason I’m writing this post today, and the reason I find this so interesting, is something that I’ve alluded to before: legends and myths have staying power through their use in traditions and oral storytelling, and, if you are a writer, this should be important. Because the way we tell stories shares a lot with writing narratives or using rhetoric to persuade and argue claims. Stories rife with pathos or logos can convince us of reality—just like the legend of Bigfoot!
The Health Foundation states: “But storytelling does not just take place within a pool of lamplight in a nursery or round a campfire. Stories are part of our daily lives, in the anecdotes we tell to our friends, the books we read and the films we watch. Stories are also recognized as an important way of connecting with any audience and storytelling is increasingly used in workplaces, advertising and fundraising” (The Health Foundation).
And that’s one major reason I love reading fairy tales, or folklore, or legends, or myths, because they charm me with their particulars and their ideas.
Little, B. (2018, July 30). How the Bigfoot Legend Began. History.com. https://www.history.com/news/bigfoot-legend-newspaper.
Crair, B. (2018, September 1). Why Do So Many People Still Want to Believe in Bigfoot? Smithsonian.com. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-so-many-people-still-believe-in-bigfoot-180970045/.