You’ve probably seen the famous footage of Bigfoot — that grainy film from 1967 showing an apelike creature ambling through the California woods, casting a brief, leisurely glance at the camera before disappearing off screen.
What an Illinois man saw last month was rather different.
The creature he says he spotted outside the small town of Chandlerville, northwest of Springfield, was fast, athletic and massive, covering a two-lane road in two quick strides. It had incredibly long limbs and was covered in shiny black hair, the man said, and was gone almost before he could register what was happening.
“It jumped into the darkness and I was kind of freaked out about it,” said the man, a 59-year-old engineer who lives near Peoria. “I said to myself out loud, ‘(Expletive) Bigfoot!’”
In a year when UFOs have gained newfound respect, becoming the subject of a Pentagon investigative panel, the alleged Bigfoot sighting is a reminder that other paranormal phenomena are still out there, entrancing true believers and amusing skeptics.
Sasquatches are having a particularly good run. In the past 12 months they’ve been the subject of a conference in Florida, where they’re known as skunk apes, and have been featured in several documentaries and TV programs, including one that investigates whether a Bigfoot killed a trio of California pot farmers.
In Oklahoma, state Rep. Justin Humphrey, whose district hosts an annual Bigfoot festival, sought to pass a law that would establish a Sasquatch hunting season and announced a $3 million reward for the capture of a live one, though he all but admitted it was a stunt to attract tourists.
“We are wanting the whole world to come to Southeastern Oklahoma … and get involved in our bounty,” he said on the floor of the statehouse.
Illinois, which according to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization has had more than 300 reported sightings, has also been known to play the publicity game. Doug and Carrie DeVore, owners of the Shawnee Forest Cabins, mounted a 7-foot-tall concrete statue known as Sassy on their property several years ago, and it has since become a roadside attraction.
Carrie DeVore said she didn’t realize until later that the nearby Shawnee National Forest is a hotbed of sightings: People have phoned her to talk about their own supposed encounters with the creature.
“I am sure there are people who have seen something,” she said. “(I hear) the earnestness in their voices when they call me up, but I was a geologist before (having) kids and getting into the cabin rental business so the other part of me is like, ‘We’d find some evidence, wouldn’t we?’ But I guess it remains to be seen.”
The downstate engineer who says he spotted the mysterious figure last month asked not to be named after the initial report of his sighting, released without his knowledge, brought him a crush of unsought attention (“I don’t want to be known as Mr. Bigfoot,” he said).
He said he was driving home on Illinois Route 78 after visiting his mother when, just across the Sangamon River, he saw the creature bound across the road about 40 yards from his vehicle. It turned toward him just before it vanished, though he couldn’t make out its eyes or face.
The man said he is not a Bigfoot enthusiast and was sober as a judge when he made his sighting. He acknowledged, though, that when friends went back to look for tracks, they found nothing.
Even so, Matthew Moneymaker of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization graded the man’s sighting as Class A, or very reliable: The relative closeness of the encounter and lack of red flags about the man’s credibility helped to convince him, he said.
Moneymaker, who has produced or hosted several Bigfoot-related TV shows, said he started his organization in the mid-1990s after he spotted a “squatch” during an early morning outing in a patch of woods near Akron, Ohio.
Since then the group has received hundreds of sighting reports each year, he said, with many coming from the Pacific Northwest. His theory is that the creature is a primate genus known as Gigantopithecus that crossed into North America from Asia during the Ice Age and has managed to elude capture.
But Paul Garber, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign anthropologist who studies primates, said that is not supported by the fossil record. Gigantopithecus went extinct around 500,000 years ago, he said, and there’s no evidence it ever made it here.
He said a large primate would leave telltale signs of its presence, from droppings to bones to the remnants of “nests” in which apes sleep. Moneymaker said the lack of definitive proof could be due to Sasquatches living in extremely remote areas, but Garber said that’s also true of other big apes whose existence has been well documented.
Garber said tales of Bigfoot-like creatures exist all over the world, which he attributes to the human impulse to rationalize odd sights that defy ready explanation.
“I believe this guy saw something,” he said. “I just think the visual evidence alone is what we have. The other kind of physical evidence that would be consistent with ape behavior is what we tend not to have.”
Pressed about what he saw, the man said he thought it might have been a bear running at full tilt, but its bipedal gait and the lack of bear tracks convinced him otherwise. It resembled the classic image of Bigfoot, he said, and others who live in the area have since told him they’ve seen similar creatures.
As for the possibility of a prankster, the man said he hoped that isn’t true.
“If someone thinks of coming down to central Illinois to put a hoax on people or something, I wouldn’t recommend it,” he said. “There’s just way too many hunters. There’s too many people with guns. It would be too dangerous.”