Loren Coleman believs that Bigfoot is an animal living in the montane forests of the Pacific Rim. The renowned cryptozoologist has been tracking Bigfoot both academically and in the field for forty years, and is confident that 1500 "giant, hairy, apelike hominoids" inhabit the Pacific Northwest.
I suspect his geography may be too limited.
On December 7, 1974, Frank Piztolato and Phillip Vivolo were in the woods near Historic Richmond Town when they "saw a black, upright 'bear' which roared at them." A few weeks later, on the morning of January 21, 1975, a young couple "saw Bigfoot in a church car park in the early morning" and later that night, Mrs. D. Daly was "driving late at night [and] had to brake to avoid a Bigfoot under six feet tall crossing the road from a church car park and heading for the rubbish dump and the swamp behind the church."
These sightings are documented in The Bigfoot Casebook by Janet and Colin Bord, first published in 1982 and containing state-by-state Bigfoot sightings from the 1800s to 1980. Of the accounts reprinted on a British website, 19 occurred in New York State, but the above three place Bigfoot a mere stone's throw from downtown Manhattan.
Historic Richmond Town is on Staten Island.
Most people have heard of Bigfoot or Sasquatch or the Abominable Snowman or the Yeti. They might also have heard of India's Monkey Man, chupacabra the goat-killer, giant killer squid, England's black cats and the thunderbirds of the Southwest, just to name a few famous figures in the annals of cryptozoology.
Countless expeditions-for hunting and capture, depending on the anthropological climate of the day-have set out in search of these creatures. None has returned with a verifiable specimen, though several amateur and professional hunters have offered photographs and video footage as evidence.
The most famous Bigfoot movie is the Patterson-Gimlin film. In 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin set out on horseback to search with a hand-held 16mm Kodak movie camera in an area near Bluff Creek, in California's Six Rivers National Forest. They spotted what appeared to be a female Bigfoot in the gravel sand bar of a creek. Patterson's pony reared up and he plunged to the ground, but he disengaged himself, got the camera rolling and ran toward the creature. Gimlin waited-rifle ready-in case they were attacked. The 952-frame film shows a creature walking a human-like gait and body movement that suggests flesh, not a suit. Patterson defended the film as authentic until his death.
The late-night conspiracy radio shows are never at a loss for explanations. Some claim Bigfoot to be surviving relatives of Gigantopithecus, a giant cousin of the orangutan. Others believe that Bigfoot is "para-dimensional"-that is, the creature is able to step in and out of our dimension-and may or may not be connected in some way to UFO sightings. Some say that Bigfoot have a basic command of English: One witness claimed that a Sasquatch spoke the words, "You're not welcome?"
Quite naturally, skeptics ask how a population of creatures could possibly survive, sight unseen, in the modern world. Coleman points to the case of the wood bison. Declared extinct in 1940, the Canadian bison was discovered again in 1957 when a herd of 200 genetically undiluted bison-cousins to, yet distinct from, the American buffalo-was found in a remote part of Alberta, Canada during an air patrol. They were thriving not fifty miles from a 100-year-old station.
Staten Island's Greenbelt is made up of some 2800 acres of forested parkland. Thirty years ago, at the time of the documented sightings, there was more undeveloped forest land on Staten Island, and even today there are large tracts of unsettled forest and woods deep and tangled enough to disorient the most intrepid explorers.
Historic Richmond Town is a joint project of the Staten Island Historical Society and the City of New York, established to present the experience of old-fashioned Staten Island. In this "museum village," there is a reconstruction of a sawmill, a mid-19th-century train station relocated from Annadale and, to the west along Richmond Hill Rd., the Church of St. Andrew, originally built sometime around 1712. There is a parking lot across the street from the church, a swamp close by and, 30 years ago, the dump was also within walking distance.
It seems to be the best candidate for the 1974-75 sightings, and so the best starting point for my hunt.
During my first forays into the woods surrounding Richmond Town, I found broken trees and animal remains. This is hardly unusual for such a wooded area. While hiking in LaTourette Park, however, I came upon heavily barricaded trails where dozens of trees had conveniently fallen across the paths. I found unrecognizable, five-toed prints and strange rub marks high on trees (too high to have been caused by deer). I also discovered large "lay areas"-patches of vegetation that had been matted down, presumably by a sleeping animal. In my experience, deer like to conceal themselves in these lays, but they generally accommodate one or two adults. One lay area was thirty feet wide.
In the summer of 2002, I went camping. On my first night, all seemed normal. I heard the welcoming sounds of small animals scurrying around, searching for food. I also heard something bashing a large stick against a tree repeatedly in the distance, but decided it was nothing to get alarmed about.
On the second night, it was deathly silent, and as I lay in my tent, I had the sensation of something creeping up on me. It was the same feeling you get when someone's standing behind you. I flashed a light off into the blackness, but saw nothing.
An hour or two later, I was startled by the unmistakable sound of a large tree snapping at the roots.
Kraaack!? Kraaackk!? Pop!? Snap!? Ssshhhhh?
The windless night and my earlier feeling of encounter convinced me that a tree had been pushed over.
There wasn't much I could do about the situation at the time. I was stuck up there. Luckily, nothing else happened that night, and the next evening held no thrills other than a peculiar growl around 5:00 a.m.
There are three rules when you're camping in Sasquatch country: Take the high ground, let them come to you and remove any potential weapons from the area. Sasquatch are known to throw rocks-big rocks-when they're mad. (The Iroquoian Stone Giants of upstate New York, quite possibly a native American legend of Bigfoot, are described as "employing stones for weapons.") On a two-day expedition several weeks later, I was glad I listened to my own advice.
At approximately 7:30 on the first morning of my second stake-out, I took a short walk through the woods. On my return, I sensed something was amiss. The energy around me was strange, as if something was about to happen.
And then it did, and very quickly.
Kkrraaasshhh!? Ka-Kkkrraaaasshhhh!? Ka-Kkkrraaaassshh!!
I'd surprised one of the creatures in my camp, and it went crashing through the woods with such violence that it sounded as if someone were driving a box truck through the forest. I ran in pursuit, but after about 200 feet of stumbling through unfamiliar forest, I gave up. It was far too fast, and I'm a little too old to catch up.
And catch up to what anyway? My death? What was I going to do if I caught up with the thing? I walked back to my camp, trying to catch my breath.
Another creature lingering nearby took off into the forest. It must have been watching me.
"Here we go again?" I thought, and gave chase. But again, I soon admitted defeat.
Whatever these creatures were, they'd been watching me, stalking me, waiting until I broke camp so they could come in and raid it. Having read that meat is their favorite food (some say the Bigfoot are vegetarian, but I believe otherwise), I left tidbits of meat out after my evening meal. They must've smelled the leftovers and were waiting for me to leave. I probably shouldn't have chased them, but I meant no harm. I just wanted to get a glimpse.
That second night was uneventful, save for some rock crashes off in the distance. Some claim that these sounds are a demonstration of territorialism, but I think they were only searching for prey. On a subsequent night in the same area-one where I didn't stay overnight-my flashlight encountered a couple pairs of eyes just off the trail that shined like big, silver medallions, then moved away.
Since then I've hiked extensively in the Greenbelt and found live trees snapped in half, large droppings precariously perched atop boulders, areas bearing what I would describe as a strong "horse-like" smell and one significant "romp area" where all the trees and vegetation had been torn down. On a mild, rainy night last December, while passing by Great Kills Park on the busy Hylan Blvd. on Staten Island's south shore, in the same woods where I had discovered this large "romp area" earlier, I heard something tearing down trees somewhere back in the thicket.
There were no construction sites for miles, and why would kids be out on a dark and rainy winter night tearing down trees in the remote backwoods?
In the days following a snowstorm, I trekked out to a known "hotspot" where I found the proof I sought: Bigfoot tracks in several areas, the largest measuring 15.5 inches by 6.24 inches wide at the top. There were several smaller tracks as well-a baby? I followed them through a creek bed, across the road and under a bridge to the other side. There, beneath one particularly large, old tree, the snow was yellowed with a great deal of urine. The same prints then scrambled up the bank of the creek.
By backtracking across the road to the original point of access, I ascertained that they were routing through a Dept. of Environmental Protection construction site, climbing through large, unused drainage pipes leading to a wire fence. That fence had been ripped open as easily as if it were made of string, yielding access to the creek bed.
Later that day, I met a man who works at a local business who told me that while on a small mountain in the park one night, he saw what he thought were "bears standing on two legs walking by." Another man who's active in the Richmond Town community informed me that after a recent blizzard, he noticed tracks leading along the water all the way back to-and disappearing into-the swamps.
Earlier this year, near the Amundsen Trail on Staten Island, I came across a strange little animal. It was the size of a small dog, light gray in color and without a tail. When it saw me, it crawled away, practically on its belly using four stubby legs, and somehow scaled a wooden fence. I didn't see its face, nor did I want to.
Then in April, I encountered what seemed to be a large, white tomcat foraging through the trash. When it walked away, I noticed two distinct growths hanging from the middle of its back. As crazy as it sounds, they looked like unformed wings.
I've never seen anything like the tail-less dog and the winged cat; I hope I never do again.
According to a 1994 Department of Sanitation survey, trace amounts of the following chemicals can be found in Fresh Kills: barium, copper, arsenic, thallium, DDT, selenium, lead, boron, antimony, nitrobenzene, napthalene, toluene, vinyl chloride, mercury, manganese, silver, phenol, phenylenediamine, magnesium, heptachlor, PCBs, nickel, chlorobenzene, zinc, and ethylbenzene.
Though tales of Bigfoot in American date back hundreds of years, isn't it possible that the abuse thrown down upon Staten Island in the last fifty years has given rise to unnatural creatures? Who knows what's lurking in the water tables? Who can say what's leaking from Fresh Kills? What exactly is the DEP doing in white suits, behind barbed-wire fences?
Even if I never see our local Bigfoot in person, I suspect there will be plenty of opportunities to see other, even more curious beasts. Will Trashquatch soon need to defend its habitat against other cryptozoological contenders?
Staten Island Swamp Thing, anyone?