Bigfoot Lives — At Least on Screen
When you think of Bigfoot, grainy, dubious tabloid photos come to mind, but Pamula Pierce Barcelou of Claremont is bringing the beast to the big screen via the restoration of her father’s 1972 film “The Legend of Boggy Creek.”
The creature known as Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Skunk Ape or the Abominable Snowman seems to exist everywhere, but so far has left no scientifically significant trace to establish its reality beyond eye-witness accounts — often experienced in the wilderness or at night. Hundreds of modern sightings have occurred, even here in the Granite State, but that number is likely to surge now that a Claremont woman has lovingly restored a movie, made by her dad, that first launched the monster to pop-culture fame.
“The beauty of the bottoms under soft moonlight is transformed into a dark, menacing danger. And the shadows of the night trigger our imagination into being in places where possibly the creature is lurking. Because you know he’s out there, somewhere.” — From “The Legend of Boggy Creek”
Beasts of the water and the wild turn in full flight from the sound of it. Trained hunting dogs retreat from the mere scent of it. A young child races through an open meadow to warn townspeople about the presence of “some kind of wildman in the woods by the creek.” A long, hairy arm reaches in through the window a family home, making its occupants flee in panic.
Those are but a few of the memorable scenes in the “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” a 1972 docudrama about a strange, unidentified creature that is said to have kept the small rural town of Fouke, Arkansas (population 350), both frightened and fascinated for years. Movie audiences proved fascinated as well by the drama featuring a legendary creature known locally as the Fouke Monster, but elsewhere called Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti or, in some climes, the Abominable Snowman. The low-budget film grossed a reported $20 million as a box office hit while competing with such Hollywood heavyweights as “The Godfather,” “The Poseidon Adventure” and “Deliverance.”
Its producer and director was Charles B. Pierce, a filmmaker from Texarkana on the Texas-Arkansas border, about 15 miles from Fouke. His daughter, Pamula Pierce Barcelou, who is now a resident of Claremont, New Hampshire, had the film remastered and plans to show it in at least three New Hampshire movie theaters this month. It’s already been shown in two dozen theaters around the country, says Barcelou, and “we’re outdrawing first-run movies,” she adds.
“It was all over the internet, anything about Boggy Creek,” she says. “I’ve had so many people write to me and say, ‘Thank you for doing this.’”
Resurrecting the film involved a tracking down of the rights to it, which, it turned out, had reverted to L.W. “Buzz” Redwell, the trucking magnate who had advanced Charles Pierce $100,000 for the film’s production. Redwell turned the rights over to Barcelou for one dollar. An original print was obtained from the British Film Industry in London and enhanced by the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York. “Four thousand pictures were taken of each frame to give it the kind of depth that you feel like you could a reach out and touch someone,” Barcelou says. Restoration of the sound was handled by Audio Mechanics recording studio of Burbank, California.
Reports of strange happenings in tiny Fouke, Arkansas, had already spread far and wide when Pierce and filming partner Earl Smith were working on a movie in Los Angeles. Spotting a teenager wearing a T-shirt celebrating “The Fouke Monster,” Pierce told Smith, “I think we’re making the wrong movie.” When they embarked on the Boggy Creek venture, young Pamula, then 10 years old, at first refused to get caught up in the excitement surrounding the legendary beast.
“No way, there are no monsters,” she says, recalling her initial response to the ominous reports. But as the story came together in her father’s movie, the beast of Boggy Creek seemed like an unseen member of the family. “I grew up with a monster,” she says. The eldest of four children found it was “like having an additional sibling.”
The production relied heavily on local residents, many of whom played themselves in the movie. The viewer meets an interesting group of backwoodsmen, including Smokey Crabtree and his son Travis, who was hunting in the woods near Boggy Creek when he saw the creature and managed to fire a couple of shots in its direction while beating a hasty retreat. John Oates finds two of his prize hogs were slaughtered during the night. He returns later to find them gone. “What kind of thing can pick up 200-pound hogs and walk off with them?” he wonders aloud. An unmolested kitten is apparently frightened to death outside its home after a creature fitting the description of the Fouke Monster was seen prowling just outside the house. O.H. Kennedy came across huge, three-toed footprints in Willie Smith’s bean field, generating sill more excitement and nationwide publicity.
Barcelou had a small role herself, playing the daughter of Bessie Smith, the young mother who tries to humor a group of small children who claimed to have seen the monster lurking in the nearby woods. Accompanying them to the site, she loses her skepticism in a skipped heartbeat when she sees the creature and shares in the children’s fright. “Don’t run!” she hollers to them while racing to catch up to them. Other scenes in the film depict the hair-raising incidents said to have spread successive “waves of terror” throughout Fouke and surrounding communities.
According to the website of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), sightings of “large, hair-covered man-like animals in the wilderness areas of North America have been reported for more than 400 years.” The reports can be traced to the culture and folklore of Native Americans of the United States and Canada, and they’ve continued to the present day. They are often made by people of “unimpeachable character,” according to the BFRO, which concedes, nonetheless, that some are the result of “a combination of misidentification of known animals, wishful thinking and the deliberate fabrication of evidence.”
While most of the reported Bigfoot sightings in the US have come from the Pacific Northwest, New Hampshire has had a couple hundred of them, according to Crystal Panek, the New Hampshire field researcher with the BFRO. Yet only about a dozen of them have been posted on the organization’s site. Most people don’t want to give their names or otherwise be identified with their sighting out of fear of being disbelieved and even ridiculed for what they claim to have seen, Panek says. “They’re afraid people will say they’re crazy.” Privacy concerns are also an issue where physical evidence, such as abnormally large footprints, is found. “Most people who have shared encounters with me are extremely private and do not want trespassers on their property,” notes Panek, who has been with the BFRO since 2015.
Work for the all-volunteer agency involves questioning people about what they claim to have seen and looking for evidence to substantiate it. Extra weight is given to eyewitness offered by policemen, town officials or others with credibility and “standing” within their respective communities.
Panek’s own experience with Bigfoot sightings goes back to her childhood in Oswego, New York. After the family discovered a door to their home had been broken, Panek says, she and her twin sister awoke later that night to find a large, hairy creature standing in the doorway of their bedroom. She recalls climbing down from the top berth of their bunk beds and huddling with her sister in the lower bunk.
“After that, everything went black,” she recalls. Years later when her own 5-year-old reported seeing a “big, hairy man” pass by the window of their home, “all those images from what I saw years before came flooding back.”
One notable incident in New Hampshire created the famous Hollis Flea Monster story. The May 18, 1977, edition of The Nashua Telegraph reported the brief, unsubstantiated story.
LOWELL MAN FLEES HOLLIS, AFTER SIGHTING MONSTER.
Police here are awaiting the return of a Lowell, Mass., man identified only as Mr. St. Louis, after he reported seeing a 10-foot tall hairy monster Saturday night at the Hollis Flea Market. Chief Paul Bosquet said the man came into police headquarters at about 10:30 Saturday night to report the strange incident.
St. Louis told the dispatcher that he, his wife and two sons were sleeping in their pickup truck when they were awakened by the shaking of their truck. The man said he looked out and saw the what he described as a 10-foot-tall hairy animal with human-like features shaking the truck.
The Lowell man quickly started the truck and sped off to the police station where he reported the incident. Police went to the scene, but could find no evidence of the animal. Bosquet said the area in which the truck was parked was covered with pine needles and no footprints could be found …
The Hollis chief said the animal may have been a bear that came out of the nearby woods in search of food from a nearby rubbish container.
Fred Bellen describes his memorable walk in the woods on a warm day in the early autumn of 1994. A resident of Conway at the time, Bellen was hiking in the Redstone quarry part of the town at the base of Rattlesnake Mountain when he noticed the usual sounds of birds, frogs and squirrels had ceased. “I was taught that if this happens, chances are that a predator is nearby,” he says. Chances are he was not expecting the kind of predator he has described with remarkable detail.
“So I stopped to look around [and] about 200 to 250 feet in front of me was this massive human-looking thing with red hair all over its body except its face and hands. Its face looked like a baboon, but its skin was charcoal black. The thing was at least 10 feet tall, if not more. It had its back against a telephone pole and it looked as if it was scratching its back. The hair on its arms was about 8 inches long. I could see the muscles in its legs. It never looked in my direction.”
Despite a strong urge to run, Bellen recalled being taught that running only increases the danger of being pursued and caught by a wild animal. So he slowly retreated, looking over his shoulder to be sure the creature was not following. “Once I heard the birds again is when I felt safe enough to run. I didn’t stop running until I reached my vehicle,” he says. Though it was more than a quarter of a century ago, Bellen, now an Epping resident, says he never told anyone about it until recently, out of fear that people would consider him mad. That makes him no less convinced that what he saw was as real as the lasting impression it has made on him.
“To this day, I have nightmares about it,” he says. “I wake up in a cold sweat after dreaming of the thing chasing me, even though he didn’t.”
Aleksander Petakov of Nashua, a documentary filmmaker with a keen interest in that study of mysterious creatures known as cryptozoology, says the subject of Bigfoot is one that comes up often during the lectures he gives at libraries and in cryptozoology conferences. “I’ve always had an interest in documentaries, especially on cryptozoology,” he says. “That includes all sorts of creatures — Bigfoot, Loch Ness, the Lake Champlain Monster. The list goes on.” Petakov’s 2016 documentary, “Shy Man of the White Mountains,” is about an Abenaki researcher studying the Bigfoot phenomenon in New Hampshire.
“There’s definitely a long history of sightings of hairy, upright creatures in New Hampshire Native American folklore,” says Petakov, who also cites a history of early settlers, particularly in Coös County, passing on accounts of “Wood Devils” in the forest. “I’ve been told by people who grew up in the area that they were told ‘Don’t go out too far out in the woods to camp or the Wood Devils will get you.’”
The International Cryptozoology museum displays a 9-foot depiction of Bigfoot near its parking lot at Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine. Loren Coleman, the museum’s founder and director, says he has a lifelong interest in mysteries and anthropology. The passion is apparently shared by many, as he reports that visitors to the “world’s only cryptozoology museum” since it opened 16 years ago have included people from every state and from Spain, Nepal, China and “all over the world.” The author or co-author of some 40 books, the preeminent cryptozoologist notes that there is enough evidence of mysterious creatures to sustain the public’s curiosity.
“There’s enough interest for people to write magazine articles, but not enough for state government to fund expeditions and hunts,” he says.
While sightings of Bigfoot and other strange creatures may have been going on for centuries, renewed interest was sparked in the late 1950s, according to Washington, DC, journalist Becky Lee. In an article appearing at History.com, Lee traced the rise of Bigfoot mania to a small item appearing in a northern California newspaper called the Humboldt Times. A letter from a reader told of loggers who had come across mysteriously large footprints. “Maybe we have a relative of the Abominable Snowman,” journalist Andrew Genzoli joked in a column that ran alongside the letter. The paper’s readers wanted to know more and the Times accommodated their interest with follow up articles about the footprints and the name the loggers gave to the unseen creature who had left them — Bigfoot. “And so a legend was born,” wrote Lee.
Stories of the creature became a staple of supermarket tabloids and grist for movies and television. The TV series “Bigfoot and Wildboy” featured the mythical creature and the orphan he raised as a crime-fighting duo in the Pacific Northwest. Real-life reports of the creature persisted, however, as did the response of skeptics seeking to debunk them. An article at the How Stuff Works website suggests how “pranksters” might have manufactured some of the “evidence” of Bigfoot’s presence.
“To make ‘bigfoot’ prints, a prankster would just mold two large feet out of plaster, attach them to the bottom of his shoes and walk with a very long stride (possibly leaping with each step),” notes How Stuff Works. Rare photographic “evidence” often turns out to be men in ape suits, critics say. Indeed, the Fouke Monster, not being available for filming, was portrayed in “The Legend of Boggy Creek” by a man in a gorilla costume.
Barcelou believes the creature called the Fouke Monster is real, but adds “I don’t give it supernatural powers,” despite reports of its picking up and walking off with a pair of John Oates’ 200-pound hogs. “Many known animals have that kind of strength,” she says. “A lion can throw a 200-pound warthog. They take on animals all the time.”
Fouke, Arkansas, now a city of some 850 residents, has grown a bit in the nearly half-century since “The Legend of Boggy Creek” made its debut, but the story still has an impact on the economic life of the city as well as the imagination of moviegoers.
“Oh, goodness, yes!” says Mayor Terry Purvis, when asked if the legend has made the city a tourist attraction. A year ago, when Barcelou returned for a showing of the remastered film at the Texarkana theater where it had made its debut 48 years earlier, people from several states and as far away as England flocked to the event, he says. Purvis, now in his 13th year as mayor, recalls seeing the movie as a 17-year-old and thinking it was a great horror film, “very scary and neat.” He sees it now as a force for economic development as the legend continues to draw visitors to the community. A must stop for visitors is the Fouke Monster Mart, the combination of a large country store and the Fouke Monster Museum. Purvis expresses no doubt the creature itself has been seen and heard and has left evidence of its presence in the fields and farms near Boggy Creek.
“Over the years there have been literally thousands of these sightings,” he says. “It’s pretty hard for me to call all these people liars.” Nor does he give credence to the notion that some of the sightings might have been of known animals that startled observers might have mistaken for the legendary beast.
“These are country people, who’ve lived all their lives in the country,” says Purvis. “If it’s a black bear, they’ve seen that.”
Perhaps there has been no bigger skeptic than Herb Jones, one of the many Fouke residents who played themselves in the movie. Jones was a hermit who lived in a shack deep in the bottomland by Boggy Creek. By his own account, it was “14 miles by boat to the nearest road and a pretty good walk to town.” Jones had a very strong conviction concerning the creature that many of the townspeople had come to regard with a combination of fascination and horror.
“People always ask, have I seen the Fouke Monster,” he says. “Now let me tell you somethin’. There ain’t no such thing. I been livin’ in these bottoms for better ’n 20 years and I ain’t never seen no monster.”
But fellow Fouke resident Charlie Walraven might have said Jones was lucky. Walraven says he saw “the thing” walk in front of his car as he drove down a dark, deserted road one night.” I couldn’t even believe what I was watchin’,” he says.
“I reckon there are a lot o’ folks who don’t believe anything ’til they see it for themselves,” Walraven says. “’Course, if they’re like me, maybe they’ll be wishin’ they hadn’t seen what they did.”
At the cryptozoology museum in Maine, Loren Coleman suggests there may never be enough eyewitness accounts or physical evidence to reach anything like a consensus about the reality of the nonexistence of the “monster,” by whatever name it’s called.
“If there were enough evidence to confirm that Bigfoot existed, we wouldn’t be talking about him,” says Coleman. “There’s evidence enough to keep people looking. The quest goes on.”
Bigfoot in New Hampshire
Bigfoot sightings that actually get reported are probably just a fraction of those experienced by people. “I’d say that 95% or more of the cases I handle do not want anyone to know that they have had an encounter,” says Crystal Panek, field researcher for the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO). The chart above shows the breakdown, by county, of New Hampshire sightings reported to the BFRO. If you have a sighting you’d like to report, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out a sighting report at the BFRO website (bfro.net/GDB/submitfm.asp) You’ll also find a list of upcoming research expeditions should you feel bold enough to follow the call of the wild. The BFRO hasn’t hosted one in the Granite State yet, but if they get enough requests, they will, says Panek.