October 10, 2005
Bigfoot believers â€“ what do they believe?
Chicago Tribune – Online Edition
If this were Washington state, the rumors might not even raise an eyebrow.
If the City of Chicago were nestled in the heart of the Himalayas (I’d like to see Daniel Burnham’s urban plan for that one), the stories might be downright ho-hum.
But, reports of Bigfoot sightings … in Illinois?
Well, now, that’s unexpected.
But, would you believe it’s not the first time?
Not even close, as a matter of fact.
This summer, the Illinois River town of Seneca (pop. 2,053), located about 70 miles southwest of Chicago, produced reports of alleged Bigfoot encounters along a stretch of DuPont Road in a heavily-wooded area just south of the river.
Four accounts — two of which were from this June, while the others date to 1979 and 1983 — were deemed credible enough by a volunteer investigator with the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization to be posted on the organization’s Web site, http://www.bfro.net/
The Seneca reports are among a total of 44 Illinois sightings listed on the BFRO site, with the oldest dating back to 1883, near Decatur.
That number actually gives Illinois the 16th-most documented Bigfoot sightings in the United States (one sighting behind Kentucky and one ahead of Indiana). Washington leads with 372, followed by California (322), Oregon (186) and — somewhat surprisingly — Ohio (181) and Texas (151).
It’s well known, of course, that there are people who believe in Bigfoot, and that includes some people living in the Land of Lincoln.
But what exactly do they believe in? And why do they believe in a creature that — in an era of satellite imagery, surveillance cameras and increased urbanization — has never been proven to exist?
In an attempt to find out, I called Matthew Moneymaker, a 40-year-old Internet consultant from Orange County, Calif., who founded the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization in 1995.
A passionate defender of the existence of the creatures, Moneymaker claims to have once stood 15 feet from a growling Bigfoot in eastern Ohio.
He contends that sightings of the creatures are not a psychological phenomenon, and chafes at what he says are generalizations made about those who believe in or allegedly encounter Bigfoots.
“If the explanation were psychological, we would find (sightings) happening in every town,” Moneymaker said. “Why is it only happening in certain towns? Why doesn’t it happen in the big city? If it’s happening in Seneca, then why isn’t it in the bigger town up the road?
“The psychology of Bigfoot is D.O.A. because it doesn’t explain why it happens in one place (and not others). The patterns are not demographic, they are geographic.”
Moneymaker said doubts about the existence of such creatures are normal. However, he also encourages an open mind.
“It’s natural to be skeptical. You would be, and should be,” he said. “â€¦ I tell the skeptics, that we (BFRO members) are better skeptics than they are. Because, we actually go out and look into these things. It’s a cop-out to just say there is no such thing as Bigfoot.
“â€¦ It’s the American mentality that makes it difficult to consider the possibility. Americans are very good at exploiting things. And people figure if something was out there, we would have exploited it already.”
But what is it that Bigfoot believers believe in?
Moneymaker said he and others think that nocturnal, intelligent and shy Bigfoot creatures may be descendants of an Asian ape named Gigantopithecus blacki that is thought to have become extinct several hundred thousand years ago.
The only remains of Gigantopithecus found by scientists have been a few jawbones and several hundred teeth.
But from the size of those fossils, some scientists believe the ape may have stood as tall as 10 feet and weighed as much as 1,200 pounds. Others have made smaller estimates.
Many Bigfoot believers contend that some of the apes may have crossed the Bering Strait into North America and survived in small numbers to this day.
The BFRO Web site estimates that 2,000 to 6,000 such creatures may be living in the U.S. and Canada.
“Don’t write it off as all imagination,” Moneymaker said. “Even in Illinois, there are a lot of woods and a lot to eat. These areas used to support a lot of Native Americans, and all that bounty has gone unused for the last 100 years or more. There’s enough food out there to support a small population of primates. And humans are primates, as well.”
In Seneca, longtime residents say that tales of a “DuPont Monster” stalking the forest along DuPont Road have circulated for more than 40 years.
And such a legend places Seneca among a handful of rural Illinois communities where colorful “monster” stories have long captured imaginations.
In Illinois, the heyday of these tales was during the early 1970s when reports of the “Farmer City Monster,” “Cohomo” and the “Murphysboro Mud Monster” — a trio of Bigfoot-like creatures — provided downstate Illinois more chills and thrills than a Hollywood studio.
In the book “Weird Illinois,” author Troy Taylor details these stories, beginning in July of 1970, when sightings of a “Farmer City Monster” threw the small central Illinois town located between Champaign and Bloomington, into a tizzy.
According to reports, dozens of local people — including a police officer — claimed to spot a huge, yellow-eyed creature in the nearby woods until the reports abruptly stopped in mid-August.
Two years later in May of 1972, a new monster story popped up west of Farmer City in the Pekin and Peoria areas.
Alleged eyewitness reports of a creature nicknamed “Cohomo” — short for Cole Hollow Road Monster — grew into the hundreds before a skeptical Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department decided to organize a 100-man search party for a hulking, fur-covered beast.
The search ended early, however, when a volunteer accidentally shot himself in the leg with a pistol.
A year later in the summer of 1973, southern Illinois became inundated with reports of a “Murphysboro Mud Monster” (also called the “Big Muddy Monster”).
The buzz surrounding tales of a 7-foot-tall, hair-covered creature lurking near the Big Muddy River became so big that even the New York Times sent a reporter to investigate.
In a Halloween-related story from Oct. 30, 2004, the Southern Illinoisan newspaper in Carbondale reported that it has now been a decade since the last reported sighting of the “Mud Monster” — which was also nicknamed “Mongo,” by some locals.
However, just like in Farmer City, Peoria and Seneca, the quirky legend still endures.
The legends always will.