This post could also be called “Bigfoot and Us.”
Starting in 1998, my brother Allen and I wrote a “weird science” column called “Gonzo Science” for the alternative Duluth newsweekly Ripsaw. When the Ripsaw folded, we continued our run in the underground magazine High Plains Drifter. When that folded, we published for a while in another newsweekly, Zenith City Weekly. Over the course of our years-long run, we wrote about every weird topic under the sun with a balance of open-mindedness and skepticism. In the process, we made some contacts in the “weird science” world (heretical theories, the paranormal, etc.) and people would come to us with weird stuff. Although more skeptical than most writers in that field, we took part in a lot of strange stuff. We prided ourselves on giving pure strangeness a good hard look. We explored a largely untrodden middle ground between total credulity and complete skepticism, and it was a lot of fun.
We would receive unsolicited refutations of physics in the mail. We also interviewed many luminaries of the scientific fringes, including Fritjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake, and the McKenna brothers. We took part in ghostbusting Duluth’s old Whole Foods Co-op building, which now houses Burrito Union. We went on a couple UFO hunts, and hosted a UFO convention four years in a row. One of the interviews in the Gonzo Science book, who was also a guest at one of our UFO conventions, was conspiracy author Jim Fetzer, a since-retired UMD professor who at first seemed so amusing but eventually went completely off the rails – defaming grieving Sandy Hook parents and whatnot – and we have not yet sufficiently thrown him under enough busses, mostly for fear of him suing us. That will be a different post and you can look forward to it. But essentially the “Gonzo Science” project has been put to rest. You can still find the Gonzo Science book on Amazon, and the Gonzo Science CD is still available on CDBaby. There is always more to explore in the “weird science” world. But we sort of exhausted ourselves with the topic. So we switched gears, and started writing fiction and a high-school drug memoir instead, which we are still shopping around.
But one of the stories from the old Gonzo Science days is recorded in the book Haunted Minnesota: Ghostly Tales and Spirited Stories by Hugh E. Bishop (Lake Superior Port Cities Inc., 2006). The story is, some friends of ours came to us with a report of finding what they thought could be Bigfoot tracks in some deep snow. They were trustworthy,* sort of freaked out, and had pictures that were pretty compelling. The pics were published in the local Reader Weekly, and that scared up another report of similar tracks in the same area. We – reserving judgement as always – took the story to our contact in the Bigfoot world, cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, who confirmed that nothing about the case was conclusive. I eventually came to the conclusion, as put forward by outdoorsmen in the comments we received, that the “Bigfoot footprints” in the deep snow were likely impressions made by the body of a bounding baby deer. The expert we sent the photos to noted some melting had occurred, which would have erased finer details of the prints and enlarged them too.
The pictures are not in my possession but if anyone has an archive of the Reader that goes back to 2006, take some snaps and send them along – the best one was on the cover.
As I recall, the whole story was on the Reader‘s website for a while; this article was eventually cribbed by virtuallystrange.net (now defunct) which I believe did so without attribution, although I could be mistaken. This is where Hugh Bishop found it, and from there he wrote the story up into his Bigfoot chapter. We learned of our appearance in the book from our ghostbusting friend, who I think was friends with the Bishop family, got the book, and saw us mentioned.
The description of us as “Fortean researchers” was applied by the author of the virtuallystrange.net article. It is a reference to the writer Charles Fort who collected anything to do scientific anomalies and the like. It is one of the highest honors of my life to be so described.
So here is that excerpt from Haunted Minnesota, pages 111-112:
While many of the stories revealed here come from past decades, a recent posting concerning Bigfoot evidence in Cook and Lake counties in northeastern Minnesota was posted in March 2005 at www.virtuallystrange.net.
According to Jim Richardson of Duluth, who is described, with his brother, Allen, on the website as a ‘Fortean researcher,’ three people he was working with were snowshoeing several miles into the woods to spend February 12-13 in a cabin near Grand Marais. For whatever reason, they were following a wispy trail in waist-deep snow at 1 to 2 a.m., sinking more than a foot into the powdery snow.
During their traverse, they came upon large footprints that showed a 4- to 5-foot stride that crossed their trail and were visible in both directions as far as their lamps allowed them to see. The huge tracks and extraordinary length of stride spooked them, since they sank to the bottom of the snow pack and indicated not only great height but great weight for whatever left the trail.
“One person assured me that the tracks were bipedal and not moose tracks or anything like that,” Richardson reported. “He was also the one who inspected them the closest of the three and said he could discern that it was a large footprint. He is really pretty certain that nothing identifiable made those tracks and leans toward a Bigfoot explanation. The other two guys are hedging their bets, saying the tracks are unidentified. What can be said with some certainty is that the experience spooked them all.”
The second northeastern Minnesota report at the website tells of another witness who went out to check on the condition of a yurt he had erected near Isabella (between Lake Superior and Ely on Highway 1), fearing the weight of snow had collapsed it. This incident occurred on March 4, 2005, and he found the yurt in good shape, but was a bit perturbed by something else that he discovered.
Without snowshoes, the man and his dog walked through hip-deep snow about a half-mile, telling Richardson that, even as a tall person, his footprints were only about a foot apart and that the trek was exhausting for him – although his dog had a grand old time.
At some point during this tiring trip, the man came upon a single set of very large, wide and elongated human-like tracks, again displaying a stride estimated at 4 to 6 feet apart.
“Not even the tallest person in the world wearing snowshoes could stride like that through such deep snow,” the witness stated.
Curious to see what more he could discover about the strange tracks, he returned on March 9, but found that the footprints, which he estimated to be 16 to 20 inches deep on his first encounter, had filled with newly fallen snow, but were definitely not those of a snowshoer. Nonetheless, photos he took were shown to the Grand Marais area witnesses, who said the tracks were the same as what they encountered on their nighttime foray into the woods.
The photos were sent to world-renowned cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, who reportedly told Richardson that little could be learned about the footprints without casts of them. While he did not outright reject the prints as fraudulent, Coleman said, “Too much melting to say much, it appears. These could be anything.”
*The colorful footnote I want to apply here is that one of the original three witnesses of the tracks — one of the two who was “hedging his bet” — was our old friend who we may only name as “Big-hand.” This legendary story, which I have relayed elsewhere, is 100% true. This guy was his own Fortean anomaly. Big-hand is so-called because one of his hands was freakishly large, so large that it had extra blood flow and it would literally steam in cold weather. We can’t give his real name because he went on to get a job in the State Department and earned a security clearance, in the process of which I was interviewed by an ex-military guy who was talking to folks Big-hand worked with to see if he was trustworthy. Big-hand was indeed trustworthy, I’d trust him with my life. But he was also a total weirdo. This Bigfoot stuff featured in one of our great misadventures together.
This must have been 2006. With the “Bigfoot tracks” episode fresh in our minds, Allen and I made a guest vocal appearance on the eponymously-titled album by the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank (aka Teague and Ian Alexy). It is track #7, “Work in the Morning,” where the gag was Allen and I were leaving a crazy message about Bigfoot on the Alexy brothers’ voicemail. For the Duluth album release show in the old NorShor Theater mezzanine, the Alexys wanted us to perform the vocals and then get attacked by a Bigfoot. Big-hand was 100 percent down to play Bigfoot, and for his costume he said, “Leave it to me.”
On the night of the performance, Big-hand showed up beforehand with bottles of corn syrup, a bucket of human hair, and a package of raw pork. He stripped down to his Speedo backstage and was like, “Now stick the hair to me with the corn syrup, and put the raw pork in your shirt. On cue, I will leap over the balcony, rip the pork out of your shirt with my teeth like I’m ripping out your heart, and then drag you through the crowd.” The performance came off as freakishly as it sounds, before an astonished crowd. Later that night, we hosed Big-Hand off in my yard, and the next morning I looked out my window and saw his Speedo lying in the grass among clumps of human hair.
Cut to the military guy interviewing me about Big-hand’s security clearance, and he asks me, “Has he ever done ANYTHING which has caused you to question his judgement?” I paused and looked at the ceiling. He goes, “Nothing serious?” I said, “No.”
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