By Mike Ryan, OCJ Field Reporter
Wanted, Bigfoot: Bipedal creature that is fast and agile, fluid and smooth in movement, with a hairy coat of brown, black, red, or salt and pepper. Stands 8 or 9 feet tall. Excellent tree climber and swimmer that will eat just about anything. Last seen ranging across the Buckeye state.
Ohio is a Bigfoot sighting hot spot that has even been the subject of national media attention in recent years due to the large number of reported encounters that continue to accumulate across the state. The Grassman, as Ohio’s Bigfoot is known, has been reportedly seen in various Ohio locations, with the Appalachian foothills of eastern Ohio being its predominant haunting grounds.
Author Doug Waller, of Muskingum county, is a longtime Bigfoot enthusiast with a wealth of knowledge about Bigfoot and cryptid lore. Doug has published 5 books on Bigfoot with another one in the works. He is also co-founder of the Southeastern Ohio Society for Bigfoot Investigations (SOSBI).
“I have always been interested in Bigfoot. I remember when I was a young man in the early 1970s being fascinated by the reports of ‘Mo-Mo,’ the Missouri Monster, that were coming in. This first stirred my interest in the creature and I always read any news stories or watched any shows on Bigfoot that I came across. I started attending Bigfoot meetings in the 1980s,” Waller said. “But my involvement in Bigfoot research really got going in 2006, when I started working at the Guernsey County Library. I found a bunch of Bigfoot books in the library stacks, eagerly read them, and began to get books on the subject from across the country through inter-library loan. I just couldn’t get enough and I amassed quite the reading list.”
Waller’s literary immersion into the world of Bigfoot led him to begin field research in the hills of eastern Ohio and to start an organization with other Bigfoot aficionados to promote the stories, study, and pursuit of Ohio’s Sasquatch.
“I got involved searching the woods for tracks and evidence and poking around on the Internet for information and contacts in ‘06 when I was working at the library and reading all of those books. Before long I found a collection of like-minded people and we started having meetings. We founded the Southeastern Ohio Society for Bigfoot Investigations to provide a venue for people to come and discuss what they had seen or heard without fear of ridicule. SOSBI held its first meeting in the Fall of ’08 and I started to write my first book, which I published in 2013, at about that same time,” Waller said.
Waller’s first book, “Standing in the Shadows,” details how the author got involved in Bigfoot studies and his experiences with the cast and crew of the television show, “Finding Bigfoot,” which filmed an episode in eastern Ohio. The book also describes Waller’s early personal investigations and contains first-hand eyewitness accounts of Bigfoot from Ohio and beyond. His other books, “Hidden Encounters,” “Screams in the Night,” “Bigfoot Reports,” and “Silent Forest” are devoted to first person testimonials of Bigfoot encounters by individuals Waller has interviewed.
“Most of the accounts in my books come from around Ohio, but there are also stories from all around the world in them. While most of my interviews were taken from this state, I got a lot of stories coming from move-ins to the state, or people who had returned home from college or the military from some other place where they had their experiences. I have stories from at least 20 states, Canada, and even one from South America. When SOSBI started hosting meetings and talks, people would share their stories, and I would write them down. I found that the more I went out and talked and shared information, the more stories I got,” Waller said.
The interviews that Waller has conducted for his books further influence his belief in the Bigfoot’s existence and his main goal in writing about them is to provide a forum for people to share their stories.
“When you do a lot of research and interviews, you see a lot of the same things popping up again and again. There are a lot of uncanny similarities in the experiences that people share. Also, there are so many verified stories out there from over the years that describe unexplainable occurrences that could not have been faked. I have met many reliable witnesses over the years whose detailed tales never change at all. My primary goal is to uncover people’s stories. It is said that for every Bigfoot report that is submitted, 10 may go unreported. People are often hesitant to speak about what they have seen. After the initial shock of a Bigfoot sighting, when people go and confide to someone about what they saw, they get shut down and laughed at by friends, family, and coworkers. And that makes them mad and embarrassed, and they shut up and shut down. I want people to report what they have experienced without this fear of insult. I am happy to keep the interview anonymous; I just want the story, because if someone reads or hears the story and they realize that they had a similar encounter in the same area or region, it helps put together another piece of the puzzle,” he said.
Ohio is one of the top 5 states for Bigfoot sightings in the country. SOSBI keeps a detailed map of Ohio where sightings/evidence of Bigfoot have occurred, and the eastern region of the state, especially, is littered with sites. Waller offers some insights into the sightings of creature’s prevalence and locations in the state.
“There is a lot of Bigfoot activity in the entire eastern part of our state, from Lake Erie clear down to the Ohio River. There have been a few sightings in central Ohio and a few in the northwestern part of the state — but it is so wide open and unforested up that way, there is not much habitat for them. However, while most reports come of them being seen or heard in deep cover, there are also reports of them coming from outside of densely populated metropolitan areas. Like people, some may prefer to live around the city, while some don’t,” Waller said. “The hotbed for Ohio Bigfoot sightings is Salt Fork Lake State Park in Guernsey County. There are tons of them there. Keep in mind that the park gets 2 million visitors a year, so that’s a lot of potential witnesses. Salt Fork has been known for years for Bigfoot activity, but I don’t know if there are more in that area than in some spot down in Wayne National Forest. A lot more people go looking for Bigfoot at Salt Fork than somewhere down in the Wayne in Athens county, for instance. You don’t have to go to Salt Fork to find Bigfoot.”
For those interested in searching for an Ohio Sasquatch, Waller suggests finding an area that has had recent Bigfoot reports and to go quietly camp out somewhere by yourself during the offseason when others are not around and look and listen for certain telltale signs.
“People often see Bigfoot along ridge lines, right-of-ways along creeks and rivers, or they catch a quick glimpse of them walking railroad tracks. They are huge creatures that can plow through trees and briars, but if there’s an easier route, they’ll sometimes take that. Bigfoots are very curious. This is one of their weaknesses and it can cause them trouble. If you are around them and they want to check you out, they will; if they want you gone, they may try to run you off. They prefer to be alone. In the foreword to ‘Screams in the Night,’ I include an extensive list of often-mentioned events and look-fors associated with Bigfoot encounters, such as the feeling of being watched, the woods going immediately silent, finding broken and twisted trees bent in strange formations, foul odors, large shadows, screaming, and gibberish-like chattering, to name just a few things to be aware of when in Bigfoot territory,” Waller said.
Waller encourages people who are skeptical of Bigfoot’s existence to keep an open mind. Simply because something has not been experienced or encountered by a person does not mean such things are not possible or do not exist. Cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals or beings yet to be identified by science, is an optimistic endeavor that stimulates both the imagination and the intellect.
“People will often ask me what is a ‘Bigfoot’? Is it a primitive man? An ape? A cross between a man and an ape? Is it supernatural? My answer is that I don’t know what it is, but there is something out there that we haven’t discovered yet. And there is a group of people out here, some with a lot of experience in the woods, some with a lot of experience with books, some with both, working to figure it out and track it down,” Waller said. “When skeptics come to our talks and say ‘I don’t know, I’ve lived here for 50 years and never seen anything like that, etc.,’ I say to them, ‘Well, I’ve never won the lotto, but I have spent a bunch of money over the years on lotto tickets. Even though I’ve never won, I know some people do.’ Bigfoot is like that — some people have never seen one, but some people will.”