Screams in the Night
|Screams in the Night|
The search for Bigfoot is as old as the hills, but in the remote forests of far northern California, trackers of the elusive -- or mythical -- creature are up to some new tricks
1999-01-24 04:00:00 PST Near Gasquet, Del Norte County -- We're parked on a patch of gravel high up in the Six Rivers National Forest, on top of Jawbone Ridge, surrounded by dense, green forest covering hillsides that plunge steeply into canyons.
It is so utterly quiet up here that if you listen carefully you're sure the wailing, mournful cry of Bigfoot will come tearing up the mountainside.
Bigfoot Calls From the cab of his pickup truck, John Freitas takes out a camera, a tape recorder and a pair of binoculars and sets them within easy reach in the pickup's bed. Near the tailgate is a huge outdoor speaker, much like the ones you see suspended from the tiers of baseball stadiums.
Freitas fiddles with the tape deck in the truck's dashboard, and then suddenly the speaker booms forth with an eerie wail.
"Aaarrrrrgggghhhh," the voice screams for several seconds, arcing from low to high then low, a bit like an air raid siren, and then again, in a higher pitch, "Aaaaaaiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee." Freitas shuts down the tape and listens carefully, waiting for a response. Silence. More silence. We look around, video camera at the ready. Come out, come out, wherever you are.
"The theory," he says, nodding at the speaker, "is that if there's another 'Squatch in this area, this will attract him."
This is the hunt for Bigfoot -- the legendary Sasquatch, as he was known in the old Salish tribal language of British Columbia, where locals say he has been seen frequently. John Freitas may well be typical of the new breed of Bigfoot hunter that seems to be emerging in the never-ending search for the phantom ape of North America. Undaunted by the occasional snicker or rolling of eyes from his friends or co-workers, Freitas, like any good police investigator, is methodical and practical and willing to go looking for something about which precious little evidence even exists.
Bigfoot Tapes Over the past few years, the hunt for Bigfoot has exploded in a frenzy of high technology. New high-tech detection equipment abounds, dangling from trees all over the United States -- Starlight nightscopes, motion detectors hooked up to infrared still and video cameras, FM wireless transmitters dangling from fir trees and transmitting to tape decks up to two miles away. In his bedroom at a cabin Freitas rents deep in the forest are a video cassette recorder, a three-foot-long telephoto lens, nightvision Starlight binoculars and a recycled siren switchbox from a patrol car, used to amplify the screams on his tapes.
And that's just the stuff in the field. At home and in offices across the country, the Internet has spawned a myriad of Web sites that have brought a sense of order and organization to a subject that for years has been disparate, fractured and, given the heated arguments over whether Bigfoot even exists, fractious in the extreme.
And there is still a smattering of oldstyle Bigfoot information: Bigfoot Museum At the Bigfoot museum in Willow Creek, where Al Hodgson is the curator, nearly two dozen plaster casts of footprints seen in the Northern California wilderness are on display in glass cases. The best part of Hodgson's display is the collection of footprint casts donated by the estate of Bob Titmus, one of the most experienced Bigfoot trackers.
On the Six Rivers mountaintop with Freitas, though, all that counts is whether the elusive man-ape will answer these calls. The tapes were recorded in 1994 in a mountainous rural area of eastern Ohio by Matthew Moneymaker, a 33-year-old software engineer from Southern California who is also a longtime Bigfoot tracker. Moneymaker said there have been numerous sightings of Bigfoot-like creatures in that Appalachian area of Ohio, near Pennsylvania.
Moneymaker played the tapes for three scientists, including a zoologist who specializes in wildlife, and "they all said it was something really unusual" and could not identify the sounds. In the world of Bigfoot, that means it bore no resemblance to any identifiable mammal, and it was just what Freitas needed in the form of aural bait.
Freitas is a 43-year-old former police officer who now works as a welfare fraud investigator for Del Norte County. He latched onto Bigfoot as a teenager 30 years ago when he first saw the famous film -- made in 1967 by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin -- of a supposed Bigfoot slogging across a sandbar on Bluff Creek, about 40 miles south of where we are waiting for Bigfoot to come out and see us.
"I've heard the screams from here," he says, pointing to a clump of trees, where there is a distinct dark shadow -- could it be? -- "and from over there" -- by another stand of fir. "Once, the screams lasted for five days, and it didn't sound like anger or pain. It was more like, 'I'm here. Where are you?' I just want to prove it exists or doesn't exist."
The mission of the Willow Creek - China Flat Museum is the acquisition, display and custodial care of objects representing the history and legacy of the Klamath-Trinity area of Northwestern California.
Its purpose is to publicly inform, educate and celebrate the area's rich cultural diversity and to also maintain, preserve and publicly display the Bigfoot and Sasquatch collection.