By Mary Haley
For the Mirror
or people talking about Bigfoot sightings and other offbeat topics like ghosts and UFOS, they're "some of the most down-to-earth people I've ever met,'' said David Rupert, the central Pennsylvania director of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society.
"They're just a great bunch of people to be with,'' he said. "They're amazing.''
Locally, investigations into reported sightings continues.
Rupert, a welding instructor who lives in Reynoldsville, Clearfield County, has been a fan of Bigfoot since he was in elementary school when his mom bought him a book on the legendary tall, hairy creature. The book was two-sided: you read one side on Bigfoot, flipped it over, and then read the other side that detailed the tale of the Loch Ness Monster.
But it was Bigfoot that kept him, and now his wife and two sons, 11 and 14, hooked.
They're all members of the state society that got started in 1998 and documents Bigfoot sightings across the state.
The family is also involved with a larger group that investigates sightings of UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) and ghosts.
But Rupert has never seen Bigfoot and he's not 100 percent sure it exists. He just wants to spend a lot of time outdoors with his family and he also wants to satisfy his curiosity about the elusive creature.
"I welcome the possibility,'' he said. "With so many sightings out there, somebody is seeing something.''
Although Bigfoot sightings date back hundreds of years, the search for the elusive creature has resurfaced at the forefront of America's consciousness with the popularity of "Finding Bigfoot," an Animal Planet reality show featuring investigations by the Bigfoot Field Researchers Association.
The program's third season is set to premiere in November.
Like Rupert, Steve Ujvari of the Poconos has been fascinated by Bigfoot and other unexplained creatures since childhood. An airline pilot, Ujvari recently went on an expedition looking for Bigfoot figures in California at the place of perhaps the reputed Bigfoot sighting which was actually caught on film.
The site produced the famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film, so called for the last names of the two men who shot the film, in which a black-haired creature can be seen walking through the wood upright for several minutes. It is believed to be the best film evidence yet of Bigfoot.
Unlike Rupert, Ujvari believes he has actually seen a Bigfoot creature, although it wasn't on the most recent expedition. It occurred a few years ago when he and fellow investigators for the Bigfoot Research Organization were on an expedition in the Adirondack Mountains. They were using thermal imaging, which he said is the only way to see a Bigfoot creature because the animals like the dark. The figure was behind a tree and on all fours. The men were watching it for about 15 minutes when suddenly it poked its head and shoulders out and they were sure it was something unique, he said.
"It was a religious experience,'' Ujvari said. "There is no other animal in the woods of the Adirondacks that looks like what that animal looked like.''
Others who are interested in the Bigfoot legend were drawn to it for far different reasons. Linda Jo Martin decided she wanted to learn more about the creature because she believes that even though people in her town seemed to talk a lot about Bigfoot, no one seemed to know very much about the creatures themselves.
Martin lives in Happy Camp, Calif., about 50 to 60 miles from where the Patterson-Gimlin film of the famous Bigfoot sighting was made. There are a lot of Bigfoot sightings within a mile of her town, she said, but no one has really documented them.
"Lots of businesses in town were named after Bigfoot and there were several Bigfoot statues here,'' said Martin, who has written a book for children and teens called River Girl that has a chapter in it about Bigfoot. "It made me feel that I should know more.''
Like Rupert, Martin said she has never seen Bigfoot but she believes that the number of sightings nationwide has increased. But whether it's due to more hikers in remote wooded areas or more human population is hard to say. One problem researchers always face is the potential for hoaxes or misleading reports, she said.
"There are many others who crave attention and imagine Bigfoot sightings they haven't actually had,'' she said. "Bigfoot researchers are constantly having to apply skepticism to reports they hear about.''
Many people who see the creatures don't want to talk publicly about what they see, Rupert said, for several reasons. Some are worried that people will doubt what they say and others fear that people will make fun of them, he said. Still others are concerned that they could lose their jobs if their employers hear that they're talking about seeing Bigfoot.
One such case occurred a few years ago and involved a forest ranger who worked at a state park. He believed he'd seen a Bigfoot-type creature, Rupert said. The society wanted to use his name in their records to record the sighting but the ranger asked that his name not be used when his boss asked him not to be identified, for fear that people might associate the sighting in a negative way with the state park.
"Not many people want to go out in the woods with their family and go camping if they're afraid,'' Rupert said.
But in none of the sightings have the creatures become aggressive or attempted to hurt the people who've seen them, Rupert said. In fact the people who've tried to see them better by shining headlights on them have only prompted the creatures to flee faster, he said.
Many people are surprised at the idea of Bigfoot sightings in Pennsylvania, believing that Bigfoot is a legend associated with the western United States. But Rupert said the Indians of Pennsylvania have a long tradition of Bigfoot legends that stem from the acres of state forests that spread across Pennsylvania.
"There are just as many secluded wooded areas here as there are out West,'' he said.
Over the years, several people have advanced theories about the reasons behind the Bigfoot legend. Sightings of similar creature have been reported not only in the United States but around the world, he said. Other names have been given to the figures, such as Sasquatch or Yeti, but they all bear resemblances to each other, Rupert said.
Because of that, his favorite theory is that at one time the world consisted of one, large "mega-continent'', upon which these huge creatures roamed the earth. When the massive continent broke up, the creatures scattered and are now responsible for the sightings that are occurring with more frequency, Rupert said.
It's just a theory, he said, but it explains why so many of the reports from different parts of the world sound similar.
"I definitely don't think it's a new species,'' he said. "And I think as we move into their homeland, I think you're going to see even more sightings.''
Ujvari agrees with Rupert that the creatures are part of a worldwide group that has roamed the world for millennia.
But Martin isn't sure she subscribes to the theory.
"I'm interested in all theories about Bigfoot but in the final analysis, they're all theories,'' Martin said. "Most Bigfoot researchers are looking for proof, not theories that can't be proven.''
Ujvari said the creatures vary as to their appearance according to where they are sighted, with more people seeing black-haired creatures in the northern part of the country while the southerners are seeing more rust or brown hair figures.
The creatures seem to like female voices and they also have their own language, which researchers have dubbed "Samurai chatter,'' Ujvari said. The figures tend to prey upon deer and have been known to steal a chicken or two, he said. They like to throw rocks, will stalk at times and will also leave a gift of pinecones in return for similar gifts left by researchers if prompted, he said.
"They're exceedingly intelligent,'' he said. "They're probably the next intelligent being behind humans.''
Ujvari, who said the creatures have been sighted in 49 of the 50 states in America, said Bigfoot figures resemble something close to a large ape. They tend to look something like a gorilla, but with some human characteristics, such as the ability to walk upright like a man. He also said he's not sure if he agrees with Rupert if there seems to be an increase in the number of Bigfoot sightings in a particular area. It could be that there are just a lot more sightings in high-population areas because there's simply more people in those areas to see the creatures, he said.
For example, western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio have a large number of sightings but that territory also has a high human population. Areas less populated by humans may have several Bigfoot creatures but fewer humans to see the figures, he said.
That's a huge thing, that the population is not as high,'' Ujvari said
To see past episodes of the Animal Planet's "Finding Bigfoot'' and other videos about Bigfoot, go to the Bigfoot Research Organization website at BFRO.net. To contact Rupert, log onto www.pabigfootsociety.net. To get in touch with Martin, write to her at www.bigfootsightings.org.