50th Anniversary of Roger Patterson’s Bigfoot Footage

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the most famous Bigfoot footage of all time, shot on October 18, 1967, by Roger Patterson and his friend Bob Gimlin.

The first time I saw a still from Roger Patterson’s footage was in a Time Life book called Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. The book contained hundreds of one-to-two page supposedly true mysteries, both paranormal and otherwise. The infamous “frame 352” from the footage appears about halfway through the book. In that frame, Bigfoot looks back over her right shoulder directly at Roger Patterson.

I saw the footage itself either on an episode of In Search Of… or on the 1981 television special Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Monsters… But Were Afraid to Ask!. There was no YouTube back then, so you couldn’t watch things like on demand, nor could you replay it over and over, or watch it in slow-motion. The beginning of the footage is shaky (Patterson reported that his horse was spooked by the sudden appearance of the creature) but eventually the picture steadies and we get to see… something.

In elementary school, my first stop in the library was always the 001.9 section. That’s where all the UFO, Bermuda Triangle, and Bigfoot books were. While some kids loved Judy Blume, Daniel Cohen was my favorite author. I read and re-read all the books in that section. Every book in the non-fiction section of our library presented Bigfoot as real, and I believed them.

The older I got, the more those old legends began to fall apart. I was crushed to learn that the so-called Surgeon’s Photo (the most famous photograph of the Loch Ness Monster) was confirmed to be fake. With advances in computers and digital forensics, most of the UFO pictures I hoped were real were also debunked.

Of all the evidence of all those unexplained mysteries, Patterson’s Bigfoot footage held up the longest. It wasn’t until after his death in 1972 that some of his associates openly began describing him as “a liar and a conman.” Over time it came out that Patterson and Bob Gimlin were in Bluff Creek collecting footage for their Bigfoot “docudrama.” It’s not outside the realm of impossibility that a guy filming a docudrama about Bigfoot might have access to a Bigfoot costume. It is also incredible (in the true sense of the word) that the two men rented a camera for only three days and managed to film a Bigfoot during that time. While early investigators noted Bigfoot’s unique stride and claim that no human being could cover the same amount of distance covered by the creature in the same amount of time, later studies have shown that Patterson was, at a minimum, “mistaken” when he claimed the film was shot at 18 frames per second (subsequent investigators believe it was shot at 24 frames per second). When playing the footage back at 24 frames per second, Bigfoot’s gait appears much more human.

Defenders of the footage claim not even the best Hollywood special effects crews could have constructed such a believable and detailed costume, a notion most Hollywood special effects teams quietly snicker at. Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin frequently stated they showed the footage to executives from Disney and Universal Studios, both of whom said they could not figure out a way to duplicate such footage. Rarely retold is the interview with Rick Baker (who worked on the King Kong remake and Harry and the Hendersons) who said the costume looked like it was covered in “cheap, fake fur.” In regards to the footage, special effects legend Stan Winston once said, “it’s a guy in a bad hair suit — sorry!”

People have come out of the woodwork claiming to have had a part in the hoax. Phillip Morris, owner of Morris Costumes, claims he made and sold a Bigfoot costume to Roger Patterson shortly before the sighting. To prove his claim, Morris made another suit in 2004 and attempted to recreate the footage. Unfortunately, the 2004 suit looked nothing like the one in the Patterson film. Then there’s Bob Heironimus, a man who claims to be the person wearing the suit in the film. Heironumus has described the suit he wore in great detail, but his description does not match the description of the suit supposedly made by Morris. And then there was Cliff Crook (yes, Crook), a sculptor and Bigfoot investigator who claims to have spotted a zipper on the suit in Patterson’s film. Cliff Crook is best known for trying to pass pictures like this off as real:

If Roger Patterson was in on the hoax, he took his secret to the grave with him. Gimlin, his partner, remained silent about the footage until 2005, when, after 35 years, he began making appearances at Bigfoot conferences. Gimlin swears the footage is authentic.

There is always the possibility that both of them were duped. Ray Wallace of Patterson’s was an associate and fellow Bigfoot hunter. After he passed away in 2002, it was claimed that Wallace knew Patterson was dying from cancer, felt sorry for him, and told Patterson when and where to visit Bluff Creek and to “have his camera ready.”

Wallace’s claims have been disputed, as have Patterson’s, Gimlin’s, Morris’s, Heironimus’s, and everybody else’s even peripherally related to the Patterson footage. After 50 years, every claim regarding the footage has been proven both true and false dozens of times. Even if they found a gorilla costume hanging in the back of Patterson’s old cabin, it wouldn’t prove much of anything at this point.

My uncle Kenny lives in the Kiamichi Mountains, home of annual Honobia Bigfoot Festival. My uncle has walked all over those mountains and he’s never seen any sign of a Bigfoot. In fact, he’ll tell you he’s a lot more worried about running into Bigfoot hunters than he is about seeing Bigfoot. Secretly, each time we go down there to visit, the ten-year-old in me keeps one eye on the woods, just in case Bigfoot decides to make an appearance. Sadly, now that the entire world is armed with cell phone cameras, Bigfoot has become more elusive than ever.

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