TENNERTON – While most people ponder the age-old question, ‘Does Big Foot exist?’, one local cryptid expert thinks folks should be asking a very different one: Who is – or what is – Big Foot?
Al Gibson, a self-educated cryptid enthusiast, is leading a series of discussions on Big Foot and other similar creatures during a special four-part, after-hour series being offered at the Upshur County Public Library through Nov. 4.
“An Evening with Big Foot and other Cryptids” got underway last Thursday, Oct. 14, but there’s still time to join the cryptid craze and contemplate questions about the possibility of Big Foot’s past existence, current existence and geographic location, as well as that of other storied cryptids in West Virginia and across the globe.
Slated for this Thursday, Oct. 21; Thursday, Oct. 28; and Thursday, Nov. 4, all presentations begin after the library closes at 6:30 p.m. and last about 40 minutes with time for a question-and-answer section at the end.
Gibson, who’s the pit-master for Beverage Knob Smokehouse, has been interested in creatures who people claim exist but have never been proven to exist for as long as he can remember.
“Who is Big Foot? A tall wild man or a shaman? Or a giant who just lives in the woods?” Gibson questioned during last Thursday’s presentation. “There are a lot of legends that say that Big Foot is a shaman or a giant … or is it all just hoaxes, myths and legends? There’s just so much around about what Big Foot is, so you’ve really got to define Big Foot.”
One possibility, Gibson explained, is that who or what we know as Big Foot could have been the last of a now-extinct species related to the orangutan that was discovered in 1935 in a Chinese medicinal shop by anthropologist Ralph von Koenigswald. The species came to be known as Gigantopithecus Blacki, a large primate that stood up to 10 feet tall and could weigh as much as 1,200 pounds. Von Koenigswald’s finding has now been validated by “thousands of fossils,” Gibson told attendees.
“The fossil record indicates Blacki existed from about 9 billion years to as recently as 100,000 years ago and co-existed with homo erectus and early homo sapiens,” Gibson said, “so, Homo Erectus and early Homo Sapiens knew all about Gigantopithecus Blacki. They interacted with Gigantopithecus Blacki. Some of that might be where some legends come from. Could it be possible that early Homo Sapiens had legends, had history, had stories, had songs about Gigantopithecus Blacki?”
Gibson said the animal’s fossils have been found in India, China, Indonesia and Vietnam.
“So far, they haven’t been found anywhere else,” he said.
The primate is believed to have gone extinct as a result of poor food sources.
Subjects explored at the Oct. 14 event included morphology (a branch of biology dealing with the study of the form and structure of organisms and their specific structural features), atavism (a ‘throwback gene,’ i.e., the reappearance of an ancestral genetic trait), cryptozoology (the study of and search for animals, especially legendary ones, whose existence has not yet been proven) and more.
Gibson told audience members he enjoys treasure-hunting, linking that to his intrigue with cryptids.
“To me, it’s not so much about Big Foot as it is about the unknown or the mysterious or the lost, because I love treasure-hunting, too,” he said. “It’s all that same kind of thing: it’s an intriguing mystery.”
“Cryptids, which are an animal cryptozoologists are seeking, and an unknown animal, are just like a lost treasure, like a sunken ship: is it out there or not?” Gibson added. “You can’t find cryptids with a metal detector; you’ve got to put cameras out and all those kinds of things.”
Assistant UCPL director Beth Rogers said the library strives to reach all age groups and demographics with their programming, and the cryptid series is just one example of that.
“We thought this could appeal to teens and adults, especially,” she said. “The library always tries to offer programs that will appeal to different parts of the community. We’ve done different types of author readings, different types of presentations, children’s programs. So, when the opportunity for this one came up, it’s one of those subjects that I think a lot of people are interested in, either in terms of fact, fiction, superstition – or however they describe their interest – people are definitely interested.”
The program is free and open to the public and offers something “just a little creepy but not too creepy to go with the fall, with Halloween,” Rogers said.
“There’s some great cryptid stories associated with West Virginia from the Mothman to the Flatwoods monster, and all of those, so I think it’s a great thing that people are interested in, so we were excited to be able to offer this program,” she said.
Find the event link here.