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Roger Patterson & The Elusive Zipperback Gorilla

Updated on November 18, 2013

There's a Bigfoot in my Closet!

As a child, I remember lounging with the siblings at night, watching The Legend of Boggy Creek and almost Sasquatching in my red corduroys with fear. I was a fan of Greek mythology and the paranormal, and one of the first things I learned to draw was Bigfoot.

Then came things like the amazingly campy and short lived television show Bigfoot & Wildboy, which basically turned Bigfoot into a leap frogging do-gooder with a Burt Ward style sidekick. And even though it featured a Sasquatch that looked like Chewbacca after he fell asleep with his face in a bowl of Nair, I knew that the real Bigfoot had to be cooler than this.

But as I grew, my clearing cerebral visibility of the world around me dragged all the chimerical entities of my childhood with it, and I started noticing things like how Santa Claus wore the same brand of roach killers as my dad. Pretty soon I was finding myself wishing in Bigfoot rather than believing in it.

The Coelacanth
The Coelacanth | Source

Are you a CoelaCAN? Or a CoelaCAN'T?

These days, unlike my former adolescent self, I tend to exercise the more logical part of my brain more often. And though there is still a part of me that will most likely always be wishing Bigfoot was real, the part of me that deals with probability and logic, has my inner child gagged and tied to a chair.

Still, I hate to completely slam the door on the possibility of something once thought extinct to suddenly surface again in the modern era. Science still stumbles upon a new species here and there, and lets not forget our old friend the Coelacanth: a fish thought to have died out in the Cretaceous period discovered alive in 1938 off the coast of South Africa. It can appear that "Never Say Never" is a lesson science has had to learn more than once.

Illustration by Keen Azariah
Illustration by Keen Azariah

"Gimme a Head With Hair..."

The year was 1967:

The Green Bay Packers ripped The Kansas City Chiefs a new one in the first Super Bowl

"The Boston Strangler" was sentenced to life in prison.

A fire on board Apollo 1 killed three astronauts

Jimi Hendrix recorded Purple Haze

And in Northern California, an amateur film maker made pop culture history.

Roger Patterson and George Gimlin loaded up the truck and drove deep into the wilderness with 200 feet of film, some horses, and Bigfoot on the brain. And, depending on who you believe, you can also add a gorilla suit to their inventory list.

The Bluff Bigfoot Project

"To mislead or deceive" is how the dictionary defines the word bluff. How fitting is it that the filming location of the most exalted and acclaimed piece of evidence in favor of Bigfoot's existence, was a place called Bluff Creek. It wasn't called Serious Creek, or Monster Creek, but Bluff Creek. Or perhaps rather, Mislead or Deceive Creek.

That's right, Roger Patterson and George Gimlin filmed their magnum opus, a piece of film that they knew would cause many to label them as frauds, at Mislead/Deceive Creek. Could this have been Patterson and Giblin's way of putting it all in plain sight for us? An allegorical "Kick Me" sign on the backs of believers everywhere? Perhaps I'm reaching with this one, but knowing the minds of hoaxers...there's always that chance.

Not Bad For a Day's Filming

If someone who's never been interested in aliens, suddenly claims that they saw a saucer shaped object flying through the sky. It would be hard to believe, but given their apparent lack of previous fascination on the subject, you may take them at least somewhat seriously.

Now imagine a person obsessed with aliens who collects model UFOs, alien toys, and is fascinated with all things sci-fi. Then this person suddenly claims to have been abducted by aliens. That's even a tougher pill to swallow, knowing the nature of the human mind. Knowing that we can sometimes hope things into existence, or at least in our own cerebral frontier.

Well replace the aliens with furry humanoids and you've got Roger Patterson. Patterson had even written a book the year before, on the subject of....you guessed it. Bigfoot.

Now to a logical brain, the fact that Patterson displayed a fixation with Bigfoot before he had the unfathomable luck of encountering the mysterious creature face to face while filming a Bigfoot documentary, should dramatically decrease any possible chances of believing his claims.

Yet many Patterson film enthusiasts, despite Patterson's questionable character and the utter lack of any solid evidence, still believe there are clusters of hairy, knuckle dragging humanoids meandering through the countryside. Albeit, in the late sixties, one could probably encounter such a cluster in the woods. But chances are they'd be jamming to Strawberry Alarm Clock, eating acid on the cob, and whispering nonsensical babble while repeatedly attempting to put the sun in their pocket.

Bigfoot Poll

What did Patterson's creature say when it turned and looked at the camera?

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Bigfoot's Small Brain Vs. Smallfoot's Big Brain

Countless experts have examined Patterson's footage and have drawn their own conclusions, and depending on who's examining it...you can draw your own definition of the term "expert". And its a vast minority of these experts who can actually examine the footage without bias, without their wishes and hopes puppeteering their logic and reason. As if their inner child, who's become bored with the natural world, commandeers the judgement of their outer adult. I myself combat this desire when investigating the strange or supernatural, because as amazing as it is, the natural world can become boring.

But the way I see it is: Give everything a fighting chance, and try not to completely close the door on incredible claims. And if the chances of supernatural phenomena begin to lose their steam, one should at least be able to laugh at the situation.

And though I make no claim of being an expert in primatology or zoology, I do claim to be an obstinate student in the study of human behavior. After all, humans make up 50% of every paranormal human experience, so it would hamper efforts to find the truth should we neglect the psychology of the human mind.


"Bigfoot Nude Scene" Take One and..................ACTION!

To many, the Patterson footage remains the closest thing to a "smoking gun" there is concerning the Bigfoot issue. And Patterson himself has become somewhat of the Abraham Zapruder of the Bigfoot legend. Because its safe to say that, next to Zapruder's film of the Kennedy assassination, there has not been a strip of 16mm film more analyzed in history.

Speaking of "smoking guns", how, for all that's sacred, did the Patterson film not end showing a first-person view of Patterson literally holding a smoking gun? You have a Bigfoot enthusiast in the wilderness hunting a giant creature capable of killing him, his fellow travellers and their horses, and he's only armed with a 16mm camera? The object of his obsession, the Holy Grail of cryptozoology is standing right in front of him, and he just lets it slowly walk away into Neverland?

Now I'm generally against the unnecessary killing of wild beasts, but I cannot say I would religiously uphold that policy if I knew that all of my financial worries would be over if the creature I shoot in the leg in an attempt to trap, should die from its injuries. I'd care even less about shooting its leg off should it attempt to attack me. Anyway, its called Bigfoot, not Bigfeet. And better to capture a one-legged Sasquatch than no Sasquatch. Hell, even bringing back the foot alone would put you in the history books, not to mention cement your credibility with the scientific community.

And according to some, Patterson was always on the hunt for extra income, legit or otherwise. But apparently, even the idea of becoming the multi millionaire who captured or killed Bigfoot, wasn't enough to inspire him to even follow the lethargic creature in broad daylight. Not to mention that if the shuffling beast were to suddenly approach Patterson and his crew with aggression, Patterson's horse would serve as an easy form of escape. Again, it seems that every facet of the interlude swims against logic.

Patterson's footage is smooth and easy to watch before we see the creature (now commonly referred to as "Patty"), but for most of the time the creature is in frame, the footage is so unstable that it's almost nausia inducing. Just search Youtube for 8.6 earthquake videos and you'll see smoother camera work. Patterson blamed the constant shaking of his camera on his horse, which he said found the creature in the distance so terrifying, that it panicked and reared. But watching it, you might think it was the helmet-cam of someone having an epileptic seizure.

"Nobody Gonna Fake My Stride..."

As the camera settles down from its violent shaking, our eyes finally start to focus in on a dark shape in the clearing. A hulking, glossy haired, ape-like being, power walking away from the camera as if it were going to pick up a Frisbee that landed out of frame after a bad throw. The creature looks almost exactly how we think a Bigfoot would look, but its behavior is more reminiscent of a Monday morning mall walker.

Upon first glance, one notices the natural ease the creature walks with. Unlike the side to side waddle you see with gorillas or chimpanzees during the occasional upright charge, this creature walks with a very stationary head and steady shoulders. Truly, the stride of this creature is amazing. Amazingly natural, amazingly common, amazingly human.

As a long time costumer, I know all the tricks to creating bodily illusion. Its easy to make forearms, leg bones, shoulder bones, or just about any under-structure appear larger or disproportionate. Go to any major costume or comic convention and it will become quite clear that many good cosplayers could probably not only recreate Patterson's monster, but blow it completely out of the water. But still, you'll find no shortage of believers willing to argue the possibilities of a human body being able to walk in such a way. Whether its an elbow that is too low to be a disguised human elbow, or a shoulder span that, to them, couldn't possibly be mimicked by any human being..

Sasquatch Gone Wild Vol. 1

Something else that may not be an instant observation when viewing the creature for the first time, is that it appears to have a set of very pendulous breasts. Now for the skeptics who believe we're dealing with a man in a gorilla costume, this raises an interesting question: In the 1960s, how many gorilla costumes on the market were that of well endowed female gorillas? In all my years of costuming, I've never seen one.

So perhaps a custom costume? A modification?

Assuming Patterson was a hoaxer, would it not be fair to entertain the possibility that Patterson didn't want his creation to resemble any off-the-rack monkey suit that may be out there? After all, when someone sits down to view an alleged Bigfoot video, they tend to subconsciously expect it to be a male. What better way to strike from left field than to depict a female Sasquatch?


Bunk in the Trunk

One of the more unnatural aspects about the creature you may notice is the fact that while the creature's legs are busy taking large strides, the creature's rear end remains virtually motionless. A subtle, but interesting factor.

As seen in both the great apes and in humans, the gluteus maximus is designed for the benefit of mobility. Thus, the movement of the buttocks responds appropriately to the movement of legs while walking. If the right leg steps forward, the the right buttock moves in a downward direction, and vice versa. But this creature's rear end curves sharply into its legs, and remains motionless as the creature walks.

The Elusive Zipperback Gorilla

In 2008, costume maker Philip Morris publicly took credit for creating the creature seen in Patterson's 1967 footage. Morris said that Patterson paid him $450 to create a neanderthal costume for a "prank".

Morris claims that, after receiving the costume, Patterson called back requesting more fur. And also requesting advice on how to hide the zipper in the back, and also how to create a more dramatic illusion of girth.

Morris advised Patterson to wear football shoulder pads underneath the costume, and to extend the arms with sticks.

According to Morris, shortly after selling Patterson the costume, he saw Patterson's video on the news. Morris says he called his wife into the room and told her "Look!, its our gorilla costume!"

Had Patterson modified Morris' suit? Could Patterson have used the extra fur to create some of the more feminine attributes to the creature's appearance? Morris believes this to be true.

The man who re-sold Bigfoot to the world. Leonard Nimoy
The man who re-sold Bigfoot to the world. Leonard Nimoy | Source

Nimoydian Fever

If there was one person who lit the fuse to the Bigfoot powder keg that exploded over America in the 1970s, its Leonard Nimoy. As host of the classic television show "In Search Of", Nimoy was the perfect person to spark imaginations and get even the most rational of viewers rubbing their chins and raising one eye brow.

Bilbo Baggins may not have inspired paranormal hunting parties and desolate cabins filled with plaster casts, but Nimoy would soon do for a fading post-Patterson Bigfoot what Quentin Tarantino would do for a post-Urban Cowboy John Travolta decades later. Some saw Nimoy as the Che Guevara of the Sasquatch revolution, others saw him as a foolish dreamer detouring sound minds into wild goose hunts and putting the Vulcan nerve pinch on millions of healthy, rational brains.

And then a small minority saw him as an actor simply working a gig. There's one thing that's certain, this man could sell the viewers anything.

Never Say Never

And now, allow me to raise the seat and pass the keyboard over to my inner child.

As I wrote this article, a thought occurred. I've spoken about the desire for a more exciting world around us, and the inner need for people to wish things into their own personal realm of reality.

But what if I'm displaying a mirror image of my own theory? Perhaps I'm wishing Bigfoot into my own realm of imagination. Is the subconscious fear of mankind discovering a colony of Sasquatch manifesting in the guidance of my judgement? A fear of what mankind would do to such a creature if it were discovered? Virtually looting the last natural deposit of mystery from the American wilderness? Stripping the only remaining facet of good old fashioned unknown from the vast frontier?

And then what? Do we stick it in a simulated zoo habitat between the lion and grizzly bear and let people point and laugh? Or shave off their fur and get them jobs as greeters in the Walmart we'll build over Bluff Creek some day? Give them "We Buy Gold" signs and stick them in front of a pawn shop?


Illustration by Keen Azariah
Illustration by Keen Azariah

I mean truth be told, Patterson's Bigfoot did have some convincing aspects:

* The utter lack of twisting fabric waves as it moved.

* The shadows that appear to highlight actual muscle tone in the back and thighs.

* The glimmer of what appears to be reflection from an eyeball in the right socket as the creature turns to look at Patterson. A difficult feat to do while wearing a bulky mask.

Could it be that deep down, we really don't want mankind to discover Bigfoot. Maybe its not Bigfoot at all, maybe its the search that our minds crave. Does there really have to be an eight foot monster waiting for us at the end of those size 27 footprints? I mean, even with no feet in them, don't those footprints still lead to wonder and excitement? Maybe all we as humans really need are the footprints themselves.

......and a gun. A loaded gun.

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      Keen Azariah 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Yeah, even if they invent something that electronically scans every northwest forest for any living creture larger than a raccoon, and come up with nothing - Bigfoot folklore will never go extinct for ages. And I would have it no other way. The genuine fear that a cracking branch installs in me when I'm blowing out a fiery marchmallow, doing the wilderness walk of shame with a shovel, or mid-blow when I'm blowing up the air mattress that will deflate right as I'm entering my REMs - that fear of the unknown wilderness will always have the face of Bigfoot. (and possibly the face of a small but very active rural chapter of the KKK) The rational man in me dislikes Patterson, but the child in me loves him.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 3 years ago from Los Angeles

      I'd like to be a believer or, at least, hold out some hope as I do for the Lochness monster , but no dice from the Patterson film even w/o the admission from the zipper-suit designer. Interesting and very entertaining!