Arts and Entertainment

Calling All Bigfooters: On the trail of Robert Patterson

An early 1970s-era photo of Robert Patterson with an array of Bigfoot castes.  - Courtesy Photo/Michael McLeod
An early 1970s-era photo of Robert Patterson with an array of Bigfoot castes.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo/Michael McLeod

Portland investigative journalist Michael McLeod brings his Bigfoot roadtrip/case study to Silverdale Barnes and Noble Sept. 20.

The myth of Bigfoot is one of the longest enduring and last remaining segments of American folklore. But the legend has existed long before — and is likely to exist well after — any singular name for the creature.

The Himilayan “Yeti.” Medieval Europe’s “Wild Men.” The Lummi “Ts’emekwes.” The Pacific Northwest “Sasquatch.”

Even today, fervent, true believers of Bigfoot still exist, says Portland-based investigative journalist Michael McLeod.

McLeod brings his new book “Anatomy of a Beast: Obsession and Myth on the Trail of Bigfoot” to the Kitsap Mall Barnes and Noble at 2 p.m. Sept. 20.

“A lot of Bigfooters are upset with me,” the author notes.

When asked why, he adds, “...basically, because I don’t believe in Bigfoot.”

But McLeod still welcomes, and even hopes for, true Bigfooters at his readings.

The American myth, McLeod said, was emboldened — some say fabricated — in the late 1960s, when amateur film footage surfaced in which Yakima-valley Bigfoot enthusiast Robert Patterson claimed to have captured one of the giant, outcastish ape-like creatures on film in the Northern California wilderness. Citing Patterson’s film as evidence, legions of believers and non-believers have hashed out the debate in the decades since.

In his new book, McLeod — an award-winning documentary writer, producer and director with PBS and Discovery Channel credits to his name — thrusts himself into the counter culture of Bigfoot believers to uncover the real-life story of how the group’s obsession has compelled the mysterious giant hominid — of which no scientific evidence exists — into a full-on cultural icon.

“I felt inexorably drawn to visit it and discover how Patterson — far from the Hollywood mainstream — had managed to make an imaginary character come so fully alive,” McLeod writes in the book’s introduction.

Years ago, the author was flying up the coast to Oregon when he passed over the storied patch of California where Patterson supposedly caught the mythic creature on shaky 16mm film, walking leisurely along a creekbed in the late 1960s.

As McLeod peered down over that same serene slice of wilderness nearly 40 years later, he wondered: Whatever happened to the guy behind the camera?

“I knew there were books about Bigfoot, but they were always done by people who believe,” McLeod said. “I’d never read anybody that had done a full-length article, or a book, actually about the film, and how the film came to be, and the guy who shot it... it’s really a story that’s not been told.”

The author describes Patterson — the almost-mythic man behind the camera — as “quite talented” and a “really interesting individual.” Patterson was raised in a family of acrobats and became part of an elite acrobatic troupe that performed throughout Europe during his time served in the Korean War, McLeod said. He also rode rodeo broncs later in life, while living in the Yakima Valley.

“Just a really creative, hard-charging guy,” McLeod observed. “But he also never held a steady job.”

The man behind the lens was an inventor by trade, McLeod said. He labored for years doing odd jobs, while working seriously in his off-time on inventions he planned to patent, market and make famous. Then in the late 50’s, the inventor read “the infamous article in ‘True Magazine,’” as McCloud puts it.

In 1958, “True Magazine” — the leading American mens’ magazine at the time — published an article about “Bigfoot footprints” found in Northern California, captivating a generation of Bigfooters, which included Patterson.

“It just drew him in,” McLeod describes. “He became absolutely fascinated with it and determined that he was going to be the world expert about it.”

Within a year of reading that article, Patterson was diagnosed with cancer and was told he had only a year or two to live.

When his cancer went into remission, the inventor fully immersed himself in the hunt for Sasquatch, self-publishing a book about Bigfoot. Then, with borrowed money, he rented a camera and set out to the wilds of Northern California — to the exact area which True Magazine reported footprints to have been found, McLeod said — to capture the mythic beast on film.

Which he did.

“I have a theory why Roger became so obsessed,” McLeod said. “That’s really where the title of the book came from. I looked into, clinically, what psychologists and researchers have to say about people who live under a death sentence, and psychologically, many times they grasp onto something fervently and become totally obsessed with it because it gives their life meaning.”

Patterson died in 1972, but he spent the last two years of his life on the road, McLeod said, selling his book and showing the documentary he’d made from the Bigfoot footage.

He maintained to the end that his film was the real thing.

And of the true believers that remain today, McLeod surmises, most still ardently believe because of Patterson’s film — though they may or may not admit to it — while others are simply drawn to the mystique.

“It’s really an interesting idea that something like this could be alive,” said McLeod, who grew up amongst the Cascade wilderness. “To me, that is the soul of the book — Bigfoot and the giant footprints in the woods — it’s like folklore, an intangible reminder that there still is mystery left in the woods, because, basically, there isn’t any mystery left in the woods.”

MICHAEL McLEOD an award-winning documentary writer, producer and director will read from and sign copies of his new book “Anatomy of a Beast: Obsession and Myth on the Trail of Bigfoot” at 2 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Kitsap Mall Barnes and Noble, 10315 Silverdale Way in Silverdale. Free. Info: www.anatomyofabeast.com, www.bn.com or call the store at (360) 698-0945.

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