Growing up I heard my elders telling stories about the Bigfoot Hoax in the Humboldt county area of California.
Gmom, the title my family used for my Grandmother Beatrice Cook Keesey, was a good friend of the men who started and for years continued the Bigfoot Hoax in the woods of Northern California, but it turns out she actually played a part in the hoax.
Northern California Redwood Forest
Let's go back to the early 1950's in Humboldt County California. Logging camps and road work crews were sprouting up all over the richly forested Northern California area known as Humboldt County. The area was rough, wild, and sparsely inhabited. This was a simpler time, before the constant bombardment of images and information that today fill our world. People were still fascinated and amazed by simple things. The world was not yet a small place with no secrets left to expose, but a wide and wonderful adventure waiting to be explored. "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" presented people, places, and things from all over the world that were "unbelievable" and mysterious.
The men working in the logging camps and road work crews were far away from their homes and families, sitting around a campfire doing what man has done since the start of time - telling each other spooky stories. Animated discussions of the Abominable Snowman, the Yeti and Sasquatch, as well as all manner of things that go bump in the night, were probably what gave the hoax its power.
Two men on these work crews were Wilbur "Shorty" Wallace and his brother Ray Wallace. They were funny men, prone to pulling practical jokes on friends and family. I can imagine the two of them bedding down after a particularly spirited evening of ghost and ghoul stories, whispering plans back and forth, setting up a practical joke that would spread beyond their wildest dreams; a practical joke that would take in scholars, scientists, newspaper reporters, authors, and everyday men for many years to come.
Two brothers, time on their hands, weeks away from family, eager to get a laugh..... the scene was set for a great practical joke.
The Beginning of the Hoax
They carved a set of feet, sixteen inches in length, and left footprints around a work site for others to find. What started out to be a local laugh, a funny joke, a waste of time, and a clever practical joke, became a national sensation. The story is foggy about the actual manner in which they made the tracks; some say they used a mechanical device, some say that they used the feet on a stick, however they did it, they made prints around a work site in the early 1950 around Trinidad. Workers found the prints and the word spread within the local workmen. Ray and Shorty left footprints at various work sites, moved equipment around, left evidence of visits from " a big footed" person. Knowing that they were known for pulling practical jokes, the Wallace brothers asked Gmom to hide the carved feet in the store room of her small restaurant, Bella Vista, till the heat died down. Gmom agreed, and snickered about her part in the hoax for the rest of her life.
Without the fake feet, the Wallace brothers involvement could not be proved in the early 1950s. The story died down, and Ray, Shorty and Gmom had a great laugh.
Too Good To Not Do Again
Fast forward to 1958, when the Hoax went from local laughs, to national spotlight. The Wallace boys continued to make footprints at work sites all through the 1950s, and the story continued in the local area. This all changed in 1958 when the story was picked up by various newspapers when Gerald Crew, and employee of the Granite Construction Company, made and displayed plaster casts of the big foot prints he found on a Bluff Creek road construction project.
[Photo Andrew Genzoli reviews plaster cast of large footprint made by Jerry Crew, Oct 5, 1958]
The Humboldt Times ran a above the fold story on October 14, 1958 comparing the large footprints with the comic strip character "Alley Opp, " and for the first time named the mystery beast "Bigfoot."
The story (which is fully transcribed at the end of this post) included a quote from Gmom about the earlier escapades of this creature being a prank. The story was picked up by many other papers, and the search for the elusive creature began in earnest.
Two Taxidermists, Al Corbett and Bob Titmus, are quoted in articles as believing that the creature was an escaped wild Indian who was over 7 feet tall. Geologist and Geophysicist Dr. R.Maurice Trip reported that based on the foot shape, size and distance of the gait, the creature had to weigh at least 800 pounds.
The articles go on and on, as does the speculation on whether the creature was real or an elaborate hoax. Grainy films of a creature walking, sightings up and down the Northern California coast line, books, newspaper articles, tv shows - the list of Bigfoot goes on and on.
While researching this hoax, I found that Gmom is immortalized in a book about the Bigfoot incidents - "Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America'" by Loren Coleman features the Humboldt Times article which quoted my Gmom, so she is now forever quoted in print.
Hoax Reviled After Ray Wallace Dies
The Vancouver Sun ran the following story on December 7, 2002 "The Ray Wallace-Rant Mullins Mess," in which Ray's family publicly admitted that Ray and his wife were both involved in the 1950s Bigfoot Hoax. (full story below)
the horror of thousands of Bigfoot believers Dale Lee Wallace, the hoaxer's
nephew, said: "He did it for the joke and then was afraid to tell anyone
because they'd be so mad at him." "
So there you have it, the story of Gmom andher small part in the Bigfoot Hoax. I like to imagine that Gmom and Ray Wallace are sitting in rocking chairs side by side in Heaven, looking down on us and snickering at "all the fuss!" Ray's hand carved fake feet caused. I know that Gmom would love the fact that she not only had a part in this infamous Hoax, but that she is immortalized in print. What a legacy.
Residents of northeastern Humboldt
county today were attempting to solve the mystery of “Bigfoot!”
Hugh prints, made by a bare foot
with five toes and measuring 16 inches long and seven inches wide, have been
found across new road construction on Bluff Creek during the past six weeks.
Are the tracks the work of some
practical joker, with a “big” sense of humor, or are they left by some strange
animal – or perhaps a pre-historic type man such as the comic strip character,
Readers of the Humboldt Standard,
after viewing the evidence as presented this weekend by Gerald Crew of Salyer,
will think at once of Mr. Oop, the pen and ink creations that was brought back (in
the comic strip of course) from the stone age by a “Time Machine.”
The resemblance of the Alley Oop
feer and Mr. Bigfoot’s extremities is startling.
However, those who actually have
seen the foot-prints, including Crew and fellow workers on the Bluff Creek
road, do not treat the strange occurrence lightly.
Crew probably expressed the feeling
of many people in the Weitchpec-Hoopa area, when he said, “I tell you it’s a
strange feeling to walk along a rood in that wilderness and suddenly see huge
Crew is employed by the Granite
Construction Company of Salyer which is building a timber access road for the
Six Rivers National Forest into the wilderness along Bluff Creek about 12 miles
north of Weitchpec. Man, or at least civilized man, has rarely penetrated this
deep into the forest and brush there.
Residents, around the area, say
that even wild game shy away from the dark woods. Yet, “Bigfoot” doesn’t seem
to harm anything or anybody – rather he shows a considerable amount of
curiosity about the construction activity.
“Bigfoot” made his latest
appearance sometime Wednesday night. Workmen reporting for work found the
tracks in almost the same area as those seen about a week ago.
Hundreds of these marks have been
seen throughout the summer by the construction workers. However, for Crew this
is not the first time hw has sighted the traces of the invisible visitor.
Two years ago, reports were flying
of filled 50-gallon gasoline drums being juggled around like playthings on
another project on which Crew worked. This was a timber access road about 20
miles up Bluff Creek for the Granite Logging and Wallace Brothers companies.
First Written Report
First written report of the unseen
“Bigfoot” came to Eureka Newspapers on September 19 via a note from Mrs. Jess
Bemis of Slayer. Mrs. Bemis wrote that her husband, Jesse Bemis, along with 15
other men on the project, saw the tracks.
“On their way to the job, tracks
were seen going down the road. The tracks measured 14 to 16 inches in length.
The toes were very short, but were 5 to each foot. The ground was soft and the
prints were clear.
“In soft places the prints were
deep, suggesting a great weight. The tracks were wide as well as long. Things,
such as fruit, have been missed by those camping on the job.
If the latter is true, it seems to
indicate that “Bigfoot” might be a vegetarian.
Travels of such a creature have not
been restricted to the one area. Barry Knudsen of Fieldbrook, claims knowing
men working in the Simpson timber land some eight miles north of Karbel on the
north fork of the Mad River who have found similar tracks.
Jullian Pawlus, 2622 D street, Eureka, numbers amount the witnesses to the
Korbel scene of the tracks sighted last spring on another logging road
They were “pretty heavy” and made
by “bird or animal,” he believed. Pawlus, not sure of the implication of the
tracks, said he preferred to call it a “paw” rather than a foot.
The edge of a creek marked the
start of the tracks which then led into a freshly graded road. They were sunken
sufficiently to indicate weight, Pawlus said. He described them as having three
toes straight out and a couple of smaller ones on the side.
Some 25 persons observed them that
time, he stated.
Crew in relating his experience
with the “Bigfoot” visits, said the racks for the current impression, came down
from a steep mountainside, through an old burn. Shale formed the surface of the
ground until “it” hit soft earth turned over by construction equipment.
At this point the unseen traveler
turned his tracks down the road, moving along for at least three-quarters of a
mile, before changing course and moving off the road into more shale where the
50 Inch Stride
Raymond Wallace, a fellow member of
the construction gang, also has inspected these tracks on several occasions. He
estimated the normal stride of the big feet was 50 inches while its running
stride, in the path of an evidently fleeing deer, measured ten feet.
Reports say the tracks are always
made down-hill never up hill, except in the case of short inclines around the
Authenticity of the origin of the
tracks is being studied by Robert Titmus, taxidermist from Redding
and an associate from Portland,
Oregon, according to Crew.
At the present time, they do not
feel the tracks were made by an animal, Crew said.
The mystery remains unsolved so
far. Crew, whom neighbors and friends respect for reliability and honesty,
doesn’t know. However, he doesn’t believe it is an animal either. He feels
there would be claw marks as well as other indication if this was true.
“We often feel we are being
watched,” claimed Crew. He said he and the men do not feel the “presence” is
unfriendly since they never find any damage to their equipment; however, they
always will find fresh imprints on each new piece of work as though “Bigfoot”
has a “supervisory interest” in the project.
Whether it is a friend of “Mr.
Oop”, or in reality a harmless wild-man, an expose may take place, if Crew can
get a photographical setup working for the nocturnal visitor.
of a practical joker at work is felt by Mrs. Paul Keesey of Pepperwood. She
Work of Pranksters
read with interest the articles on the huge footprints. I recall about eight
years ago, when up around Trinidad on one of
the logging roads, they had a similar thing happening.
told to me in my restaurant at Bella Vista hill by several truck drivers. When
they investigated, it turned out to be the work of a prankster.”
Tales of “Bigfoot” are Indian
legend in that area. One of the legends originates in the Marble Mountain
area. So the story goes, some practical jokers, possibly with the idea of
keeping other hunters out, invented unseen visitors to the land – visitors who
were described as being “little men with big feet.”
Capitalizing on this legend, about
25 years ago some “jokers” in the Weitchpec area revived the tale to scare away
some unwanted residents.
Another legend centering around Onion Lake
area (in the same region) relates activities of an unseen sea lion supposedly
left there during the big floods of Biblical times.
It also has never been seen – only
what people believe to be its traces.
Indian legend also claims that
after any tragedy such as a drowning or a fire or similar disaster, footprints
such as these will be found encircling the area.
Meanwhile residents of the present
“Bigfoot” visiting grounds, do not seem to be worried about any danger from
him. Mainly they are curious and are searching for an answer.
But whether or not “Bigfoot” is
real or a hoax, tales of his activities while inspecting the logging road
construction project will make good entertainment for fireside chats or for
holding the attention of wide-eyed grandchildren in the years to come.
Footprints big but 42-year
Bigfoot hoax even larger
Fake turns out to be photographer's wife dressed in hairy ape suit with giant
feet stuck to the bottom
Most of the pictures of bigfoot, a giant ape-like creature supposed to live in
the dense forests of the American northwest, are in reality a hoaxer's wife
dressed in a gorilla suit, the man's relatives revealed Friday.
For decades until his death last month Ray Wallace awed America with pictures of
footprints, recordings and photographs of the creature, but his family admitted
it had all been an elaborate practical joke.
To the horror of thousands of Bigfoot believers Dale Lee Wallace, the hoaxer's
nephew, said: "He did it for the joke and then was afraid to tell anyone
because they'd be so mad at him."
The first "evidence" for Bigfoot, a series of huge footprints, was
found by Jerry Crew, a worker at Wallace's construction company in August,
They were in fact created by his boss with wooden carved feet to "freak
him out," but the local newspaper, the Humboldt Times in Eureka,
Calif. ran a
front-page story on the prints the next day and coined the term
The tale was taken up by newspapers across the country and the public,
fascinated at the time by tales of the Himalayan yeti, eagerly embraced the
notion of a homegrown version.
Wallace continued with the prank for years, producing photographs of Bigfoot
eating elk and frogs. These, it emerged Friday, were in fact members of his
family — usually his wife, — dressed in a hairy ape suit with giant feet stuck
to the bottom.
The most famous evidence for Bigfoot's existence, the so-called Pattersonfilm,
a grainy, cinefilm image of an erect ape-like creature, was taken by Roger
Patterson, a rodeo rider, in 1967.
It was another of Wallace's fakes, the family said — he told Patterson where to
go to spot the creature and knew who had been inside the suit.
The family decided to finally reveal the truth after Wallace, 84, died from
heart failure and a reporter for the Seattle Times approached them to ask about
the rumors he had made it all up.
The news is a serious setback for the Bigfoot industry spawned by the legend.
Dozens of books have been written, guides offer tours to search for sightings,
and there is an International Bigfoot Society in Hillsboro,