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"Squatchin" at the Washington State History Museum

Reproduction casts from the museum’s collection. Photo credit: Christian Carvajal

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Put one way, this summer marks the 60th birthday of one of the South Sound's most legendary residents. Put another way, this mythic figure spans millennia. Indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest told tales of wild men in the woods, from the Lummi Ts'emekwes to the Chinookan people's mountain skookums to the British Columbian First Nations' Sásq'ets, source of our English word Sasquatch. Yes, we're talking about Bigfoot, that hirsute, odoriferous primate who's been sighted, allegedly, in wooded areas across the United States and southern Canada, most often in northern California, central Florida and our Washingtonian backyard.

In 1958, evidence emerged of a hulking hominid in Humboldt County, California, thanks to the discovery of oversized footprints in a logging camp. We know now that those prints were created by World War II aircraft gunner, logger, road worker and -- we're told by those who knew him best -- pathological liar Raymond L. Wallace. Wallace's son revealed the wooden feet used by Raymond Wallace and two other pranksters, along with hair samples acquired from bison. Wallace died in a Centralia, Washington, nursing home in 2002.

Then there's the (Roger) Patterson/(Robert) Gimlin film, a minute of footage shot beside California's Bluff Creek on a Cine-Kodak K-100 in October 1967. It purports to show Bigfoot himself. Unfortunately, its subject resembles nothing so much as a stocky human in an ape suit. In 1999, Bob Heironimus, a neighbor of Gimlin, admitted to being that human in a costume built by carnival suppliers Amy and Philip Morris.

Absence of proof isn't proof of absence, of course, so the legend of Bigfoot persists. He's the subject of the Washington State History Museum's next pop-up exhibit for beer-and-history-loving adults. Lead Program Manager Molly Wilmoth believes Bigfoot's enduring appeal says more about us than it does about any other primate, real or imagined.

"We have, as humans, this intrinsic fear of the forest and the Other," she explained.

Americans of the middle 20th century -- the Atomic Age -- bore deep anxieties about science and technology.

"You see this return to respect for nature and wilderness," Wilmoth added. "In those sightings, the interpretation is that they're said to be more friendly ... I wonder if it's just that return to, ‘We wish that we could be similar to this creature that's living without all of these scientific advances.'"

Attendees at the museum event, believers and skeptics alike, will enjoy themed offerings from Three Magnets Brewing Co., cryptozoology lectures by David George Gordon (The Sasquatch Seeker's Field Manual) and Dr. Robert Michael Pyle (Where Bigfoot Walks) plus a live performance by Butterfly Launches from Spar Pole, an acoustic band that features Pyle's poetry and Krist Novoselic playing accordion and guitar. Please note: This event is for guests ages 21 years or older. Admission does not include parking.

History After Hours: Bigfoot Night, 7-10 p.m., Thursday, May 10, Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, $20-$25, 888.BE.THERE (238.4373)

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