Local author writes "Tracking the Man-Beasts"
By Sharon Osorio
Amherst, NY – Dr. Joe Nickell from the Center for Inquiry in Amherst is a former private detective, a magician, and a writer. Mix those together, and out comes his latest book, "Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More." He spoke with WBFO's Sharon Osorio about what he has - and hasn't - discovered in his quest to separate fact from fiction.
Dr. Joe Nickell: "It's about such creatures as Bigfoot, extra-terrestrials, vampires, werewolves, even mermaids--all those types of beings that are part-man and part-monster or beast, those things that are in our image that are like us but somehow monstrosities, or the term "manimal" is sometimes used. Manlike animals. So, I explore all these things both on the ground--hence the word tracking-- to look at the evidence to see if, for example, all those Bigfoot tracks--are they really leading us to a Bigfoot, or are they leading us to hoaxers? And also the cultural and psychological interests we have in these manimals in our image."
"So you don't just look at newspaper articles about a sighting. You have gone physically to look for these?
Nickell: "Absolutely. I've gone to the Pacific Northwest on a Bigfoot expedition, been in the remote forests where the famous Roger Patterson Bigfoot film, which we have pretty good evidence now that it was a hoax --always suspected as such, but I've been in remote areas like that, been in Australia looking for their version of Bigfoot called the Yowie. But I've looked at all the evidence and try to draw conclusions about why we're so fascinated with these beings."
"When you look for these things, you're looking with a bias. You're trying to disprove them. Are you?"
Nickell: "No, I'm not. That's a little like saying that a policeman is only out to arrest people, and I think most policemen would resent that implication. They're actually trying to help people and only arrest the bad guys. No, as a science organization, we publish the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, we're looking to actually investigate such claims. I am, in fact, a former detective with the world's largest private detective agency, and I actually investigate claims. My only bias is that I'm using science and the real-world--real evidence as opposed to fantasy or magic-- trying to use science to explain evidence, confident that if I could explain it, any needed debunking will take care of itself. I'd be delighted if we could find a real mermaid; that would be wonderful. If someone says they have in their museum a mermaid specimen, we would be skeptical. We would say, Oh, really? May we examine it?' And I have examined such, and they're fake."
Anything you've investigated locally in the Western New York area?
Nickell: "In Clarence, NY, there was a Bigfoot sighting. I've used the term for this particular case, Big Suit rather than Bigfoot. It looks like someone in a gorilla suit. You can actually see the cuffs where the gloves fit onto the sleeves pretty clearly in the photos. But it caused a sensation here for a couple of days, and a Bigfoot hunting crew from California came in with a van and had a stake-out on Mr. Mobius' property in Clarence. I went and hung along around the campfire, and finally they gave me some of their Bigfoot-detecting equipment, and I went out with them looking for Bigfoot. It was all a hoot. I saw no evidence. I went in the next day and examined an area where they were pretty sure they had heard Bigfoot and so forth, and examined it very, very carefully for tracks, or any tracks or traces. There were none, of course. But I have been to south of this area into the Pennsylvania forest, where Bigfoot is a more recorded creature. My wife and I stayed in a cabin in the woods, trying to track a story of a sighting that turned out to be, I believe, a bear with mange. That is, the bear had lost much of its hair. It really was a spooky-looking creature that was caught on a surveillance film and looked quite like a man-beast."