People say I look like a celebrity ...
A few months ago, my "online" friend Craig Woolheater sent me an invite to something called Cryptopalooza in Jefferson, Texas. Craig is the founder of Cryptomundo.com, and we'd been Myspace friends and then Facebook friends for several years, but I'd never met him in real life.
At the time, I didn't have much planned, so I jumped aboard this bigfoot festival with both feet, bought an all-access pass, and booked my hotel room at the Fairfield Inn. Little did I realize I would be traveling almost non-stop between then and the festival. I also did not realize the tiny town of Jefferson, Texas was almost five hours away from Houston. Nonetheless, I would not have missed the experience.
I arrived late Friday night just in time to get a little bit of barbecue and catch the last couple of songs of the Ghoultown concert at the Jefferson Visitors Center.
Both Lyle Blackburn, author of The Beast of Boggy Creek, and Ken Gerhard of Monster Quest were playing in the band. However, I would have no idea who they were until Saturday.
I picked up my VIP kit with my reserve seating sign, my badge, the schedule and my plush cryptid.
After the concert I walked down the cobblestone streets of historic Jefferson, Texas and ducked into Auntie Skinner's Riverboat Club and had a few beers with Team Tazer, a Bigfoot hunting club from the Houston area. There was a great band playing in there, but I would guess half of the adult population of Jefferson was in Auntie Skinner's, and they were all smoking. My sinuses were not having it, so I called it a night and drove back to Marshall, Texas to crash.
Breakfast was when things got exciting. Serena Altschul was attending the event for CBS Sunday Morning. I'd had a bit of a crush on her since she was doing MTV News back in the 90s, so I got to chat with her at breakfast. Of course, I couldn't resist snagging a photo with her later in the day. Yes, the speakers were great, but that was the highlight of my weekend. (Serena, if you're reading this, I'm totally into older women. Give me a call!)
Ken Gerhard kicked off the day talking about Monsters of Texas. He claims that the Chupacabra is currently the "sexiest" cryptid in the media.
Meanwhile, the CBS crew was filming everything. Unless there's a terrorist attack, the spot should air this coming Sunday morning.
Saturday's schedule included Ken Gerhard, big cat expert Chester Moore, author and cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, screenwriter and author of The Bigfoot Filmography Dave Coleman, Jerry Hestand of the Texas Bigfoot Research Conversancy, and Lyle Blackburn, author of The Beast of Boggy Creek. All of the speakers did a great job, although Hestand got some people in the crowd a bit riled up when he debated the need to "take a specimen," or shoot bigfoot, to prove the species exists.
Having left his regular glasses at home, nobody saw Dave Coleman's eyes the entire weekend as he was sporting his prescription sunglasses. However, even without being able to get his computer to work with the projector, he was STILL able to keep the crowd enthralled while discussing the history of bigfoot in movies, television and advertising.
Throughout the day I had chatted with Eduardo Sanchez, director of The Blair Witch Project, and Mark Ordesky, executive producer for Lord of the Rings. However, when chatting with them, I had no idea who they were. I thought they were just other attendees until they took the stage to unveil their new film, Exists.
That was the cool part of Cryptopalooza, there was no wall between the presenters and those in attendance. All of them were very approachable and more than happy to talk to you -- especially about the movie The Legend of Boggy Creek.
I'd never even seen The Legend of Boggy Creek until the screening Saturday night, but it apparently has influenced an entire generation of people, and Sanchez said he wanted to return respect and fear to bigfoot by making his version more like the Fouke Monster and less like Harry and the Hendersons. Exists, a found-footage flick in the style of The Blair Witch Project, does indeed look scary.
Lyle Blackburn ended the night with a Q&A session about the historical accuracy of The Legend of Boggy Creek. He would also be the tour guide through Fouke, Arkansas on Sunday.
Late Saturday night we boarded the Bigfoot Train, which was actually the haunted train, which was actually just the Jefferson tour train covered in fake spiderwebs with inflatable ghosts strewn through the forest. That might have been the only letdown of the weekend -- not too exciting.
I kept planning to blog the weekend as I went, but each day ended late and each morning started early. Sunday I had breakfast with Loren Coleman, Craig Woolheater, and Sharon Lee. Then it was off to Jefferson to meet up with the group for the drive to Fouke.
For the record, I did sight a bigfoot along the road in Louisiana on our way to Arkansas.
I think it was for sale if anybody wants to go back and attempt to capture it.
The Monster Mart in Fouke was quite entertaining.
Everyone got a chance to pose with their head through the Fouke Monster cutout, and we all took turns posing in front of the mural on the building. I think Loren Coleman and Lyle Blackburn might have been enjoying it a little too much.
The owner of the Monster Mart came out to greet everyone and showed off his track cast and scrap book full of Fouke Monster sightings.
Now there's one thing to know about the Monster Mart. There's a sales clerk there with the sweetest voice you've ever heard mixed with the thickest Arkansas accent I've ever come across. Everything she said was music. I asked her if I could call her every night and just have her read the news to me, but she politely declined.
From the Monster Mart Lyle Blackburn began the guided tour, and it was off to the Sulphur River bottoms.
Next stop was the alleged location of a sighting that had happened just a week previous.
Then there was a stop at the infamous Boggy Creek itself.
Then a stop at the site of the Ford home where a Fouke Monster attack allegedly occurred. The neighbor stopped to ask what the hell a line of 15 cars were doing staring at that pasture.
I think most of the locals were wondering what the hell we were doing, but not Smokey Crabtree. He was expecting us.
I bought Smokey's book called, "Smokey and Fouke Monster" and a jar of his wife's plum preserves. (He actually has three books now although his "museum" only touts two.) He is not a man who is shy about self promotion. He proclaimed that his books were worth at least $100 in skills they would teach you. That included the recipe for how to catch a prize-winning gar, and how to noodle for catfish. I have not yet started reading this book, but it may deserve a blog post in itself.
Now I can't show you the most fascinating part of the visit to Smokey's Two-Books Bookstore because cameras weren't allowed in the garage where he keeps the mystery skeleton. The mystery skeleton is over 8 feet long and is missing a head, but it has a very long torso and what seem to be kind of short arms and legs with very large feet and hands. It also smells terrible. One of the visitors had to make a dash out of the hot garage after getting a nose full of it, and he didn't come back.
I've heard it proposed that the skeleton is actually that of a tiger, but nobody knows why a headless tiger skeleton would be lying in the woods in Fouke, Arkansas. Even if it's not a bigfoot, it's still a mystery.
Since I can't show you the skeleton, here is Smokey's taxidermied beaver instead.
And that was it. We all drove back to Jefferson with more questions than answers. It was like every episode of the X-files rolled into one. Why did the Fouke Monster tracks found in the 1960s have only three toes when all other bigfoot castings in the area had five toes. What really attacked that guy at the Ford home? Why have no bigfoot bones or bodies been found?
I'm not a bigfoot believer, but if there was a thick enough forest for a large ape population to live without detection, it could definitely be in Fouke, Arkansas. It's enough of a mystery to make me want to canoe the river next spring.
The event will be on CBS Sunday Morning, Sunday, Oct. 28. Tune in.