On Sasquatch's trail in Virginia's Spotsylvania County
Sunday, May 30, 2010
THORNBURG, VA. -- Billy Willard says he's on the verge of a major discovery that could change the way humans think about the natural world, not to mention their need for a creature-proof home security system.
Here in Spotsylvania County, in the forests around Lake Anna, Willard claims there have been 14 sightings in the past decade of that most fabled of cryptozoic beasts: Bigfoot.
Or Sasquatch, as the elusive, apelike brute is referred to in more high-minded circles -- and on the side of Willard's blue pickup. The decal on the truck reads "Sasquatch Watch of Virginia," of which Willard is chief pooh-bah (when he's not earning a living installing and removing underground home oil tanks).
Go ahead, call him a loon, a flake, a huckster. He's heard it all. But Willard knows what he knows, which is that three people from this area -- a woman, her husband and their granddaughter -- told him they saw a shaggy, super-size figure on two legs gallivanting across their wooded property. Last month, Willard led a weeklong expedition to the site, where he installed five motion-sensor cameras that will snap photos if the big galoot wanders by again.
Willard, 41, says he'd like to lead a tour of the property and introduce the witnesses, really he would. But the woman who says she saw what she believes could have been Bigfoot fears an avalanche of ridicule, which is why Willard is left to begin delivering his version of what happened a few miles away, in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen.
"We believe we may be close to some kind of major discovery," he says. "All the things they would need are here, fresh water, shelter in the woods. The high concentration of sightings tells me they're here."
He interrupts his monologue to answer his cellphone, the ring tone to which is the country tune "People Are Crazy."
Ever since humans began telling stories, they have spun yarns involving life forms that tower above mere mortals, whether it's the giant of "Jack and the Beanstalk" fame or Goliath or Frankenstein. Bigfoot has been a perennial for generations, with hundreds of purported sightings (many of them of supposed footprints), most prevalent in the Pacific Northwest but also popping up in states as disparate as Rhode Island, Illinois and Alabama.
The myth grew in popularity in 1967, when two men in California filmed what appeared to be a huge and hairy biped walking into the woods, at one point turning its head to glance dramatically at the camera. In Bigfoot circles, the footage is referred to as the "Patterson-Gimlin film," named for its makers, and invoked with the historical weight of the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination. In less admiring circles, the short, fuzzy clip is cited as nothing short of poppycock.
Willard knows about the film, and most everything else Bigfoot-related ("Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt once saw Bigfoot?"), all of which he's happy to share at any time, sometimes to the annoyance of his wife, Jeanean, who is prone to blurt out, "Okay, the conversation will have to change."
"After 22 years," she says, "I can get a little bit hateful."
For all of Billy Willard's certainty about Bigfoot, the buzz has not exactly caught on in the rural hamlets around Lake Anna, where many residents work at the nearby nuclear power plant or in construction or commute to Richmond or Washington.