It’s time for a trip back to that venerable publication that did so much to enliven 1980s Britain: The Unexplained!
We all know that you can’t go wrong with a yeti, and this fact is recognised by the first issue of The Unexplained: having covered UFOs and ESP, the magazine closes with Janet and Colin Bord’s essay “Man, Myth or Monster?”
The feature has an international focus, namechecking the woodwoses of English church carvings, the Sasquatch of Canada, the Yeti of the Himalayas and the wild man of China. The last of these receives a first-hand description from Pang Gensheng, who reportedly had an encounter in 1977:
The ‘man’ was about 7 feet (2.1 metres) tall, with a sloping forehead and deep-set black eyes. His jaw jutted out, and he had broad front teeth. Dark brown hair hung long and loose over his shoulders, and his body and face were covered with short hair. His long arms reached below his knees, and he walked upright with his legs wide apart.
Next on the itinerary are the almas of the Caucasus Mountains, the subject of a research project by Dr Jeanna Kofman and allegedly captured by one Mukhamed Tomakov in 1946, only for it to escape from his hut; the alma supposedly caught by Tomakov is described as being “man-like but covered with hair, and ran on all fours, standing on its hind legs whenever it stopped”.
After a brief account of an unnamed Siberian hunter encountering wild men (which were “covered with dark hair, had long arms and turned their feet outward when walking” and had eyes that “glowed dark red”) we have an unsourced description of another Siberian man-beast, reportedly spotted by villagers out berry-picking:
It was also picking berries and stuffing them in its mouth with both hands. On catching sight of us, he stood up to his full height. He was very tall and lean, over 2 metres [over 6 feet], they say. Barefoot and dressed in deerskin, he had very long arms and a mop of unkempt hair. His face was as big as a human’s. His forehead was small and protruded over his eyes like the peal of a cap. His chin was large and broad, far bigger than a human’s. Other than being a little taller he was very much like a human. The next moment he ran away. He ran bet fast, leaping high after every third step.
This being is described as a chuchunaa, meaning outcast. I have to say, the description of this deerskin-clad makes him sound as though he may have been no more than a man with some sort of bodily disorder – the oversized chin suggests acromegaly, for example. Is it possible that this “outcast” was driven from his village and forced to live in the wild, picking berries? That explanation would be more plausible than an undiscovered species of hominid.
The travelogue continues with the Bords citing Jacqueline Roumeguere Eberhardt’s research into an Kenyan man-beast that she dubbed “X”, before moving on to an account by Albert Kubo of Japan, which emphasises the foul smell of the creature he allegedly spotted (“I was petrified, but the stench was what really got me. He must have bathed in a septic tank and dried off with cow dung”). In terms of physical appearance, the article notes only that the creature was 5 feet tall and “big-eyed”.
The article wraps up with multiple accounts of the Australian beast known as the yowie. Witnesses cited are Johnny McWilliams, who claimed to have seen “ a big man covered with long hair” in 1894); an unnamed National Parks worker who reported seeing foul-smelling creature that “looked more like a gorilla than anything” in 1978; and Joseph and William Webb, who apparently saw a hirsute, man-sized figure in an incident described in John Hale’s 1903 book An Alpine Excursion. The Webbs reportedly shot at the figure to no avail.
“There is some evidence from North America that ordinary guns are useless against the hairy giants,” say the Bords, “either because they are not powerful enough, or for some stranger reason.”
The article also includes a box detailing the theory that the yeti is descended from gigantopithecus, and illustrated with the standard photographs of mysterious footprints in the snow and Igor Bourtsev showing a plus-sized footprint cast.
The Bords continue their survey in the second issue, with the article “On the Bigfoot Trail”. This piece is focused on the North American manifestation of the phenomenon, and opens with an 1851 newspaper story about two hunters in Arkansas seeing a herd of cattle being chased by “an animal bearing the unmistakeable likeness of humanity… of gigantic stature, the body being covered with hair and the head with long locks that fairly enveloped the neck and shoulders”.
Upon seeing the hunters, this “wild man” reportedly fled in great leaps of 12 to 14 feet, leaving behind 13-inch footprints. Rather curiously, the reporter speculated that this gigantic leaping figure was “a survivor of the earthquake disaster which desolated that region in 1811”. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species would not be published for several years, and the odd notion that people living in the wilderness for a few decades would turn into hairy giants seems a relic from a rather more rudimentary form of evolutionary biology.
Noting that the 1960s and 70s saw a flood of reported bigfoot sightings, the Bords quote Albert M. Fletcher, who in 1969 claimed to have seen a 6-7-foot-tall creature at a Washington logging road: “It was walking on its hind legs, was covered with dark hair, had a bearded face and large chest and so far as I could see was not wearing clothes of any kind.”
The article then skips back in time to 1924, the year when Albert Ostman was (according to his later claims) held captive by a family of sasquatch – an adult male and female and two children – for several days, only escaping after he incapacitated the sasquatch patriarch by feeding it snuff.
Next is the story of William Roe, who purportedly sighted a female bigfoot in British Columbia in 1955, but decided against shooting it: “Although I have called the creature ‘it’, I felt now that it was a human being and I knew I would never forgive myself if I killed it.” After this, we learn of an unnamed New Jersey couple who allegedly had a bigfoot outside their house:
In the autumn of 1966 a couple living near Lowe Bank in New Jersey found footprints 17 inches (432 millimetres) long outside their house, and saw a face peering in at a window over 7 feet (2.1 metres) high. They regularly left vegetable scraps for the bigfoot, which it ate, but one night they left nothing and their visitor showed its annoyance by throwing a dustbin against the wall. A hot fired into the air failed to deter it, so the man fired at the bigfoot, which ran away and did not return.
Naturally, the article concludes with Roger Patterson, Bob Gimlin and their infamous film footage, a case that furnishes most of the illustrations.
The three-part series skips an issue and concludes in The Unexplained #4 with “Creatures from the Void?” This intriguingly-titled article opens with some comments on the height of bigfeet, with the Bords noting that the creatures are typically said to be between 6-to-7 feet tall, although the article does mention exceptions including a 9-foot bigfoot reportedly spotted by teenager Tim Meissner in British Columbia during 1979, and a whopping 15-foot specimen allegedly seen by an unnamed USAF Staff Sergeant at Belt Creek Canyon in 1977. Other characteristics mentioned I various reports include foul stenches, glowing eyes, varying numbers of toes on each foot (“Perhaps this anomaly is explicable in terms of over-eager investigators misinterpreting less than perfect footprints”, note the Bords) and, in some cases, a seeming invulnerability to bullets:
A Pennsylvanian woman, confronted by one [bigfoot] on her doorstep one night in February 1974, shot into its middle from a distance of 6 feet 91.8 metres). She was astounded to see it disappear in a flash of light! Other eye-witnesses have reported signs of insubstantiality in the bigfeet they have seen.
In the Pennsylvania case the witness’s son-in-law, who came to help on hearing the shot, saw other bigfeet at the edge of nearby woods. He also saw a bright red flashing light hovering over the woods. There are a number of other cases in which UFOs and bigfeet are reported as having been seen at the same time and in the same area. Coincidence? Or are they both part of the same phenomena?
Then we have this gem:
Another strange case involving a UFO took place on a farm near Greensburg, Pennsylvania, on the evening of 25 October 1973. When a large, bright red luminous ball was seen to come down in a field a 22-year-old farmer’s son, pseudonym Stephen, went to investigate. He and two 10-year-old boys he took with him saw the shining object on or close to the ground. They also saw, near the ball, two tall, ape-like creatures with green glowing eyes and long, dark hair. The creatures began to approach them.
Stephen fired over their heads, but they kept walking towards the witnesses. So he fired three rounds straight into the largest creature, which raised its hand. The UFO disappeared and the bigfeet turned and slowly walked into the nearby woods.
Investigators were immediately called In, and although they saw neither UFO not bigfeet, they found a glowing aura where the UFO had been. Stephen subsequently went into a trance.
I went looking online for more details of this case, and found other variations of the account that are somehow even more bizarre. Apparently, Stephen not only claimed to have met alien bigfeet, but also a Grim Reaper-like figure who predicted that the world would end in 1976. The earliest citation I’ve found for this version is in Daniel Cohen’s 1981 book A Close Look at Close Encounters.
Interestingly, the Bords note that “Bigfoot cases with such bizarre details are… generally reported in states far away from the traditional bigfoot territory in the north west of the continent.”
We then head from intangible lifeforms to solid corpses: the odd-looking primate famously shot an photographed by Francois de Loys in 1917; the “Minnesota iceman” reportedly exhibited in 1968; and a report from the USSR involving a “wild man” described by one Colonel Karapetyan after it (or he, as the description again sounds like a hairy man, possibly with mental issues) had been captured and killed. Depicted in illustrations but unmentioned in the article itself are the purported yeti scalp and hand-bones belonging to the Pangboche monastery in Nepal. (DNA tests on one of the bones would later reveal that the hand was almost certainly human.)
The article ends with a summary of possible explanations. Are all the reports hoaxes? “This seems unlikely”, say the Bords. Are the sightings based on misidentifications of known animals? “This explanation could account for some of the sightings, but by no means all of them.” Perhaps the sightings are hallucinations? “Such a theory does not… account for the footprints”. Is bigfoot some sort of prehistoric survival? “This seems possible.” Are the man-beasts three-dimensional holograms being somehow projected to Earth? The Bords respond with a question: “If so, who or what is doing it – and why?”
The article’s own conclusion is non-committal:
It is most likely that the term ‘man-beasts’ covers a wide range of phenomena that, for unknown reasons, appear – or seem to appear – in similar guises. Whatever the truth may be, the man-beast phenomenon is an extraordinary and complex one, that requires a great deal more research before any firm conclusions can be drawn.
-The Bords’ three-part overview seems intended more to stimulate the imagination than to offer hard facts, heavy on unfalsifiable anecdotes, low on hard theories as to how such a creature might have across multiple continents without a single specimen being captured and preserved, and dismissive of mundane explanations. But an article on bigfoot that takes in everything from medieval English folklore to UFOs and holograms is nothing if not wide-ranging, so marks for that!