Is it the power of the pen, the power of suggestion or the promise of anonymity that produced the latest rash of reports of Bigfoot sightings in Fayette County?
An article about a Bigfoot sighting north of Uniontown by a woman who wished to remain anonymous was published in August. Her account was investigated by members of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society and researcher Stan Gordon of Greensburg, perhaps best known for his investigation into an alleged 1965 UFO crash in Kecksburg in Westmoreland County.
Following the publication of the article, Eric Altman, director of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society, reports that he has received phone calls about eight additional Bigfoot sightings in Fayette County, four of which were clustered around Dunbar.
"We also had a fifth second-hand report of a teen boy who is alleged to have seen a creature following him through the woods in the Dunbar area while he rode his quad," said Altman, 39, of Jeannette. "The boy is said to be so shook up by the incident that he doesn't want to be interviewed and was so frightened he won't go back to the area."
Altman claims that Fayette County seems to be quite an active area for Bigfoot sightings, based on the inordinate number of calls he has received over the past six months. Besides the Dunbar sightings, two have been reported in the Jumonville area, one in Confluence and one in Connellsville.
"Since the name of the witness in the newspaper account was kept confidential, I feel that people experiencing the same phenomena are now more comfortable and are coming forth to tell their stories," he said
When conducting his research, Altman first interviews the witness on the phone, claiming that, over the years, he has become quite adept at determining if they're telling the truth. After trying to get as much information as he can, he then sets up a face-to-face meeting, preferably at the location of the sighting.
"In a person-to-person meeting, I can read a lot from a witness' body language, eye contact and facial expressions," he said.
The latest sighting report came from Heath Landman of Dunbar, who said he doesn't mind revealing his identity and claims he and his son, Heath Nickolas Jr., 20, saw "something" crossing the road in front of them about 35 to 40 yards away as they were driving on Ferguson Road in Dunbar at 9:15 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31.
"The creature was walking at a fast pace on two feet, stood about 6 feet 3 inches tall and had a cone-shaped head," said Landman. "It was moving at a good clip without running, got across the road in three steps, then headed up an embankment and into a thicket. The next thing I knew, I heard my son say, "My god, Dad, what was that?"
In a state of shock, Landman turned his car around, headed for home and called his three brothers on the phone. They, along with two nephews, later went with the Landmans to the site where the creature was spotted. After exploring the area, one brother found pieces of hair stuck on brier and a nephew took photos of footprints in the snow, which were shown to Altman during his subsequent investigation.
"The hair found at the site is now protected in a container," said Altman. "We have contacts across the country who can conduct lab tests to try to match the hair to that of known species. We can also do DNA tests on the sample."
Another incident took place on Sept. 23 in the mountains near Dunbar. A mother and daughter out for a drive stopped at a pipeline to take in the view and heard a rustling noise in the brush below. Thinking it might be a bear or a deer, they later saw that it was an upright creature, very muscular and tall, Altman recounted.
"They reported that the creature got to within 150 feet, and just walked away without looking at them or threatening them in any way," said Altman, who met with the witnesses the following morning. "While hiking around the vicinity of the sighting, we discovered a large 19-inch, foot-shaped impression in very hard ground and an area where the brush had been trampled underfoot." While investigating yet another sighting report in the Dunbar area, Altman discovered a deer kill that had been eaten away until only the head and hide remained, as well as a 3-by-10-foot lean-to type structure in the area.
One unusual sighting at the end of July involved a woman who claims to have spotted two creatures just outside Dunbar - one a smaller one eating on some blackberries and a much larger one estimated to be about 10 feet tall. "There have been several reports of multiple sightings in other parts of the state," said Altman. "Many claim that the creatures have large dark eyes and range in size from 7 to 10 feet, are muscular and bulky and have a variety of hair color."
With the recent snowfall, Altman is hoping that people in the area come across unusual or revelatory footprints. Since the recent snowfall, members of the Bigfoot Society have gone back to sighting areas in search of footprints five or six times -- but have found no additional evidence.
"We encourage anyone who's experienced a Bigfoot sighting or who has information on the subject to phone us at 724-516-6344 or file a sighting report on our Web site www.pabigfootsociety.com," said Altman. "We keep the names and personal information of witnesses confidential and promise to take their reports seriously."