Patty looks back: 50 years of the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage

Patty looks back: 50 years of the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage

You’ve seen it, or you’ve seen parodies or images based on it. Look at Bigfoot t-shirts or novelty “Bigfoot Crossing” signs, and you are likely to have a pose with swinging arms, mid-stride, looking back over its shoulder at you.

All of that comes from the “PGF” (Patterson-Gimlin Film): shot by Roger Patterson (with Bob Gimlin there as well), and it shows a hairy biped striding away from the camera.

It was reportedly shot on October 20th, 1967, near Bluff Creek, in Northern California.

What does it show?

There are really only two likely possibilities.

  1. It shows a “Bigfoot”, an unscientifically recognized bipedal mammal
  2. It’s a hoax

Beyond that, you have to get more exotic, such as a “tulpa” (a materialized thought form), an alien, and so on.

There has been a lot of analysis and claims about it, both positive and negative. I’ve read reasons why it physically can not be a human being in a suit (based on shoulder to height ratio, arm length, and gait) and I’ve seen claims of finding the zipper in the film. There have been books and DVDs focused on it:

search for “Patterson Bigfoot” at Amazon (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

and among many websites of varying perspectives and depth there is at least one focused on it:

As a Fortean, I don’t make a “one or the other” judgment about it…the Fortean  “philosophy” doesn’t make binary choices, not even “real” and “not real”. Well, even that statement is too binary. 😉

You might simply believe its an obvious hoax, or you might equally simply believe it is “real”. You may have read a lot of the analysis and lean one way or the other.

What I thought I would do in this post is show some of the angles to the story…it may be different from what you think, and personally, I always like it when somebody gets me to think about what I think. 🙂

  • The claim was not that this was an accidental, serendipitous event…somebody just trekking through the woods with no ideas about Bigfoot. Patterson was there making a Bigfoot documentary, and had previously written a book on Bigfoot. Patterson wasn’t just a random hiker
  • The movie was not taken without collaborating context of Bigfoot in the area. There were also tracks in the area outside of this event, and not just reported by Patterson and Gimlin
  • Ivan T. Sanderson, a popular naturalist (think someone like Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter), who also wrote about Fortean topics, really popularized the movie with a cover article in the February 1968 issue of Argosy magazine. The cover promised “EXCLUSIVE! First Photos! CALIFORNIA’S ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN”, and showed that arm-swinging lookback. That’s when many people first became aware of it
  • It’s worth noting that Argosy didn’t use the term “Bigfoot” on the cover…although that term, in the modern usage, really had been popularized about ten years earlier
  • In modern parlance, we can say that the movie “went viral”. Patterson and the film appeared on a number of shows, including Johnny Carson’s Show, and it was mentioned in Reader’s Digest
  • An analysis by Dimitri Donskoy in Russia, who had credentials to do a biomechanical analysis, concluded that it was likely not to have been a “MiS” (Man-in-Suit…Donskoy didn’t use that term). That had to do with the apparent naturalness of what is not a natural movement pattern for a homo sapiens…Patty “glides”, not bobbing up and down as much as a homo sapiens does, for example
  • One of the arguments is about whether or not it would be possible for it to be an MiS. If you could say it was possible, that keeps open the hoax; if you could say it wasn’t, then you can’t (or so the traditional logic goes). No serious analysis claims it was a “cheap gorilla suit”: it would have to be fairly sophisticated. Indeed, legendary Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (portrayed by John Goodman in Argo) has been rumored to have made the “suit” for the PGF. That was never confirmed, but we can say it would have been expensive to make, especially in 1967. It would be hard to prove an impossibility: if you could figure out that the figure was over 2.5m tall (8′ 2″), that wouldn’t rule out a homo sapiens…Robert Wadlow was reportedly about 2.7m (8′ 11″) tall. If you had a circus contortionist with enough training time, it might be possible to create the gait. With enough money and resources, it might have been possible to duplicate the appearance in a suit. However, it’s worth thinking about whether all of those factors would have been combined in the same place and by the people we know were involved…and why that would have happened. Regardless, it’s always going to be very difficult for photographic evidence to prove the existence of something
  • The PGF is not the only evidence for Bigfoot, and the “case” doesn’t depend on it. There could have been Bigfoot hoaxes (that seems very, very likely) and the PGF could be real. The PGF could be a hoax and Bigfoot could be “real”…it isn’t the be all and end all
  • There is an argument that Patty shows both male and female characteristics, which makes it anatomically unlikely. The obvious female characteristic? The breasts (which often don’t appear in toys and images based on it). The male characteristic? The apparent “sagittal crest”which is a ridge of bone on top of the skull which helps with chewing hard objects (as I understand it). You can see that it’s there on male gorillas and not female gorillas. Patty isn’t claimed to be a gorilla: while sagittal crests do appear more in males than in females in some other species also, it would seem unscientific to declare that an unknown primate species could not have a female with a conical skull…or a male with obvious breasts
  • In 1975, a documentary called Mysterious Monsters, with Peter Graves of Mission:Impossible, was another time many people saw the PGF

These are just a few threads from the past half-century…what will the next half-century bring?

I’m interested in what you think…feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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2 Responses to “Patty looks back: 50 years of the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage”

  1. davidleeingersoll Says:

    If the film is a hoax, it’s way more sophisticated than it needs to be. It’s easy to see stabilized versions of Patty walking on the internet today, and thus appreciate and examine the details of her anatomy (or of the costume), but in 1967 all most folks could see was a really brief, shakey bit of film. Patty is massive. She’s not skinny like the apemen in 2001. She’s not loose skinned and shaggy like one of Ray Corrigan’s outfits. She’s short haired and muscular. Patterson and Gimlin were a couple of broke dudes with a rented camera. Nothing in John Chambers’ portfolio is as comprehesive. If Patty was a suit, who made it?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, davidleeingersoll!

      That’s an excellent point that as analysis and enhancement has gotten better, the PGF has become more convincing, not less so. The counter argument would be that the “processing” makes it look more convincing, either intentionally or accidentally.

      I would say that Patty looks more like a Bob Burns creation than a John Chambers one. Burns was making and appearing in gorilla suits at the right time, would likely have been in California, and has multiple credits in 1964, 1965, and 1966…and then a gap until 1975. One could suggest that it was because he was paid enough or impacted in some other way enough by doing the PGF that he took a break. Bob would also have the sense of humor and dedication to perhaps try to produce the walk.

      However, I’m not suggesting that’s the case. It’s unlikely that Patterson and Gimlin would have had the means on their own to pay for a sophisticated suit…which then brings in two other hypotheses. One is that they were hoaxed (but who would have known they were there?) or that they were used as a convenient “front” for a moneyed operation, which had some reason to promote Bigfoot. Burns might have been a relatively inexpensive source of great expertise.

      For people who disbelieve, they don’t require that you prove who built the suit…just that it could have been a suit. For people who believe, unless it can be proven who built the suit (and the nature of the proof would be important), they feel it stands.

      If you want to look at potential suit designers, this is a good site with a lot of pictures:

      Again, just to re-emphasize, I’m not saying Bob Burns built the Patty suit, or that Patty was an MiS. There would have to be a lot of other pieces in play to make that work…but, you asked, so I wanted to speculate for you. 🙂

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