As the main judge in the third annual Sasquatch Calling Festival in Whitehall, New York, Gosselin is here on the eve of the event, wandering through a rolling, grassy knoll just outside of town to recreate the origin story behind the festival and Whitehall’s growing niche as the Big Foot capital of the East Coast. For Gosselin, 66, and all the other Big Foot linguistic buffs who make the pilgrimage to Whitehall for the calling contest each summer, it all begins with the eerie soundtrack from the evening of Aug. 25, 1976.
There had been multiple reports from other police officers of strange sightings and what cryptozoologists refer to as “vocalizations” in this area long before Gosselin arrived. For centuries, local folklore had claimed that this region, between the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain, was some kind of paranormal portal or interdimensional migratory route for Sasquatch. So when Gosselin climbed out of his ’71 Monte Carlo that night, the noise level sent a chill down his spine. There wasn’t any. The usual country cacophony of crickets, birds and bullfrogs had all been scared still.
“Dead silence,” Gosselin says.
A second later, the eerie calm was broken by the distinct sound of snapping cattails, as if someone — or something — was charging at him through the brush.
Gosselin swung his police spotlight into the darkness.
Frozen in the beam of light, less than 30 feet away, the beast appeared to be almost 8 feet tall, with long, hairy limbs like an orangutan, black lips, a muscular buttocks (something Gosselin feels compelled to mention several times) and glowing, electromagnetic red eyes the size of mayonnaise jar covers.
“Something that does not exist in the world is standing right there in front of me,” Gosselin says. “It’s etched into my mind forever, that feeling, like a hive of honey bees dumped into your brain. I thought I was going to spontaneously combust.”
Big Foot wasn’t in the mood to socialize. Spooked by the spotlight, he locked mayo-jar eyes with Gosselin and released a deep, 20-second, Godzilla-like roar of such thunderous power and intensity that Gosselin swears he could feel the volume in his chest and the hot air on his cheeks like “someone blowing a tuba in your face.”
A folktale — and a contest — had been born.
A gobsmacked Gosselin slumped against his cruiser and watched as Big Foot turned and leapt back into the forest using 7-foot strides to cross the 1,500-foot field in a matter of seconds. Before disappearing, the creature let out three more of what Gosselin describes as impossibly long, guttural, humongous bellows. “I was overcome with emotion, experiencing every human emotion you can think of — and all at once. Even death was on my mind,” he says, chain-smoking his way back to his truck. “At first, you know what it’s not, but you sure as hell don’t know what it is. But trust me, if you heard it, you would definitely know you were hearing a Sasquatch.”
The growing chorus of believers gathering back in Whitehall for tomorrow’s Sasquatch Calling Festival is counting on it.
IF BIG FOOT REALLY did migrate to Whitehall and chose to settle down here, his genus classification would have to include an excellent sense of real estate. Set in a picturesque valley south of Lake Champlain near Vermont’s western border, Whitehall was founded in the mid-1700s by British Army captain Philip Skene, whose ornate, Scooby-Doo-villain-style mansion still overlooks the town from high on the riverbank. Because of its early history of shipbuilding and munitions, Whitehall is the self-proclaimed birthplace of the U.S. Navy, a dubious honor shared by at least four other East Coast towns.
Whitehall’s other claim to fame dates back further, originating with the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who, in his logs from 1604, noted tales from the native Iroquois about a giant, hairy man-beast they called the Gougou that roamed the woods and might have, from time to time, dined on human flesh. (Gosselin’s sense, for the record, was that the creature he saw was benevolent and not the least bit hungry. “That’s probably why I didn’t shoot it,” he says.) “Big Foot is part of our culture, tradition and heritage in this area,” says Whitehall’s top Big Foot authority, Paul Bartholomew, whose handmade business cards describe him as an “Investigative researcher of unexplained phenomena, aerial anomalies, cryptozoology, parapsychology, ghosts and hauntings.”