Jeannette conference seeks answers on Bigfoot
By Christian Cipollini
Published: Friday, Sept. 19, 2008
Sasquatch, Yeti and Bigfoot -- these names have been attributed to unidentified things that go bump in the night, often reported by people hiking, camping or hunting in remote wooded areas.
Decades of myth and conjecture surround the sightings of this legendary humanoid creature. It's a phenomenon that continues to enlist enthusiastic believers and elude conclusive scientific evidence all the same.
Eric Altman, a Hempfield resident and president of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society, often speaks -- perhaps surprisingly -- as both the voice of Bigfoot enthusiasts and as the voice of reason. A sense of realistic skepticism is almost equaled by his passionate beliefs that "something" is indeed roaming the forests -- still not identified.
Altman said he has been interested in the subject since childhood but engaged in actual research about 11 years ago.
"Our group was put together in 1998 by Steve Anderson and Harry Benton," he explained. "About two years later, Steve had to get out of the group for personal reasons and asked me to take over. I was not really interested in running a group. The choice was end the group or I take over. So I said I'd give it a try."
Since then, Altman has been the go-to person for witness reports, group research outings and organizing the group's annual conference.
As for the entire legend potentially being that of pure fiction, he said, "It's possible." But conversely, he raised the question -- "But, is it possible there's something out there that people are really seeing• I think there is, and I want to find out either way."
He explained this duality comes from years of experience, chasing false claims and witnessing outlandish hoaxes, all while discovering and investigating areas and artifacts that simply can't be explained away either.
"There are a lot of lonely people who get the Bigfoot bug. We've come across that several times, gone on wild goose chases. That's the bad side," he admitted. "And I've never seen a creature I can definitively say was a 'creature.'"
But even after encountering numerous implausible or fictional reports, the amateur researcher said his interest never abates.
"Looking at these tracks, these castings, and footprints on my own, and talking to legitimate witnesses and hearing those scientists who are now starting to study this ... that's what keeps me going. I know there's something definitely out there, but what it is -- I can't say at this point. The reason I keep doing it is not so much to prove to science, or public, but for myself."
Beginning Sept. 26, The Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society will hold its conference, a three-day event open to the public, at Pitzer's Townhouse in Jeannette.
"The first evening is a meet-and-greet dinner with speakers and researchers, and free to the public," he said. "A dinner menu will be available, and it's more of a social gathering. Saturday is the actual conference."
Altman stated many of those commonly raised questions regarding Bigfoot's existence will be addressed by guest speakers, along with many displays and presentations that offer possible credibility to its existence.
"Broad topics will be brought up. My presentation is on a history of Bigfoot in Pennsylvania, because there is a history since the 1960s and 1970s, and some of what our group has discovered."
A $10 donation is required for admission on Sept. 27, which begins at noon and ends at 8 p.m.
"The $20 reserved seating is all filled up for the closest seating," he noted. "How it's set up is theater-style seating, a podium for speakers, white screen for presentations. Eight presenters, display tables with photos, casts and vendor tables with books. Our group will have merchandise for sale, an auction, books, shirts, dolls, movies and artwork. Any money we raise goes back into the self-funded group."
Altman said the final day's activities will be more of a hands-on historical perspective.
"Sunday is a driving tour and walk at four locations in southwestern Pennsylvania where there have been sightings in the last five to seven years, and we will meet at 1 p.m. at Pitzers parking lot." Participation is limited to the first 50 people who register during the conference, and their own transportation is required. "We believe these are reputable locations and we'll give a little dissertation at each location."Additional Information:
For more information on the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society and this year's conference schedule, visit online or contact Eric Altman at 724-516-6344.
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