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Bigfoot lore draws believers, skeptics

| Sunday, Sept. 28, 2008

Eric Altman, an old hand at Bigfoot investigations, believes there is something out there, but doesn't mind if people cast a skeptical eye on stories of larger-than-human, frequently hairy creatures roaming the countryside.

"I don't expect anybody to take it seriously," Altman of Jeannette said Saturday between sessions of the 2008 East Coast Bigfoot Conference, which he organized.

In what amounted to a shrug of the shoulders, Altman, who has an interest in ghosts and hauntings, said people will "believe what they want to believe."

The conference, staged in Jeannette in a large ballroom of Pitzer's Townhouse Restaurant, was expected to attract more than 400 enthusiasts and near-enthusiasts as well as a few frightened and skeptical souls.

Count Jamie Stricko of West Mifflin among the frightened.

"If I ever saw (Bigfoot), I'd have a heart attack and die," she said. "My head would explode."

A friend, Brendan Hanley of Swisshelm Park in Pittsburgh commented, "I'm skeptical," though not skeptical enough to stay away. "You never know."

Hanley and Stricko received an invitation to the conference from a pal by the name of Fred Saluga, an Edgewood resident who was a police officer in Fayette County in the 1970s when, he says, Bigfoot sightings were at a peak.

Saluga, who says he was a policeman on Capitol Hill in the days of House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, advanced the notion that Bigfoot might be a "time traveler."

Isn't it something, he said, that UFO and Bigfoot sightings occur pretty much around the same time.

Queried as to whether such things defy the laws of nature, Saluga answered, "How do we know what the laws of nature are?"

Todd Lowery of Monroeville keeps a casual eye on Bigfoot reports.

"I'm not out in the forest looking," he said. "But it's interesting."

Lowery, who suggested he believed more in Bigfoot than in the possibility of the Pirates playing .500 baseball, said the creatures, real or not, add spice to the everyday ho-hum.

"If you don't have a few mysteries in life, where's the fun?" Lowery said.

Ron Gallucci of Johnstown said he was in "the middle" when it came to believing in the existence of Bigfoot, this despite the fact that a great-uncle reported a sighting in the 1960s.

"He said it was a hair-covered thing," Gallucci said."They stopped and stared at one another."

Gallucci described his late great-uncle as a "no-nonsense guy."

In a formal presentation to the conference, Altman spoke of reports of possible Bigfoot sightings in Derry Township in 2007, a strange incident involving a deer carcass and a "King King sound" in the woods of Bedford County and various reports of the creature in locales as different as Montgomery and Clearfield counties.

Altman detailed "the case of the disappearing Bigfoot" south of Apollo on Route 819 in September 2006. In this instance, a woman spotted what she first thought was a naked man and then maybe a deer, Altman said.

"She stopped her car on Bell Point Road and looked on in dismay," Altman said, as the creature vanished from sight.

A fellow Bigfoot investigator, Altman told the audience, has "been unable to explain what the woman saw."

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