The forests of Southeast Ohio are home to a variety of common woodland critters, such as squirrels, deer and black bears. But some believe a certain hairy bipedal might also call the region’s wooded areas home.
The Southeastern Ohio Society for Bigfoot Investigation (SOSBI) was founded in 2008 by a group of librarians from the Crossroads Branch Library in Cambridge, Ohio. They set out to create an open space for people to talk and share stories about Bigfoot without fear of judgment. One of the founders, Doug Waller, began studying the history of Sasquatch after starting his job at the library in 1992.
“Suddenly, I had all these Bigfoot books at my disposal,” Waller says. “So, I read everything we had and then would send away to other libraries. I’m up around 180 books now that I have gotten read (sic).”
Waller has published two books about Bigfoot, with a third book expected to be out in April. He took his interest in Bigfoot and, with the help of a few other librarians, started hosting talks at different libraries, as well as holding official SOSBI meetings every other month. The meetings started small, with about a dozen people coming together on Waller’s back porch, but have grown to gatherings of more than 70 people at a time.
The society was featured on an episode of the Discovery Channel’s Finding Bigfoot, where longtime SOSBI member Lorena Cunningham shared one of her encounters.
Cunningham says she had her first Bigfoot sighting in July 1984 while she was playing with her three children by a forest in Sharon, Ohio. At first, Cunningham thought she heard an escaped calf come out of the woods but says she was greeted by something entirely different.
“I walked over by the outhouse, but I didn’t encounter a calf,” Cunningham says. “What I encountered was this big, huge, hair-covered creature standing there looking down at me, and I was standing looking up at her.”
She says the creature had huge biceps underneath reddish-brown hair that blew in the breeze. After staring down the creature and making sure her children were safe, Cunningham retreated back to a nearby family member’s home where she recounted what she saw.
A few days later, Cunningham retold her encounter to the Noble County Sheriff’s Department. She also brought in a picture she drew of the creature she saw.
“I found out many years later that they hung it up on the bulletin board and laughed about it,” Cunningham says. “They didn’t take me serious (sic).”
Cunningham didn’t let people’s disbelief get to her, though. She had another encounter a few years ago and continues to come to SOSBI meetings to speak about and listen to others’ experiences.
Scott Moody, a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Ohio University, hasn’t had any personal encounters with Bigfoot or found evidence that supports their existence. Still, he has been conducting research on Sasquatch for about 20 years. He says there’s a popular argument that Bigfoot could be closely related to orangutans, which would explain the reddish-brown hairs that have been found and reported in sightings.
Along with hair, Moody cites other types of evidence that are important to consider, including footprints and vocalizations. But he says one piece of evidence stands out among the rest.
“I think the best evidence is the fact that virtually every Native American tribe has, in their language, a name for this hairy, person-like creature that lives in the woods,” Moody says. “And the first Europeans coming into North America all reported these accounts given by Native Americans.”
Moody has been to various conferences and talks about Sasquatch, including a few of the SOSBI meetings.
At the March 4 meeting, more than 40 people packed into the new meeting place for SOSBI, the Guernsey County Sportsmen for Conservation clubhouse in Cambridge, Ohio. A few families took up spots in the crowd, all eagerly anticipating the night’s discussions about upcoming campouts, library talks and stories of sightings of the tall, hairy creature. Wesley Ellis, a petroleum engineer from Cambridge, talked about his Bigfoot encounter.
Ellis was driving to work at about 2:30 a.m. one day in November when he saw a large, hairy body off to the side of the highway that appeared to have been hit by a vehicle. He says he had plans to return to the area after work to take pictures, but by the time he came back, the creature was gone.
“No blood, no nothing,” Ellis says. “This was a really graphic, nasty accident, and it was weird because it was just totally sanitized.”
After Ellis finished telling the crowd about his experience, some people recalled similar encounters they had while others questioned how and why such an accident could get cleaned up so quickly.
“I had no answer to that, and that’s something that’s bothered me to today,” Ellis says. “What happened?”
There are many questions surrounding the identity and existence of Bigfoot and no clear, certifiable evidence proving their existence has been found.
“There’s been some of these hairs and pieces of skin that have been analyzed by DNA, and have all been found to be something we already know,” Moody says. “So, that would be the slam dunk if someone found some hairs, and it’s definitely primate DNA but doesn’t belong to any known species of primate. Then we have it. But it hasn’t happened yet.”
Until then, researchers and groups such as SOSBI will continue to investigate, share stories and invite anyone who’s interested to listen and consider what else might live among the trees of Southeast Ohio and beyond.