June 6, 2006 - Fort Worth Star Telegram
Lake Monster may be myth, but exhibit is real
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
By Bud Kennedy, June 06, 2006
SAN ANTONIO - Bigfoot is back.
And he's in Texas.
To be exact, he's back in an animated version, standing between fake Big Thicket trees in a museum and welcoming tourists to an exhibit where even the name is skeptical: "Bigfoot in Texas?"
As it turns out, experts and hobbyists now track the mythical swamp beast's Texas appearances back to 1969 -- and Lake Worth.
No kidding. Our very own Lake Worth Monster -- the "Goat-Man," if you prefer -- is now considered the most famous of all Texas sasquatch sightings.
Police later blamed teenage pranksters. But one of the speakers Saturday at an Institute of Texan Cultures forum said he still thinks the Lake Worth Monster was real.
"You had several credible people saying they saw it," said Maine author Loren Coleman. "You had investigations. You had more than one incident.
"It was too involved for a prank."
The sign at the entry to the "Bigfoot in Texas?" exhibit, open through July 30, even bills the Lake Worth Monster alongside other Texas legends such as the Marion County Monster and something called the Hawley Him.
If you're new around here, back in summer 1969, a lot of people were seeing things. Some people thought they saw flying saucers. Some people thought they saw Soviet spies.
And some people thought they saw a 7-foot-tall half-man, half-goat threatening motorists near Lake Worth.
John Reichert of South Henderson Street was quoted in the Star-Telegram as saying it scratched his car. Jack Harris of Sansom Park said he saw it throw a tire 500 feet. Allen Plaster of Fort Worth, who owned women's wear shops, shot a photo of a large, furry-looking, light-colored blob.
That fall, Charles Buchanan said he saw a gorillalike creature. He threw a bag of leftover chicken at it, and it swam off toward Greer Island, where it has apparently lived ever since in an undisclosed location.
Police said later that Brewer High School students were found with a glow-in-the-dark mask and a gorilla costume. Experts back then said the first sightings were probably of a bobcat, and the guess was that the teenagers wanted to scare the curious crowds searching the lake.
If so, they not only scared the crowds but also wrote Bigfoot history.
In Dallas, 9-year-old Craig Woolheater was watching the breathless TV news coverage of the search.
If you think the TV newscasts made a big deal lately about a dead alligator in Lewisville Lake, imagine the coverage in the Texas summer of 1969, before we had the Rangers or Mavericks.
"I was already interested in the unusual -- dinosaurs, UFOs," Woolheater said. "All the news talked about was this monster." He visited his grandparents on Eagle Mountain Lake and imagined the monster roaming the shore.
As a teenager, he saw The Legend of Boggy Creek, a movie based on a Northeast Texas swamp creature tale. Then, in 1994, he and his wife saw something tall and furry walking on two legs alongside a highway outside Alexandria, La.
Now, he is the co-founder and director of the Dallas-based Texas Bigfoot Research Center, a Web site that sponsors an annual Bigfoot conference in Jefferson.
Woolheater's volunteers helped the Institute of Texan Cultures assemble the "Bigfoot in Texas?" exhibit, which the museum, backed by the University of Texas at San Antonio, offers not as science but as an example of Texas folklore.
A series of monthly lectures has reviewed Bigfoot evidence, as presented by Bigfoot hobbyists.
At the Saturday forum, author and mythbuster Benjamin Radford argued that Bigfoot is no more real than the legendary Texas horned rabbit called the jackalope.
"Why do people see Bigfoot?" Radford asked. "Because they see something, and they think, 'That must be Bigfoot.' Other people might think they saw a leprechaun or a dragon. The same thing goes for the Chupacabra."
In San Antonio, the legend of El Chupacabras is more vivid than Bigfoot. When a dead animal found on a nearby ranch last year was reported jokingly to be the legendary bloodsucking flying beast, hundreds of residents drove to Elmendorf to see photos of what turned out to be a mange-ridden dog or coyote.
"If people in New Mexico find cattle killed, they blame it on UFOs," Radford said. "If the same thing happens in Puerto Rico, it's the Chupacabra. In Montana, it's Satanic worship.
"Bigfoot is the same way. People use Bigfoot to explain an experience. The sightings are misunderstandings or hoaxes. Or people saw a large, hairy animal and thought it was Bigfoot."
In the crowd was one tourist who knows her hoaxes.
Linda Weems Johnson, 57, of Houston is a great-niece of T.J. Weems, a Wise County blacksmith who was quoted in The Dallas Morning News in 1897 as saying that a "native of the planet Mars" had crashed a spaceship in the town of Aurora. The "Aurora Spaceman," probably a stunt to draw attention to the town, is now the subject of his own movie and legend.
"I can see how stories like Bigfoot get started," Johnson said. "I come from a big, very Celtic family. Our tradition involves a lot of myths and storytelling."
Her husband, Scott Johnson, said he can easily believe in both the Aurora Spaceman and the Lake Worth Monster.
"I think there's too much evidence out there," he said. "There are too many witnesses. I don't think they all just misunderstood what they saw."
Real or hoax, Bigfoot is now big business. Both authors Saturday were doing a brisk book trade. The museum gift shop was almost sold out of T-shirts and mugs with the face of a Texas Bigfoot.
He's a star.
And to think -- we knew him when he was just our little Goat-Man.
© Fort Worth Star-Telegram