Growing up I heard my elders telling stories about the Bigfoot Hoax in the Humboldt county area of California.
Gmom, the title my family used for my Grandmother Beatrice Cook Keesey, was a good friend of the men who started and for years continued the Bigfoot Hoax in the woods of Northern California, but it turns out she actually played a part in the hoax.
Northern California Redwood Forest
Let’s go back to the early 1950’s in Humboldt County California. Logging camps and road work crews were sprouting up all over the richly forested Northern California area known as Humboldt County. The area was rough, wild, and sparsely inhabited. This was a simpler time, before the constant bombardment of images and information that today fill our world. People were still fascinated and amazed by simple things. The world was not yet a small place with no secrets left to expose, but a wide and wonderful adventure waiting to be explored. “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” presented people, places, and things from all over the world that were “unbelievable” and mysterious.
The men working in the logging camps and road work crews were far away from their homes and families, sitting around a campfire doing what man has done since the start of time – telling each other spooky stories. Animated discussions of the Abominable Snowman, the Yeti and Sasquatch, as well as all manner of things that go bump in the night, were probably what gave the hoax its power.
Two men on these work crews were Wilbur “Shorty” Wallace and his brother Ray Wallace. They were funny men, prone to pulling practical jokes on friends and family. I can imagine the two of them bedding down after a particularly spirited evening of ghost and ghoul stories, whispering plans back and forth, setting up a practical joke that would spread beyond their wildest dreams; a practical joke that would take in scholars, scientists, newspaper reporters, authors, and everyday men for many years to come.
Two brothers, time on their hands, weeks away from family, eager to get a laugh….. the scene was set for a great practical joke.
The Beginning of the Hoax
They carved a set of feet, sixteen inches in length, and left footprints around a work site for others to find. What started out to be a local laugh, a funny joke, a waste of time, and a clever practical joke, became a national sensation. The story is foggy about the actual manner in which they made the tracks; some say they used a mechanical device, some say that they used the feet on a stick, however they did it, they made prints around a work site in the early 1950 around Trinidad. Workers found the prints and the word spread within the local workmen. Ray and Shorty left footprints at various work sites, moved equipment around, left evidence of visits from ” a big footed” person. Knowing that they were known for pulling practical jokes, the Wallace brothers asked Gmom to hide the carved feet in the store room of her small restaurant, Bella Vista, till the heat died down. Gmom agreed, and snickered about her part in the hoax for the rest of her life.
Without the fake feet, the Wallace brothers involvement could not be proved in the early 1950s. The story died down, and Ray, Shorty and Gmom had a great laugh.
Too Good To Not Do Again
Fast forward to 1958, when the Hoax went from local laughs, to national spotlight. The Wallace boys continued to make footprints at work sites all through the 1950s, and the story continued in the local area. This all changed in 1958 when the story was picked up by various newspapers when Gerald Crew, and employee of the Granite Construction Company, made and displayed plaster casts of the big foot prints he found on a Bluff Creek road construction project.
[Photo Andrew Genzoli reviews plaster cast of large footprint made by Jerry Crew, Oct 5, 1958]
The Humboldt Times ran a above the fold story on October 14, 1958 comparing the large footprints with the comic strip character “Alley Opp, ” and for the first time named the mystery beast “Bigfoot.”
The story (which is fully transcribed at the end of this post) included a quote from Gmom about the earlier escapades of this creature being a prank. The story was picked up by many other papers, and the search for the elusive creature began in earnest.
Two Taxidermists, Al Corbett and Bob Titmus, are quoted in articles as believing that the creature was an escaped wild Indian who was over 7 feet tall. Geologist and Geophysicist Dr. R.Maurice Trip reported that based on the foot shape, size and distance of the gait, the creature had to weigh at least 800 pounds.
The articles go on and on, as does the speculation on whether the creature was real or an elaborate hoax. Grainy films of a creature walking, sightings up and down the Northern California coast line, books, newspaper articles, tv shows – the list of Bigfoot goes on and on.
While researching this hoax, I found that Gmom is immortalized in a book about the Bigfoot incidents – “Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America'” by Loren Coleman features the Humboldt Times article which quoted my Gmom, so she is now forever quoted in print.
Hoax Reviled After Ray Wallace Dies
The Vancouver Sun ran the following story on December 7, 2002 “The Ray Wallace-Rant Mullins Mess,” in which Ray’s family publicly admitted that Ray and his wife were both involved in the 1950s Bigfoot Hoax. (full story below)
“To the horror of thousands of Bigfoot believers Dale Lee Wallace, the hoaxer’s nephew, said: “He did it for the joke and then was afraid to tell anyone because they’d be so mad at him.” “
So there you have it, the story of Gmom and her small part in the Bigfoot Hoax. I like to imagine that Gmom and Ray Wallace are sitting in rocking chairs side by side in Heaven, looking down on us and snickering at “all the fuss!” Ray’s hand carved fake feet caused. I know that Gmom would love the fact that she not only had a part in this infamous Hoax, but that she is immortalized in print. What a legacy.
Footprints big but 42-year Bigfoot hoax even larger
Fake turns out to be photographer’s wife dressed in hairy ape suit with giant feet stuck to the bottom
Most of the pictures of bigfoot, a giant ape-like creature supposed to live in the dense forests of the American northwest, are in reality a hoaxer’s wife dressed in a gorilla suit, the man’s relatives revealed Friday.
For decades until his death last month Ray Wallace awed America with pictures of footprints, recordings and photographs of the creature, but his family admitted it had all been an elaborate practical joke.
To the horror of thousands of Bigfoot believers Dale Lee Wallace, the hoaxer’s nephew, said: “He did it for the joke and then was afraid to tell anyone because they’d be so mad at him.”
The first “evidence” for Bigfoot, a series of huge footprints, was found by Jerry Crew, a worker at Wallace’s construction company in August, 1958.
They were in fact created by his boss with wooden carved feet to “freak him out,” but the local newspaper, the Humboldt Times in Eureka, Calif. ran a front-page story on the prints the next day and coined the term “Bigfoot.”
The tale was taken up by newspapers across the country and the public, fascinated at the time by tales of the Himalayan yeti, eagerly embraced the notion of a homegrown version.
Wallace continued with the prank for years, producing photographs of Bigfoot eating elk and frogs. These, it emerged Friday, were in fact members of his family — usually his wife, — dressed in a hairy ape suit with giant feet stuck to the bottom.
The most famous evidence for Bigfoot’s existence, the so-called Pattersonfilm, a grainy, cinefilm image of an erect ape-like creature, was taken by Roger Patterson, a rodeo rider, in 1967.
It was another of Wallace’s fakes, the family said — he told Patterson where to go to spot the creature and knew who had been inside the suit.
The family decided to finally reveal the truth after Wallace, 84, died from heart failure and a reporter for the Seattle Times approached them to ask about the rumors he had made it all up.
The news is a serious setback for the Bigfoot industry spawned by the legend. Dozens of books have been written, guides offer tours to search for sightings, and there is an International Bigfoot Society in Hillsboro, Oregon