When I found out there was going to be a Sasquatch hunter conference only an hour away from my house, I just knew I had to be there.
The Bigfoot Discovery Day conference was outwardly the strangest con I’ve ever been to, but it was also the most intimate and inviting.
Held at the tiny Bigfoot Discovery Museum nestled in the giant redwoods of Felton, Calif., just outside of Santa Cruz, the roundtable discussion of local Sasquatch hunters took place in what was essentially a backyard patio. Speakers and attendees alike took their seats on those ubiquitous plastic lawn chairs that you can buy at Target or Home Depot, while the whirr of a neighbor’s weed whacker gave the whole affair a homey feel.
“If I can’t find a Wildman, then I’m going to make myself into one,” museum owner and event organizer Mike Rugg joked to kick-off a conversation with fellow Bigfoot researchers Bart Cutino, a financial planner from Monterey, Calif., and Robert Leiterman, a park ranger.
Rugg sported a bushy white beard and wore a Greek fisherman’s cap, making him look like the long, lost brother of Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin. A few minutes before everyone gathered in the backyard for the conference to begin, Rugg enthused that they’d “never sold so many hamburgers and hotdogs,” measuring his event’s success by its barbecue.
Rugg believes he saw Bigfoot as a child during a family camping trip in the 1950s, and has been trying to find him ever since. Rugg opened his museum in 2005 and started organizing conferences of Sasquatch hunters and witnesses shortly thereafter.
“People come to the museum and thank me for giving them a place where they could tell their stories without being ridiculed,” Rugg later mused after the conference had ended.
During the daytime talk in the backyard, Rugg showed off a tooth he had found that resembled a human molar, only much larger.
“Is it an old tooth, or a new tooth?” a younger man in the audience asked.
“All I can say is it’s the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth,” Rugg replied, once again getting laughs from his small gathering.
A debate soon broke out about whether sasquatches would be put on reservations like Native Americans or if they’d be protected by the Endangered Species Act. If you accepted that there was a Sasquatch, or even the possibility of one, this was a completely reasonable discussion to have, but it wasn’t long before talk of time-traveling Bigfoots or apelike creatures emerging from UFOs.
“This is going to open doors and hopefully open peoples’ minds up a little bit so people will start being a little bit more agnostic,” Rugg said, keeping the conversation moving, while letting everyone join in.
The daytime roundtable adjourned around 3 p.m., but Bigfoot Discovery Day picked up again at 6 p.m. at the Louden Nelson Community Center in Santa Cruz. Singer Tom Yamarone warmed up the crowd with folk songs about Sasquatches and the men who seek them before other Bigfoot hunters played audio of the sasquatch’s cries and blurry nighttime film footage of their expeditions in the Pacific Northwest.
While neither the tooth nor the video presented at the Bigfoot Discovery Day made me a believer in Bigfoot, I still hope that Rugg and his pals find incontrovertible proof of the big guy. The world is better with Bigfoot than without him.
Every month in “Shattering Conventions,” author Bob Calhoun crashes a new tradeshow, convention or conference looking for a way to fit in—even when he doesn't always belong. Calhoun is the author of "Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor." You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.