June 19, 2008
MQ: Ohio Grass Man
As befitting a creature as legendary (and reportedly widespread) as Bigfoot, MonsterQuest has put together a number of entirely separate local investigations dealing specifically with reports from one region or another. In this particular investigation, they examined reports of a "Grass Man" in Ohio. Although it's clear many regions have local names that apply specifically to the creatures reported in their local area, this is often due in part to the creatures reportedly having physical or behavioral peculiarities that set them apart from similar creatures reported elsewhere in the world.
Reports of the Grass Man go back to when Ohio was first settled, the settlers saw what they believed to be some primitive natives living among the tall grass. Although the physical descriptions did not correspond to Native American Indians, apparently not much thought was given to these reclusive neighbors and not much was reported about them.
In the mid-eighteen-hundreds the Ohio Grass Man came to the forefront of the public mind when a couple out for a walk claimed to have been attacked by an enormous "wild man". The description was of a creature very similar to traditional descriptions of bigfoot, and thus began a tradition of the Grass Man becoming a boogey-man type figure in the local culture.
Obviously, stories are great but evidence is king so MonsterQuest enlisted a number of experts in both investigative and advisory positions. On the investigative side of things there were two very cool techniques used: First, trail cameras — with a twist.
Trail Cameras have become a key tool in the arsenal of many cryptozoologists, and with excellent reason. The cameras can be attached to any tree with a bungee cord, have a low profile and are colored to blend into the forest, are powered with D-cell batteries to give them a long usage period, and take photos only when a motion sensor is triggered. This is the same technology that has been used to successfully confirm the continued existence of several endangered species in the jungles of east-asia and elsewhere, and it's relatively inexpensive — especially compared with FLIR, which we'll get to momentarily.
What made this trail camera investigation unique was that unlike previous setups I've seen, where the team sets up cameras in locations based on nearby game trails or water sources, in this case the team decided to set up a lure — but instead of using the more traditional lure of food, the team decided to use a hunter's approach and use a decoy. They constructed a realistic face based on eyewitness reports and actual primates (the end result looked very similar to a mountain gorilla's face) and secured it in a scarecrow style above a cross-bar draped with realistic black fur, then secured the rig to a tree.
Unfortunately, this did not yield them any results, but if there is any realistic chance a large north-american ape does exist I think this method may be one of the best chances to get photographic evidence of the creature. As MonsterQuest points out though, the creature may already have been caught on camera.
Following up on a recent report, one Ohio bigfoot researcher videotaped the area where the creature had been witnessed, but having seen nothing he packed away his footage and went home. Over a year later as he was scouring old tapes to find a particular piece of film he watched this film again and for the first time noticed that he actually had caught something on tape. It was distant and fuzzy, but it appeared to be a large creature walking upright.
The tape was analyzed by a video expert, but the footage was too poor in quality to be significantly improved digitally. The expert opinion: It definitely seemed to be a creature walking upright, but beyond that it was impossible to tell.
Certainly, it is well within the realm of possibility this man caught a person walking in the background — although it would be odd for a person to be walking so far off the road and into the woods, as the creature in the video does. Unfortunately, the man behind the camera never actually saw it at the time he was filming, so he cannot be sure.
Other eyewitnesses can be sure, but have no camera evidence that would convince the rest of the world. One man was driving a delivery truck down a local highway when he saw an enormous black creature walking upright through an open area with no trees and very little underbrush. He stopped his truck and jumped out to get a better look, but the creature moved quickly and was out of sight within a matter of seconds.
A husband and wife were sharing an evening in the woods of a nearby state park and were just packing up the truck to head home when something caught the woman's eye and she looked up to see a large bipedal creature staring at them from the far side of the clearing. She pointed it out and her husband saw it too. Both of them insist the night was bright and there was no mistaking what they had seen. Within just a few moments the creature turned and walked back into the woods.
Perhaps the most chilling eyewitness report was of a woman who awoke in the middle of the night to hear her dog barking. The dog was looking at a nearby window as it barked and she was struck with fear as she saw what appeared to be someone outside the window looking into her house. At first she thought it was a burglar, but then as she remained frozen with fear she began to realize it was doing something odd. It almost seemed to be mimicking or growling in response to her little dog's bark, and then it would turn its head and sniff the air.
When the creature turned and stepped away from the window she got the courage to run up and look out. What she reported seeing was an enormous hairy creature that walked on two legs and covered the twenty-odd-feet to her nearby shed in just four or five steps. As it walked it turned momentarily to look back at the house and she saw the face quite clearly, a face that was closer to that of an ape than a man.
Unfortunately, as intriguing as these stories are, they do not provide the scientific evidence we need — but another MonsterQuest team was a strong contender to fill that evidence gap with a remote control helicopter and a FLIR thermal imaging camera. The helicopter was of a type used by SWAT teams and the military for light reconnesaince. The MonsterQuest team rigged a soft camera mount that allowed the camera to be moved in three dimensions independently of the helicopter as it hovered above the treeline.
The team was using a battery-operated motor in order to reduce the sound profile of their helicopter (which, although much quiter than the combustion engine model, was still fairly loud) and this seemed to limit their flight time significantly enough that I would have probably just gone with the regular motor — there is nowhere to hide from the FLIR — but c'est la vie.
In fact, during one flight they did pick up a heat signature, but the helicopter was nearly out of juice and needed to land. Subsequent flights and investigation didn't turn anything up, but there was really no way to determine whether the distant heat signature was a Grass Man, a deer, an owl, or what. Still, I think this is a fantastic idea for an investigative method.
Police have been using FLIR cameras on helicopters for years and once a helicopter joins a police chase there is really no way for a criminal on foot to hide. Jumping into a bush or under a tree will not make him invisible to the thermal eye in the sky, and that thermal camera can sweep a large area of landscape with very little effort. In the end, if there is a north-american ape living deep in our forests and largely avoiding contact with humans then aerial FLIR photography may be the only way we can be certain to find it.
There were two interesting pieces of physical evidence I haven't discussed yet, and that is the skull and the palm-print. One Ohio man had followed a group of carrion-birds to find what he initially thought was a dog skull, until he picked it up. It was a Baboon skull, confirmed by a primatologist. Baboons are only about three feet tall and don't walk on two legs, it's not likely anyone would see one and mistake it for a bigfoot, but that still leaves the question of how a recently deceased baboon came to be a carrion meal for some birds in the middle of an Ohio wilderness.
Much more intriguing is the palm print a hunter came across in southern ohio. He made a plaster cast of the print which was later examined by an expert in primate (including human) dermal ridges. The expert was not able to confirm whether the print came from a known species of primate, but he was comfortable with the following conclusions: The print was absolutely made by a real animal and was not a forgery, the print is definitely not from a human, and the closest resemblence is with the palm of a mountain gorilla.
Now, this leaves open the possibility that the print was obtained someplace other than where the hunter reported finding it — to my knowledge there is nothing to prove he didn't get the cast from some buddy who might work as a zoo — but similarly there is no evidence to suggest the man's story isn't perfectly true.
There are certainly some odd things going on in the Ohio wilderness. Errant baboons aside, one bigfoot researcher, searching an area of wilderness in the mid-90's came across what seemed to be a dome-nest of sorts, built with a complex weave of branches and grass and large enough to shelter three grown men. The primatologist from a zoo in Minnesota reviewed the photos and was dumbfounded. She knew of no apes that built such elaborate nests. The men tried to recreate the nest years later to test the idea that perhaps it was a fort built by a bunch of kids, and discovered after a number of hours that it was an incredibly difficult undertaking and they didn't even get close.
Still, they've never seen another nest like that either.
In the end this investigation raised many more questions than it answered. There are many who believe if there was a north-american ape we would have found it by now, but proponents of the theory point out that mountain gorillas themselves weren't discovered by science until years after World War II and before that were considered fanciful tales told by the locals. We'll just have to keep looking and see what turns up.
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