(CBS News) Cryptozoology is a word many (if not most) of us have never seen before. Sort of like the legendary creatures cryptozoologists devote their lives to tracking down. Our Serena Altschul has joined the hunt:
In Jefferson, Texas recently, a group of like-minded (or should we say, like-obsessed) people gathered to swap stories of strange sightings … mysterious animals and elusive creatures lurking in the deep woods.
There’s a scientific name for it: Cryptozoology. Loren Coleman explains: “‘Crypto’ means ‘hidden.’ ‘Zo’ means animals. ‘Ology’ means the study of. It’s the study of hidden or unknown animals.”
Which sounds very academic, until you realize that those “hidden animals” include the Yeti (better known as the Abominable Snowman), the Loch Ness Monster, and the favorite obsession of THIS Cryptozoology Conference, Bigfoot (a.k.a. Sasquatch).
For scientist David Nixon, his fascination with cryptozoology is a guilty pleasure. “It’s fun. Whether or not it’s science, hard to say.” He admitted, though, “This is not exactly the kind of thing I talk about at work.”
This part of East Texas, it turns out, is a hotspot of Bigfoot activity. “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” which claimed to be based on real Bigfoot sightings, was filmed just an hour north of here. It terrified teenagers across the country in 1972.
“It was like the first movie I’d seen in a theater where I felt like, if I walked out of the theater at night, I could encounter the screen monster I’d seen,” said David Coleman.
That first encounter with Bigfoot inspired a lifetime of tracking him down on the big AND little screen.
“He’s America’s monster, you know?” Coleman said. “He’s a shared cultural icon” – even if he’s not real.
These days, “America’s monster” has inspired an avalanche of cable TV reality shows and testimonials on the Internet. A whole army of Bigfoot hunters, like Bill Brock, has taken to the woods hoping to catch a glimpse of the beast – or at least one of his giant footprints.
Future cryptozoologist Aiden Myers was enthralled by the footprints casts: “I never saw anything like this!”
Director Eduardo Sanchez’ first movie, “The Blair Witch Project,” became an instant horror classic. Now he’s making a movie about Bigfoot. “I want to see a Bigfoot so badly, I made a movie about it.”
For Sanchez and producer Mark Ordusky, Bigfoot has been a lifelong obsession.
“There’s just something about it being just out of reach, not being able to see it,” said Sanchez. “It’s like this quest.”
A quest, Ordusky added, “that goes ever onward.”
Sanchez believes Bigfoot deserves more respect: “Bigfoot’s been kind of a joke lately. You know, he’s in commercials, and even though I love that humor, I’m always thinking, ‘Man, I wish somebody would make a film that made Bigfoot scary again.'”
For Loren Coleman, cryptozoology is serious science. “A lot of people would like to put it in some kind of category of pseudoscience, and we really reject that,” he said.
He founded the world’s only Cryptozoology Museum, in Portland, Me. Its logo is a strange-looking fish called a Coelocanthe, thought to be extinct for 65 million years, until one was found in 1938.
“It’s a living fossil,” said Coleman. “And actually the words ‘living fossil’ was first associated with this fish.”
“So, do you believe in Bigfoot?” Altschul asked.
“I’m very careful about the word ‘belief.’ Belief is really the providence of religion. As a scientist, as an investigative journalist, I’m very much interested in looking at the evidence, and accepting or denying that.”
Loren showed Altschul a film taken in Bluff Creek, Calif., on October 20th, 1967 (“This is the gold standard, sort of the Zapruder film of cryptozoology”) that has been analyzed by cryptozoologists using the latest technology.
Footage . . . of Bigfoot.
“If you look right here, that is actually her calf muscle tightening up,” Loren Coleman explained. “If that was a costume, it would look like my pantleg. A frame-by-frame analysis of this film has shown actual muscle movement underneath the hair.”