Laura Krantz's interest in Bigfoot began when she discovered that the late Grover Krantz, an eminent anthropologist known for prowling the Pacific Northwest in search of Bigfoot, had been a distant cousin of hers. Her curiosity eventually led her to create “Wild Thing,” a podcast about Bigfoot, the people who search for him, and the evidence they gather. (You can subscribe via iTunes, Stitcher, or your favorite podcasting app.)
Eoin O'Carroll, a science writer for the Monitor, chatted with Laura about her podcast, the people she met, and why we want to believe. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
So why Bigfoot? I understand there’s a long-lost cousin involved?
I had really never thought about Bigfoot ever, but then when I was living in D.C. and working for NPR, I was flipping through The Washington Post and there was a big article in the Style section that was talking about this guy named Grover Krantz, who had donated his bones and the bones of his dogs to the Smithsonian in D.C. He was from Salt Lake, and that’s where my family’s from.
Then there’s this throwaway paragraph in there that says Krantz was a legend in anthropology circles for driving around the Pacific Northwest with a spotlight and a rifle, searching for Sasquatch. It also mentioned that he was a tenured anthropology professor at Washington State University and a fairly well-respected one at that. I’m thinking, “Well if this guy is a tenured professor of anthropology, and if he believes in Bigfoot, I wonder if there’s more to it than I thought.”
What are some of the unique ways a podcast can shed light on Bigfoot?
I think some of the fun of this is actually talking to all these different people out there who have spent tremendous amounts of time and money and energy looking for Bigfoot. It’s really changed their life. You can hear some of the fear or the awe or the befuddlement that people have in their voices. There’s clearly something about Bigfoot that captures people’s imaginations. And I think hearing their voices and hearing them tell their stories and hearing their reactions is a much more effective tool than just putting it into a book. Not to say that there aren’t some great books out there, but it’s a different medium and a lot of fun to work with.
Is there anything that you noticed that Bigfoot believers tend to have in common?
I sort of lump the Bigfoot people into two different camps. There are the people who, like my cousin, were looking at this from the point of view that Bigfoot is a living, breathing biological species that we have not identified yet. And they are pursuing it from a biologist’s or a naturalist’s or zoologist’s point of view, where they’re going out and looking for physical evidence that this creature exists.
And then there’s the other side of that, where there’s people who think of Bigfoot as having more paranormal powers, like the ability to cloak and the ability to move through time and space in different dimensions. People who think aliens dropped Bigfoot off. I didn’t really do much with that side of the Bigfoot world, simply because a) I didn't have enough time and b) Magical Bigfoot is kind of hard to prove. If you throw magic into the equation then anything’s possible. So I really wanted to limit it to a more scientific approach, the kind of approach that my cousin had taken.
And within that world, I would say that most of the people seem pretty down to Earth. They’re not crazies or spouting off really weird things. A lot of them have had an experience that really changes their perception of the natural world. They’re usually nature enthusiasts. They like being outside, and a number of them have backgrounds in biology or wildlife biology or work for different wildlife organizations and agencies. It’s not what I expected to find, which was kind of complete nutjobs and people with no social skills.
Do you think that the search for Bigfoot holds any lessons about how science works?
I do think people are getting kind of an interesting crash course in what you might call citizen science, going out to the woods learning to identify different animal calls, learning to recognize the local flora and fauna, learning how to take a sample or cast a footprint or gather this kind of evidence in a way that is helpful for a lot of different scientific fields.