What lurks in the woods of Whitehall, New York?
Stories of giant stones being tossed at hikers, loud screams that pierce the air and even sightings of something unknown have filled locals' lives for generations.
Every culture has stories about things that go bump in the night. Myths, legends and yarns spun around a campfire to entertain, to caution, and sometimes scare the listener. Some of these same stories are shared across the globe, perhaps rooted in events that took place a long, long, time ago, or in creatures that lurk in the dark places of the world, rarely seen.
In every myth there’s a kernel of truth after all, buried underneath centuries of oral tradition. One of these creatures is the Sasquatch, also known as a Yeti, the abominable snowman, or as many simply like to call them today, Bigfoot. Their notoriety has extended into pop-culture through movies such as “Smallfoot” and “Harry and the Hendersons,” in cartoons with Bugs Bunny and television shows like “Supernatural.” Groups across the world have dedicated their lives to proving the existence of these creatures, and the hunt for Bigfoot continues in the Adirondacks.
The Adirondacks, after all, are no different than many other cultural areas throughout the world. Its dark woods, looming mountains, and long winters have conjured up stories of creatures and monsters for its inhabitants for thousands of years. To the Abenaki people, an Algonquin tribe from the area, the idea of a Sasquatch isn’t foreign at all. Winter stories tell of encounters with the Kiwak (Keewahck), a looming figure over 8 feet tall, covered in fur and red glowing eyes that wears a necklace of skulls from its victims. It started life as a man, until their hearts were turned to ice and a dark spirit took over. Their scream is so piercing it can stop the hearts of its victims. Stories of these monsters aren't relegated to just one tribe, though. The Mi'mak tribe call the Kiwak a Chenoo for example, and the same creature is referred to as the Windigo by the Anishinabe and Witiko by the Cree.
(Photo by Eric Jenks/For The Daily Gazette: The #1 "Legend" Sasquatch runs during the Sasquatch Half Marathon and 5k Saturday, June 9th, 2018, at the Whitehall Athletic club.)
These stories aren’t just relics from a dim and dusty past either. In Whitehall, locals have had numerous encounters with an unexplainable creature. One of the most credible sightings occurred in August of 1976 when Bryan Gosselin, then a police officer for the town of Whitehall, spotted a giant creature he couldn’t identify on Abair Road on the outskirts of town. Gosselin wasn't alone in his sighting that August either.
Some of Gosselin's fellow officers, as well as his father Wilfred and brother Paul, and several others all saw something they couldn't fully explain over the course of several days. Giant tracks were found on the edge of the river near the field where it was spotted. All of the descriptions gathered by Gosselin in his 2018 book, “Abair Road The True Story,” include accounts of the animal being between 7-8 feet tall with a weight approaching 400 pounds. The animal was further described as having red eyes and a terrible scream, similar to the stories passed down by the Abenaki. Years later, in 1982, another officer, Dan Gordon, had a sighting of a similar creature. The list goes on, though many still don't like to be quoted out of fear of ridicule or of fear that whatever they've seen may be hunted and killed. The local branch of Bigfoot believers is called the Northern Sasquatch Research Society, and can be found on the web at www.northernbigfoot.net.
Recently acceptance of a local Bigfoot population has grown in the town. Statues have been erected first by the Skene Valley Country Club (Cliff Sparks, the former owner, allegedly saw one in 1975 while working on the golf course at night) and recently by Paul Thompson, the owner of Vermont Marble, Granite, Slate & Soapstone Co. on Route 4. The country club hosts an annual Bigfoot golf tournament (August 4th this year), and separately local Heather Pauquette has helped launch the Sasquatch Half Marathon and 5k.
“Bigfoot is kind of a thing here in White Hall, it's just part of the local lore," Pauquette says. "It's something people know about Whitehall.”
“Growing up we'd go for a ride at night and be silly trying to see Bigfoot,” she says.
Pauquette is quick to add that Whitehall is more than just a town for spotting Sasquatch.
“We're in a really great spot here," she says. "We're nestled between two lakes [Lake George and Lake Champlain] and we have so much to offer if you look for it. Whitehall has gone through some tough times, but the town really is growing recently. I'm just happy to do my part in helping to revitalize it through the half marathon and 5k.”
(Photo by Eric Jenks/For The Daily Gazette: Fort Ann Antiques, located at 10120 US-4 in Whitehall, NY, has over 30 vendors and 10,000 square feet of antiques to peruse.)
For those looking to take a break from hunting for Sasquatch, consider taking a hike on the eastern shore of Lake George. Buck Mountain, Black Mountain, Shelving Rock, Sleeping Beauty and others offer wonderful views of the area. Relax after the hike and play mini golf or enjoy ice cream at the Hillbilly Fun Park located at 10375 NY-149, Fort Ann, NY 12827. There's also Fort Ann Antiques in Whitehall on Route 4, which houses 34 different vendors with a variety of wares for sale in the 10,000-square-foot building.
For the religious or history minded, the museum at the William Miller Home and Farm is a trip through time as the former home offers a view into the life of a farmer that turned into a preacher after surviving an exploding cannonball without a scratch during the Battle of Plattsburgh. It's also close to Abair Road, where so many of the local Bigfoot sightings have occurred.
The million dollar question for many, of course, is “does Bigfoot really exist?”
Heather Pauquette answers this question with a laugh. “Well, I'll tell you the same thing I tell my kids when they ask about Santa," she says. "It's just more fun to keep believing than it is to give up that hope. If believing means that there's an adventure to be had, I'm willing to take it.”