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Washingtonians believe….do you?

In Urban Legends/FolkTales on 4 June, 2011 at 4:09 am

Vampires that sparkle are not the only preternatural creatures living or visiting the American Pacific Northwest. Just ask the human residents. Nearly 40 percent will tell you Bigfoot/Sasquatch exists. Thirteen percent admit either they, or someone they know, has seen a UFO.

“I guess it’s appropriate that the ‘X-Files’ was shot on location in the Northwest, in Vancouver, B.C.,” said Jon Osterberg, spokesperson for PEMCO Insurance.

The questions regarding Sasquatch and UFOs were part of the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll conducted earlier this year. The independent survey asked Washington drivers about their attitudes toward the folklore of the Northwest as well as about their driving habits.

“The Northwest is home to unique folklore, so we decided it would be fun to explore what residents think about the subjects that clearly are, well, a little different,” explained Osterberg. “We’ve had our share of strange sightings and events in Washington and people here apparently are open to the idea that some of it is real.”

So what are some of the tales that color the Pacific Northwest for residents and visitors?

Many well-publicized sighting of Sasquatch or his (her?) footprints have been reported in Washington. Even skeptics found the Bossburg footprints, discovered north of Kettle Falls in 1969 too intriguing to just dismiss. For those unfamiliar with the case, the left imprint measured 18 inches long and nearly 7 inches wide, gigantic to be sure. It was the right imprint, however, that caused the stir among traditional scientists and cryptozoologists. The right imprint was crooked and deformed revealing a skewed small toe and enough anatomical detail that Washington State University anthropology professor Grover Krantz said the average person would not have the expertise required to fabricate the print. Kratz also put forth the theory (since he’s a scientist and academic, otherwise it would be a notion) that Bigfoot could be surviving Gigantopithecus, a giant ape that inhabited China and southeast Asia some 300,000 years ago.

Although Sasquatch is recognized throughout North America and beyond, other preternatural tales are more local and less well-known. Such is the case with Mel’s Hole, a seemingly endless pit with mystical properties that is said to exist in rural Kittitas County near Manastash Ridge.

In 1997, or so the legend goes, a man who said his name was Mel Waters called in to Art Bell’s late-night radio show claiming the hole did actually exist on property he used to own, though he refused to revel a more precise location. It is said that animals and birds avoid the hole although Waters claimed that at least in one instance a dead dog that was tossed into the hole was seen alive and well hours later. Some speculate that, if Mel’s Hole is real, it might be a lengthy lava tub or blowhole from Mt. Rainier.

Some Northwest legends have more of a kernel of truth to them.

Tales of a sulfur mine and wooden shack atop Mt. Adams might sound unbelievable but the U.S. Forest Service confirms their existence. Sulfur was indeed mined at the very peak, some 12,276 ft above sea level, in the 1930’s and hauled down the mountain on pack mules. The ruins of the shack are still visible, particularly in low snow years.

Besides Bigfoot, one of the region’s most widely told tales is that of Dan or D.B. Cooper. This tale, too, is rooted in fact. In November 1971, a man using the name Dan Cooper hijacked a Northwest Airlines 727, collected a $200,000 ransom in Seattle and then parachuted out of the jetliner somewhere over southwest Washington.  Nearly nine years later in 1980, a young boy playing on a Columbia River sandbar found $5,800. The only portion of the ransom or evidence of the daring escape that has ever been found to this day.

In some instances the physical evidence of a tale exists but without any known explanation. The Mima Mounds, thousands of short grassy humps with diameters ranging from 10 to 70 feet, dot a 637-acre preserve near Rochester, WA. No one knows how they were formed although they certainly exists as do the myriad of theories explaining their creation. Some say busy gophers. Other cite wind and water erosion. Or they could be the result of an earthquake or glacial deposits. The only thing scientist can say with certainty is that they are not the remains of secret atomic testing nor the graves of Native Americans.

A similar situation can be found at the Prosser gravity hill in southeastern Washington. Here you can stop your car at the base of a gentle incline, put the car in neutral and roll uphill several hundred feet. Or so the story goes.Skeptics say the hill isn’t a hill at all just an optical illusion.

“The fact that so many people embrace this stuff makes the Northwest an amusing, engaging place to live,” Osterberg said.

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  1. What a joy to find such clear thinking. Tahnks for posting!

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