When I was young, few shelves in my local library were as alluring to me as the one laden with guides to unexplained mysteries, stories of UFOs and Loch Ness monsters and psychic powers. They were hooey, of course, mostly a collection of tie-in books coinciding with the very ’70s paranormal documentary show In Search Of, but my love for them as a child explains my current love for Laura Krantz’s wonderful new podcast Wild Thing.
Wild Thing, which recently completed its first (and hopefully not only) season, arose out of Krantz’s discovery that a relative she’d never met — Grover Krantz, her grandfather’s cousin — was an esteemed figure within Bigfoot circles.
These are the sorts of people who attempt to prove that the mighty Sasquatch exists, either by tracking the beast in the middle of the Pacific Northwest or by seeking DNA evidence. They comprise a whole range of types, from those who treat the quest with scientific seriousness to those who believe Bigfoot possesses magical powers. It’s easy to assume that every last one of them is bananas, but then Krantz will remind you how many Europeans believed the gorilla was a fanciful myth, too, until dead specimens were finally brought back from Africa in the 1860s.
And, okay, it’s still pretty hard to believe that Bigfoot is real, but in Wild Thing’s first season, Krantz walks the line between the facts (which aren’t always on the side of Bigfoot researchers) and our raw hunger to believe in some big missing link out in the woods (bolstered by a surprisingly large number of surprisingly credible eyewitness accounts, some of which she captures on tape in the series’ most memorable episode). It’s smart, well produced, well written, and intelligently structured.
Krantz, who worked at NPR stations for many years, produced Wild Thing completely independently, and it’s become an unexpected hit in an era when fewer and fewer hit podcasts emerge from independent creators (as opposed to bigger-budget media companies).
She says she doesn’t yet know if there will be a season two, but if there is, it won’t be about another mysterious monster out in the wild somewhere, opting instead to perhaps track down some very different weird mystery. (When I asked her if UFOs might ever be of interest, however, she spoke at length about very recent topics regarding possible alien life, so I’d wager that extraterrestrials are at least on the table for a potential second season, should the opportunity for one present itself.)
For all my other questions about Wild Thing, I hopped on the phone with Laura Krantz shortly before the show’s finale debuted. We discussed Bigfoot, the freedom and challenges of making an independent podcast, and what evidence she encountered on her journey that left her most convinced that there might be something to this whole story. Our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
So, what made the serialized podcast form the right one for telling a story about Bigfoot?
There are a fair number of Bigfoot podcasts out there, but most of them are interview shows, and they’re pretty small. They’re meant for the real hardcore fans — the people who are really into the tiny details and the ephemera about Bigfoot.
I wanted to approach this more from my own position, which was — initially I thought this was just a huge joke. Sort of a legend, tabloid stuff, campfire fodder. And then once I learned about this relative of mine who was a bona fide scientist, had actual cred, and then also believed in Bigfoot, there was this moment of being like, “Well shit, maybe there’s something to this? Maybe I’ve dismissed it too quickly? So let’s go through, let’s talk to people, let’s see what’s out there.”
That’s a little bit different from a lot of the other stuff that I’ve heard, which either dismisses Bigfoot as a joke, or turns it into something silly, or takes it so seriously and gets so in the weeds that someone like me is going to be like, “I can’t listen to this.”
In researching this, what’s the piece of evidence that most made you think, “Well maybe Bigfoot’s real”? And what made you most certain that it’s all made up?
I keep coming back to the eyewitness accounts, the firsthand accounts that people have had. A lot of the people that I ended up talking to about their experiences were pretty sober, upstanding citizens. They’d spent a lot of time in the woods. They’ve worked for Fish and Wildlife. They worked for the Bureau of Land Management.
These are people who are accustomed to being outside, and had a lot of experience and expertise with wildlife. And then they had this experience of being scared, shocked, just blown away by something they’d seen. Those were very, very hard for me to dismiss. I still can’t dismiss them, because it’s clear that they saw something that really rattled them.
The thing that I’ve been most dismissive of — it’s hard to be completely dismissive because I wasn’t there, I didn’t see what was going on, but people talk about seeing Bigfoot “cloaking,” or vanishing into the ether. And those kinds of accounts I’m a little more like, “Erm... I don’t know about that.”
I’ve also had people that say, “Hey. Look at this picture of this footprint that I got.” And you look at it, and I can’t see what they think they see in it. And if it’s in the snow, it looks like someone’s sat there, but then snow melts and there’s a larger pattern so it’s gonna look bigger than it actually is. Or, it doesn’t really look like anything at all. You’re just like, “That’s a mud puddle.”
The same thing with sounds, too. People will talk about how they’ve heard Bigfoot talking to each other — different Bigfoot.
Wait. Is the plural just Bigfoot?
I actually did a poll, as un-scientific as that was, and most people said Bigfoot [for the plural]. It’s like deer.
But [people who say they’ve heard Bigfoot] will say they’re talking to each other, and they hear all these noises, and I’m just like, “Uh-huh.” There’s a lot of weird noises out there in the world. If you don’t see what’s making the sound, I think it’s pretty hard to be like, “Oh, that’s Bigfoot.”
It’s really hard for journalists, sometimes, to gain the trust of people in these little esoteric communities who are worried that everybody just wants to make fun of them. Many times, they only want to talk to people who already believe. How did you approach that problem of gaining their trust, while maintaining your objectivity?
Honestly, my last name helped at times, because Grover Krantz is really well respected in this community and is still held up as an example of how you do proper Bigfoot research. So I would contact people about coming to a conference, or talking to them, and I would let them know about [my] relationship [to] Grover, and that opened a fair number of doors.
I also said, “Look. I don’t know if Bigfoot’s real, but I can’t come right out and say 100 percent doesn’t exist, and I want to hear about your experience. And I’m trying to be as objective and open-minded about this as I can.” I was pretty honest with them upfront and I also made it clear that I’m not there to make fun of them, I’m not there to turn them into a joke or a laughingstock. I wanted to hear about what their experiences were and try to tell a story that portrayed them as people interested in a phenomenon, whether or not it’s real.
I did steer clear of the Bigfoot as magical, paranormal, supernatural stuff, because that was a lot harder for me to come at objectively. And my feeling was that if I couldn’t address it objectively, I shouldn’t do it.
Being out in the woods in the middle of the night, as you were several times during the making of the show, is a spooky thing. Our brains usually don’t want us to spend time out in the woods in the middle of the night. So what was the emotional experience of making this, of putting yourself in those situations that are more harrowing than just sitting at home?
It helped that I’d grown up going camping and being outside, so I was used to spending nights in the woods, and I wasn’t totally freaked out by the concept of that. But when you’re out walking around in the dark, you’re like, “Well, even if we don’t run into Bigfoot, there’s a strong possibility we might run into a bear.” And that’s not something you want to do at night.
And after you hear these firsthand accounts of people [who’ve seen Bigfoot], you are looking over your shoulder a little bit more. You’re like, “Well, what was that cracking noise off to the left there?” Or, “What was that weird sound that I heard in the distance?” These stories that you’ve heard just feel more real in the dark and out in the wilderness. You have a little sense of maybe how you’re a little more vulnerable than you may have originally thought you were.
Part of that’s just psychological, but there is some truth to it too, I think. We get used to being the big man on campus, so to speak, and walk around like nothing can hurt us, and it’s a nice little reminder that we are still in the food chain.
So this is kind of a weird question, but as a society, we’re thinking a lot right now about climate change, as well as how humans have hurt animals’ habitats. The Pacific Northwest is still rather wild and woody, and hopefully will be for some time to come. But if Bigfoot is real — what sort of environmental concerns do we have for its continued existence?
It’s actually not as weird a question as you think and it anticipates some of the stuff that is in the very last episode of Wild Thing. One of the guys I talked to actually said, “The only reason I want to prove to the world that Bigfoot is real, rather than being content with my own knowledge that Bigfoot is real, is that I want to prove their habitat, and I want to preserve their environment. And unless you prove that the animal exists, you’re not gonna be able to do that.”
There is an awareness in a fair number of Bigfoot people that, “Yeah, the environment is facing threats from climate change, from human development, and from air and water quality degradation.” And they want to prevent that from happening. It’s almost like Bigfoot gives them an in to being environmentalists, in a way.
There was another woman I talked to who, she is with the Forest Service, and she was like, “I would love it if, along with Smokey the Bear, the Forest Service and the National Park Service would use Bigfoot as a mascot. Come out to the woods, look for Bigfoot, get to know your forest.” I hope the Forest Service heeds her cry on that one.
The flip-side of that is that there’s this conspiracy theory that the logging industry knows that Bigfoot is real, has seen Bigfoot, and goes out of its way to make sure bodies are disposed of, and that any knowledge of it is kept buried. Because if Bigfoot is seen to be real, it’s gonna make the stuff that happened with the spotted owl [in which logging in some areas was halted to preserve an endangered owl’s habitat], look like a picnic.
I want that to be my job: the guy who covers up Bigfoot for the timber industry. So, if Bigfoot is real, how might that change our relationship to ourselves, for lack of a better way of putting it? If there’s another human-like primate out there, with some degree of intelligence, will we think differently about who we are?
Bigfoot could potentially be the link to a long lost past — what we would have been if we hadn’t become civilized, and started farming, and put on pants every morning. Bigfoot is the road not taken.
And I think for someone like Grover [who was an anthropologist], he was less enamored of the mystery of the whole thing and more excited about the possibility of getting a real anthropological view of an older version of us, or a distant relative of us.
It kind of does make you look in the mirror a little bit. Does it change your perspective on the specialness of humans? Does it change your perspective on spirituality and the idea that humans are God’s special creation? I think it probably would have a fairly profound impact on people spiritually as well as scientifically.
And inevitably, somebody would try and keep one as a pet, and that would go horribly.
[sighs and laughs] Yeah, probably.
The entire first season of Wild Thing is now online.