Twenty-two years ago, after a chance visit to the foothills of the Blue Mountains outside Walla Walla, Washington, Jeff Meldrum found himself looking at a line of 35 to 45 clear, fresh footprints in the mud and realizing he was at a career crossroads.

“You could see skin ridge detail, the dermatoglyphics, the fingerprints in the toes and sole of the foot,” said Meldrum. “The hair on the back of my neck stood up.” 

He was a new assistant professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University, long intrigued but skeptical about the existence of Sasquatch.

Studying something big, hairy and for many, mythical, hadn’t gone well for colleagues. Ridicule would await.

“That little voice in the back of my head (was) saying, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ and the other voice (was) saying, ‘How could you possibly not? This is astounding,'” Meldrum recalled.

He and his brother poured seven plaster casts, the start of a collection that now numbers more than 300.

Several books and decades later, Meldrum, 60, is a pop culture academic go-to with more than two dozen TV and documentary appearances (“Discovering Bigfoot,” “Epic Mysteries: Bigfoot,” “Cultured Bigfoot.”)

He’ll speak at the International Cryptozoology Conference next weekend at Thompson’s Point in Portland, his first time in Maine.

Meldrum’s talk will focus on the famous Patterson-Gimlin film, which in 1967 claimed to capture a Bigfoot on tape in California. He was 10 and in the audience at the Spokane Coliseum when Roger Patterson showed the film publicly for the first time. Students at school had been buzzing about it and Meldrum talked his father into bringing him and his brother.

“That sent me down the path,” Meldrum said. “I was a sober, objective kid although I was fascinated by things mysterious and interesting and intriguing. Eventually, I was a physical anthropologist who specialized in the evolution of bipedalism who was quite familiar with the footprints of humans and nonhuman primates.”

The film has held up, he said, because of the number of things it was ahead of at the time, which to him, reduces the chance it was faked. 

For instance, Meldrum said, biologist John Napier in 1972 described the figure as looking like an ape from the waist up and a human from the waist down, making it hard to conceive of that actually happening in nature.

“In 1974, the famous Lucy, Australopithecus afarensis, was discovered, an early, bipedal hominid, which experts looked at and said, ‘Hmm, from the waist up she looks essentially like a chimpanzee, but from the waist down she looks like a human. Isn’t it interesting how evolution has proceeded in such a mosaic fashion,'” Meldrum said. “Literally (years before), that was the basis for condemning the Patterson-Gimlin film.”

Factoring in estimates for range, social structure, lifespan and habitat, Maine would appear to be able to sustain a population of around 200, he said. 

“When you realize that in Idaho, there’s 25,000 to 35,000 black bear compared to 150 to 250 Sasquatch, hypothetically, they’re so rare that these encounters are entirely happenstance,” Meldrum said. “The people who go out, like me, and intentionally look for evidence, I’ve gone 20 years and I’ve found a half-dozen sets of footprints, I’ve caught a glimpse of one, I think, I’ve heard a couple vocalizations, but on the same token I’ve only seen black bear in the wild maybe a half-dozen times in all that time tromping around.”

He’s optimistic that academia is very slowly warming to the topic, and, that in his lifetime, there will be definitive DNA or a body.

He kicks himself a bit that 22 years ago, he didn’t explore the Blue Mountains when he saw that line of tracks.

“I should have stayed,” Meldrum said. “They were so fresh this thing couldn’t have been more than a couple miles in any direction.”

Back home, cleaning the mud from those first seven casts, “(I) pondered over it and was just all the more impressed by what I saw,” he said. “Here we are. It was quite an amazing experience.”

Weird Wicked Weird is a monthly feature on the strange, unexplained and intriguing in Maine. Send ideas and photos to [email protected] 

Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University and a well-known Sasquatch researcher, will speak next weekend at the International Cryptozoology Conference 2018 on Thompson’s Point in Portland. (Submitted photo)


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