13, 2015In the 2015 Utah Press Association Better Newspaper Contest, the Intermountain Catholic took two awards in the Group III circulation category: 2nd place, best feature photograph went to Jenn Sparks; and 3rd place, best feature story went to Marie Mischel.
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TRAIL ENDS FOR BIGFOOT'S BIGGEST FAN
B.C. man's 50-year search:
A disputed film, a few footprints and a beer ad - but no sightings
VANCOUVER - René Dahinden, the world's leading authority on Sasquatch, has died after spending nearly 50 years searching for the legendary beast.
He never saw one, but right to the end he believed an ape-like hominoid was haunting the forests of British Columbia -- even though a few doubts had started to creep into his mind.
Mr. Dahinden, who was 71, collected hundreds of footprint casts and traipsed all over the Pacific Northwest investigating sightings and interviewing everyone who had a breathless story to tell about a hairy encounter with Bigfoot. He spent "years and years" in the bush by himself, trying to find one piece of solid evidence that would convince the scientific community to take the legend of Sasquatch seriously.
"His quest, his mission, was to have the government put some money into research and to convince the scientific community to do something about finding it and protecting it," Christopher Murphy, a friend of Mr. Dahinden's, said yesterday.
"It never came about, because nobody ever found any proof, other than footprints. He thought most of the footprints were fake, the vast majority, but he believed in some of them. He put faith in the footprints because he said, 'They couldn't be left by the imagination.'"
His pursuit of Sasquatch made him so famous that a few years ago the brewers of Kokanee beer asked him to play himself in a television commercial.
Even then he didn't get to see the Sasquatch. Facing the camera, with the modest trailer he lived in as a backdrop, an off-camera voice asks if he ever used B.C.-made Kokanee beer to lure a Sasquatch.
"Do you think I'm crazy or something?" asks Mr. Dahinden, unaware that behind him a Sasquatch is sneaking into his trailer to make off with a case of beer.
If it had happened as depicted, you can be sure Mr. Dahinden would have poured a puddle of plaster goop on the ground to make a cast of the footprint.
Wherever he travelled, Mr. Dahinden had a collection of footprints with him. They were his touchstone to reality in a world where people armed with little more than absolute faith try to prove the existence of a mythical creature.
Dmitri Bayanov, in his book, America's Bigfoot: Fact, Not Fiction, writes that in a 1971 visit to Moscow, Mr. Dahinden was challenged at a public meeting to produce evidence. "Dahinden held up a weighty plaster cast of a huge footprint and quipped: 'If anyone finds this kind of evidence immaterial, let me strike his head with it'."
The Russian author and Sasquatch hunter wrote that Mr. Dahinden had a considerable impact in Moscow, where he presented a film that purportedly shows a Sasquatch running into the woods near Bluff Creek, Wash.
The film, shot by Sasquatch hunters Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin in 1967, was called a fake by many. But Mr. Dahinden, who bought the rights to some of the footage shortly after it was shot, believed in it.
In Moscow, he showed the film in the boardroom of Izvestia, the national newspaper, to the Union of Writers of the USSR and to the Central Scientific Research Institute of Prosthetics and Artificial Limb Construction.
"As the meeting at the Institute began, over one hundred scientists and technicians, wearing white coats, assembled to watch the film. In Dahinden's words, 'the whole joint came to a standstill,'" wrote Mr. Bayanov.
Mr. Murphy, who is writing a book about the film titled Circumstantial Evidence, said Mr. Dahinden was skeptical of many Sasquatch sightings, but he defended the film, even after it was widely dismissed as a hoax.
"For a long time I was never really able to nail him down on his view of the film. But towards the end he said: 'It's definitely real,'" said Mr. Murphy.
Mr. Dahinden sold rights to the film several times to television producers, and used stills to produce Sasquatch posters, but he never made much money.
To support his Sasquatch expeditions, Mr. Dahinden worked on the grounds of the Vancouver Gun Club, where he collected lead shot from spent shotgun shells.
"He worked really hard," said Mr. Murphy. "He'd go out and salvage the lead. He'd clean it off. He'd end up with hundreds of pounds of lead. He worked with his bare hands ... I don't think it could have been too healthy. He'd put it in bags and sell it back to the people who manufacture shotgun shells."
Mr. Dahinden was born in Switzerland, but immigrated to Canada in 1953. Just a month after he arrived, he heard a radio report about a Daily Mail expedition to the Himalayas to search for the legendary Yeti, a hairy beast that supposedly wanders the mountain wilderness, high above the tree line.
Don Hunter, who in 1973 co-wrote the book Sasquatch, said that on hearing the report, Mr. Dahinden turned to the Alberta farmer he was working for, and said: "'Now wouldn't that be something; to be on the hunt for that thing?' And he said, 'Hell, you don't have to go that far; they got them things in British Columbia.'"
And so the mission began. He promptly moved to B.C. and began his life's quest.
Mr. Hunter said Mr. Dahinden "investigated with an exhaustive thoroughness countless stories of Sasquatch sightings, thousands of footprints -- and not a few Sasquatch hunters themselves. He has badgered every branch of science in North America that could possibly relate to the existence of a hairy bipedal giant hominoid, with little success. For the most part he has met with responses that ranged from vague expressions of 'cautious interest' to the attitude of: 'It can't exist, therefore it doesn't exist.' ... He has never seen a Sasquatch; he is not easily persuaded by those who say they have seen one ... He says: 'Something is making those goddamn footprints and I'm going to find out what it is.'"
He never did find out -- but his unwavering belief inspired others to take up the cause.
"He got calls from absolutely everywhere," said Mr. Murphy. "And he went everywhere. He spent years and years in the bush," he said. "He never, ever found anything when he was out on his own. But when he responded to others, to reports, he'd scout the area, and he'd find footprints. He'd take statements from people, he'd interview everyone.
"His passion overwhelmed him. But one day he said to me: 'You know, I've spent over 40 years -- and I didn't find it. I guess that's got to say something.'"
That's as close as he ever came to admitting defeat.
Mr. Dahinden died last week of natural causes. His memorial will be held at the Vancouver Gun Club, in Richmond, tomorrow.
DAHINDEN LEFT HIS OWN IMPRINT
Ad people marvelled at his off-the-wall yet down-to-earth aura
By Patrick Allossery
Before hiring a celebrity spokesperson, advertisers will often search far and wide to find the candidate who exhibits just the right mix of star wattage and natural brand fit.
Sometimes, however, the stars align on their own, and the ideal person simply appears out of nowhere. In the case of René Dahinden, the spokesman for an enormously successful Kokanee beer campaign in the late 1990s, that is precisely what happened.
To say the least, Mr. Dahinden, who died April 18 at age 70 after a brief illness, was a colourful character. Shortly after immigrating to Canada from Switzerland in 1956, he became enthralled by the mystery of the Sasquatch, and he set off in dogged pursuit of the mythical beast. It was to be a quest that lasted 45 years and, by all accounts, came to define his existence.
In 1997, Scot Keith, then an account director with Vancouver agency Bryant Fulton & Shee, which at the time handled the Kokanee beer account, was looking for an angle to revive a campaign already based on the myth of the Sasquatch. By chance, he read an article about Mr. Dahinden in a newspaper, which led in turn to a number of phone conversations between the two. The rest, as they say, is history. "Our talks formed the basis of an ad featuring René that tested through the roof," said Mr. Keith, who now works as an account director at the Vancouver office of MacLaren McCann.
The 60-second spot shows Mr. Dahinden (who is dressed in his own clothing because wardrobe could not make him look more authentic) responding to questions from an off-camera interviewer.
Toward the end, the questioner asks him if he has heard the talk that the Sasquatch prefers Kokanee-brand beer. Mr. Dahinden dismisses this as a myth, but as he is speaking, the viewer catches a glimpse of a large furry animal exiting his trailer with what look suspiciously like a case of beer.
"One of the great things about René is that he was serious about what he did, but he could laugh at himself," Mr. Keith said. "He knew what people thought of him, but he didn't care."
It was precisely this combination of the down-to-earth and the off-the-wall that made Mr. Dahinden the perfect spokesperson for Kokanee, said Rick Kemp, the creative director of the spot. "Essentially, our idea was to send up his life's work, and he was okay with it."
Mr. Dahinden's attitude and the situation fit Kokanee's brand like a glove, said Mr. Kemp, who is creative director with J. Walter Thompson in Toronto. "I don't think you could have invented him. What made it work was that he was a real person. That, to me, was the magic of the campaign."
A handful of members begin to talk at another BFS meeting about some of the people who have cycled through their organization -- and why those people aren't around anymore. One member was upset about a tracker who had borrowed his camper about a year ago for a backwoods Bigfoot excursion. "He must've gotten drunk and walked on the roof," the member said. "The damn roof leaked after he dropped it back off."
His wife quickly adds: "And, he left the thing without any gas!"
The members at the lunch table then begin to discuss other former members whose credibility fell short of the group's standards. "You can tell the guys who will eventually see Bigfoot," says one member. "They talk themselves into it," adds Theata, from the far end of the table. Lloyd, the retired vet, leans toward me and says, "More like smoke themselves into it." He smiles and winks at me. Although popular conception may categorize Bigfoot enthusiasts as easy-to-please believers, the serious Bigfoot enthusiast spends four to six days a month on the ground, hiking through remote Pacific Northwest forests, pawing river banks for footprints and combing tree branches for shreds of evidence.
A man sitting next to me claims he spends four to five days a month in the Pacific Northwest backcountry looking for Bigfoot. He has thick forearms and says he's a bear hunter. He finishes his sandwich in a blink of an eye. Four summers ago, he was camping with his son at Squaw Mountain in southern Washington. In the late afternoon, just as the hard edges of the sun were softening, they pitched their tent on a bald spot of the mountain. His son had brought his bugle and was practicing on a perch overhanging the wooded valley below. After a few minutes, they heard a noise from the dense foliage returning their calls. The man grabbed his video camera to capture the sound.
"I know elk vocalization," he says. "This was something else -- something with huge lung capacity."
Returning home, he sent the tapes to several local colleges. The University of Washington returned the tape, saying that the sounds were inconclusive.
The urge to document Bigfoot has been a central force in the community for the past three decades. In 1967, two amateur Bigfoot enthusiasts, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, ventured into the Bluff Creek National Forest, a remote patch of land just south of the Oregon-California border. Only 10 years earlier, the area had been accessible only by a two-day hike. When a logging road was constructed in 1958, the crews allegedly found scores of oversize footprints in the soft sand. A press release referred to the
creature's "big feet," saddling the elusive beast with its current popular name.
While riding on horseback through the area, Patterson and Gimlin claim to have spotted a Bigfoot. They filmed it walking across a gray sandbar. Lasting a mere 4 seconds, the film shows a languid creature calmly swinging its arms as it moves back into the woods. Shot on an old 16 mm camera, the footage is out of focus and muddy. The image is distant and looks a lot like a person dressed in a gorilla suit.
The so-called Patterson film sparked a powder keg of boyhood fantasies and would-be big-game explorers. Countless amateur scientists set off into the Pacific Northwest woods over the next decade, hoping to snare the first irrefutable evidence that Bigfoot exists. It is the ultimate romantic search, the type that promises to change the way we think, to provide a solid pathway -- not a leap of faith -- to the Truth. It was an era that molded a new mentality and set the challenge for Bigfoot enthusiasts.
Perhaps the person who most shaped this era -- one that lasted from the surfacing of the Patterson film until three years ago -- is Peter Byrne.
Byrne is a contemporary Indiana Jones, polite, charismatic and well-respected in and out of the Bigfoot community. Byrne had established a top-notch trekking outfit in Nepal long before hiking the Himalayas was a yuppie coming-of-age ritual. Then, in 1960, Byrne moved to the Pacific Northwest. From then forward, he was a Bigfoot enthusiast. In the late '70s, after publishing "The Search for Bigfoot: Monster, Myth, or Man?" (Pocket Books), Byrne established the Bigfoot Research Project. For several years, this outfit was headquartered in The Dalles, Ore., and became a familiar sight for travelers along I-84. On average, he maintained a half-million
dollar flow of contributions each year, from benefactors as diverse as the Boston Institute of Science to former trekking clients. One major contributor, Texas oil millionaire Tom Slick, also currently funds a hunt for giant salamanders in the California desert. "If the Pacific Northwest was the closet of America," says one current tracker, "then Peter Byrne brought us out."
Byrne used his reputation as a big-game explorer and respected trekker to lend a certain degree of validity to the Bigfoot community. About half the Bigfoot seekers interviewed cite Byrne as an inspiration. His research methods inspired others to follow suit, giving a certain scientific rigor to the chase.
Then in 1997 Byrne retired from Bigfoot hunting and moved to the Los Angeles area. He left behind a trail of Bigfoot researchers -- believers who now had the advantage of online research and communication. At first it looked good for the community, but in fact, the Internet explosion coupled with a marked increase in the public's appetite for outdoor activities may actually send Bigfoot enthusiasts scurrying back into the shadows.
Late last summer, a Portland chapter of the Audubon Society sponsored a five-day "Bigfoot" camp for 12- to 15-year-olds. The century-old environmental organization, typically more associated with bird-watching and quiet strolls through the woods, used Bigfoot as a sales hook to interest adolescents. The teenagers camped near Mount St. Helens, where there have been hundreds of sightings, and learned tracking techniques, but ultimately the Audubon Society distanced itself from any serious pursuit of Bigfoot. It's just a way to get kids into the outdoors, said Steve Robertson, education director at Audubon. "We don't want to give people the wrong idea that the Audubon Society believes there's a Sasquatch," he explained.
Many members of the Bigfoot community believe that such half-serious outings threaten to co-opt their personality. For a group of outsiders, who take pride in being as elusive as the creature they are hunting, such acceptance may ultimately corrupt their tightly knit community. This and the rise of the Internet have diminished the need for organizations like the Western Bigfoot Society and annual conferences like Bigfoot Daze. By providing a virtual, year-round swap meet for information and Bigfoot data, the Internet has swiped one of the primary purposes of these Bigfoot organizations and events. A longtime Bigfoot conference in British Columbia was canceled last
winter and attendance at last summer's Bigfoot Daze in Washington was poor. Several speakers failed to show. Another "celebrity" said it would be his last.
"These events are dying," he claimed, asking that his name be withheld. "There is no need to get together." Standing over a table of books, tracking records and Bigfoot postcards at a recent Bigfoot conference, Crowe brushes aside such speculation. "No," he says, "people want something that they can hold onto."
"Well," quips one attendee, referring to the potential demise of such events like the weekly Western Bigfoot Society lunches, "at least we won't have to waste our Tuesday afternoons anymore."
"We'll just move on to Loch Ness," his wife adds.
About the writer
Phil Busse is the managing editor for the Portland Mercury, in Oregon.
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