DURHAM – “People don’t say anything. They don’t want people to think they’re a screwball, but I don’t care,” Durham resident Dennis Fraser said Tuesday, standing in his driveway. “Like I said, I’m going to be 80 in another week. If they don’t want to believe me, I don’t care. Don’t. I know what I saw. It was standing right in front of me.”
Bigfoot, Sasquash, Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, Wendigo and Gwakcoo are some of the names used to describe the wild, hairy, upright-walking creatures that some say live amongst us.
“I never expected it, I never wanted it, never thought it would ever happen, but this happened,” said John Bear Mitchell, a Penobscot Indian and University of Maine professor.
Fraser said he had an encounter two years ago in his driveway.
“October 4th, 2017 about a quarter to six in the morning. I backed the car up and I go right up the driveway and when I get to the top of the hill I see this black thing,” Fraser recalled. “I slammed the brakes on and I almost hit it.”
“This thing wasn’t much more than six feet high but absolutely humongous,” he said later, estimating it weighed between 350 and 400 pounds.
“It was completely coal-black, long black fur. The face was white,” Fraser said. “This all happened in 3 or 4 seconds. I couldn’t see any protrusion of the face just huge oblong eyes like it was either surprised or scared to death, I don’t know which. And then it turned and it walked right to the woods.”
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he added. “It’s right on the end of my hood. Six feet away from me staring right at me.”
Mitchell was a young man when he walked by a Gwakcoo, the native name for “one who eats a lot.”
“I just happened to be in a place where this animal, this creature, was at the same time,” he said, sitting on his back porch in Old Town. “We bumped into each other … and once we noticed each other we both went our separate ways.”
He said a lot of people who have heard his story think, “I’m crazy.”
“No matter how much education, no matter what you do for a job when you see something and you know you saw something and you tell that to somebody and they look at you and they say, ‘Yeah, that’s not true. They don’t exist.’ You are never going to convince that person that they do exist,” Mitchell said.
“That’s what I call the ridicule curtain,” said American Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman. “The ridicule curtain really extends down around a report, so that the eyewitness often feels very isolated and oftentimes made fun of.”
Cryptozoology is the study of hidden or unknown animals, animals that don’t exist in zoology.
“People lose their partners, they lose their job, they actually lose their sense of reality when they have one of these extraordinary experiences because they’re ordinary people,” said Coleman, who has written several books about the subject, and opened the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland.
“Maine is a very fertile state for lots of reports,” Coleman said. “Indigenous people see these things, they have folklore, local people see them, but scientist and biologist seem to be more than skeptical debunkers.”
Coleman has a theory that the creatures occasionally migrate down to Maine from Canada.
“It’s almost as if maybe once every 30 years you get a burst of sightings in the Durham area, for instance, or around Sidney, Maine, or around Rangley, or Moosehead Lake,” he said.
One of the most notorious Bigfoot sightings happened in Durham during the summer of 1973 when a 13-year-old girl riding bikes with a group of friends got a little bit ahead.
“While she was waiting, she looked into the woods and she saw something and something saw her and they just stared at each other,” said Michelle Souliere, a Portland blogger who writes “Strange Maine.” “And meanwhile the other kids caught up and mayhem erupted, of course, because her friend panicked and screamed and the creature left.”
“The parents notified the authorities and the newspapers in the area got a hold of the story and as one of the eyewitnesses told me it basically turned into a massive circus,” added Souliere, who is writing a book on the subject.
Fraser said he’s kept his story mostly to himself.
“I told my son, I told the guy out back and I told a couple of my real close friends and I know damn well they didn’t believe me ’cause I get, ‘Well, how come nobody ever finds any bodies? How come they don’t find any bones?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know. The only thing I can tell you is what I saw.”