Although it's been decades since the Patterson-Gimlin film turned a Northwest legend, Bigfoot, into a household name, the footage and stories behind it still remain fascinating 50 years later.
The filmmakers, and namesakes of the film, are two former rodeo men from Yakima County in Washington. One, Bob Gimlin, still lives there. Roger Patterson died in 1972. They shot the footage off the banks of Bluff Creek in Northern California.
Bigfoot is seen on film for less than one minute, but one frame — 352 — has pretty much become the universal symbol for Sasquatch. And that famous giant walking ape is actually a she; her name is Patty.
But what might be most surprising — after a half century of advancement in film and costume technology — is that this footage has yet to be officially debunked.
Furthermore, it’s concrete proof for bigfooters around the globe that the Sasquatch is in fact real.
“At this point, I’m as confident as I can be short of standing on the sandbar with Roger and Bob, and witnessed it myself,” said Jeffery Meldrum.
Meldrum is a professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University, and he’s known for being one of the few academics to openly study Sasquatch.
“It’s all so easy to say, ‘Obviously that’s a man in a fur suit.’ Until you see it up against a man in a fur suit,” he said.
The Film Evidence
Jeffery Meldrum points no further than the "Planet of the Apes" franchise. The first film came out around the same time as the Patterson-Gimlin film and won an Oscar for makeup.
He specifically calls up a scene in the sauna in the 1970 sequel “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.” The apes are bare chested. A few walk around the steamy room. Meldrum says these costumes are at the bleeding edge of film technology, and he’s not impressed.
“They look like big hairy Pillsbury Doughboys,” he said. Meldrum compares to the Patterson-Gimlin film, which he shows to his anatomy students.
He asks them to point out different landmarks in surface anatomy they see in Patty.
“They start at the head and they can see the trapezius, they can see the deltoid … erector spine down the back, shoulder blades moving under the skin … the quads contract when they’re supposed to contract,” he said almost breathlessly.
“None of which ever show up in a cheap, off-the-shelf costume.”
But costume manufacturer Phillip Morris claimed just that. Before he died, Morris gave talks about how he sold Roger Patterson the suit seen on the film. His talk, featuring examples of the faked Bigfoot, was featured Travel Channel's "Making Monsters."
However, the most relevant proof of Bigfoot’s existence for some serious researchers isn’t easily seen in the film. It’s what Patty left behind.
The Really Big Footprints
A few miles outside of Sandy, Oregon, Cliff Barackman dug around his garage, pulling out casts of massive footprints and handprints from seemingly every corner. Barackman said he easily has one of the largest Bigfoot print collections in the world.
Barackman is best known as a co-host Animal Planet’s "Finding Bigfoot." As a professional Sasquatch researcher for more than two decades, he's seen a lot of fake Bigfoot prints.
But he says the Patterson-Gimlin ones aren’t so easily dismissed.
“The trailing leg of the creature shows a great flexibility in the foot,” Barackman said. “There are a few frames there where we see Patty take her heel off the ground but yet keep the entire forefoot in touch with the ground.”
Along with the footage of Patty were a clear track of prints that were captured by photo and later cast. These footprints exhibit the flexibility Barackman was explaining, it's a unique characteristic that professor Meldrum has researched for years.
“One of [the footprints] showed a very distinctive pressure ridge. A push-off that comes about as a result of the very flexible mid-foot,” he said.
To him, this ridge is a smoking gun. He’s seen that same, unique feature in foot samples across decades and continents.
Both Jeffery Meldrum and Cliff Barackman admit until there’s a Bigfoot body, then all the research and the entire Patterson-Gimlin film will be up for debate.
If Patty is just a guy in a furry ape suit, then it’s one of the greatest hoaxes of all time, on par with the image of Nessie in Loch Ness. If it’s in fact real, then Patty will upend everything we understand about apes and evolution.
What is true, a half century later, is that the Patterson-Gimlin film turned a Northwest local legend into a global icon.
The film has endured because it reminds us that there are some things in the world we can never know for sure.