When I attended Bigfoot School April 27 at Chautauqua Lake, New York, among the six signing my diploma was a man named Bob Gimlin, an 82-year-old horse trainer from Yakima Valley, Washington.
While Gimlin’s name is largely unknown to the public, he represents something of a living legend to Bigfoot aficionados everywhere. You see, it was Gimlin who accompanied Roger Patterson that October day in 1967, when the pair rode out on horseback in northern California’s Bluff Creek area to make what would prove to be an incredible film. Patterson had rented a 16-mm camera for the purpose and announced he was going to film Bigfoot. Within a week (on October 20) he had done just that—becoming one of the luckiest men alive—or else had produced an outlandish hoax.
The female creature’s general appearance, pendulous breasts, and bent-knee walk were just as Patterson, an artist, had illustrated in his book the year before. Smithsonian primate expert John Napier spoke for many when he quipped, “I could not see the zipper.” Early in the next millennium a costumer named Phil Morris came forward to say that it was he who had sold Patterson a six-piece gorilla suit, together with extra fake fur which the hoaxer used to modify the face and add breasts. A Patterson acquaintance, Bob Heironimus confessed to having been the man wearing the suit, which his family and friends had seen in the trunk of his mother’s Buick in late 1967.
If Gimlin was in on Roger’s hoax, it would have made the whole affair less complicated. But if he was not, he was the hoax’s first victim. Bob Heironimus insists it was Gimlin himself, in July or August 1967, who approached him about the costume. He stated that Gimlin, a small man, told him, “He [Roger] needs someone pretty good size to get in the suit.” Heironimus was the right size. (See Greg Long, The Making of Bigfoot, 2004.)
At Bigfoot School, I was delighted to meet Bob Gimlin. He is a charming fellow, and he prepaid the compliment by telling me how pleased he was to meet me, posing with me for photos, autographing others, signing my diploma, and so on. He enjoyed receiving my wooden-nickel business card, and we chatted between activities. He told me how he had seen Bigfoot on that fateful day, a muscular figure with female breasts, and did not know at the time what to make of it, he said, not knowing what Bigfoot actually looked like.
He keeps a perfectly straight face while relating this, which—whether it is true or false—is no surprise, because he has told the story countless times. Curiously for a man who supposedly had such a momentous encounter, he seems rather ambivalent. “I’ve been asked, ‘How many do you think exist?’” he tells a reporter. “And I say, ‘At least one, because I saw one.’”
Although I had to miss the conference the next day, CSI executive director Barry Karr was there and mischievously obtained a gift for me. As shown here, it is a photo of my charming friend, who gets the last word with his inscription: “To Joe Nickell / You are wrong / Love / Bob.”