Louisiana Honey Island Swamp Monster fakery continues to sell, while sometimes common-sense skepticism on the subject has all the currency of—well, a wooden nickel. This was brought home to me personally when I was asked by a production company to look into the latest alleged exploits of the ever-elusive creature. Unfortunately, after I enlisted the aid of Tom Flynn—CFI’s resident photograph, film, and video expert—the producers left us in the lurch. It’s pretty obvious why: the evidence—a brief Super-8 film of the Swampster—is so bad that any critical analysis would leave one asking why the show would be made at all.
What is the Honey Island Swamp Monster? It debuted in 1974 when two local hunters—Harlan Ford and Billy Mills—emerged from the pristine backwater area with plaster casts of “unusual tracks.” These web-footed, four-toed imprints seemed “a cross between a primate and a large alligator” (Holyfield 1999, 9). A copy cast of one track I obtained from Ford’s granddaughter measures only about 9 3⁄4’’—about half the size of a large bigfoot print. (See photo in Nickell 2011, 216.) Ford and Mills also claimed that in 1963 they saw similar tracks after encountering a seven-foot-tall creature covered with grayish hair and having large, amber eyes. The two were left without evidence when, they said, the creature ran away and a rainstorm washed away its tracks.
Since I investigated the case in 2000, visiting the swamp with a Cajun guide, there have been significant developments. There was the discovery of one of a pair of “shoes” for making swamp-monster tracks, buried in mud near Harlan Ford’s former hunting camp (Nickell 2011, 219). This is prima-facie evidence of hoaxing. The other was a reel of old Super-8 film that Ford’s widow found among his belongings long after his death in 1980 (Holyfield 2007).
Ford’s film seems to have been made after 1974 (the latest year cited in an undated, unpublished article by him that fails to mention any such film) and of course 1980 (the year of his death). His granddaughter, Dana Holyfield-Evans (2014, 36), wonders why he never revealed the film’s existence, but it may have been because it looks little better than a joke. (See accompanying frames.)
Tom Flynn and I studied the film frame by frame, concluding that the production was suspicious in many ways. For example, the amateur filmmaker was able to record the introductory trip into the swamp, a view of the tree blind from which the creature was filmed, and, with only a couple of seconds’ wait (!), a 7-second shot of the elusive creature—all within 2 minutes and 10 seconds of the available 3 minutes and 30 seconds allotted for a roll of Super-8 film. Also, some of the ending and possibly the beginning of the film was suspiciously missing.
The creature appears not to be Bigfoot but rather Bigsuit. Its brief appearance on camera and its being hidden from clear view mean that a very cheap suit could have been employed. The idea no doubt derived from the infamous Roger Patterson film of a female sasquatch at Bluff Creek, California, in 1967 (featuring Bob Heironimus wearing a suit Patterson purchased from my friend Phil Morris, the magician and costumer [Nickell 2011, 68–73]). As Smithsonian primate expert John Napier said regarding Patterson’s creature, “I could not see the zipper” (1973, 95). With Ford’s creature, one can hardly see the suit itself.
Holyfield, Dana. 1999. Encounters with the Honey Island Swamp Monster. Pearl River, LA: Honey Island Swamp Books.
———. 2007. The Legend of the Honey Island Swamp Monster: A Documentary. DVD including Harlan Ford’s Super-8 film footage.
Holyfield-Evans, Dana. 2014. Honey Island Swamp Monster Documentations. Slidell, LA: Honey Island Swamp Books.
Napier, John. 1973. Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality. New York: E.P. Dutton.
Nickell, Joe. 2011. Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Picture caption: Frames from an old Super-8 film show the Louisiana Honey Island Swamp Monster—or Bigsuit—striding through the woods. (Thanks to Cody Hashman for the screen capture.)