By Sean Barron
Many people remain convinced that Bigfoot is little more than a big urban legend, while others have reported sightings of what they believe is the imposing, apelike figure.
Much easier to track down, however, was a festival bearing the elusive creature’s namesake.
“My interest [in Bigfoot] began when I was 11 and saw footage. I was mesmerized,” said Jeffrey Meldrum, an anthropology and anatomy professor at Idaho State University in Pocatello and a renowned Bigfoot researcher.
Meldrum’s one-hour lecture Saturday at the Leetonia K-12 School about Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, was a highlight of the first Genoskwa Festival, named after the Canton-based Genoskwa Project, a team of researchers that collects evidence to try to prove Bigfoot’s existence.
The Leetonia Coke Oven Commission hosted the two-day event, also called the Bigfoot Festival, which kicked off Friday on and near Main Street. Proceeds will go toward repairs to the Leetonia Beehive Coke Ovens, a 19th-century iron-making facility and historic site.
Many Bigfoot sightings have been reported over the years in the area, as well as in neighboring Stark and Carroll counties.
Meldrum recalled having seen such a creature on a sandbar near Bluff Creek, Calif., which led to an interest in studying and examining its footprints, he told his audience. To date, he has amassed more than 250 footprint impressions.
Later, he found additional tracks near Walla Walla, Wash., and began to closely look at the anatomical structures of the creature’s feet, including bone structure and ridges, and create overlays of his findings. Another footprint analysis followed Meldrum’s having spotted what he felt was Bigfoot while on a family vacation in Oregon, he continued.
Other topics Meldrum touched on regarding the hominidlike creatures were sole patterns as a result of continual running, and various scientific adaptations they have made.
Festival attractions Saturday included vendors selling the usual lemon shakes, corn dogs, gyros, pizza, french fries and assorted jewelry, pendants and bracelets. One of the more-colorful highlights, though, was a Bigfoot howling contest in which small prizes were given to the top three finishers.
Taking home certificates, wristwatches and wristbands were Bud Bricker of Leetonia, first place; Terry Brown of Columbiana, second; and Nancy Fiets of Franklin Square, third.
Many attendees were drawn to the variety of replica casts of Bigfoot footprints Meldrum had collected that sold for $30 to $40, including one he found in 1969 in Washington state.
Also on hand were Derek Hurford and Cody Landsberger, who were busily spray-painting a few concrete Bigfoot statues. Both work for Cobblestone Corner in Boardman.
The festival also featured presentations from Joedy Cook, a Bigfoot expert who has been on The Discovery Channel, as well as Bigfoot authorities William A. Barnes and Mark Dewerth of the Ohio Bigfoot Conference.
Children and adults also enjoyed games and activities such as face painting, a large bounce house, arts and crafts and musical entertainment.