Much to the surprise of nobody, Santa Cruz County has a Bigfoot museum. It is located in the small town of Felton, along Highway 9, a short drive from Santa Cruz proper.
I am a member of a group called Skeptics Without a Cause (SWAC), a group that formed from a previous group that became rather more activist than most of the membership wanted. After a good deal of weirdness, SWAC split off from the other group, and exists purely as a place where people of a rather more scientifically-minded nature may get together to talk about whatever comes up and enjoy each other's company. It's modeled loosely on Skeptics in the Pub, but usually meets at restaurants, meaning that even teetotalers such as myself feel welcome*.
Naturally, once we heard about the Bigfoot Discovery Museum, we had to check it out. A visit to the hallowed halls (or hall) of this small log-cabin like building places you in the land of the sasquatch fan. The museum, such as it is, is two rooms in this small building, with a couple of display cases outside and a glass-encased diorama of the ol' skunk ape in its natural habitat...sort of.
An image that has inspired artists since the 3rd century AD, Bigfoot and Child
Forget Skeptics in the Pub, we have Skeptics in the Parking lot, biznitch!
The museum's first room contained a variety of pop-culture versions of Bigfoot, including adventures with Indiana Jones and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
What do Indiana Jones and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have in common? Poorly-drawn adventures with Bigfoot!
Click on the photo and read the sign. Trust me, you really want to.
Bigfoot and popular culture merge on the toy aisle.
The back room was dedicated to the "scholarly" study of Bigfoot. This included a display claiming that, despite the admission of the hoaxer the famous Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film "can not be a hoax!"
Well, that settles it! I'm a believer now!
The owner/curator of the museum sat in the back and held court with all who were interested while we milled about. The bookshelves behind him were a near-library of psuedo-science, and his discussion of local Bigfoot sightings made it clear that he was quite ready to believe anyone who claimed to have seen Bigfoot, he would argue that any blurry video with a bird call soundtrack was video and audio proof of ol' Red Eye's presence.
The king holds court
The museum is owned and operated by Michael Rugg and spouse Paula Yarr. Michael Rugg worked in the tech industry until 2002, when the layoffs that also resulted in my propulsion to graduate school hit him as well. So, as I went off to study anthropology in southern California, he set about building a psuedo-anthropology facility in northern California, or as he put it himself, he "became the Bigfoot guy." When we visited, Mr. Rugg was in the back room, conversing with anyone who wished to speak to him. Some questions were conversational, some challenging, but he addressed them all - maybe not particularly well or thoroughly, but he nonetheless gave it a shot.
The wild Scott in his natural habitat...the Bigfoot Museum
They were skeptics, but now these two wander the country spreading the good word of sasquatch's love
Our group was quite large, and so I was only able to speak with Mr. Rugg for a few minutes, but what I little heard made me like him. I would love to return on a day without a large group and just hear him talk. While much of what he said was...well, let's just say that it wouldn't pass muster with anyone willing to ask a few critical questions (he kept falling back on special pleading when asked a question for which he didn't have a ready answer, and he also engaged in the popular but ridiculous the professional scientists just won't admit to the truth nonsense that betrays an astounding ignorance of how careers in research actually work), his enthusiasm and joy in having built his little piece of the paranormal landscape was obvious. He seems like someone that it would be a pleasure, if sometimes a bit jarring, to be around. I also wondered, after hearing his story, how much of what he said was his true beliefs, and how much of it was the showman in him. Regardless, I enjoyed his company for the brief time that I had the pleasure of it.
While I may find his claims dubious**, I don't find Michael Rugg a laughable figure. Oddly, I think that I admire at least one thing that he represents. In a very real way, I think that what I most liked about the Bigfoot Discovery Museum and Mr. Rugg himself was not it's reveling in the Bigfoot mythology, I can find that sort of thing anywhere, but rather the fact that it proves that someone who might otherwise give up on their luck - being an older man who's just been layed off in an industry that is less than kind to people of experienced age is not easy - can create something unique, delightful, and weird, and make a living off of it. While I may not take Bigfoot seriously, I do think that Mr. Rugg is someone who deserves at least a bit of respect for what he did, despite it's apparent impracticality. It's a real, if off-kilter, take on the American dream. That is very cool.
*While, yes, non-drinkers such as myself are welcome at most Skeptics in the Pub events, the fact of the matter is that we usually find ourselves quickly getting sidelined from the rest of the group, and feeling a bit unwelcome (being the only non-drinker in a group of people drinking pretty much always results in you getting a alienated from the group as the drinking goes on, though the drinkers tend to not accept that this is the case when you talk with them about it after the fact). This group, on the other hand, has always been very welcoming.
**And let's face it, I take many much more popular claims much less seriously.