OLEAN — Some claimed to have seen it themselves, while some had heard of sightings from family and friends. Others remained silent and just listened thoughtfully, perhaps afraid to share their own experiences.
Regardless of whether all those who attended were true believers, there is no denying a standing-room-only crowd gathered at the Olean Public Library Monday night to talk Bigfoot. The two-hour presentation by Peter Wiemer, founder of the Chautauqua Lake Bigfoot Expo, gave Olean-area residents a chance to share their stories, questions and fascinations relating to the half-man, half-ape creatures who supposedly wander the wilderness out of view from skeptics.
Wiemer, whose presentation “I’ve Seen Bigfoot: An Evening with Peter Wiemer” combined his own testimony with video of interviews he’s done with other alleged witnesses, said he was pleasantly surprised by the crowd of approximately 50 people that gathered in the library’s Art Gallery room. However, he was not surprised by the audience’s tales of seeing Bigfoot and their pointed questions about the creatures’ appearances and behavior.
“The people who knew they’ve seen it just needed to come here and get reaffirmed,” said Wiemer, 59, of Chautauqua, who claims to have spoken with approximately 50 “eyewitnesses” from Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Warren (Pa.) counties, some of whom have wished to remain anonymous out of fear of ridicule. “Reaffirmation that they’re aren’t crazy, I think that’s why they came.”
One woman in attendance claims to have seen a Bigfoot twice, in the 1950s and 1960s in Indiana and Florida, respectively. Another claims the creatures are also closer to home, as she said her daughter saw a Bigfoot in Rock City Park in 1986.
Beverly Gonsiorek, 72, of Cuba, has never seen a Bigfoot, but said she has seen footprints. She discovered them one night in the snow while walking her dog around her home.
“It was not a bear. It had visible toes like a human and it was huge,” she said.
Gonsiorek, a self-proclaimed paranormal investigator who enjoys cryptozoology TV shows like “Finding Bigfoot,” said she’s open about her beliefs. She’s moving to Florida soon and has already found a group down there that goes out looking for Bigfoot.
“I’m sure a lot of people don’t believe and they won’t believe until they actually see one, but I just do,” she said. “Of course, my husband thinks I’m insane. I didn’t even tell him I was coming to this.”
Don’t count Olean Mayor Bill Aiello as a believer, though he is open to the possibility. He watches Bigfoot shows occasionally and was intrigued enough about them to attend Monday’s presentation. However, he did not share any of his own experiences or ask Wiemer a question.
“I guess there’s all kinds of things out there that we don’t know about,” Aiello said. “Am I a true believer right now? I don’t know. You hear everyone talk about what they’ve seen, there’s got to be something out there.”
While he questions why there’s never been any confirmed evidence of Bigfoot with today's modern technology, Aiello does appreciate the passion of those who investigate and those who’ve claimed to have seen one themselves.
“There’s been hoaxes and everything … but most of (the alleged witnesses) … they're real passionate about it. Obviously they’re not just making it up,” he said.
Wiemer, who said he’s been interested in Bigfoot for 25 years and had his own sighting in 2014 driving through Clymer, believes the government is to blame for the lack of confirmation.
“The government won’t try or attempt to acknowledge the existence of Bigfoot because they know it’s bad for business,” he said. “They know it’s bad for the economy. It would probably be bad for camping. They want to shy away from scarring the people.”
Some attendees asked Wiemer why no one has found remains of a deceased Bigfoot. He offered several suggestions, like their remains decompose quickly and are often in swampy areas where humans don’t go.
“Maybe they figured out how to bury their dead,” he suggested.
Being a Bigfoot believer isn’t all easy — Wiemer said his kids have been picked on in school, and in five years of running his expo he has yet to find a willing sponsor. This year’s expo runs Oct. 13-14 at YMCA Camp Onyahsa. Wiemer will also run free “Bigfoot Expedition Weekends” for guests of his We Wan Chu Cottages in Mayville throughout October.
“I’m not trying to hoax anybody or anything. I’m just trying to explain to them why the government won’t acknowledge them,” he said. “There’s hundreds, if not thousands, of eyewitness sightings that have been documented through the (Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization) and other groups and newspapers. You can’t have that many liars out there.”
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)