SEATTLE – You might not believe that hairy hominids roam our wildlands, but some of your neighbors do: Nearly four out of 10 Washington residents believe it's possible that Sasquatch exists, and 13 percent say they've either seen one or know someone who has, according to the latest PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll.
And even if you’re not convinced, a Spokane woman believes she captured a Sasquatch on her iPhone camera last week while hiking along the Spokane River, and she posted the video to YouTube as proof.
“The Northwest is home to unique folklore, so we decided it would be fun to explore what residents think about subjects that clearly are, well, a little different," said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO spokesperson. "We've had our share of strange sightings and events in Washington, and people here apparently are open to the idea that some of it is real."
Surely, in a state where so many rational beings work in high tech, biotech and aviation, few would believe in UFOs, right? Washingtonians were asked, "Do you believe there have been sightings of UFOs – space craft – that truly cannot be identified by anyone?" While 29 percent said “no, there's always an explanation,” 55 percent said “yes, UFOs exist.” And 32 percent said they've seen a UFO or know someone who did.
Although many Washingtonians say they believe in UFOs, a smaller number know where "flying saucers" first were reported. About one-third said it was in Roswell, N.M., while 10 percent said Area 51, Nevada. Only 12 percent correctly answered Washington, perhaps aware that the first highly publicized sighting of "flying discs" – which evolved into the widely used term flying saucers – was by pilot Kenneth Arnold near Mt. Rainier, when in 1947 he reported seeing nine flying discs that "moved like saucers across the water."
"I guess it's appropriate that 'The X-Files' was shot on location in the Northwest, in Vancouver, B.C.," said Osterberg, referring to the long-running TV show.
The Northwest is home to other colorful folklore. In November 1971, a man using the name Dan Cooper (subsequently reported as D.B. Cooper) hijacked a Northwest Airlines 727, collected a $200,000 ransom in Seattle, and parachuted out of the jetliner at 10,000 feet near the southwest Washington town of Ariel. In 1980, a boy found $5,800 of Cooper's money while playing on a Columbia River sandbar. So speculation remains: Did Cooper jump to freedom and lose some of his loot while hiking out of the hills? Or did he die after jumping, perhaps from exposure or from broken bones?
The PEMCO Poll didn't ask residents whether Cooper lived or died, but if inquiring minds want to know, it could be addressed in the future. Perhaps the truth is out there.
Washington is home to many well-publicized Sasquatch sightings and reports of giant footprints. Even skeptics found the Bossburg footprints, discovered in 1969 north of Kettle Falls, too intriguing to simply dismiss. The left imprint measured 18 inches long and nearly 7 inches wide, but it was the right imprint that caused a stir: deformed, crooked, with a skewed small toe, it showed so much anatomical detail that Washington State University anthropology professor Grover Krantz said the average person would not have the expertise required to fabricate the print.
Krantz put forth the theory that Sasquatches could be surviving Gigantopithecus, a giant ape that inhabited China and southeast Asia 300,000 years ago.
There's also the mystery of "Mel's Hole," a paranormal pit with mystical properties allegedly located near Manastash Ridge in rural Kittitas County. Urban legend told of the nine-foot hole for years, and in 1997 a man calling himself Mel Waters phoned Art Bell's late-night radio show to say it indeed exists on his former property, though he refused to reveal its location. Waters said the hole was perhaps endless, because he'd dropped 80,000 feet of weighted fishing line into it without touching bottom. Animals and birds avoided the hole, and neighbors dumped trash and carcasses into it for years but it never filled up. Waters also claimed a dead dog was once tossed into the hole, only to be seen hours later alive and well. Some say that if Mel's Hole is real, it's perhaps a lengthy lava tube, a Mt. Rainier blowhole.
Some Northwest legends are in fact true. Old tales of a sulfur mine and wood shack at the summit of 12,276' Mt. Adams seem preposterous, but the U.S. Forest Service confirms that sulfur was mined at the very top of the peak in the 1930s and hauled down the mountain on pack mules. The shack ruins are still visible, particularly in low-snowfall years.
Then there are the Mima Mounds near Rochester, Wash., thousands of short grassy humps ranging from 10 to 70 feet across on a 637-acre preserve. No one knows how they were formed, but theories abound: tailings from busy gophers. Wind and water erosion. Odd settling from an earthquake. Glacial deposits. Scientists know what they're not – a remnant of secret nuclear tests, since the mounds predate the atomic age; nor are they Native American graves, as suspected by 1841 Naval explorers.
You can visit the sulfur mine, the Mima Mounds, and – if you can find it – the Prosser gravity hill. Somewhere within a few miles of the southeastern Washington town, you can stop at the base of a gentle rise, put your car in neutral, and roll uphill several hundred feet. That's what many people claim, as documented on their YouTube videos. Skeptics offer a simple explanation: optical illusion. They say the hill is not really a hill at all.
"The fact so many people embrace this stuff makes the Northwest an amusing, engaging place to live," said Osterberg, noting a 1969 Skamania County law protecting Sasquatch as an endangered species. "We don't need a poll to confirm that the Northwest is in fact a little different. Where else in the country do you find a law making it a felony to shoot a Sasquatch?"
To learn more about the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll and to view a summary of the results, visit www.pemco.com/poll, where the public is invited to participate in an informal version of the poll to see how their own responses compare to those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in November 2010.
About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll
PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey that asked Washington drivers several questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 826 respondents, yields an accuracy of +/- 3.5 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than +/- 3.5 percent.
About PEMCO InsurancePEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, life, and umbrella insurance to Washington state residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the state and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit www.pemco.com.