WELLSBURG – A large, inflatable globe marked with sightings around the world hangs over his bed.
A bulletin board holds a New York state map crowded with pins in precise locations.
A thick binder, divided by county, holds detailed reports on individual sightings.
Meet Cal Marks, of Wellsburg, Bigfoot researcher and aspiring cryptozoologist. His mom calls this amiable 11-year-old “Calisquatch,” a play off his name and interests.
“Some kids think I am crazy because I believe in Bigfoot. They are trying to tell me that Bigfoot is not real,” said the Broadway Elementary School fifth-grader. “I tell them, well, with all the sightings, photographs and videos for evidence, how can they all be hoaxes?”
Just over 20 percent of Americans believe in Bigfoot, the tall, hairy humanoid forest dweller known as Sasquatch and other names throughout the world, according to the October 2014 Chapman University Survey of American Fears.
Count Cal and his mother among them. His father, Bill, and brother, Cade, 15, are undecided, while brother Cole, 13, is a nonbeliever.
“Since I was like 7 or 8, I’ve had an interest in cryptozoology (the search for hidden or unknown animals) and Bigfoot,” Cal said. “It’s cool, and there might be something new to discover.”
Friday through Sunday, he’ll be among like-minded folks. The whole family will attend the Ohio Bigfoot Conference and Ohio Bigfoot Festival in Salt Point State Forest in eastern Ohio.
Cal turned 11 on May 8, and the Ohio trip was a surprise gift, said his mother, Kim Marks, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Broadway Academy.
“He was diagnosed with Lyme disease in October, and ended up with Bell’s palsy. He was in pretty rough shape,” she said. In addition, he broke his upper right arm in March for the second time in three years, due to a cyst that has thinned out the bone, she said.
“He can’t play baseball or do much of anything (physical) right now. For those reasons, we wanted to do something special for him,” she said.
The Ohio gathering will feature well-known Bigfoot researchers, and Cal hopes for a close encounter with one of them, Bob Gimlin. In 1967, Gimlin and the late Roger Patterson recorded a short film in northern California that enthusiasts say is the best photographic evidence of Bigfoot in the wild. Some scientists have debunked the heavily scrutinized film as a hoax.
Marc DeWerth organizes the Ohio Bigfoot Conference, in its 27th year, and is friends with Gimlin, who is now in his 80s and lives in Yakima, Washington. DeWerth said he expects this year’s attendance to surpass the 576 VIP tickets sold last year and 2,000 who came to the free events to see vendors and meet speakers.
“Bigfoot has become a very mainstream topic. With kids today, it is considered to be cool because of TV shows like ‘Finding Bigfoot.’ We get a lot of youth in attendance at the event,” DeWerth said. “Years ago, it was an embarrassing subject to a lot of people.”
DeWerth, 46, said he began serious research of Bigfoot at age 22 and had his own sighting in Ohio in 1997. The Ohio event is within a state park where there have been Bigfoot sightings in the forest, and that aids the event’s growing popularity, he said.
His advice to young Bigfoot enthusiasts such as Cal: “You have to be skeptical. You have to make your judgment on your own, until you have your own experience.”
Cal hasn’t seen a Bigfoot, though he and his brothers went looking during one family vacation to the Adirondacks. He described how he would outfit himself for his next expedition: “I’d take a camera, number one, and probably a weapon, just in case. There hasn’t been any Bigfoot attacks, except for maybe one or two.”
Cal’s research into locations of Bigfoot sightings earned him first place as a fourth-grader at his school’s science fair last year. He thinks field research as a cryptozoologist for such creatures as the Loch Ness monster or Jersey Devil would be a great career.
“For anybody who doesn’t believe, do you know how many new species of animals just last year alone were found? There are so many,” he said.
“I love it because it is something different for him,” Kim Marks said. “Whether it be football or music, if it is something he is interested in and he is happy doing it, then we are going to support him. He certainly could be doing worse things.”
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•Eleven-year-old Bigfoot researcher Cal Marks, of Wellsburg, is seeking information about sightings, books, blogs, studies and documentaries that may help him in his studies. Contact him via email at email@example.com.