When David Eller was 8 years old, he read an article in Reader’s Digest magazine about a sighting of a strange creature in California that would come to be called Big Foot.

The mystery of Big Foot, which is said to walk upright like a man (but much bigger and hairier), has propelled Eller on a lifelong journey to seek encounters with the creatures.

Eller is known as a cryptozoologist, which the dictionary defines as someone who “searches for animals, and especially legendary animals (such as Sasquatch/Big Foot) usually in order to evaluate the possibility of their existence.” Eller is also the founder of PURSUE, which stands for Paranormal Unit for the Research of Study of Unexplained Events.

Eller, an artist, actor and speaker by profession who lives in Nashville, recently found a series of “structures” he calls pagodas on public land in Middle Tennessee that he believes might be linked to Big Foot creatures. The pagodas involve clusters of small trees that are bent toward a center-point and then braided together, he says. He believes they might be “nests” for Big Foot offspring.

Eller, who has spent 30 years tracking Big Foot, was recently in Chattanooga to speak to a packed gathering at the Hunter Museum of Art as part of a series of programs surrounding the summer exhibit called “Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration.”

He says interest in Big Foot and other cryptids (unexplained animals) is surging. Chatter caught up with Eller in a phone interview after the Chattanooga appearance. Below is a condensed and edited version of that conversation.

Chatter Magazine: Much of your research as an expert on Big Foot creatures is concentrated in Tennessee. Is it fair to say that Tennessee is a hotbed of the phenomenon?

David Eller: … [Tennessee] does have a lot of Big Foot activity, especially around state parks. When you think about that, those areas are almost sanctuaries. They are large tracts of wooded areas, but most people don’t get off the trails. [Big Foot creatures] are curious animals, and they sit back and watch humans.

The North Georgia area is a great place to research. They continue to have sightings and interactions there. Also, Raccoon Mountain and Signal Mountain, those areas [near Chattanooga]. Alabama is a great spot, too.

I had a lady tell me a story about one of her friends. She was going out to jog on Signal Mountain. When she came out of the house, she heard [what sounded like] a woman being murdered. When [Big Foot creatures] scream, they sound like a woman. [Eller says no evidence of foul play was found involving the incident, and he speculates it could have been a Sasquatch.]

Chatter: Your recent “pagoda” discovery, that has been described as possibly the Holy Grail of Big Foot activity, is in Tennessee. Can you talk about these structures you have located, and your theory about what they mean?

Eller: It is in Middle Tennessee. …I don’t give out the location because this particular area is definitely a sanctuary. It’s owned by the state, but it’s not a part of a state park. It’s a wild area that’s protected, and [Big Foot creatures] are able to stay there and do their thing.

… These structures range in size. The largest is 20 [feet] by 30 [feet]. You have a grove of trees, and they will pull them down toward the center, [and] they will braid them. … They are just beautiful igloo [shaped] pagoda things. They look like things in your garden, but they are created by creatures. … Every one is marked by a large stone between two saplings.

… It’s almost a sculpture rather than a structure. No one knows for sure what any of this means.

Chatter: Have you actually sighted any unexplained creatures at this site?

Eller: I have seen two out there. I have seen one big one. I was already passed it. It could have stayed quiet, [but] it screamed … I thought I was going to die. I whipped around. … I saw a big hairy form. It went running [beside me] and then made a path knocking on trees. … I feel it was signaling another [Big Foot].

… I [also] saw what I believe to be a young one with a reddish brown tone. … It popped up in an area with a lot of undergrowth. … It was the color of a fox. It was about three feet long and two feet wide.

Chatter: Your fascination with unexplained creatures, or cryptids, started in childhood. Can you talk about your progression of interest?

Eller: I’ve been hunting [Big Foot] for 30 years. My interest started when I was 8 years old and saw an article in Reader’s Digest. I thought: What are these creatures? Where are they? Would they be in other woods? Gradually, we found out they are everywhere. I began to get every book and magazine article I could find. Since then, I have been all across the U.S. … I travel all over the U.S. doing lectures and presentations.

Chatter: It seems like there is a surge of interest in Big Foot and other unexplained creatures. What is driving that, do you think?

Eller: There is more interest in Big Foot now than there has ever been. It shows no signs of waning. … People want answers. They want to know what these things are. People want to believe that there’s more out there than what they have been told. They feel in their hearts that there is something there, but science is saying that there’s not. I don’t know why science doesn’t admit that if all the tracks and sightings have been faked, it’s the largest conspiracy in history. Why would you do that? Why would you fake all this stuff?

Chatter: Are there other creatures that we know well today that were once considered mysteries?

Eller: The gorilla was a myth, until it wasn’t. The Komodo dragon was a mythic creature, until it wasn’t. All these animals, there were times when nobody believed in them.

We have only scratched the surface [of animal habitats]. If you look at a satellite version of Tennessee, there are dense forests we just don’t get into. For the most part, nobody has been out there.

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