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Gary stands up in front of the Omaha Bryan High classroom. He is not here to talk about math or science or the dangers of driving while texting.
He is a contractor who long lived in Council Bluffs. Now in semi-retirement, he is an expert on a single subject.
“How many of you believe in Bigfoot?” he asks.
He looks around the room. One Bryan student tentatively raises his hand. And then a second, third and fourth.
Four kids in this class believe in Bigfoot, which means more than a dozen students remain skeptical that a hairy, 8-foot-tall race of ape-men has roamed the American backwoods for decades, possibly centuries, while somehow eluding capture.
Gary has some work to do here. Good thing his daughter, Traci Bouvier, is a Bryan art teacher who has invited him to come speak to her class.
People are also reading…
Good thing he has a video to show, and a story to tell. His video. His story.
“Lemme tell you a little bit about it,” Gary says.
The story begins in 1962. Gary was 13 then, and a Boy Scout with Troop 86 in Omaha. His father, Alfred Bouvier, served as a troop leader, and in the summer of 1962 he helped organize a camping trip to Colorado. This newspaper actually wrote a short story about the trip under the headline: “Scouts Heading for High Adventure.”
Little did we know.
Gary and the rest of the young Boy Scouts piled on a bus in Omaha and then piled off two days later at Roosevelt National Forest. They hiked 12 miles into the Rawah Wilderness Area and set up camp at an altitude of 8,000 feet.
Once settled, Alfred Bouvier unpacked his 8-millimeter camera and began filming.
A half-century later, Gary holds up an 8-millimeter film canister. He had the film transferred to DVD. Would the kids like to see it?
The Bryan students nod their heads eagerly.
The lights dim and the footage Alfred Bouvier shot in 1962 flickers onto the classroom's screen.
It's grainy, black-and-white scenery. Here is the outline of what looks like a lake. Here are some trees, and here is the treeline, and here is the snow-capped mountain above that.
And here: Wait, what is that?
The camera jerks, and what looks like a two-legged beast comes briefly into focus. He or she takes one step, and then another — possibly hopping on some rocks — and then pivots to look right at the camera. Then the two-legged beast turns again and walks up the mountain, out of view.
That's it. Maybe three seconds, give or take an eye blink.
The day he shot this footage, Alfred Bouvier didn't tell his son or any of the other Scouts what he had seen, Gary tells the class. He probably told the other Scout leaders, though they have all passed away and there's no way to check.
What Gary remembers is this: His dad gathered the Scouts around the campfire, and he told them sternly that they weren't allowed to leave camp alone for any reason. Not any reason whatsoever.
“I remember it because it was so out of character,” Gary says.
As the years passed, Alfred did tell Gary about what he had filmed. They watched the home movie together a number of times.
Alfred didn't like to talk much about the two-legged beast in the film — Gary thinks he was afraid that people would ridicule him — but when pressed he did tell Gary two things about that day.
First, the thing he saw was definitely a two-legged creature, not a bear up on its hind legs. Secondly: “It wasn't a man,” he told Gary.
Alfred died in the early 1980s. The canister of 8-millimeter film gathered dust in Gary's basement. Gary retired from contracting work. He moved to northern Arkansas.
And in recent years, he thought more about those few seconds of film, more about what that thing was, and what it meant.
Two years ago, he pulled the film out of its canister. He took it to a Denver photo lab, which enhanced it and, crucially, verified its authenticity as a single piece of footage.
And then last summer he showed it to the producers of an Animal Planet show called “Finding Bigfoot,” in which several self-styled Bigfoot experts go around and, well, try to find our big-footed friend. They actually went back into the Rawah Wilderness Area, though they couldn't reach the exact spot of Alfred Bouvier's home movie because of wildfires then burning in the mountains.
The verdict: Inconclusive, the self-styled experts said. They wouldn't say it was Bigfoot, but then again, they wouldn't say it wasn't.
Here's the rub: You can't really tell how tall the grainy figure in the video is. After watching it, I would swear on a stack of Bibles that it's a two-legged creature. But I can't really tell you if it's an 8-foot-tall, hairy ape-man, or a 6-foot-tall mountain man wearing a furry-looking coat, or a 5-foot-tall Boy Scout pranking the adults.
That rub is exactly why Gary is going back to Colorado next summer, most likely taking a filmmaker, a Bigfoot expert or two and probably anyone else who wants to come. Then the group will try to find the exact spot where Alfred filmed on a summer day in 1962, and the rocks the creature stands upon in that film, and triangulate those points in order to learn the height of the creature in the film.
Gary hopes this geometry proves what he believes.
“Because I believe I have the earliest known footage of a Bigfoot,” he tells the class.
His presentation is over, and he asks for a show of hands again.
Now most of the students believe.
I myself remain skeptical that a hairy, 8-foot-tall race of ape-men has roamed the American backwoods for decades, possibly centuries, while somehow eluding capture.
So call me jaded. But I will admit this: When the image first flickered onto the screen in a Bryan High classroom, I asked myself, “Wait, what is that?”
And then I answered myself.
That's Bigfoot, dummy.