CHARLESTON – Journalism professor Joe Gisondi teaches his students at Eastern Illinois University that some of the best stories are about people with a passion.
He takes his own advice and focuses those fighting an uphill battle to prove Sasquatch exist in his new book, “Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot.”
“I've always been fascinated by the paranormal and Bigfoot in particular,” he said in a telephone interview last week from his office in Charleston, “but like others, I'm still waiting for the evidence.”
Gisondi met his subjects on eight excursions around the country in 2009 and 2010, exploring locales as far as the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve in southwestern Florida and as near as the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois.
Among them is Harold Benny of Hillsboro, a one-time investigator for the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) who earned a master's degree in zoology at Eastern many moons ago.
Gisondi first meets him in the Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma, where the most exciting moment comes when fellow camper radios about rustling in the woods and having trouble breathing.
Because Bigfoot are thought to use infrasound to repel intruders, at least one of Gisondi's companions concluded she had been “zapped” while another spotted a pair of large red eyes at the site, eight to nine feet above the ground, near a gulley.
“He leaped back and called to us, but we did not see anything,” Gisondi writes, adding that another man reported something was throwing pebbles at him from a nearby stream. “Had the journalist been hoaxed in a carefully orchestrated scenario? By 3 a.m., I was too exhausted to care.”
Gisondi also spent some time on this trip with Matt Moneymaker, founder of the BFRO and host of “Finding Bigfoot” on Animal Planet.
The professor next catches up with Benny near Harrisburg, Ill., and learns more about his investigation into the Murphysboro Mud Monster, a large hairy beast that terrified residents in June 1973.
Gisondi also writes that Benny's search for Bigfoot has cost him money and relationships, and how his skepticism about the evidence of other researchers eventually got him ejected from the BFRO.
“I think I'm onto something here,” Gisondi quotes Benny as saying. “I don't really know what (the animal) is, and I don't know where it came from. I've read and read to the point that it's almost driven me crazy as to all the possibilities. I want to say Bigfoot is a part of wildlife. I do this for my father, who told me as a kid that anything is possible.”
Gisondi shares that attitude but only up to a point. “I think there's a possibility something exists, but I'm more intrigued there are more than 100 organizations across the country looking for Bigfoot,” he said.
He added that some searchers are poorly educated, but many are teachers, engineers and owners of businesses.
“I wasn't there to make fun of them or to make heroes out of them,” Gisondi said. “I was there to see what drives them and report it like I saw it.”
He published his first book, “Field Guide to Covering Sports,” in 2009.
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