Locals have claimed for decades that southwestern Pennsylvania is a hotspot for paranormal activity and Bigfoot sightings.
Last week, Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” series came to Uniontown to see if there really is “a Squatch in these woods.”
More than 220 people from all over the region turned out for last week’s “town hall” meeting to tell of their encounters with the towering, muscular, dark haired, ape-like creature known as the Sasquatch or Bigfoot. Some even came from Ohio and West Virginia to give their testimony to the Bigfoot research team avidly listening from the stage.
“This is the best town hall meeting we’ve ever had — the sheer amount of stories we had — we literally did not have enough time before we had to start wrapping things up,” said one of the show’s producers, Sean Mantooth.
“We’ve gotten a lot of support from the local community. They’ve been very welcoming to the cast and crew and made it a really good episode for us,” he continued.
The Finding Bigfoot team consists of founder and president of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization Matt Moneymaker, field biologist and skeptic Ranae Holland, Bigfoot expert Cliff Barackman and researcher James “Bobo” Fay.
Once producers of the show made the decision to hit southwestern Pennsylvania, they scouted local areas for a suitable location for their town hall meeting. The State Theatre Center for the Arts in Uniontown was one of many options.
“We knew we needed a venue that was capable of holding all these people,” said Mantooth. “It’s beautiful and centrally located in downtown Uniontown. It was a great location.”
The Bigfoot team also mentioned their interest in the theater’s alleged paranormal activity.
“We’ve had a lot of famous names and faces in here, but it’s not every day we film a TV show here,” said Erica Miller, executive director of the theater. “It’s great exposure for the theater.”
As the hoards of people flocked to the Uniontown theater, the lines wrapped down the block and around the sides of the building. Fans were later seated and enjoyed the private taping of the show.
In other episodes of “Finding Bigfoot,” the team then asks the witnesses to stay and pinpoint their encounter on a map of the region.
“They’ll select some of the stories from the town hall for further investigation within the episode,” said Mantooth. “It’ll all happen this week while we’re shooting in the region.”
During the remainder of last week, the team scoured the region, following the witnesses to key locations. In the series, the Bigfoot team often goes into target areas after dusk with night vision cameras. Using bellows, tree knocks and “whoops,” they try to illicit a response from a Bigfoot that’s hopefully in the area.
“So far, it’s been good. We just had one of the best town hall meetings we’ve ever had,” said Bobo. “We’ve had a lot of great witnesses. This is good territory with lots of food, sustenance, water, cover woods, and caves, so people shouldn’t be surprised — they’ve got Squatches here.”
Holland, on the other hand, comes to the Bigfoot field outings armed with a science degree and a belief in spirituality.
“I do believe in Bigfoot, but what I believe is what a majority of the indigenous people of North America believe. They believe it is a spiritual being that has the ability to go between a physical realm and a spiritual realm at will,” said Holland. “I do not believe Bigfoot is a flesh and blood animal, but I do believe in a higher power. Bigfoot is real, but I think he’s a spirit.”
While staying in the area, Mantooth said the team was taking in some local flavor, including Titlow Tavern. And when Holland asked for recommendations on a local, independent coffee shop, many fans pointed up the block to Cafe 45 where she said she would visit.
“Everyone in Uniontown has been very friendly and the surrounding areas are super ‘squatchy’,” said Barackman.
After Tuesday night’s taping, the Bigfoot team stuck around for a meet-and-greet with fans. Holding everything from t-shirts to pictures to Bigfoot necklaces, fans asked the TV celebrities for signatures and photos.
Farmington resident Shawn Dennis attended the taping with his girlfriend Tiffany and son Cody. Actively involved in the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society (PBS), Dennis hoped to “show support for PBS members Eric Altman and David Dragosin, and to meet Cliff and Bobo.”
“We’ve never seen (a Sasquatch), but we’ve heard a lot of weird, unexplainable things,” said Dennis.
The PBS is a volunteer organization that was established in 1998 with a goal of conducting year round field outings, group expeditions and investigations into reported Bigfoot sightings, according to their website, by collecting photos, audio recordings, footprint molds and hair.
“We have a working relationship with the PBS and while I can’t go into a lot of detail, they were of great assistance to us and this episode,” said Mantooth.
The team has traveled to just about every state in the US and just wrapped up their fifth season. The episode filmed in Uniontown and surrounding areas will air on January 25, 2015 at 10 p.m. as part of their sixth season which begins in November.