The Hairy Truth

You thought Bigfoot sightings went out with Pop Rocks and moon boots. Try telling that to Mike Quast, who is convinced the creatures are alive and well and living in Minnesota.

In 1986 Quast graduated from Audubon High School. He'd been a member of the Future Farmers of America, but says he never really planned to get into the family business. After high school he took a job in a plant in Detroit Lakes that made parts for sugar-beet processing machines. He earned a degree in commercial art from a technical college, but he never landed a job in that field.

Forging a career was a secondary concern for Quast. His Bigfoot sighting had cemented his avocation, and he began doing serious research not long after he got out of high school. His first quest was for the truth behind a local legend, "The Hairy Man of Vergas Trails." Back in the Fifties or Sixties, many people said, a crazy man had killed some teenagers at the site, a wooded teen hangout near the town of Vergas, and retreated into the woods, where he became a hermit and let his hair grow.

It was Quast's brother-in-law who first told him the story. "He told me the name of a guy who had told him about it, and he thought he remembered that that guy had actually seen it," recalls Quast, who questioned the purported witness. "He said, 'No, I didn't see it, but I heard the stories about it and I can tell you who says he did see it,' and gave me the name of this guy named Ziggy."

Quast met with Ziggy, a mechanic, on a cold January night in Ziggy's garage. "That was my first real witness interview," says Quast. "He told me this story about how this creature had jumped out in front of his car and dented the trunk and everything. I remember driving home afterwards in the dark in the woods looking around after hearing that story. He was animated in the telling of it, too. He got really excited."

Quast could find no evidence that the homicides ever took place. "I checked with the sheriffs' departments around and they said they didn't know anything about that story, so that part I'm pretty sure is just some embellishment that somebody put on it at some point." But Quast believed the bulk of the tale, and began making regular surveys of the area. Later that year he found some 16-inch-long tracks in the area--proof, as far as he was concerned, that there was something to Ziggy's story. Quast redoubled his efforts to hunt down reports of Bigfoot sightings.

By now Quast was beginning to envision himself as a professional Bigfoot researcher, the kind of person whose archives are consulted by Unsolved Mysteries. He made a pilgrimage to visit Peter Byrne, one of the more celebrated and controversial Bigfoot hunters of the 1970s.

As a kid, Quast had written away to Byrne for a packet of information. "He got most of the publicity," Quast says of Byrne. "He was on TV and in the press a lot, and a lot of other people in the field resented him for that, and they called him the made-for-TV Bigfoot hunter. I tried not to get involved in what everybody else thought." More recently, Quast had been corresponding with the then-retired Bigfootologist.

In October of 1989, Quast rode a Greyhound bus to Hood River, Oregon, where he spent the night at Byrne's house. The younger man was starstruck. "Peter and I sat by his fireplace listening to opera, sipping hot rum, and talking about the Sasquatch," he wrote later. "The surroundings, plus his suave Irish accent, seemed to lend a distinct air of class to the whole business."

The following morning, Byrne showed Quast one of the few remaining complete sets of Bigfoot News, which Byrne had published during the Seventies. Quast told the former investigator that he had been thinking of starting his own newsletter, and Byrne bestowed the full set upon him, along with permission to use any material he wished. The following spring, Quast had launched his own newsletter, The Sasquatch Report.

Some time afterward, Byrne came out of retirement and returned to Bigfoot work. He and another researcher got into a bitter argument about the origins of an alleged Bigfoot footprint. In his newsletter, which had received some funding from Byrne's new Bigfoot Research Project, Quast made a point of trying to cover both sides of the issue objectively, angering his old mentor. "Peter Byrne kind of got upset that I wouldn't exclusively take his side on it," says Quast.

But if there's one thing Quast had already learned about the political and emotional subculture of Bigfoot followers, it was that even researchers as far outside the mainstream as himself needed to know the value of scientific objectivity. If researchers don't flush out the hoaxes faster than anyone else, then no one will ever take them seriously.

 

One of the first cases Quast investigated-- that of the Minnesota Iceman--was fairly well-known among Bigfoot hunters, if not widely agreed upon. During the late Sixties, a southern Minnesota showman named Frank Hansen was making the rounds of carnivals with an attraction he sometimes billed as the "Siberskoye Creature," a hairy, humanlike thing frozen in a block of ice. Hansen said he wasn't the oddity's owner, but was serving as an agent for an unnamed person in the entertainment industry. According to one version of events, the block of ice had been found floating in the sea by either Russian or Japanese sailors. Some who examined Hansen's frozen find were convinced that it was a real primate of some sort.

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