Today, a requiem for a beast. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
On November 26, 2002,
84-year-old Ray Wallace died of heart failure.
Wallace had been a man of immense vigor,
creativity, and good humor. Born in Missouri before
WW-I, he grew up with the American West. He worked
on the construction of California's Highway 1. He
worked in logging and building remote roads.
He also got into the petting-zoo business. He
stocked the one he built in Lewis County,
Washington, with cougars, raccoons, deer, and bear
cubs. His wife, to whom he was married for
sixty-two years, survives him. She ran the hot-dog
concession. If a family turned up looking poor,
they got free food.
Throughout Ray's life ran a thread of practical
jokery. Life was too large to be lived without
relishing the humor in it, and, in 1958, he created
the great granddaddy of practical jokes. He had a
pair of wooden shoes carved from alder wood --
sixteen inches long and shaped like the feet of
some large ambiguous mammal.
And so, one morning that summer, a construction
worker from Wallace's company found the tracks of a
huge, terrifying biped in the mud around his
bulldozer. Naturally, the people who knew Wallace
suspected his hand in this, but no matter. A match
had landed in tinder.
Stories of the Himalayan Abominable
Snowman were already being told. Now America
had Bigfoot, and Ray Wallace just couldn't
let it go. As he got in deeper, he could neither
admit nor back off from his hoax. Finally, after he
went off to that great theater in the sky, his
family made a clean breast of it all.
Take the famous grainy 1967 "Patterson film" of a
distant Bigfoot slipping off into the forest. That
was Wallace's wife in a King Kong suit they'd put
together. Wallace fabricated recordings of
Bigfoot's voice and various still photos.
So where is Bigfoot now? He turns out to be alive
and well. Websites still report sightings in almost
every state. Those who believe shrug and point out
that a few fakes will naturally occur along with
legitimate evidence. Very telling is an online
interview with primatologist Jane Goodall, done
before Wallace's death. Asked if she believed in
Bigfoot or Yeti, Goodall said she
did. But she went on to say that she wanted to
believe, and that she, too, was disturbed by
the absence of physical remains.
The problem, of course, is that the major interest
in an American Bigfoot has arisen after
Wallace's hoax. The few scattered stories that
precede the hoax generally blur into the rest of
the pre-twentieth-century fascination with
And Ray Wallace's ghost looks down at his earthly
handiwork. He created an American legend that now
dwarfs the geographically limited Loch Ness
Monster. Bigfoot emerges, far from
the Snowman's Himalayas, to warm America's
hearts. So here's to you, Ray Wallace: Thanks for
putting so much fun and excitement into our lives.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
The death of Ray Wallace, and his family's admission,
was widely reported in various news media.
Here is one of the excellent sites that promotes
the existence of Bigfoot (or Sasquatch): http://www.bfro.net/
The beast is slain -- Long live the beast.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2002 by John H.