A carving of Bigfoot on display at Home Hardware and Furniture Store in Norton, Va. They also sell "wood booger" t-shirts. Photo by Greg Peters.
NORTON, Va. — Could there be a Bigfoot right here in our own back yard?
It seems a possibility. There was enough interest from sightings that the television show “Finding Bigfoot” made a stop in Southwest Virginia in 2011 and filmed an episode concerning events in Wise and Washington counties, with an emphasis on the High Knob area.
A search for Bigfoot sightings results in numerous websites and organizations that focus on the subject, several in Virginia alone.
William Dranginis heads the Virginia Bigfoot Research Organization. Based in Aldi, Va., he takes reports of sightings, does interviews and even goes onsite looking for the elusive “hairy man.”
Dranginis works full time for defense contractor Northrop Grumman and had little or no interest in Bigfoot until 1995.
In March of that year, Dranginis and two friends were trying out a new metal detector in Culpeper County, Va. The three were looking for treasure in and around old gold mine shafts in the area. The mines were active during the Civil War.
After a long morning of searching with no luck, they were returning to their vehicle on a country back road.
“The two guys with me were FBI agents, one of them did three tours in Vietnam. Suddenly he threw up his arm and stated that there was a man behind a tree up ahead,” said Dranginis.
Both agents drew their guns and pushed Dranginis to the rear.
“I was looking in the area where a man’s head would be and then about three feet above that a black hairy face came out from behind the tree,” Dranginis added.
The creature then moved across the road from left to right and made its way into the forest.
“It moved with a fluid motion, it was covered in black hair. The shoulders were huge and you could see an area of gray on the upper back.”
That event led him down a new path and into his current role as VBRO director. A search of his website found several reports of sightings in and around Southwest Virginia.
Currently Dranginis is working an active case in Washington County near Saltville.
A couple from North Carolina bought remote property in the area and were using it for camping. “The area is remote and can only be accessed by ATV. Their first night camping, they began to hear screams close by and got scared. They jumped on their ATV and left everything at the campsite,” said Dranginis. “As they drove off the husband turned around and saw something dark and close to 8 feet tall running behind them.”
The couple waited over a week before returning for their equipment.
They gave the VBRO permission to investigate the site. “We got some interesting audio the first night. Something screamed at us with an intensity that vibrated the tent. I took out my thermal image camera but did not see anything,” Dranginis added.
He positioned cameras that take pictures every five seconds from sunup until sundown and can be active for six to eight weeks. He plans on returning in the next couple of months to retrieve the data.
While he gets three to four reports of Bigfoot a month, they are mostly concerning sounds rather than an actual sighting.
“I have had reports from law enforcement, doctors and lawyers that claim to have seen Bigfoot, a lot along the I-81 corridor. I can tell in an investigation if they have really seen anything because once you see it, it flips your life upside down,” Dranginis said.
Sightings in the area of High Knob have been reported for the past several years.
A YouTube search of the video “Gum Creek Monster” shows something crossing a stream ahead of a rider on an ATV. Several TV shows have studied the video with no clear answers.
“I had heard that it was a hoax but until I have the opportunity to interview a witness and look into their eyes, I can’t tell,” said Dranginis.
A trip to downtown Norton will lead you to Home Hardware and Furniture Store. The establishment has embraced the Bigfoot phenomena, and if you stop in they will be more than happy to talk about the subject. They will even point you in the direction of claimed sightings.
“Some people believe and some don’t, around here we also call it the ‘wood booger,’ ” said co-owner O’Brien Craft. “When interest stirred up a couple years ago, we started carrying T-shirts and we have one guy who dresses up, sits out front and waves. Everyone has a good time with the idea.”
While Craft has never seen anything personally, visitors to the store tell a different story.
“We have people come in and tell their stories. One lady said she saw Bigfoot about 18 years ago by Bark Lake Camp and it looked to be taking a bath. She had never told anyone because she was afraid people would think she was crazy,” Craft added.
And as for the T-shirt market?
“We started out with 60 and they sold out in minutes. From that time we have sold over 3,000,” said Craft.
Inside the store you will find Steve Jessee, an employee of the establishment for 20 years.
“I have hunted all around the area and have never personally seen anything, but the customers do come in with their tales. The last sighting was by a gentleman from Big Stone Gap and that was around March,” said Jessee.
A check with the city of Norton Police Department found no reports of any sightings.
Rick Meadows works for the Forestry Service and has almost 25 years’ experience around the High Knob area.
“I’ve never seen anything. I have seen some bears that were of good size, but that’s all. I don’t believe it myself. I hunt all over the area and am always looking at tracks and sign,” said Meadows.
While no definite proof exists, reports of something strange do keep trickling in. In fact television producers were in Home Hardware a couple of months ago scouting areas for a new reality series about Bigfoot.
This week Spike TV announced its new series, which sends Bigfoot hunters to different areas of the country. The team that comes up with irrefutable proof wins a $10 million bounty.
Believe, scoff, argue, laugh, debate, but there is a saying, “It only takes one white crow to prove that all crows are not black.”