There wasn’t enough room in Ray Wallace’s grave for him and his hoax, so now the truth is out: Bigfoot didn’t exist.
Or at least not the Bigfoot that Wallace helped make famous.
Wallace, a former logger, converted the imaginary into celebrity in 1958 when news reports surfaced about large, mysterious footprints found in a logging camp where Wallace worked in Bluff Creek, part of Humboldt County in Northern California.
Then Wallace began milking it. He reported Bigfoot sightings. He recorded Bigfoot sounds. He played the faithful like a violin and giggled behind his hand the whole time, said his son Michael.
“He was a prankster, but never malicious,” the son said Thursday. “He just liked playing jokes.”
Wallace, 84, died Nov. 26 of heart failure, said the son, one of four boys Wallace and his wife adopted and raised as they worked a series of lumber camps across the Pacific Northwest.
In later years, Michael Wallace said, his father ran a menagerie of wild animals -- from cougars to skunks -- that reflected his penchant for the unusual.
“He made a lot of people laugh,” Wallace said. “It was a fun family to grow up in.”
The problem with a hoaxer admitting the truth is that there is a certain inherent lack of credibility. And because serious students of Bigfoot long suspected Wallace was faking it, the family’s admission wasn’t much of a surprise and does not discredit what they see as other evidence that Bigfoot exists.
Jeff Meldrum, an Idaho State University anthropologist, has studied Bigfoot sightings and had his doubts about Wallace. Knowing that Wallace’s reports were made up does little to explain away what Meldrum sees as a wide range of Bigfoot evidence, from other footprints -- some as early as 1941 -- to traces of hair to fecal remains.
Though it’s possible the whole phenomenon is a series of overlapping, independent jokes, he said, it’s also likely that behind all the noise is a real creature.
“Bluff Creek brought the idea into the public psyche and into the morning newspaper, but this thing has roots that go deeper than any isolated incident,” Meldrum said. “If I had come to the conclusion it was all a hoax, I would have washed my hands of it years ago.”
Wallace’s version of Bigfoot arose Aug. 5, 1958, when he used a 16-inch model of a human foot a friend carved from alder wood to leave tracks around logging gear as a prank on a fellow logger.
“It just freaked the guy out,” Michael Wallace said.
A story on the footprints in the Humboldt Times was picked up by other newspapers, and word of Bigfoot spread. Over the years, Wallace played other pranks, tweaking those who would believe.
“It wasn’t his fault that people latched onto it,” the son said. “But right from the beginning, he was Bigfoot.”
The joke was part of an arsenal of pranks Wallace developed over the years. One favorite was to wrap an M-80 firecracker in a wet newspaper, sneak onto the roof of a logging bunkhouse and drop it down the chimney to the woodstove. Then he’d enter the bunkhouse in time to have an alibi for when the firecracker exploded.
“He’d say it must be the firewood,” the son said. “The guy could act.”
Wallace said the family decided to come clean about Bigfoot after a reporter for the Seattle Times approached them following Wallace’s death and asked about the persistent rumors that Wallace had made it all up. Wallace said he polled family members -- all of whom knew of the fraud -- and they decided the time was right.
And the last laugh, he said, is his father’s.
“He’s up in heaven laughing,” the son said. “He was living proof that God has a sense of humor.”