Atlantans is a first-person account of the familiar strangers who make the city tick. This month’s is David Bakara, founder of Expedition: Bigfoot! The Sasquatch Museum in Blue Ridge, as told to Heather Buckner.
We have 7,000 square feet of bigfoot exhibits and artifacts we’ve collected from all over the country, Russia, and China; it’s part museum, part roadside family attraction. Walk in the door, and there isn’t a quiet place—there’s somebody talking, music, movies, audio of bigfoot talking and screaming. You have no idea what’s coming around the next corner. [There’s] Raven, the eight-foot sasquatch built by a police officer who saw one in Ohio. Then, we have the three-foot-long bigfoot turd. Kids love it. My wife and I have five kids and nine grandkids. We’re both big museum nerds. We know what filler looks like. We held out for all the good stuff.
I was raised in Florida. In the late ’60s and ’70s, when I was growing up, there were stories of the Florida skunk ape, also known as bigfoot, on the evening news, in newspapers. I saw them interview a police officer that saw it. It was the ’90s and 2000s when that took a hard turn: People stopped talking about it because they were afraid to be ridiculed. You just don’t go to a party and start telling people you believe in bigfoot—forget it! When I decided to open this [museum], I didn’t tell anybody. I just told them I was going to open a gift shop. They’re like, Oh, great. What kind? Ah, you’ll find out.
In 2010, I went on an expedition with my brother for my 50th birthday. [The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization] asked us if we’d like to be investigators—there are so many reports, they can’t keep up with them. Reading books and seeing documentaries is great, but when you’re face-to-face with people that have no reason to lie, you want to get to the bottom of this to give validity to the witnesses. That’s a strange position to be in: You saw something that shouldn’t exist, and, instead of [sharing] it with somebody to help you figure it out, you [have] to bottle it up; you can’t talk about it. So, you don’t only study bigfoot, but you learn about people as well.
In 2011, we went to a witness’s house in Florida; he had [bigfoot] coming on his property regularly. They were scaring his roommates away, looking in the windows. The backyard was littered with fishing equipment, fish heads, fish guts. He lived right on the edge of the Everglades. He chased one one night thinking it was a prowler—he jumped out of bed, grabbed his rifle, and chased it in his underwear across the yard. It jumped over a six-foot fence without breaking a stride. It screamed and put its arms out, dropping trees as it went. That’s when he realized it’s not a person. That’s [where] my wife and I took turns with the witness looking [through a thermal camera] at two [bigfoot] standing next to each other, hiding behind trees.
We moved here in 2013. The first house we looked at, we ended up buying—then, the museum space opened. I was in the restaurant business for 25 years. My wife was a medical-billing specialist. She didn’t think it’d be a big thing; she thought she’d get the thing up and running, go back to her job in six months. She had to take the bigfoot stickers, the museum logo off her car. She said, “I can’t go to Burger King to pick up lunch for the staff without getting stopped in the parking lot.” Once they got your ear, they could go on for an hour. I can’t say how many people I talked to, who saw these things looking at them in their windows when they were kids. They told their mom there was a big gorilla out there, and the parents were like, It was a deer. Go back to bed! You could be standing there with hot food in your hand, and they can’t see the hot food. God bless them. She never went back to her job, and now, we run the world’s biggest bigfoot museum.
How many times have you heard the phrase “Scientists were shocked to find . . .”? It’s more interesting than you can imagine, this awesome Planet Earth—from the ocean to the seas, to the highest mountains, to the swamps. There’s so many interesting things to look for and understand. A lot of people like that cookie-cutter life. They find comfort and safety in knowing what’s around the next corner. You can never introduce anything new to them. I never try to convince those people anymore. You don’t have to bring them with you on your little journey of knowledge. Be nice to them, and if they want to talk about football, talk about football.
This article appears in our April 2022 issue.