Like a lot of small towns across the state, tiny Remer continually looks for ways to draw people to its community of 370 residents, midway between the upscale resorts of Brainerd Lakes and the fishing spots on Leech Lake. The town is just off the tourist trail that brings in seasonal cash for the local main street, so they need something to get noticed.
This weekend, they are putting modest hopes on something that is big, hairy and apparently smells pretty awful: Bigfoot.
Remer will hold its first annual Bigfoot celebration this Saturday to honor the legendary creature who appeared in a fuzzy photo that was taken nearby and published worldwide in 2009. The festivities will begin with a talk by the head of Minnesota Bigfoot Research Team. There will be scavenger hunts, a Bigfoot calling demonstration and a screening of “Harry and the Hendersons.”
But the event isn’t without a friendly challenge from a California town that has claimed the legendary monster for decades.
Remer’s idea came from Marc Ruyak, who studied local reports of alleged Bigfoot sightings in the area going back to town founder William P. Remer’s discovery of large humanlike footprints in the early 1900s.
“I did a lot of legwork and realized there is a lot of stuff on Bigfoot going on around here,” said Ruyak, an Iraq war veteran and businessman who moved back to his hometown several years ago to start an excavation company. “I started to wonder, where is Bigfoot’s home? There is just as much activity reported here in northern Minnesota as anywhere else. It’s not about whether you believe in Bigfoot or not, it’s that there is a mystery about them.”
Dave DeLost, publisher and editor of the Pine Cone Press-Citizen, points out that Bemidji has its Paul Bunyan and Hackensack has Paul’s girlfriend, Lucette. Little Remer now plans to claim Bigfoot.
“You get out east of Remer and you can walk a long time before you see anything that resembles humanity,” said DeLost. “You’ve got to kind of take it a little tongue-in-cheek. If you want to say it’s a marketing deal, it kind of is.”
Ruyak decided to claim the title, even taking the time to get the phrase, “The true home of Bigfoot” trademarked, and he has applied for a copyright. He said there will be cutouts of the giant ape/manmonster, as well as T-shirts and other memorabilia (www.homeofbigfoot.com). A mid-state brewery has created “Bigfoot Brew” and “Squatch Water” just for the event. Town restaurants have created a Bigfoot Burger and Bigfoot Breakfast, Ruyak said.
This event sounds pretty familiar to Steven Streufert, owner of Bigfoot Books in Willow Creek, Calif., which has called itself “The Bigfoot capital of the world” since about 1959. A famous film that purports to capture Bigfoot’s image was shot near there, and the town has embraced the legend.
“You guys can slap up all the Bigfoot stuff you want, but it’s not going to change a damn thing,” said Streufert. “We are the Bigfoot capital. You guys can’t compete. You’ve got to get a real film. It’s like Loch Ness.”
Streufert said another town at the other end of “the Bigfoot highway” is also now holding an event the same weekend as Willow Creek’s festival. A town in Ohio hosts a Bigfoot convention, and he’s heard of other attempts to capture Bigfoot, at least figuratively.
“It’s escalating,” said Streufert.
He then pondered the notion of setting up something like “The North American Bigfoot Town Association,” and perhaps creating a map. He also offered Remer business owners a cautionary tale.
“A lot of people here are pretty cynical about it,” said Streufert. “You can’t make a lot of money off this crap. Bigfoot is really a distraction for me. I started out with zero Bigfoot merchandise,” now he spends a lot of his time answering questions about the Sasquatch.
“It’s a nostalgia thing because it’s another era of America,” Streufert said. “Everybody has turned it into this metaphysical Bigfoot. They want this metaphysical, quantum physics experience.”
Streufert said the economic picture in Willow Creek has changed since the Bigfoot festival began. “It’s more of a marijuana town now,” he said. “There’s no respect for Bigfoot anymore because he can’t bring in the revenue.”
Asked how a Minnesota Bigfoot might be distinct from a California Bigfoot, Streufert said: “It might have a different accent or something.”
Streufert said about half the visitors to his town think that Bigfoot might exist, and the other half thinks it’s a complete scam. He is more interested in why people believe or don’t than in whether the creature really exists. So are the officials in Remer.
“Maybe some day a Bigfoot will come out of the woods and rip somebody to shreds,” Streufert mused.
“That would be bad,” said Remer’s DeLost. “That would definitely look bad on the résumé.”
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