A Memorably Weird Life: That One Time I (Almost) Saw Bigfoot in Northeast Ohio

Weirdness isn’t something you suddenly wake up with one day; it’s the product of a lifetime. It wasn’t until my mid-teens that I started purposely exploring the stranger side of the world I live in, but years before my long nights hunting for ghosts began, the universe constantly showed me its unusual side. Witchcraft fascinated me. As a child, I was always confused that my reflection in the mirror didn’t “look like me” in the sense of how I “knew” I looked. I was terrified of heights, skeletons, and outhouses. I had an imaginary friend who sat me down one day to tell me he was leaving and I wouldn’t see him again. I was weird, shy, and awkward to such an extent that I honestly questioned if I were actually human. I was that abnormal loner with good grades and poor social skills (not that those traits have left me as I’ve aged).

So, what’s a possible alien creature in his early teens with a keen interest in the supernatural supposed to do? “Keep buggering on,” as Churchill would say. I flew on TWA Flight 800 only months before it exploded on takeoff. A bar I visited in London was bombed about six months after I visited it. I even moved back to Ohio from Louisiana shortly before Hurricane Katrina. Maybe the universe was trying to tell me that the difference between life and death is just a matter of time and place.

But the weirdness in my life didn’t end there. There was that one day when I almost saw Bigfoot.

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Sagamore Road looking east from the old driveway to the picnic area in 2006. [Ken Summers]
I remember I was around 5 or 6 years old then and very close to my grandmother. The two of us would always go out on picnics, even if we stayed in her Cadillac and just sat along a road in the park. In some ways, she was a bit different herself. She had done a fair amount of traveling, following my grandfather out to Washington State when he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps. She refused to wear dresses and instead always wore slacks. Shortly before the Second World War, she was only a few hours away from getting a pilot’s license before her mother stopped her because it “wasn’t lady-like.” Being unconventional was apparently an inherited trait.

On one particular spring day, we took our Burger King picnic out to a small picnic ground (now only accessible by way of the Sagamore Creek Loop Trail) near where my family lived in Sagamore Hills Township, Ohio. We’d been there dozens of times, and I liked playing in Sagamore Creek hunting for crayfish and interesting rocks in the water. But this particular day was far from the usual carefree afternoon. We hadn’t even reached the creek when a commotion in the woods caught my attention.

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The old Sagamore Grove Picnic Area (marked with a red X) shown on a 1979 topographic map. [USGS]
Out of nowhere, a man raced out of the woods, nearly scaling the 10-foot-wide creek in a single leap.

“Did you see it!? Did you see that!?” he screamed, nearly hysterical. We both took a few cautious steps back.

“See what?” my grandmother asked, not sure what to think.

“Bigfoot! There’s a Bigfoot!” he cried. He was dressed in casual business clothes, not hiking gear, but neither of us dared ask what he was doing hiking off trail in the woods.

“Bigfoot!?” my grandmother echoed in shocked disbelief.

“Yeah!” he said, pointing into the dense woods beyond the creek. “Right back there! I saw him!”

SagamoreCreek
Sagamore Creek as it looks today. [David Colombo]
My grandmother reached down and grabbed my arm. “Let’s go,” she said calmly yet bewildered. We hurried back to her car and left without much being said by either of us. At that age, I knew vaguely what Bigfoot was. I had seen the Patterson-Gimlin footage on In Search Of. But Bigfoot in Ohio? Wasn’t he supposed to be in the Pacific Northwest? Knowing that my grandmother had spent time in the remote mountains around Puget Sound, I’m sure she knew what he meant.

Back home, it was a topic of conversation that afternoon. While the discussion wasn’t completely dismissive, there was a fair amount of joking about the side effects of too many illegal drugs. This was the early 80s, and anything strange or paranormal wasn’t exactly an acceptable casual conversation. Investigating strange things was still something that you mentioned under your breath or only to your closest, most trustworthy friends.

Making matters worse was the fact that North Coast Behavioral Health Center (previously known as Hawthornden State Hospital) had a very insecure facility on Sagamore Road at the time. It was not uncommon for people with a range of mental disabilities to simply walk out the door and wander the neighborhood. Just a few years before, our backyard was swarmed by local police shining flashlights in pursuit of an unknown person. All they told my parents was to “stay inside and lock your doors.” A few people I went to school with told me more than once about their weekend fun trips waltzing into the facility and “checking out the crazies.”

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Hawthornden State Hospital as it looked in 1950. [CSU]
That particular day faded away, but I always had it in the back of my mind. While it’s easy to dismiss such an encounter as the ravings of a madman (and after having a street preacher scream, “THE LORD DIED FOR YOU!” in my face in downtown Cleveland a few years before, I was pretty used to crazy people), but the fact that this turned out to be something other than a freak moment in the area raises a few questions.

In July 2005, a driver reported seeing Bigfoot cross Sagamore Road (less than a quarter mile from the picnic area) to the BFRO. He mentioned another sighting of a “big hairy creature” on the same road a few years earlier by a man working on renovating an old house. Another report of Bigfoot crossing State Route 82 at night just two miles to the south in March 1995 adds to the mystery, and in July of that same year, another nighttime sighting happened on the southwest edge of the township along the railroad tracks north of Vaughn Road. Then, of course, there’s the “Bigfoot howl” recorded in 2015 by Charlie Page.

Was someone eating too many wild mushrooms in the woods that day or did I actually miss the chance to see a sasquatch as a child? And do the other subsequent sightings within a few square miles give some credence to the ravings of that random stranger in the woods? Could the Grassman still be alive and well in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

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