Thursday, March 8, 2012


Long before recorded history, the Loyalhanna Creek formed a gorge through the foothills of the Laurel Highlands between what is now Latrobe and Ligonier.  The hills and creek bed are littered with the rough remains of thousands of years of erosion on sandstone, and the natural beauty of this area is nothing less than majestic.  In all seasons the trees, the rocks and the scenery intrigue travelers on Route 30.

The highway is divided in that stretch in two lanes east and two lanes west.  The Sleepy Hollow crossing, halfway between where the road splits and rejoins, is a quick way to change direction.  The causeway is also a good place to stop and linger for summer picnics or for fishing clear waters.

At around 11:30 p.m. May 15, 1988 Sam Sherry of Ligonier RD1 pulled into the area to go night fishing, like he'd done many times before.

"As soon as I got out of my car I could sense something was wrong," he told the Scene magazine  "I could sense something there, something unusual and it was watching me."

Sherry has been training coonhounds for years and considers himself a seasoned outdoorsman.

"I've been in the woods for 50 years, and I know everything in the woods," he said.  "If I see a track, I know what animal made it."

But, he didn't know what was making a commotion near the causeway.  There was also a bad odor in the air.  Curious, he turned on a big flashlight and found himself looking into a pair of red glowing eyes.

That night, Sherry's half century in the woods didn't do him any good.  This wasn't a bear.  It wasn't a big cat, nor a dog, nor anything he'd ever seen before.  He said, "The face was pretty much human looking, but it looked real old and wrinkled.  The lips were puckered up, and it didn't have any teeth.  It was breathing real noisy, wheezing and slobbering and spitting and this wheezing going on down in its chest."

They were just 25 feet apart, and man and creature began taking steps closer to each other.  Then Sherry turned to go back to his car, but by then the creature was so close that he could feel its breath on his neck and smell the terrible odor, like rotten fish.

"It brushed up against me, into my elbow, and it grabbed at my clothes and let go," he said.  Just before Sherry got into the car, the creature put its arms on Sherry's shoulders, then dropped them.  The man got into the car and the creature continued to stand there, very erect.  As Sherry pulled away, he could see it raise one arm.

Two years later, he can laugh about that gesture, "I thought he was waving bye-bye," Sherry said, "but I learned that a lot of people say that they'll put one arm up."

"They" are the Bigfoot creatures, and Sam Sherry,, until then an unbeliever, drove away knowing that he'd seen something well beyond unusual.

"While I was standing there studying the creature, it occurred to me that I had a problem, that I can't tell this to anybody because nobody would believe this," he said.

But he soon told the story to someone who told him about Stan Gordon, director of the Pennsylvania Association for the Study of the Unexplained based in Greensburg.  Gordon came out to the site and so did John Micklow, a retired Latrobe police officer who volunteers with PASU.

What Sherry said he saw was nothing new.  Each year, dozens of reports of Bigfoot creatures and unidentified flying objects are made to PASU.  Although the cases are no longer making headlines, plenty of people report chilling incidents that can't be explained.  Many of them have taken place in the Laurel Highlands, particularly along the Chestnut Ridge, which has become known as Pennsylvania's Twilight Zone

"That ridge seems to have a pattern (of sightings) for what reason, I don't know," Micklow said, "Maybe it's because it's pretty wild up there and not heavily populated.  If there's any other reason, I don't know what it is."

Alleged UFO and Bigfoot sightings have been known since the worldwide flap of 1973.  Then, it made big news.  Now there are few media reports, but that doesn't mean the sightings have stopped.  Gordon emphasizes that the witnesses are average people and most of them hesitate to tell anyone what they've seen for fear of ridicule.  It's the guaranteed anonymity that allows them to finally get in touch with PASU, often through referrals from the police.

The details from local sightings and from all around the world are always strikingly similar.  In the case of the creatures, they're usually tall, hairy, ape-like, have glowing red eyes, are often foul-smelling, and sometimes emit screams that have been described as sounding like a woman in pain.  In the case of UFOs, they come in all sizes, from small enough to fly through windows to bigger than a house.  They can hover or flit around quickly.  The creatures and UFOs have also been known to suddenly disappear.

The spring of 1990 was a particularly busy time for Bigfoot reports in the Laurel Highlands.  On the ridge above Youngstown (near Latrobe) a witness said that for the last several springs he and some neighbors had been hearing high-pitched screams at night.

"He's hunted all his life and he lives on a farm, right next to the woods," Micklow said.  "He knows just about everything that comes and goes through the area."

What he heard was nothing he'd heard before, and what he finally saw was unlike anything he'd ever seen.  On this night the screams were so close to the house that he couldn't resist investigating.  It was about 3 a.m. when he and his son went out and scanned the yard with a flashlight.  There at the edge of the field was a small, hairy ape-like creature standing upright and staring back at him with intense red eyes.  Unlike most reported Bigfoot creatures, this one wasn't very big.  The witness estimated it to be only about three and a half to four feet tall. 

I froze," he told Micklow.  "It just let out a scream and I shut the light out and didn't know what to expect.  I just shut the light off.  The hair on the back of my head stood up.  That's how scared I was."

The man heard it one more time on another night, and woke up his wife.  Until then, she never believed there was anything out there.  Now she's changed her mind.

In another sighting that spring, a man going night fishing at Donegal Lake pulled into the parking lot, walked to the edge of the water with his little dog and 15 minutes later the dog began barking and twirling around.  When the man got up and shined his light behind him, he saw a huge hairy creature just 50 to 100 feet away.  It let out three shrieks then turned and walked into the woods.  The man gave the usual description: hairy and ape-like but he estimated that it stood seven feet tall and weighed about 400 pounds.

" He was frightened," Micklow said.  "He ran to his car and went directly home, about a mile away, and called the state police, who directed him to us."

In 1988 there were high-pitched screams in a series of incidents near Laughlintown, but the man who heard them said they happened about 4:30 to 5 p.m. not at night.

"He couldn't figure out what it was, but one afternoon he was walking around and heard where it was coming from," Micklow said.  "He knew this wooded area like the back of his hand, and he stood there for about ten minutes looking over the hill."

At first he couldn't see anything, then about 100 yards ahead it looked like a stump where he knew he hadn't cut down any trees.  Then the "stump" started moving away.  PASU has tape recordings of alleged Bigfoot screams.  When Micklow played one, the man said that's what he'd been hearing for a week.

A year or two earlier, a woman who lives on the ridge west of Derry heard similar screaming, but thought her horses were carrying on.  Several nights later she heard the sound again, looked out the window and saw a Bigfoot type creature walk through her yard, cross the electric fence and go into a wooded area.

Micklow has never seen anything himself that couldn't be explained, but he believes there are some things that just aren't natural.  Yes, there are hoaxes, like when someone fabricated footprints at the Sleepy Hollow causeway after media coverage of that reported sighting.  But PASU experts can tell when tracks are faked.  Real footprints leave impressions of muscle and tendon surfaces, and weight distribution.

"We don't go in with the idea that we're dealing with a hoax," Micklow said.  "We go into the investigation with an open mind to determine all the facts, and we try to determine if the incident is really something natural."

Many times people see big dogs or bears, or objects in the sky that are explainable natural phenomena or man-made.  But there's still that intriguing percentage of unexplainable incidents, such as in January of 1990 when an Oak Grove resident (near Ligonier) taking the family dog out at night found eight three-toed footprints in the snow, five and a half feet apart.)

There were nearly 70 five-toed prints left in the snow during a blizzard-like storm on February 13, 1985.  At around 6 a.m. several persons traveling a road on the Derry side of the Chestnut Ridge noticed what they initially thought were bear prints.  However, these impressions were 15 inches long, nine inches wide and showed a stride from 48 to 65 inches.  PASU investigators followed the tracks for a distance, but the severe weather halted their efforts.

Were the impressions left by a known mammal, or once again had something unexplained happened on the Chestnut Ridge?  And what was it that on April 16, 1989, on the southern end of the ridge in Fayette County, disturbed the farmer's livestock and caused his dog to act strange?  The witness swore it was a huge, 8-foot tall hair manlike creature that ran, then easily cleared a high fence at the edge of a field

Indeed, what are these people seeing, and what's leaving behind the footprints?  "We just represent the facts," Micklow said.  "You can draw your own conclusions.
To be continued.


Anonymous said...

Sounds cool, I live about 30 min north of there.

Lauren said...

Sam Sherry's story is a sad one. It sounds like the creature, possibly a Bigfoot/Sasquatch, was reaching out to him for help. However, if I'd been in Mr. Sherry's position during the encounter, I can't say that I would've done anything different from what he did. How long after his encounter did Stan Gordon and John Micklow investigate the site where it occurred? Did they find anything?