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Central West Virginia has a new monster museum which pays tribute to Bigfoot, and what could be lurking in West Virginia’s forests.
The museum in Sutton is small, located in the back of a store that sells knick-knacks and handmade items by local artisans.
The co-owner of the West Virginia Bigfoot Museum, Laurell Petolicchio, wore a soft cream-colored sweater as she meandered through aisles of kids’ puzzles and wooden, hand-carved toys. She then headed into the new museum, where a six-foot tall, wooden sculpture stood prominently. It looked like a bearded man with long hair. Petolicchio said the sculpture is what kicked off the idea for the museum.
“He brought it in and I said, ‘Oh, you brought me Bigfoot?’ And he said, ‘No. Those are out West. And they’re mean.’” His opinion of Bigfoot being “mean” is something that is disputed among some Bigfoot researchers.
Unlike the stories of those grumpier Sasquatch, the woodcarver, (who Petolicchio said prefers to remain anonymous) had based his statue on a local version of Bigfoot. “We have the Old Man of the Mountain. And we have a lot of them here. And they’re not mean.’”
The wood carver wasn’t the only person who told Petolicchio the local name for Bigfoot. Others in Braxton County referred to “The Old Men Of The Mountain” to describe giant primate-looking creatures they claim to have spotted in the area. These Bigfoot sightings in Braxton County, according to Petolicchio, include no instances of violence.
The worst story she’s heard is they threw rocks, but didn’t hit anyone. She said she thinks they’re pretty tame and have just kind of figured out how to live side by side with people in a pretty remote part of Appalachia.
“And the fact that they’re throwing large rocks as something to scare you away but not hitting you says a lot about what their intent is,” Petolicchio said. “They just want you to go away and leave them alone.”
Petolicchio didn’t believe in Bigfoot, until recently. She changed her tune after hearing one story after the other about the “old men of the mountain.”
“I’ve had people tell me that they have them living on their land like they have for generations. One guy, he said he has eight of them. And they’ve been on his land since he knows of, since he was 16. And he’s in his 60s.”
Even though she’s never seen Bigfoot herself, Petolicchio said she believes these sightings are true because she’s heard so many similar stories from people she respects.
According to Petolicchio, there are about a hundred sightings reported in West Virginia. Petolicchio’s museum even has some casts of footprints that are supposedly made by Bigfoot.
When asked if there are theories that they’re just people that happen to take up residence in the woods and go wild, Petolicchio said no. “Even the locals, they call it the old man of the mountain but they don’t believe that it is a man. They think it’s an animal like a bear. They keep saying that. They said it’s not a bear, but it’s something different and it walks on two legs and it acts man-like, but not man-like enough.”
A lot of the sightings she’s heard of are around Sutton Lake. Some people have seen a big creature swimming in the lake, even swimming under a canoe while a family was out fishing.
Petolicchio and her husband celebrated the launch of the museum back in June with a Bigfoot festival in downtown Sutton. The local library got involved and kids made crafts. Well-known Bigfoot researchers also spoke. They’ve had a steady stream of people stop by the museum since then, and Petolicchio said a few tourists from Europe have even dropped by.
“I think everyone relates to Bigfoot a little bit, because it’s a mystery that has yet to be solved,” Petolicchio said. “And I think as human beings, we just love the unknown. But also it draws from all walks of society, because, you know, real men’s men can be into Bigfoot, and be looking for it.”
That search can get people to explore West Virginia’s forests and connect with its untamed wilderness. “And I think there’s also like a sense of freedom about Bigfoot, just the thought that something could still be surviving, even in North America, where there’s so much commercialization built up. I think, it just really excites the imagination.”
Petolicchio and her husband are planning a series of Bigfoot-themed events, including a bigger festival next summer when they celebrate the one-year anniversary of their museum.