Okay, I agree, the phenomenon exists, but does Bigfoot?
"It's really interesting," Franzoni replies, slyly. "People ask, `Do you believe in Bigfoot?' and not `is it possible?'"
Fair enough, I concede, it's possible. But: does Bigfoot exist?
"There was a time when I would have wanted Bigfoot to exist, but I came to realize that it was better to leave it as a mystery," he says. "The evidence does not rise to the level of scientific proof, although it might be good enough for a courtroom. So that's how I look at it now: as a mystery."
He describes himself as "skeptically open-minded" on the issue, and I ask him how one should balance the two, skepticism and open-mindedness. "You have to wear your `skepticles,'" he replies. "You have to maintain a very critical attitude." So . . . he doesn't believe? He smiles. "I tell people, if you'd seen all the evidence I have, you'd be open-minded, too. I also tell people that the science of today is not the science of tomorrow." (This last point can be used to buttress either faith or skepticism. One Bigfoot book from the mid-70s that I read compared Bigfoot to coelacanths and the Tasaday tribespeople-phenomena that took mainstream science by surprise. Coelacanths turned out to be genuine prehistoric relics, while the Tasaday were later exposed as a hoax.)
As I listen, I can't help but wonder if open-minded might be a code word for I'm admitting nothing. If it is, I can't blame Henry; after all, if you acknowledge believing in Bigfoot, people either get out their butterfly nets or try to sell you keychains from Atlantis. As Franzoni points out, researching Bigfoot has very little upside and a lot of downside. In any case, it appears Franzoni has another reason for being cagey: protecting the big, hairy lug.
"I realized that all these stories I was making public-sightings going back hundreds of years-were like recipes on how to find Bigfoot," Franzoni says. "And I came to the conclusion that that wouldn't be a good thing. So now I cover my tracks. I don't mention details. If I saw a Bigfoot picnicking at Champoeg Park, I'd probably come home and tell my wife, and that would be the end of it."
It seems, for Henry Franzoni, Bigfoot isn't really about Bigfoot, anyway. "If I were going to write a book about my Bigfoot research, Bigfoot itself would be a tiny footnote in the appendix," he says. "It's all the other stuff that I learned that I find much more interesting. I gained a real appreciation for how fragile the natural balance is. I learned a hell of a lot about Indian myths and Indian societies. I learned how to do good science, and that sometimes good science isn't good enough. And all this led me to doing what I'm doing now.
"I've kept the values I had at Reed. I learned there to focus on the things that are important." He laughs. "In my case, that turned out to be three things: rock and roll, Bigfoot, and salmon."
Matthew Burtch '82 is a freelance writer in San Francisco. He wrote about Joan Holden '60 in "The Play's the Sting" in the February 2000 issue.