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story.lead_photo.caption Author and documentarian Lyle Blackburn, right, greets fans at the 2020 Fouke Monster Festival. Blackburn has spent years writing and putting together documentary films about the Fouke monster as well as other cryptids, strange rumored creatures that defy conventional explanation. Photo by Junius Stone / Texarkana Gazette.

The 2020 Fouke Monster Festival shambled forth from the deep woods to the Texarkana, Arkansas, Convention Center, playing host to 150 fans of the furry phenomenon. The festival has taken more than one form, starting out as a folksy festival in Fouke, Arkansas, where a furry costumer would be "captured" in the local jail as a fundraiser for the Fouke Fire Department. Later, the festival became a gathering place for a few years to celebrate the Fouke monster, including appearances of the cast and crew of "The Legend of Boggy Creek," the cult film from 1972 about the creature. That festival faded, but interest renewed in 2019, partly due to the remastering and rerelease of the film that started it all. COVID-19 put the 2020 festival in doubt, but many people came together to ensure the Fouke Monster got another round in the spotlight this year. Just like the legend, the show will not die.

"There's been a history of Bigfoot-type sightings in the Fouke, Arkansas, area," said Craig Wollheater, organizer and host of the show in its current incarnation as well as founder of the Texas Bigfoot Research Center of Jefferson, "The Bigfoot Capitol of Texas."

"Jefferson also has its history with this sort of cryptid, the tall, walking on two legs, hairy ape-man," he said. "I've been interested in this phenomenon since I was 13 and saw 'Legend of Boggy Creek' in theaters. Also, as a kid, I followed sightings of a similar creature, called the 'Lake Worth Monster,' in the Fort Worth, Texas, area."

Wollheater has even had his own encounter with such, in '94, with his girlfriend at the time, in small-town Louisiana, driving back from a vacation with friends in New Orleans.

"I've also seen strange, abnormally large footprints, and had a tall friend try to recreate the gait of whatever left those prints," he said. "He could not manage it."

When pondering the strange, elusive nature of this beast and how it seems so difficult to pin down, Wollheater acknowledges it does challenge the sensibilities of modern day people.

"However, when you consider the many hundreds of people interviewed who have had some sort of encounter with something like this, the stories from all over the world, sure, some may be crazy, some may be lying. There are of course hoaxes, people under the influence, or honestly mistaking something for something else. But if only a small percentage of those are the real deal, that blows the lid off things," he said.

Amber Ferguson, director of sales at the Holiday Inn and Texarkana, Arkansas, Convention Center, was a key figure in helping to save the festival and giving the convention a home this year in Texarkana, Arkansas. Besides being happy to provide a place for the show, she agrees the phenomenon in question is intriguing.

"It has always been a curiosity," she said. "And in my line of work, it does spark tourism. I'm always happy to talk to guests about local legends and myths. I also have a great aunt who was in 'Boggy Creek II: The Return.'"

The Jefferson, Texas, Bigfoot Convention for 2020 is still planned for this year, scheduled for this coming October.

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