Fifty years ago, teenager Doreen Ducsay of Rennerdale in Collier and a friend were painting pictures of the local scenery near what is now the Panhandle Trail when she noticed an odd odor, somewhat like creosote.
As she turned around, she said she saw a large, hairy, ape-like creature staring at them. She screamed and the two girls grabbed their art materials and bolted for home. To this day, Mrs. Ducsay is certain she saw Bigfoot.
"I never thought he was going to hurt me, but he didn't want anybody in his space," she recollected.
So, it's no surprise that a Bigfoot-themed party was the choice for her grandson, Hunter Gratzmiller's, recent 10th birthday, especially because the Ducsay and Gratzmiller families live within easy walk of the Panhandle Trail, an abandoned railroad line that is a popular recreation site.
Planning for the event, which took place Saturday, started last winter and involved the assistance of Hunter and his sister, Faith, 7. Maps of recent sightings were made, as well as evidence bags, commemorative T-shirts and posters bearing Bigfoot's silhouette.
Led by Hunter's dad, Jim Gratzmiller, who was outfitted with a walkie-talkie, the 20-plus kids and their families -- entire families were invited -- trooped over to the trail and into the woods, where Mrs. Ducsay related her own experience and the kids searched for clues, such as hair and footprints. It wasn't long before a large, dark-colored figure appeared and all watched in amazement as the costumed creature stumbled on a rock.
One boy called out, "It's Uncle George." Mr. Gratzmiller ordered the group to run.
"Some let their imaginations run wild and others had to think everything out," observed Mrs. Ducsay. "Some of the kids were mortified; others weren't."
The group also attracted the attention of walkers on the trail, who wanted to know what was going on.
Despite the organization that went into the event, some things remain unexplained. One boy found a rock that he believes was scratched by Bigfoot; two neighborhood girls who were helping out with the party observed a footprint of unknown origin.
And Mrs. Ducsay remains resolute about her own experience.
"No one will ever convince me that that's not what I saw," she says, noting she found out several years later that a fellow classmate at Chartiers Valley High School had sighted Bigfoot in the area where the Nevilleside housing development is today.
Though she admits the Bigfoot party was a lot of effort, she said the rewards are worth it.
"It was just fun seeing all of these kids outside and not sitting behind computers," she said.neigh_west
Carole Gilbert Brown, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.