SUTTON, W.Va. (WBOY) — The West Virginia Bigfoot Museum in Sutton, West Virginia is a building that consists of no more than a handful of rooms, but houses one of the largest collections of bigfoot casts in the world.
Visitors from Hawaii to France have come to see the museum—a mixture of bigfoot believers, skeptics, and the simply curious.
The museum is run by Laurel Petolicchio and her son David, who said the whole thing started by accident, as the museum originally began as a consignment store to show off local craft makers. Laurel said one day a local wood carver brought in a statue of the creature to promote his work, and after that, they had many locals come in to look at the carving who then began sharing their own bigfoot encounters with the family.
Neither of the Petolicchios believed in the creature to begin with, but as they heard more and more stories, they began to believe something was out there.
“I didn’t believe in bigfoot until I started talking to normal people,” David Petolicchio said. “I was not specifically a bigfoot fan, I was always interested in cryptids because I think it’s cool as a hobby, but I didn’t actually think bigfoot was real because there was no body yet.”
It wasn’t until West Virginia cryptid hunter Les O’Dell started looking for somewhere to display his collection of bigfoot casts that the gift store transformed into a museum in 2021. Since then the museum’s collection has grown substantially, and now features nearly 40 different plaster casts that are believed to belong to bigfoot-type creatures.
Locals have offered to have their casts displayed in the museum, though when approached, others are more hesitant. The museum has had at least two instances of people attempting to break into the museum or the cases that contain the prints, and hunters are very wary of potential risks to their findings when they believe they have evidence that could point to bigfoot’s existence.
“We get why people are a little bit nervous about giving stuff away because people do value it a lot. We’ve had people try and pull them out and try and touch stuff before, and we’re like, ‘[you] can’t do that, don’t touch anything.’ We don’t want to break anything because it’s worth a lot to the guys that have found them, because they’ll find one every decade if that. It’s rare to these guys,” David said.
In the West Virginia region, many descriptions of bigfoot fit a similar profile. They can range between 5-8 ft. tall, are covered in dark fur, and by most accounts, are docile and not aggressive toward humans. It is theorized by cryptid experts Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum and Les O’Dell that the bigfoot species is migratory as well, which could contribute to their elusiveness. Many accounts also describe them as traveling in small units, suggesting families may travel together.
In Appalachian folklore, these creatures were referred to as “Old Men of the Mountain,” and were thought of as lucky omens, believed to keep black bears away from livestock.
“Most people, at least in this area, I think consider it an animal with a low population,” Laurel said. “But again, you have big ones, little ones, you’ve got different sizes, but a lot of people just consider it an animal, but one that should be protected.”
Since starting a dedicated bigfoot museum, the Petolicchio’s have heard a number of stories about bigfoot encounters from both locals and visitors, many of which sound believable, while many others sound outlandish. However, since they have a working relationship with people who study bigfoot accounts for a living, they are often able to consult Meldrum and O’Dell to see if these stories make sense.
“I actually find the normal ones the most interesting. The ones where somebody’s basically seen one, or their family has seen one for generations, and they kind of just acknowledge its existence. They don’t like to mess with it, and they’re pretty low-key and casual with it I guess. I think that’s the most interesting to me because it’s less sensationalized which gives it more credibility in my mind. Like, the more really dramatic ones I find more dubious because it’s like, it adds to the possibility that it was made up. Whereas the farmers and stuff and the hunters that come in and are just like, ‘yeah, I saw one, so I don’t hunt on that ridge anymore because I don’t want to piss it off,’ or whatever, like it’s a little more G-rated and logical. It makes more sense to me.”David Petolicchio
“I find the hunters’ stories fascinating because the younger girls that run into these, they’re always 14-feet tall and their eyes were—that kind of stuff, ’cause they’re scared. But a hunter will tell you, ‘No it was between six and seven feet tall’ or ‘it was between seven and eight feet tall,’ because they’re a better judge of height when they’re out in the woods because they’re used to being out there.”Laurel Petolicchio
At the same time, they also hear many stories that are unbelievable or downright nonsense, but David says the history of bigfoot hoaxes is a key element in the mythology of the creature and wants to incorporate that history into the museum’s exhibits.
“We’re confident enough in our subject matter that we are totally comfortable presenting the other sides of it too, like the hoaxes and things that people mistake it for. And then again, that’s part of being a holistic museum on a controversial subject,” David said. “I do think most Bigfoot stuff is a misidentification. I think nine out of 10 probably are.”
Towns like Rhinelander, Wisconsin have shown that hoaxes can be used to a town’s benefit when it comes to tourism. The now-infamous Hodag hoax first appeared in 1883 when newspapers reported the discovery of a creature with “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end.” Years after the creature was found to be a fake, the town of Rhinelander embraced the creature, and is now the mascot for the Rhinelander High School. Statues of the creature can be found throughout the town, including one inside the local ice arena with light-up eyes and a smoke machine.
“It was a joke, but it’s become a big part of the town. They’ve actually fully embraced it like, ‘yeah, it was a hoax. It’s hilarious. Come see it.’ I really like that too, I respect that. I think there’s fun in that too as long as you’re not like purposely being dishonest about stuff either.”
Pictures and casts of mythical feet aren’t all you can find at the West Virginia Bigfoot Museum, however. Farther into the building you can find a gift shop packed with locally made bigfoot merchandise. Coffee mugs, t-shirts, shot glasses, plushies and artwork, bigfoot-shaped cookie cutters and even a bag of cotton candy called “Sasquatch Poo” are just a few of the items you can find while visiting the museum.
“We’re basically trying to use it to be a champion for like Braxton County, and West Virginia as a whole. We’re trying to help the whole state with something because it’s a real subject that was already here, that we genuinely didn’t know about,” David said.
The Petolicchio’s said promoting the town of Sutton was their primary goal for starting the museum in the first place, as well as to show off the variety of evidence they have collected of bigfoot’s existence.
“Keep an open mind, because it’s a big world out there and I don’t think we’ve found everything, we haven’t discovered everything. And with the amount of evidence that we have in this little museum alone, I truly believe there’s something out there,” Laurel said.
The West Virginia Bigfoot Museum is free to all visitors and is open Wednesday — Friday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Maybe you’ll become convinced of bigfoot’s existence after your visit, or at the very least, walk away with a bag of Poo.