February 12, 2017

Pot Sasquatch, The Boston Yeti, and The Return of The Wildman

Before I delve into this week's topic, I wanted to let you know I will be speaking at Boskone, New England's longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. Boskone 54 takes place February 17 - 19 at the Westin Boston Waterfront at 245 Summer Street. On Saturday afternoon I'll be moderating a panel titled "New England: The Legend, The Lore, The Mystery," and on Sunday at noon I'll be participating in a panel on how fiction writers use mythology in their work. If you are attending Boskone be sure to say hello! I am sure it will be a great convention.

Now, onto this week's topic. The groundhog saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter, and that certainly seems to be the case in New England. We just had a blizzard last week, and now another storm AND a blizzard are on track for today and tomorrow. Nature's fury has been unleashed, and along with ice and snow our region has been visited by some mysterious creatures.

On February 9, Channel 22 meteorologist Janille Paglie was reporting from Springfield about that day's blizzard when she and her crew noticed something odd behind her. Someone dressed in a Sasquatch costume covered in pot leaves was cavorting around in the snow. At first the "creature" played some hide and seek, and then frolicked openly in the street. Channel 22 dubbed it Pot Sasquatch, and it became an internet sensation.

Pot Sasquatch reminded me of the Boston Yeti, who roamed the deserted streets of Boston during the Snowmageddon blizzards of 2015. Like Pot Sasquatch, Boston Yeti was clearly a human in a cryptid costume who appeared during inclement winter weather. The yeti was eventually revealed to be Someville resident John Campopiano, who said in an interview with The Improper Bostonian that he was always fascinated with UFOs and Bigfoot as a child. The yeti outfit was an old Halloween costume he owned which he felt compelled to don during the 2015 snowstorms. There was very little snow here in 2016, but the Boston yeti did emerge from hibernation for the February 9 blizzard.

OK, so what's going on here? Why did Massachusetts see not one but two cryptid impersonators playing in the same blizzard? Some photos might help explain the situation a little bit.

Boston Yeti (Somerville, Massachusetts)
Pot Sasquatch (Springfield, Massachusetts)
Krampus (Ischgl, Austria)
European winter mummer, photo by Charles Freger
European winter mummer, photo by Charles Freger
Many regions of Europe have traditions of people in monstrous costumes parading at winter. Krampus is probably the one best known in the United States, but there are other similar traditions across Europe. The costumed celebrants in these processions often represent the cold dark forces of winter, although sometimes they instead represent the powers of spring that ultimately banish winter for another year. These mythical creatures are frightening, magical, and sometimes playful, and they are an important part of local seasonal celebrations.

We don't have those traditions in the United States. Some folklore-minded Americans are trying to create Krampus processions here in the States, but I am not sure if it will ever catch one. Most Americans associate spooky costumes with Halloween, not the winter. But when I see Pot Sasquatch and Boston Yeti, I can't help but wonder if our own indigenous version of these traditions might be forming spontaneously. Krampus needs a lot of explanation, but most Americans know what Sasquatch and the Yeti are.

Even if Sasquatch processions don't become a tradition, I think Pot Sasquatch and Boston Yeti show that some people yearn to dress up like monsters in the winter, and that other people repond to them. It just feels right somehow. Maybe the winter makes us wish we could sprout fur and run wild.

Humans have been dressing up as monsters for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks paraded around in satyr costumes, Medieval Europeans dressed like leaf-covered wildmen, and Austrians still disguise themselves as Krampus. Now someone in Springfield has dressed like Pot Sasquatch. He may just seem like a weirdo looking for attention, but he's really the latest incarnation of an ancient time-honored tradition.

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