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Durham Gorilla Revisited

Posted by: Loren Coleman on August 2nd, 2011

During July of 1973, the rural town of Durham, Maine, in Androscoggin County (and into nearby Cumberland County), was the site of several reports of a “gorilla.”

The following summary is my overview of the case from the archives:

The specific location of the sightings were ~

(#1) Shiloh-Lisbon Falls Road area, in Brunswick, Maine; half-mile from the Huntington home, in Durham, Maine;

(#2) near Durham Road, in the Jones Cemetery, Durham, Maine;

(#3) River Road, near the Jones Cemetery, at the Durham-Brunswick, Maine line; and

(#4) “behind the Jones Cemetery.” at the Durham-Brunswick, Maine line.

Tied to the numbers above, this is what was observed:

(#1) Mrs. Huntington reported (after her own sighting – #3 – the following day) that her daughters have seen the animal three or four times. The first sighting consisted of four youngsters on bicycles seeing it. The three Huntington children ~ i.e. Lois Huntington, 13; George Huntington Jr., 10; Scott Huntington, 8 ~ and their friend, Tammy Sairo, 12, were riding along the road about a half-mile from the Huntington home. They matter-of-factly reported an encounter with a chimp.

Mrs. Huntington would later tell reporters: “My 13-year-old daughter fell off her bike about three feet from him and all he did was cock his head and look at her.” It was described as upright and chimpanzee-like. The quiet, intelligent, reserved Lois reportedly told the Maine Sunday Telegram: “I fell right down in front of him and all he did was look at me. I would have known if it were a hippie or something. But it had a regular monkey face. You have seen a monkey before, haven’t you?”

(#2) A gorilla-like animal standing on its hind legs was observed two or three times by a James Washburn. Officers searching the area found moose and deer tracks. (Please note – Finding moose tracks anywhere in Maine is not unusual.)

(#3) Mrs. George (Meota) Huntington, 33, of Lisbon Falls Road, Durham was driving home from a baseball game when she saw the “ape” peeking out from the bushes on the Durham Road. It was twenty feet away, and made a “mad dash” on two legs into the heavily wooded area. The exact description of the “ape” was that it was a little over five feet tall, with a shaggy, black coat, and weighing about 350 pounds.

She says it had a “monkey face.” “Chimp-like” was another way it was described. She coasted her vehicle so as not to scare it, but when it apparently saw her vehicle, then it ran into the woods. She reportedly saw it two separate times during this incident, as she returned with neighbors and sighted it again. She stayed in her car, as others searched the woods. She was sitting in her car, when she saw it again, peering at her from the crotch of a tree.

Soon after police were notified, the following arrived to begin a search – Androscoggin Sheriff’s Department (a number of deputies), Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department, the Maine State Police, and State of Maine Game Wardens. Altogether, over thirty officers in thirty police cars searched for the animal for two hours. (A helicopter was used in a search in the following days.)

Tracks found near a cemetery and not directly associated with the sighting looked human but had claws – they appeared to be of a bear. At first, that night, some officers brushed off the whole incident as a bear sighting. This would change.

Huntington commented: “They make it out to a monster. I never said it was a monster.”

(#4) By Friday, 27 July 1973, several more (unidentifed) witnesses had come forth saying they had seen “it.” At 7:30 PM, Peter and Jean Merrill found a footprint behind the Jones Cemetery, the scene of most of the sightings. They said it looked like a chimpanzee print.

Androscoggin County Deputy Sheriff Blaine Footman (sic) examined the series of prints, and cast what was described as one which was “rather deep.” Footman said it was about five inches wide with “the thumb part broken off. Whatever made it weighs 300 or 350 pounds and I can’t tell you much more. It’s definitely not a bear track. I don’t know what’s going on here and I’d rather not express an opinion.”

Other witnesses included Huntington’s daughters and friend who were riding bikes near their home. Washburn’s activities are not noted. Huntington was in her automobile, returning from a local baseball game. (Information on the opponents and score were not collected, unfortunately.)

Reports of a gorilla suit not returned since March 1973, to a Portland area costume shop were mentioned in the press, but did not seem to be considered too related to these incidents by the central Maine authorities. By Saturday, 28 July 1973, after many more phone calls from others confirming they had seen an unusual animal in the area, police were taking the sightings very seriously.

The reports had a high level of reliability, according to Brent Raynes and David Downs who interviewed witnesses and investigated the case in 1973.

gorillareal

No wild, captive, or zoological garden gorillas existed in the state of Maine in 1973. The above example of a zoo gorilla is for illustrative purposes only.

The specific eyewitness(es) for each incident were:

(#1) Lois Huntington, 13; George Huntington Jr., 10; Scott Huntington, 8 and their friend Tammy Sairo, 12;
(#2) James Washburn;
(#3) Mrs. George (Meota) Huntington, 33; and
(#4) Peter and Jean Merrill.

The times for each encounter were:

(#1) 25th, afternoon;
(#2) 25th, nighttime;
(#3) 26th, about 7:15 p.m.; and
(#4) footprint discovered 27th, 7:30 p.m.

gorillareplica

The details of the case appeared in the following newspapers through articles (now archived and highlighted on a map at the International Cryptozoology Museum):

26 July 1973 The Times Record, Brunswick, Maine.
27 July 1973 Evening Journal, Lewiston-Auburn, Maine.
27 July 1973 Press Herald, Portland, Maine.
27 July 1973 Daily Sun, Lewiston, Maine.
27 July 1973 Evening Express, Portland, Maine.
27 July 1973 The Times Record, Brunswick, Maine.
28 July 1973 Daily Sun, Lewiston, Maine.
28 July 1973 Press Herald, Portland, Maine.
28 July 1973 Evening Express, Portland, Maine.
29 July 1973 Boston Sunday Globe, Boston, Massachusetts.
29 July 1973 Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland, Maine.
30 July 1973 Daily Sun, Lewiston, Maine.
30 July 1973 Evening Journal, Lewiston-Auburn, Maine.
30 July 1973 The Times Record, Brunswick, Maine.
31 July 1973 The Times Record, Brunswick, Maine.

What can be re-discovered about this episode to inform the source of these sightings?

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


4 Responses to “Durham Gorilla Revisited”

  1. Hapa responds:

    Over 5 feet tall, 300 to 350 lbs, said over and over again to be chimp like…sounds more like a friggin Bondo-bili Giant chimp rather than a Gorilla. The chances of a giant chimp unrecognized at the time by science to be roaming Maine seems astronomical. What’s also interesting is that one of the eyewitness reports agrees with the Sheriff’s estimate of the creature’s weight based on its tracks.

    However, the tracks recovered and the upright stance of the animal scream out Bigfoot, albeit in these descriptions with a closer affinity to Chimpanzees. Given the repeated “chimp-like” nature of the beast it makes me wonder why it wasn’t called the “Giant Chimp of Durham” (“Durham Gorilla” sounds better and it was the size of a gorilla, though by 1973 people should have been able to distinguish Gorillas and Chimps!). The second sighting was of a “Gorilla-like” creature but due to not finding any tracks at the site, makes me wonder if this was a legit sighting. It would be interesting to have all the descriptive information of the number 4 sightings to see if the animal is also described chimp like, more so than Gorilla like.
    The clawed human like tracks are most likely of a bear (legit bigfoot tracks are claw-less, and primate feet and hands have no claws but fingernails, save for humans who allow their nails to grow exceedingly long. Bears have human-like feet, on occasion walks upright, and when the fore and hind paws of bears leave tracks on a same spot it looks like a giant human track. Combined with claws, the “human like tracks with claws were most likely of a bear, and different from the later track the Sheriff examined.)

    Both Gorillas and Chimps (especially Bonobo/Pygmy Chimps), like bears, can and do occasionally walk upright. Surprisingly, their feet are less human like than bear hind paws (ape feet have an “opposable thumb”). One Lowland Gorilla in a zoo is famous for walking upright more than normal, and was shown on a recent Bigfoot documentary (Bigfoot the definitive guide). Oliver, a bald chimpanzee that was circus trained, became a master bipedal walker, so much so that, combined with his unusual appearance, made some question if he was a humanzee. Such apes with a predisposition to upright walking that got out of a private research facility or other places that keep wildlife could be responsible for events like this. However, as Loren Coleman noted, no Gorillas were kept in Maine at the time, and unlike chimps, the creature that made the track was Gorilla sized and lacked an opposable thumb on its feet (Though Bili apes get to around 300 lbs, they were not known back then and also have an opposable thumb on their feet. Even if the track lacked a defined opposable thumb due to the way the animal held it when stepping, Bili apes were not recognized or kept in the States at the time.)

    Very interesting occurrence Mr. Coleman.

  2. Bob K. responds:

    Based on the fact that it made “a mad dash on two legs”, I’m thinking that it is less likely that this was a chimp or gorilla. Juvenile ‘squatches apparently are reported to have simian looking faces as opposed to adults, who seem to have far more human like mugs.
    Since this individual was only 5 foot tall – and a big boy at 300-350 lbs. – nevertheless, he still had a long way to grow to adulthood if he was a Bigfoot.
    I’d guess that this was either a young Bigfoot or perhaps some kind of Nape.

  3. Mandigo responds:

    ” I would have known if it were a hippie or something”

    from re-runs I remember Ironside was really down on the hippies in the seventies – the fact that a child had to discount hippies as an explanation for a chimp/gorilla sighting does give an amusing insight into what societies general view of this group was in 1973 Durham, Maine – and maybe how in that time they had become scapegoats/boogeymen for unexplained ill events (who’d get this distinction today, clown faced teens, loners in black leather overcoats?).

  4. lordoftheonionrings responds:

    Very interesting. From what people have gathered from Bigfoot reports, they tend to travel in family groups. I have often wondered what would happen if a young bigfoot was orphaned. I think that would be our best bet of finding one, as it might not know how to survive/avoid humans on its own. Not to mention that would be the most likely time for one to seek out humans if it was confused or was seeking help. That could possibly be why it was sighted so many times within such a close vicinity of humans.



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