Saturday, July 13, 2002
Remember the Bigfoot craze of the 1970s and ‘80s? You couldn't go anywhere without hearing about a new Bigfoot sighting or seeing a television documentary about the legend of the large, apelike man that lived in the wilderness.
‘The Six Million Dollar Man,' portrayed by actor Lee Majors in the 1970s television series, had a run-in or two with the big fellow. Then, in 1987, Bigfoot made his big-screen debut in ‘Harry and the Hendersons.'
But, long before the hairy, 9-foot tall enigmatic beast ever hit the television screens and long before its image appeared on little boys' tin lunchboxes, a Bigfoot-esque creature was actually spotted right here in Winsted.
"They called him the Winsted Wildman," said Joseph Cadrain, a local historian and writer who has recounted the tale of the local Bigfoot several times. "He was seen in 1895 and the sighting caused quite a stir at the time."
A stir, to say the least.
The initial sighting was made "on a sultry August day" recall newspaper clippings from the time.
A local town official, Selectman Riley Smith, was the first to spot the creature.
Other Winsteders later supposedly saw the creature as well, but it was Smith's sighting that was given the most credibility.
According to Frank Wentworth's 1929 book, ‘The Winsted Wildman and other Tales,' Smith went up to pick berries near the Colebrook town line on Lowsaw Road in an area known then as Indian Meadow.
"While (Smith) was stooped over picking berries, his bulldog (Ned), which is noted for its pluck, ran with a whine to him and stationed itself between his legs," accounts from the Aug. 21, 1895 Winsted Herald reported. #EHEAD#
"A second afterward a large man, stark naked and covered with hair all over his body, ran out of a clump of bushes and, with fearful yells and cries, made for the woods at lightening [sic] speed where he soon disappeared.
"Selectman Smith is a powerful, wiry man and has a reputation for having lots of sand, and his bulldog is also noted for his pluck, but Riley admits that he was badly scared and his dog was fairly paralyzed with fear."
Word of Smith's tale spread throughout the little town quickly and it eventually piqued the interest of newspapers from New York and Boston.
Soon after newsmen converged on Winsted on what was then a very active rail service to not only write about the incident, but to try and capture the wildman and bring him back to the city on a return train trip.
According to Wentworth, the gaggle of reporters were unsuccessful and all they went home with were sunburns and hangovers from the local beer.
Townsfolk were scared, however, and a local posse was formed to find the mysterious creature. But like the reporters, the posse also was unsuccessful.
Winsted residents speculated on who, or what, the wildman was, Cadrain said. Some newspaper reports from the time even said the wildman may have been an insane artist named Arthur Beckwith.
Beckwith reportedly escaped from a New York insane asylum in 1894. But prior to that, Beckwith had escaped from a Litchfield asylum. He was found six months later in Cuba, living naked in the tropics and eating raw fruits and vegetables from the jungle.
But Benjamin Thomas, Winsted's municipal historian, said the wildman story over the years took on a life of its own. He said most of the tale may be more fiction than fact.
"Something happened in 1895," Thomas said. "But townspeople talked about it and added to it over the years, that's for sure."
Paul Rego has lived on Lowsaw Road, near Indian Meadow, for about 10 years. He said he's never seen anything in his rural area that even remotely resembles a Bigfoot.
"Nope, never seen nothing like that up here," Rego said recently. "We have some pretty wild-looking people in Winsted, but no wildman."
Although the wildman sighting was talked about for years in Winsted, the event is not listed on the Bigfoot Field Researches Organization Internet site.
In fact, the Web site does mention an official Bigfoot sighting in the area in Litchfield in November of 1968, 73 years after Winsted's event.
"Maybe that was the Winsted Wildman's grandson," Cadrain said with a chuckle. "Who knows? The identity of the wildman was never determined, so maybe it was a Bigfoot."