The Scientist Grover Krantz Risked It All…Chasing Bigfoot

The dedicated anthropologist donated his body to science and it’s on display, but his legacy is complicated

As the first serious scientist to study the legendary creature, Krantz risked his career and reputation on a subject that many consider a joke. And while the museum remembers him as a man who loved science so much that he donated his body to it, another community remembers Krantz as a pioneer in the study of Sasquatch. (Estate of Grover S. Krantz/Chip Clark)
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In a sentimental tribute to a man and his best friend, the skeleton of anthropologist Grover Krantz and his dog, Clyde, is on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Enclosed in a glass display case in the museum’s interactive educational space for teens, Q?rius, Krantz’s skeleton holds his dog Clyde’s articulated bones in what looks like a warm embrace. The skeletons serve as both a testament to a man’s fondness for his pet, and Krantz’s everlasting commitment to his work as an anthropologist.

“He knew that he was dying of pancreatic cancer and wanted to be articulated and put on exhibit,” says David Hunt, a forensic and physical anthropologist who carried out Krantz’s request to donate his body to science. “He said ‘well, I've been a teacher all my life so I might as well be one when I'm dead.’”

Krantz, who died in 2002, spent decades as a professor of anthropology at Washington State University, but his legacy is far more complicated than that of a beloved teacher. Today, more than a decade after his death, Krantz is known in various circles as an eccentric anthropologist. . . who believed in Bigfoot.

His work as a cryptozoologist, or a person who studies mythic creatures and tries to prove their existence, was serious, public and professionally damaging. Krantz published ten books—several were on anthropological topics like human evolution, and five were on Bigfoot.

“I think he was sort of seen as an embarrassment to the Anthropology Department at Washington State,” says Laura Krantz, a journalist and distant cousin of Grover, who is documenting his life in the serial podcast called "Wild Thing." Both Asian and North American oral traditions and cultures have accounts of an ape-like creature. Bigfoot is often referred to as Sasquatch, a term borrowed from native communities in the northwestern part of the United States, and Himalayan folklore has accounts of the Yeti, also known as “the abominable snowman.”

I think a lot of his colleagues kind of rolled their eyes at him and he was the butt of jokes,” says Laura Krantz. “Even now in anthropology circles, there are still wisecracks made about Grover Krantz.”

While his colleagues may not have taken him seriously, Krantz tried to earn his Bigfoot research some legitimacy by using his background as an expert in human evolution to make the case for the creature that most agree is a myth.

“Bigfoot is a large, massive, hairy, bipedal, higher primate. You could describe it as a gigantic man covered with hair and being rather stupid, or an oversized, upright walking gorilla,” he said in a local TV news interview in the 1990s.

Krantz had never claimed to see Bigfoot himself, instead he spoke to people who said they did, and examined clues he found in the wilderness.

“Anytime he heard anybody talking about [Bigfoot], he would get in a big old ‘66 Cadillac,” Hunt says, “and he'd drive over and he would try to make casts of the Bigfoot footprints and hear what people had to say.”

He would bring the casts back to his lab and study them. Eventually, Krantz used the clues he had to draw conclusions about Bigfoot’s evolutionary history.

“He believed that that Bigfoot was descended from an ancient ape out of Asia called Gigantopithecus that had existed about a million years ago,” Laura Krantz says. “It had potentially come over the Bering Land Bridge when sea level was very low, and migrated with a lot of other animals that came over at the time.”

But no number of corroborating myths, casts, or eyewitness accounts would lead the scientific community to accept the ape-like creature’s existence. Without a body, Bigfoot would be accepted as no more than lore. And Krantz new that. After all, how could there be no physical proof of a creature that is believed to have existed for centuries? And how could an animal that Krantz said is between 600 and 800 pounds, and six to eight feet tall, be so elusive?

“They’re not going to accept the existence of the Sasquatch until definitive evidence comes in,” Krantz said in a TV interview. “They’re taking a legitimate, skeptical attitude. They want to see the definitive proof of a body or a piece of one.”

Today, the description next to the display case of Grover Krantz and his dog Clyde’s bones at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History identifies him as an anthropologist who loved his dogs (in addition to Clyde, Krantz had also preserved the bones of his three other dogs Icky, Yahoo and Leica.) And though there is no public mention or endorsement of the mythic creature that Krantz spent decades studying, a quick Google search of his name will yield a complex, sometimes confusing legacy (as legacies so often are) of a man who was scorned by his colleagues, and valorized by both superstitious, and reluctant, Bigfoot believers.

The skeletons of Grover Krantz and his dog are on display in the Q?rius Lab at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

About Haleema Shah
Haleema Shah

Haleema Shah is the host and associate producer for the Smithsonian's "Sidedoor" podcast, and a journalist who believes in using audio to enable audiences to delve deep into the ideas that shape our world.

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