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Bigfoot Lends a Hand

This article is more than 12 years old.

Boston is a hub of scientific innovation. But one field of study has been low profile here....until now.

'The Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute' just opened in Roxbury, and we sent WBUR's Andrea Shea to check it out.

She explains what Cryptozoology, a best-selling author, and Yeti hair-balls have to do with encouraging school kids to write.

Audio for this story will be available on WBUR's web site later today.


Sound of street

ANDREA SHEA: From the street the Bigfoot Research Institute looks like a cross between a science lab and a hiking store.

Sound inside the institute

ANDREA SHEA: Inside the place is chock full of the stuff of Cryptozoology. Hidden animals...such as the Yeti or the Loch Ness Monster.

DANIEL JOHNSON: Not mythical animals we believe these animals are out there and with you know dedicated research we can find them.

ANDREA SHEA: Daniel Johnson is the institute's Executive Director.

Sound of boxes being cut

ANDREA SHEA: Flanked by a crew of interns wearing lab coats, he slices open boxes of stock for this new supply store where aspiring Cryptozoologists can buy...

DANIEL JOHNSON: Lollypops with scorpions, worms, crickets inside, we have a leech tank, we have giant crabs, we carry things such as monoculars, $20 good for one eye.

ANDREA SHEA: Wooden drawers are lined with vintage-looking bottles of Nessie tendrils, Yeti hairballs, and Unicorn tears...all for sale. Beside them sits an old-school typewriter.

Sound of typewriter

ANDREA SHEA: While the curiosities will pull in some money for the non-profit organization, its real mission lies behind a secret door.

Sound of secret door sliding open and then the busy writing room

ANDREA SHEA: This is 826 Boston...a cozy but rigorous tutoring center for area school students, ages 6-18. It's one of seven novel storefronts created by Dave Eggers, author of the best-selling memoir, 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.' The 826 shops in other cities have different themes: pirates, superheroes, time travel and outer space.

HANNAH NOLAN-SPOHN: It's building literacy, its building confidence, it's talking about writing as a process.

ANDREA SHEA: And it's firing up imaginations, according to Hannah Nolan-Spohn, Programs Coordinator here at 826 Boston.

HANNAH NOLAN-SPOHN: At the same time it's encouraging students by giving them a tangible product that they can take home and feel like ok, I am a published writer, my writing is worth while.

ANDREA SHEA: She recently published a book of poems written by kids here that were inspired by Pablo Neruda's 'Ode to a Common Thing.'

POEM: 'Oh tree, you are bonito all year round. In winter your leaves are gone and your ramas are covered in nieve...'

ANDREA SHEA: Sophia Madden is a 4th grader who lives up the street. She says before 826 Boston opened the hours after school were tough.

SOPHIA MADDEN: I would go home with my mom and struggle with my homework so this is a real help for me cause I've been doing better than I have with homework and it's a really cool place.

ANDREA SHEA: And not just for kids. 43 year old Maurice Ellis walks by this place every day...grew up in Roxbury...and wishes there'd been something like this here when he was a kid.

MAURICE ELLIS: I'm gonna let all the kids on my block know about this, if they don't already know, but I don't think they do because they're hanging out on the steps now.

ANDREA SHEA: Christopher Patrone hangs out here. On this day the 9 year old is working with one of about 400 volunteers writing and illustrating comic books.

CHRISTOPHER PATRONE: This is the one I'm working on, it's super Stupid Powers. There's House-wrestling Teenagers, there's Super Slow Turtle, there's Ordinary Man and there's Nagamom. Oh yeah, and there's Pajama Monkey.

ANDREA SHEA: And then there's Bigfoot. Patrone, like everyone here, wonders: does he exist?

CHRISTOPHER PATRONE: There hasn't been any real evidence but I can believe in Bigfoot I do believe in aliens.

Sound of feet crunching through the snow

ANDREA SHEA: Patrone, other aspiring young writers and Cryptozoologists will continue their quest for answers here at the Bigfoot Research Institute. Especially now that the 'Simulactron' is up-and-running. It's a climate-simulation chamber that retraces the footsteps of snow-crunching Yeti explorers.

For WBUR I'm Andrea Shea.

This program aired on April 15, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.


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