Ever since humans began telling stories, they have spun yarns involving life forms that tower above mere mortals, whether it's the giant of "Jack and the Beanstalk" fame or Goliath or Frankenstein. Bigfoot has been a perennial for generations, with hundreds of purported sightings (many of them of supposed footprints), most prevalent in the Pacific Northwest but also popping up in states as disparate as Rhode Island, Illinois and Alabama.
The myth grew in popularity in 1967, when two men in California filmed what appeared to be a huge and hairy biped walking into the woods, at one point turning its head to glance dramatically at the camera. In Bigfootcircles, the footage is referred to as the "Patterson-Gimlin film," named for its makers, and invoked with the historical weight of the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination. In less admiring circles, the short, fuzzy clip is cited as nothing short of poppycock.
Willard knows about the film, and most everything else Bigfoot-related ("Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt once saw Bigfoot?"), all of which he's happy to share at any time, sometimes to the annoyance of his wife, Jeanean, who is prone to blurt out, "Okay, the conversation will have to change."
"After 22 years," she says, "I can get a little bit hateful."
For all of Billy Willard's certainty about Bigfoot, the buzz has not exactly caught on in the rural hamlets around Lake Anna, where many residents work at the nearby nuclear power plant or in construction or commute to Richmond or Washington.
Behind the grill at Tarheel Pig Pickers barbeque, Mark Lane, 54, giggles. "When I see Bigfoot water skiing, I'll believe it," he says. "If they catch him, we'll put him on the rotisserie and invite everyone in the community."