Norwalk, 1930—The case of the Norwalk Ape is an interesting one, particularly as it relates to the possibility of Bigfoot in Ohio.
If, for example, everyone who told a newspaper reporter that they saw an ape in or around the city of Norwalk in Huron County in the summer of 1930 really did see a genuine flesh-and-blood creature, then it’s possible what they were seeing wasn’t an escaped ape of some kind, but rather what we would have called “Bigfoot”, if it the term “Bigfoot” had existed at the time (The word didn’t start getting used to describe hairy humanoid creatures seen in the United States until 1958).
After all, the witnesses seemed to have trouble deciding just what sort of ape it was they were seeing, and no one seemed quite sure where, exactly, it might have come from. (That the Norwalk Ape sightings represent an early twentieth century of Bigfoot sightings in Ohio is a possibility suggested by author Chad Arment, whose 2006 book The Historical Bigfoot collects many of the Norwalk Ape newspaper articles of that summer).
Despite plenty of sightings and lots of articles in the local press at the time, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of agreement as to what the ape actually looked like, as it was described alternately as a chimpanzee, an “organ-otang”, “a huge ape,” “a large gray animal,” “some kind of lumbering, half-upright creature” and, my favorite, “the shape of what appeared to be a man.” It’s behavior seemed all over the place too, as in addition to lurking around houses and farm fields, it was also seen climbing in a tree, beating its chest and, in one case, invading a couple’s kitchen.
The popular explanation for its appearance in northern Ohio, a place where no wild apes should be found—unless, of course, we want to entertain the theory that the ape was really an example of the species that would eventually come to be known as Bigfoot—was that it had escaped from a traveling circus or animal exhibit of some kind, although, as is often the case in such sightings of mysterious, out-of-place animals, no circus or exhibit reported missing an ape.
The Norwalk Ape’s fate was ultimately as mysterious as its origin, as it was never caught or killed, it just stopped appearing in papers.
Illustration by Janie Walland