In 1862, The Territorial Enterprise, a newspaper based in Virginia City, Nevada, printed a story about the discovery of an ancient petrified man with a wooden leg in the mountains outside of town. Despite blatant geographical inaccuracies and clues to its dubious origin, the story caught the attention of the public, and was reprinted in newspapers around the world. Scientists and universities clamored to claim and study the find. It was one of the most celebrated pranks of the 19th century.
The author of the story was a cub reporter named Mark Twain.
Twain never apologized for creating the hoax. Instead he expressed incredulity at the public’s willingness to blindly accept superstition and pseudo-science, and admonished newspaper editors for encouraging such beliefs.
In 2007, when I first saw the 8mm film that would later become known as The Gable Film, I had the same reaction as most people seeing it for the first time: “What the heck is that thing?” Mike explained that he had created the film as a tribute to my song, The Legend. He described how he, with an antique film camera and a few simple props, had created something Hollywood pays millions to accomplish: a convincing special effect. Even he was surprised at how good it had turned out.
“Aaron Gable” waves to the camera. One of many scenes cut from the original film.
The film was just fuzzy enough to be believable, and creepy enough to be one wheel of a large promotional vehicle for The Legend Legacy Edition CD/DVD set. To make it compelling, an urban legend back story was created to give the film an untraceable source. My wife came up with the name “Gable Film,” because her favorite vintage movie actor is Clark Gable. The back story’s original purchaser of the film, Ellen Erlacher, was loosely named after Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears. I edited out several scenes, such as the faces of the people, and several short scenes that were dead giveaways that the film was faked.
The original intent was to test the film on a group of people interested in crypto-creatures to see how it played. A Yahoo discussion group named The Unknown Creature Spot was chosen. I slapped together a quick documentary piece with spooky music and tossed it on YouTube, then invited the group to have a look.
The reaction was instantaneous and explosive. Even though the original documentary was on YouTube for just three days, it was downloaded hundreds of times, and started popping up all over the internet. In the modern parlance, the Gable Film had gone viral. I scrambled to get the scores of rebroadcasts removed from YouTube, citing a ludicrous copyright claim. Eventually, it became simply overwhelming to chase all the pirates down, so I gave up.
A few weeks later an internationally renowned cryptozoologist contacted me. He hinted that with his endorsement the Gable Film could become “a permanant part of supposedly real werewolf lore.” I only needed to answer the hard question: Was this merely a “piece of creative narrative fiction perfomance art?” When he found my reply equivocal, he published his belief that the film was a fake and that I was a fraud. Across the internet, the chorus turned increasingly hostile, even threatening. It was time to end the charade.
On September 30th, 2007, we published a web page entitled “The Gable Film – Anatomy of an Unintentional Hoax,” in which I attempted to dispense with the film by revealing an obvious clue that everyone had missed. Certainly this clear evidence of fakery would remove all doubt about the film’s validity.
“The Dogman” stands on two legs. This scene didn’t make to the public either.
Or so I thought. Within days of publishing that page, I started receiving e-mails and phone calls from people insisting that we had rushed to judgment. Within two weeks, there were hundreds of requests that we take a second look. In one of the e-mails, the head of the science department of a well-known university asked if he could build a course around the film to study the bio-mechanic movement of the creature. Virus #2 had struck.
At this point, I simply shrugged my shoulders and decided to follow one of the primary principles of stagecraft: Give the audience what they want.
In the ensuing years, the Gable Film was broken down and analyzed by hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, and seen by an uncountable number of others. Every single one of them formed an opinion about what it was. The Gable Film is one of those things you could not watch and be ambivalent about it.
“Aaron” takes the camera from his son to pursue the creature.
For much of that time, the ratio of believers to skeptics ran at roughly 50-50, just slightly better than the ratio of people who believe that the Patterson-Gimlin film shows an actual Bigfoot, or that photographs of the Loch Ness monster show a living pliosaur. We did our own in-depth but inconclusive analysis of the film and included it on The Legend Legacy Edition DVD.
Throughout the entire Gable Film saga, I kept an arm’s length distance. I never claimed it was real and never said it showed a dogman. We placed a disclaimer on the website and on our DVD stating that we took no position on any evidence, preferring to leave it to the viewer to decide. My only public statement about the Gable Film was that it was “interesting,” and that people should see it.
The “teeth shot,” accomplished with a Halloween mask and stop-motion animation. Note the Ghillie suit webbing.
Then in 2009, it happened again. The producers of the FOX NEWS program Sean Hannity’s America asked for permission to include The Gable Film in their broadcast, and I agreed. They even offered to bring me to New York to be interviewed by Sean Hannity, which I declined. It aired nationwide on July 20th.
A couple of days after the FOX broadcast, Mike (using the pseudonym QuinlanOUR12) surprised me by uploading a second film – Gable Film 2 – to YouTube. In this graphic and disturbing film, two policemen display the half-eaten corpse of the same person who appears splitting wood in the original Gable Film. It was another remarkably convincing low-budget special effect.
GF2: The police cruiser was a junkyard Oldsmobile that did not run, brush painted and topped by a red Kool-Aid pitcher.
The internet community went bonkers. Blogs and forums lit up with debate about the new film, and interest in the entire story soared once again. For the third time in as many years, the Gable Film again went viral. Downloads of the original film from Michigan-Dogman.com surged past 50 thousand in a matter of days. My website hosting company sent me a warning that I was using too much bandwidth and they would shut the site down if it didn’t stop.
Mike and I had an emergency meeting to plan the next move. We knew that both films had to go away, so we created another convenient back story. A certain unnamed ‘authority’ would request that the films be removed from circulation pending an investigation. With that, we expected the films would quickly fade from public interest.
Again we were wrong. In the fall of 2009 the producers of the History Channel’s Monster Quest telephoned, indicating an interest in producing a segment about the Michigan Dogman, centered on the Gable Film. They told me they wanted to send the original 8mm film to a world-renowned expert for study. I couldn’t let them go to that expense, the result of which could only reveal what I already knew. It was time to pull the plug once and for all.
I assumed after revealing the true source of the film to Monster Quest, the producers would move on to some other creature. Wrong again. They were more excited than ever to produce the show. They felt the story was so compelling they made it their season finale. Do you get what that means? Monster Quest, and everyone involved knew the Gable film was fake weeks before production began. The entire episode was scripted and staged to look like they exposed it. More stagecraft, designed for entertainment and profit.
So there you have it, the abridged history of the now infamous Gable Film. Was it a hoax? Of course. Was it intended to insult people or motivated by profit? Absolutely not. Neither Mike or I ever made a dime from the Gable Film. He gave the film to me, and I give the profits from the sales of Legend products to charity. Neither FOXNEWS or MonsterQuest paid us for the film or our appearances. So why did we do it? Simple – it was great entertainment; for us, and for the thousands of people who analyzed, debated, and defended their opinions about the film. There hasn’t been this much excitement or controversy in the crypto-creature world in decades.
“Aaron Gable” inside the famous Ford Truck, wearing the thick glasses that would later appear in GF2.
In conclusion, let me state for the record a simple fact: I am not a cryptozoologist, and have no desire to become one. Truth be told, there’s no definitive answer as to exactly what a cryptozoologist is. There is no accreditation required, no university degree, no license. All you really need to become a cryptozoologist is to say you are. It’s a profession created from thin air, very much like The Legend of Michigan’s Dogman.
I am an entertainer. The Legend was created as an April Fool’s Day prank in 1987 for the enjoyment of a limited radio audience in northern Michigan. Something about it stirred the imaginations of people, and suddenly strange things they had seen or heard in the woods seemed to have a possible explanation. They shared and continue to share their stories with me, and that aspect has captured the attention of the world. But at no time in the near quarter-century history of The Legend have I ever claimed it to be anything more than entertainment.
There is, however, one characteristic shared by entertainers and cryptozoologists: we both have an audience with a set of expectations. How we meet those expectations differs only slightly. Cryptozoologists want (but never seem to get) substantive proof. To me, if a story, photograph, or film is interesting, that’s good enough.
As a final word, a statement I think Mark Twain would approve of: If you are one of the people mortified by these revelations, and feel that the “science” of cryptozoology has forever been tarnished by charlatans and hoaxers, perhaps you should choose a hobby that wasn’t invented by them.